“Too much mind.”
That’s a warning a friend and I sometimes say to each other when we’re getting excessively cerebral. Too much mind…
It’s easy to get cerebral with Buddhism since you see the word “mind” littered at every corner. But the mind and body aren’t separate. In fact, we can even just nix the word mind altogether and just go with the body if we wanted to. That approach might work better for some people.
One of the definitions for body is: a mass or collection of something.
If we look at that through the teachings on dependent arising, that means that everything that is is a body, since everything is a collection of other things including our thoughts, feelings, and consciousness.
With that in mind (er, body), it makes sense to start practice with the body, by focusing on the it as a totality. Whether we’re eating, drinking, screwing, sitting, chatting, listening, laughing, or crying, doing those things with the whole body, with our whole presence.
That’s where insight begins, the foundation that makes it possible.
Wisdom can only blossom among presence, can only exist within presence. This is where we experience impermanence, and grok the first two Noble Truths: suffering and its cause. This results in periods of wishlessness, where nothing is desired. We feel satisfied and complete just being ourselves, doing whatever it is we’re doing.
Once we live mindful of the body, attention naturally expands to include everything around us. We see that our experience itself is a body that includes all the people, places, and things we encounter. Here, wandering thoughts are barely present, and it’s easier to respond skillfully, and naturally to things.
In this experiential body, we have insights into the Path, and selflessness. As the perceptual separation between ourselves and the things around us starts to fade, it becomes even more difficult to cling and crave. The hindrances and afflictions start to pass away.
Then, there’s kensho, that flash of union, and we experience another body: reality. The Dharma, the Tao, the principles at work within all things. This is signlessness, the third Noble Truth, Suchness, the Unborn, or Buddha-nature. This is really just the experiential body minus all clinging and craving.
We can’t remain perceptually as the reality-body. We’d be unable to function. What remains after experiencing that body, is the after image of a lightning flash that stretches forward and backward through our lives, putting everything into context.
Then we just keep going, keep practicing – business as usual. We might experience that reality-body again, we might not. It doesn’t matter because, whether we do or don’t, that’s the only body there really is. That’s the view, anyway. As usual, I don’t like extracting insights into dogmas.
This all goes along with the trikaya teachings: the nirmanakaya (physical form), sambhogakaya (reward body), and the dharmakaya (truth body). I just like referring to them as the personal body, the experiential/impersonal body, and the reality body.
Recovering Catholics might cringe a little at this teaching because it’s reminiscent of the Holy Trinity. The difference though, is that the trikaya can be experienced for oneself, it doesn’t require faith. And it isn’t necessarily something ontological, but phenomenal, epistemological. To me, that makes all the difference.