At the moment, if we haven’t thought much about emptiness, we are probably thinking that our body is a lot more real and important than it actually is.
Carrying on from this article.
Everything is as insubstantial as a dream, even our own body. Even our own self. Even our own mind.
Our mind keeps trying to go out there, as if to grasp onto things out there. But there is nothing there to grasp at, we come up as short as someone trying to drink a mirage.
In the Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, Buddha says:
If you search for your body with wisdom, you cannot find it.
As I plan to examine a bit more in the the next article, we normally see our body within its parts, such as in the hands and head. But this way of seeing our body “out there”, or even “in here”, findable within its parts, is mistaken, because if we look for our body in its individual parts we won’t find it – it is not the head, not the hands, etc. And if we look for it in the collection of its parts we won’t find it, only a collection of things that are not it. The more we look, the less we’ll find it. We will only ever be able to point at things that are not it.
And if we look for our body other than its parts, which is the only other option, we won’t find it either. We’ll be left perceiving an absence of the findable body. This in fact proves that the body we normally see does not exist.
There is nothing out there, out there, as I have heard some people say.
Our mind also tries to go “out there” in a dream, but where is it actually going?! What is “out there” in a dream?
(Wiser to bring our mind inwards whenever we can, towards our heart.)
So, given that I have one, and it is not out there, what the heck is my body?!
The other side of the coin of unfindability is that our body (and everything else) exists as mere appearance to mind, or of mind; and how it appears depends on our karma. As a musician put it in the comments to this last article (I’m sure he is exaggerating a little but you get the point):
Listeners sometimes enjoy and sometimes don’t enjoy hearing our voice. We are like karmic conductors when we sing. Barbara Streisand is loved by some and she is hell-realmish for me to listen too, as is Whitney Houston.
And as I replied:
Depending on karma, we see different things. Mistaken karmic appearances. So we need to rely on our relatively non-deceptive minds of love and compassion, and definitely on wisdom, as I tried to explain in this article called Beneficial believing.
One common illustration: someone can be attracted to our body one week out of karma and attachment, and then not interested the next week when their karma and attachment has changed — at which point no amount of dieting or make up or plastic surgery will help 😜 I wrote this article as a lead up to a couple of articles on the emptiness of our body because that is a very effective way to stop being so hung up with body image if we can learn to do it.
If we realize the emptiness of our body, we can dispatch our own convoluted unsolvable suffering related to that conceptual grasping at mere appearance as a real body, leaving us feeling a lot more spacious and free. And we will find we have a lot more energy for others. Before too long we can attain liberation and enlightenment. So it is not just a philosophical curiosity to think about this; it is a BIG deal.
Where does your body go at night?
This body that you are sitting in right now, by the way, the one you might be really quite fixated upon, thinking “My gorgeous body!, My flabby body!”, are you even bothered about it when you fall asleep and dream? Are you even relating to it as “My body!” at that time? No. It seems that at that time we are using another body, a dream body, quite possibly feeling all bent out of shape and suffering distorted body image about that one too.
My body in my dream last night, for example, felt very real and solid. I remember it had blue eyes (my waking body has green/brown eyes.) If a tiger had bitten it, I would have freaked out. If someone had told me I was ugly, I would have been sad. At that time, I wasn’t using this body I am using now – I was not even aware of it, as it lay prone in the bed. It could have been as ugly as it wanted and I wouldn’t have cared.
During our dreams, the body that is an appearance of our waking mind disappears for us. This endless coming and going, this sheer appearance and disappearance, in itself might be telling us something. How real and solid is this body that we cherish and worry about so much? How important is it?
The cosmetic industry knows how much some people can be fooled by an apparently fixed idea of their body, so much so that they will spend thousands of dollars on “correcting” the slightest wrinkle or jowl – well, I reckon we are all doing it to a greater or lesser extent. We are all being fooled by our own permanent- and inherent-seeming mental images or projections, imagining our body to be far more solid and unchanging than it actually is, and disapproving of — sometimes even loathing — what we think we see in the mirror.
The purpose of photoshopping
Where did last night’s dream body go, the one that felt so real when we were using it in our dream? If it was as real or objective as it felt at the time — existing from its own side independent of the mind — we could expect it to go somewhere, it couldn’t just disappear. But it went nowhere because it was mere appearance to our dreaming mind. When our dream mind ceased, so did our dream body – other than that there is no reason why our dream body should cease.
Likewise, where did yesterday’s seemingly solid, real body go? If it was real, existing objectively or outside the mind, surely it has to be somewhere? But yesterday’s body, too, went nowhere because it was also mere appearance to yesterday’s mind.
My dream body was only ever dream-like appearance. It was never really there. It was just an idea of my dreaming mind. Any Nutribullet diet I embarked upon would have been a waste of time. And I knew this for certain the moment I woke up.
And the same is true for my waking body sitting writing this, now. It is just an idea or imputation of my waking mind. If I want to accept and like my body I don’t need to diet, cut bits out of it, or Photoshop it — I just need to change my ideas of what “My body” is. And I will know this for certain the moment I wake up from the sleep of ignorance.
This really works once we understand it. We can contemplate how our dream body is unfindable outside the mind — and therefore exists as mere appearance to our mind, mere projection, mere label — and then apply that understanding to our waking body.
With this we can let go of grasping so tightly at this waking body in a fixed way, as a limited deficient thing. See how much freedom we now have to relate to our merely projected body in a different way altogether – to re-label it, for example, as a vehicle for enjoying this precious human life or as a vehicle for helping others. Moreover, we are more likely to want to keep it healthy so that it feels stronger and lasts longer for our own and others’ sake – eating right, sleeping enough, exercising.
Through the Tantric teachings we can even come to see that our actual body is not the one grown from parts of our parents’ bodies, but our own very subtle wind that we have had since beginningless time, along with our very subtle mind. We can learn to identify with this purified into an illusory body, and see this fleshy outer thing as just like an old overcoat that we keep in good nick as far as we can, but without freaking out when it doesn’t look as new and perfectly tailored as it once did.
So instead of sucking in your stomach and smiling oddly at yourself every time you look in the mirror, or quickly removing the Facebook tag when people post a photo of you from the wrong angle (or is that just me?), when we see our body we can recognize how lucky we are to have a human body at all and what we can do with it. We can clean our teeth and brush our hair not out of a worry about how we look, but simply to take care of our body so that we can use it to help others. Check out that powerful parallel scene in Schindler’s list that I write about here.
You know what I think? I think the self-confidence that comes from this acceptance, and from taking control of our own perceptions, makes us appear far more attractive than ever before. The ability to help others grows exponentially. And this attractiveness and fulfillment will never fade.
Next time, reasoning our way into reality, more meditation on the emptiness of our body. Meantime, please share your thoughts on any of this.