2022-04-07 Satipaṭṭhāna (55) Sense Doors: Body
2:51PM Apr 7, 2022
There is a delightful teaching in Buddhism that it is possible to become omniscient. But this is not what you might think. It is possible to know something about everything– that omniscience is that it is not worth clinging to anything. Now we know something about everything – it is a certain kind of omniscience.
To continue with the theme of omniscience in human experience, all human experience – no matter how sophisticated and complex it is – has a common denominator: we know it through one of the six sense doors. The ancient analogy in the time of the Buddha was that if you had a walled city with only one gate into the city, a guard could stand at the gate and watch everyone coming and going, and could decide who could come in and who could go out. If there were six gates, then there would might be six guards who were doing the same thing.
So we have six doors – six gates – through which enter all experiences that we process, take in, and use to understand our life. These six doors or gates are: seeing – the gate of the eyes– the ears, the nose, the tongue, the tactile body, and the mind door – that door from which we observe or know what is happening in the mind. We take in the sense data – the experiences – from these doors, and then we process it. We do something with it. Sometimes we build whole universes with it.
There is a Chinese Zen story of a painter who painted very realistic paintings. He was painting a tiger up close, involved in the details. At some point, he stepped back some feet to look at it. It was so realistic that he became frightened and ran away.
Our mind is constructing stories, ideas, memories, predictions of the future, meaning, elaborations, ideas, creativity, poems, and songs – our mind creates all kinds of things. We can live in that inner world and get lost in it.
But in Buddhist practice, what we are trying to do is to live at the doors – to be mindful of things as they appear and occur in the present moment at each of the sense doors. The reason for that is if we do that, then we know something about everything. We know the common denominator. Everything that is going to happen is going to be built on those things coming in from the sense doors.
If we can be there and see at that point what the reactivity is – the clinging, the resistance, how we relate to experience – this gives us a tremendously wonderful vantage point from which to live a wise life. We do not get caught up in the entanglements and reactivity or build universes of tigers that frighten us because we were not there at the start – the beginning point.
In some ways, our life is always beginning again. To bring ourselves into the sense doors and really be present, so we can be there at the start. Life is always starting in the present – starting over, again and again. To be able to be right there and see this.
Remember that, in these teachings that we are doing now on the six sense doors and our entanglement with them, we are near the end of a long series of practices of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. So this is not a beginner's practice. This is something that we can begin to do when we have gotten quiet, still enough. and focused. When mindfulness is strong enough, we can really stay here and see the beginnings.
The advantage of doing so is like this story. We have a garden with beds. I am responsible for it right now, because my wife is away. She is usually the gardener. One of the flower beds is overgrown with maybe a foot and a half tall, mostly oat grass – some kind of tall grass – and all kinds of other weeds. They are packed into the flowerbed. The bed must be very fertile, because it is just bursting forth. It is overwhelming how full of weeds it is. We have another bed, where there are some onions and lettuces, and there, there are almost no weeds at all. The lettuce and onions are growing nicely, and there is space between them. There, if a weed arises, I can see the little weed coming up out of the soil, and I am not overwhelmed by that. I can come over and pull it out so it does not grow into a big weed and crowd out what we are trying to grow there.
The same way with our mind. If we have not weeded our mind for decades, it can be crowded and overgrown with all kinds of weeds. It takes a while to relax, settle and calm down to the point where we can start seeing the beginning of a weed – the beginning of an entanglement. If we see it at the beginning – at the first arising – then we can let go of it. We can pull it out by the roots and put it in the compost pile.
As practice deepens and we have the ability to be much more present, we begin to trust being present more than we trust thinking, predicting, planning, remembering, reviewing, having conversations, or having fantasies. We trust being in the present moment. When things (or flowerbeds) become clear enough, we can see the beginning of a weed arising – the beginning of a reaction arising. That is a powerful place to be. Because if we can see it arise, then it is easy to let go of it, or not participate – to let it be. It is possible to let it be and let it go, and know that we are not going to pick it up again.
These are the instructions for this particular part of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: to know the sense door. Today we are talking about the body – know the tactile body. Know the sensations of it – the touch – the object of the tactile experience. Know the arising of an entanglement. Know letting it go, and know that you are not going to pick it up again.
This is really the exercise in the fourth part of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta – to be able to be present for the sense experience, and to see the beginning of attachment – the beginning of clinging and reactivity – and to be able to put it down. If you can't put it down – if it is powerful – just let it be. Do not pick it up – do not get involved. Then know that you are not going to get involved again, at least this time around.
This beautiful, wonderful place of freedom keeps us in a place where we can be amused, delighted, or relieved when we see an attachment, clinging or entanglement arise. Because we know we are not going to get entangled in the entanglement. We are not going to react to the reactivity. But rather, we are going to see the beauty and the wonderfulness of being aware of its arising – there it is! For some people this awareness can be amusing and delightful, and it can give birth to a lot of faith and confidence. "Oh, here I am starting to get annoyed. I am starting to be frustrated. Here it is. Here is me wanting it to be different. Here is me wanting it to stay forever. There is that little clinging going on". We see: "Oh, wow, there is the clinging."
There is a kind of joy in knowing we are not going to get involved. Knowing that there is freedom and space around the reaction. This is a very different relationship to clinging and reactivity than, "Oh, no, this is terrible. I shouldn't be doing this".
So, the sense doors. Today I talked about the tactile sense door – things touching our body. These can be physical things outside, but also touch from the inside. There is a kind of sensate experience the body can reveal.
Today, I encourage you to spend more time with mindfulness of your body. Discover the delight of being grounded in your body, but more importantly for this exercise, see how you are entangled in judgments, expectations, and disappointments about the body. See how you compare your body to other bodies, or to how you were before, or to how you might be in the future. See all the ways you get entangled. See if you can notice the entanglement with such clarity that maybe you can feel delighted or amused. Or maybe you feel relieved that you see it. See if you can find a different way of relating to the bad news of being reactive and entangled. Clear mindfulness brings a different way of relating. Mindfulness of the body is a way of becoming friends with your body, when you stop the reactivity. Tomorrow, we will do the last talk on the sense doors, having to do with the sense door of the mind. Thank you.