Where Buddhism Meets Gendlin

Month: September 2009

Touching Enlightenment

The expression ‘touching enlightenment with the body’ (used by Reggie Ray in his excellent book) is not modern; it has its antecedents in the Pali canon. (If anyone wanted to track them down, I’d refer them to Ch.4 Richard Gombrich’s ‘How Buddhism Began’ for lots of examples.)

For example, in the Kītagiri Sutta (MN70) we hear of “a certain kind of person who touches with her body those tranquil , immaterial states of release, states transcending form, and dwells in them…” (My translation, not Gombrich’s.) Therewith, her “taints are destroyed by insight.”

Another example, elsewhere, from Gombrich: Maha Cunda speaks of those who “touch the deathless state with their bodies and stay there.”

My point here is that it is important and very valuable to invite the meditating body to receive the formless states when they arise; to have them both there, both form and formlessness. The formless states bring a corresponding feeling which permeates the body, transforming it. My oral instruction to students, at such a time, goes something (à la Gendlin) like: “Let yourself have the kind of body that goes with this experience.”

Inner Posture

A reminder: whatever I say here about the ‘mind-made body’ has as its background the practice of touching ‘what-is’ with our so-called worldly bodies; that is, we need to keep some perspective on the presence of our ordinary breathing bodies – this is a multi-dimensional practice that includes all levels of human experience.

Having that in mind, we might consider that it is a part of the development of the ‘mind-made body’ to cultivate and appreciate an ‘inner posture’ when meditating. This is why the nobility of mind found in meditation is often referred to as like a lion. An example might be some teachers’ insistence of ‘good shoulders and head’ in meditation. The way this conditions the mind, this matters.

Mind-Made Body

In the Sāmaññaphala Sutta we read that a meditator at some stage develops a ‘mind-made body’ (manomayakaya):

“And with [her] mind thus concentrated… imperturbable, [she] applies and directs her mind to the producing of a mind-made body. Out of this body [she] produces another body, having form, mind-made, complete in all its limbs and parts.”

What are we going to make of this? I haven’t ever heard anyone in the Pali-based field teach on this. Yet, it is squarely there in the progression of the Buddhist meditator’s path. We Westerners tend to take what makes sense to us and leave the rest, as though it was irrelevant. What if the mind-made body was more relevant than our cultural lenses could fathom?

Sue Hamilton (I of the Beholder, 2000): “Though what are commonly thought of as body and mind are thus equally integral to one’s experiencing apparatus, in early Buddhism it is accepted that it is possible for one’s body or physical locus to take different froms from that with which we are familiar. In particular, it is accepted that one’s body might be, or become, ‘subtle’, what to us in the West might be terms ‘ghostly’ or ‘ethereal’: not visible in the normal way that our dense physical bodes are visible.”

I think, when reading this, of the development of awareness of the subtle body in several disciplines, including in tantra (and, in particular, in Theravadan Tantra – see Kate Crosby on the Yogāvacara, 2000).

I hope to come up with a way into this topic of the subtle body (mind-made body), but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m welcoming of such.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén