when the body does what the body does


unicorn-lights

“In this fathom-long body with its perceptions and thoughts there is the world, the origin of the world, the ending of the world and the path leading to the ending of the world.”  -AN 4.45

It always amazes me when I catch myself trying to run before I can walk.  It shouldn’t surprise me but it does.  With all this cushion time, retreats, sesshins, workshops, and gosh-knows-what that I take on in the pursuit of that one ineffable experience of BAM! YOU’RE ENLIGHTENED! one would think that I could jog a few steps on this path of purification.  Apparently not and the road rash on my mentally constructed nose is strong evidence of this.

In sangha, we are exploring the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  Yet again!  I can’t get enough of it so each year I subject my sangha mates to another round of the body-et al.-in-the-body-et al.  This Sunday, I pointed out that this fathom-long body is all we need to know in order to lift each foot out of the mud.  “Don’t leave home without it!” I warned.  Yet, each day, we do.  In the hub-bub and brou-hah-ha of the drama of our moments, it fades into the background and is barely perceptible.  Safe to say, even my preaching the Good Word about being in the body as the body had little impact on my monkey mind as I was setting up chairs on yoga mats and placed my little finger between the chair leg and mat.

This time the body is quite forgiving, leaving me with a little blood blister. Other times it hasn’t been though I hesitate to place malicious or punitive intent in its lap. The body does just what the body does. It’s only when that monkey mind grabs the sensations that arise from contact – in this case between form and touch organ – that the show begins.

Well, it won’t hurt any of us to relearn the fundamentals of this walking practice again and again.  Even if it isn’t Zen-sounding.  This, I think is where the running before walking happens too.  In all the glam of Zen practice, we forget to master the basic stuff, the Suttas that came before the Sutras.  After all, how else to understand the Prajnaparamita without understanding the skandhas and the container in which they manifest.  But I’ll be the first to say how I love a good treatise on the interconnection of quantum physics and the Prajnaparamita.  For that, by the way, dig into Mu Soeng’s The Heart of the Universe which has one of the most articulate interweavings of the two threads of unknowing.

Still and all, for all that unknowing is the fruit of our practice, it doesn’t hurt to return over and over to the framework of knowing.  Body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind.  Even so, we have a tendency to rush into the conceptual tangles, the objects of mind, by wanting to know how, why this mind responds to the body the way it does.

The body does just what the body does.

So hard to accept.

This is a lovely presentation on the body/mind connection and the base of practice as mindfulness of the body as the body, in the body:  Mindfulness, visualized.

Also check out Bhante Gunaratana’s new book, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English.

hearts that see the forest

I’ve been immersed in books lately.  More so than usual.  Unfortunately these are not books I’m reading but books that are arriving, arriving at the door.  Books to be reviewed, books to be read, books to be studied.  Chaplaincy books, poetry books, psychology books, Buddhist books – all clamouring for attention.  And dare I mention the pixelated books in my e-readers that are sending me subliminal messages via 3G?  I can skate by with some of these by scanning the text and getting a feel for the author’s message.  Others are denser woods to navigate through and I risk not seeing the forest through the trees.

In some genres more than others, seeing the trees without losing sight of the forest is important.  The specifics of the book are critical to understanding the teachings they impart.  They must be practiced to be embodied and only then does a reflection on them have legs.  In particular, every book about Buddhism is a book with which one practices.  I’ve yet to find a book of this genre that didn’t demand this singular, whole-hearted commitment from the reader.  So, I quiver in fear at the number of Buddhist-y books stacking up on my shelf – I cleared out a single shelf solely populated by Buddhism-books-to-be-reviewed – because there are not enough life-times to practice what is contained between the covers of these volumes.

Somewhat disheartened, I stumbled around the megalithic bookstore in town wishing every sheet of paper bound between glossy laminates would leap up and flap their way up through the vents in the ceiling.  I stared at volumes of books by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh – two of the most prolific authors.  I rolled glassy-eyeballs over titles that proclaimed liberation and peace were possible.  And I bought one of them.

I can justify this!  Really.  It comes to me unburdened by any publishing company’s publicity agent.  In fact, Parallax Press is rather firm in ignoring my offers to review Thich Nhat Hanh’s books despite the sycophantic waving of my brown Order of Interbeing jacket.  So, blessed by such ignominy, I feel free to recommend this book, unhampered by any need to please anyone.

Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist sutras and commentaries initially looks like a compilation of Thấy’s various sutra commentary books.  It’s not.  It is 608 pages of revised translations and new commentaries on key sutras.  The Anapanasati, Satipatthana, Knowing a better way to live alone (my favourite and a life-changer), Better way to catch a snake, On the Middle Way, On Happiness, Eight Realizations of the Great Beings represent the Pali Canon.

The Heart and Diamond sutras bridge us into the Mahayana teachings.  Each sutra is given a clearer translation and deeper treatment in commentary than the previous single volumes.  This is followed with a series of sections focused solely on practice.  New and detailed exercises for the Awareness of Breathing and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness sutras are available in this voluminous text along with histories of and other texts related to the sutras.  The commentaries of the Diamond and Heart sutras are vastly expanded and directly connected to everyday life.

There’s a contemplative feel to the writing (though I admit often having trouble getting into Thấy’s style) and it promises to challenge anyone attempting a sutra study.  If ever there was a book that qualified being called a Buddhist Bible, this might be it.  I’m looking forward to practicing with it over my lifetime.