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The Body Becomes the Whole Universe – February 2008

The Buddha says in the Satipatthana Sutta (Mindfulness Sutra), “Here, bhikkus, (monks), a bhikku abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.”

The first thing we notice in this passage is the unusual language, “body as a body.”  This suggests that it is not the case that the bhikku(ni) [a bhikkuni is a nun] is one thing and that his/her body is another thing and that the one thing is contemplating the other thing. Thich Nhat Hanh and Annabel Laity translate this passage as “body in the body.” If, when meditation is practiced, the formation that we are one thing and our body is another is maintained and encouraged we will gradually, as our superficial thinking settles, become more and more anxious, experiencing ever more acutely a conditioned state that developed very early in our lives where behavior was adapted to discriminate “self” and “other”. These two perceptions were then subdivided into a countless number of other pieces. As time went on great skill was acquired in generating this activity and by the time we reached early adulthood we could seamlessly and continuously generate this conditioned formation, seemingly with no effort.  And also it was done, with hardly any awareness of its doing.

However, for those who seek spiritual security through meditation, probably after some time, maybe from some seemingly unfortunate and painful circumstance that occurred in our lives, some awareness of this activity emerged. We became conscious of the fact that it takes enormous energy to continuously maintain this separated condition and began to have some sense of the delusory reality that was being created by our own individual brain.

In his quest for true understanding Buddha experienced release from this conditioned formation and the resulting peace that follows. He also saw that as human beings we all naturally develop this separation. It is the formation of our inherited social and genetic structure. He saw how this condition wears us out and causes agitation, restlessness and sometimes tremendous difficulty and pain, thus he formed the first Noble Truth of Human Suffering.

In the practice of meditation and mindfulness we train ourselves by relinquishing the continual superficial movement of the conscious mind to unwrap the enormously complex and deeply convoluted layers of formations that lie beneath consciousness.  One of the first layers that the Buddha suggests we unfold is that our body is one thing and we are another. When it is seen that our body, mind, perceptions, feelings, formations, the seeking for truth and all other consciousness is simply the body, then our body becomes much more than just a perception of a body, it becomes the whole universe, a universe devoid of any notion of self and other or of any discrimination between body and mind. At that time we can experience the noble and sublime peace that we seek, begin to rest, sense tranquility and be at ease with all of the myriad things that come forth. We can even smile and let go of the desire to experience some special enlightenment apart from this very moment that comes forth.