These days in Seoul we’re studying No River to Cross, by Seon Master Daehaeng. It’s a wonderful text with such hidden depths, that, from time to time, I thought it would be nice to recap a few of the key points here. Chapter 2 is one of the harder chapters because it deals with the fundamental reality of the world around us.
Everything in all universes is directly connected to the fundamental mind of humans and all life. Everything that functions and moves in the world is already directly connected to our foundation. Everything in the whole universe, including both visible and invisible realms, is connected and communicates as one. Nothing exists apart from anything else; the mind of all Buddhas is your inherent mind, and the Dharma of all Buddhas is the Dharma of your inherent mind and your daily life. (No River to Cross, p. 9-10)
In Korean Buddhism, it’s sometimes said that we are the combination of our body, our present consciousness, and our Buddha-nature or true self.
Body and perceptions
What we usually think of as “me,” are the perceptions and interpretations that arise from our body making contact with the material world. If I encounter something, a feeling arises, it’s interpreted, and I react to that judgement. If it’s fun, I’ll start wanting more, and if it’s painful, I’ll try to avoid it. In this way, the fears, desires, and judgements that occupy so much of my time, are only the automatic results of my body’s interaction with the environment.
An extreme example of this is sexual orientation: If I’m born as a man, the make-up of my body will naturally turn my thoughts towards women, and yet if I were born as a woman, the elements of my body would turn my thoughts towards men. (There are exceptions, obviously, but you get the point!) These thoughts and feelings not fundamental to my essence, but rather a temporary result of this body meeting the environment.
If you’ve stuck with me up to here, then you’ve probably already felt the sense of lack and incompleteness that comes from making these feelings the focus of our life. That’s because these conditioned feelings and concerns aren’t the whole picture: there is true self, also called fundamental mind, luminous mind, and God-nature.
Daehaeng Kun Sunim says about this aspect:
… true self has always been with us. However, we won’t know this unless we try to find it. Realize that everything comes from true self. The physical body is like the leaves and branches that come from the root, the true self. How could you forget about the root…. Know the root! (p. 14)
Because this root is where even this feelings and thoughts ultimately arise from, this is where we need to entrust them. However, hearing this, people often begin to think that the body and the feelings and thoughts it gives rise to are something to be despised. Daehaeng Kun Sunim cautions people about this view, saying:
There has to be a physical body in order to know the Buddha-dharma. You need to be aware that throwing away your body is not the way to know the Buddha-dharma. To think that the flesh is worthless and must be thrown away because it’s only a temporary combination is an extremely misguided idea. Without the body, you cannot develop, cannot broaden your wisdom, and cannot become a Buddha. Because the son exists, you can know the father; through the existence of the servant, you can come to know the master. By understanding visible phenomena, you can understand the invisible essence, the non-material foundation that gives rise to and animates all visible phenomena, and which always works together as one with all things.(p. 14)
So our body is certainly something to value and take care of, yet while doing this, we have to be careful not to mistake it for our totality. Ultimately everything has to be entrusted, everything has to be combined as one. When this body, its perceptions and consciousness, and our inherent Buddha-nature all function together as one, then I think we’ll discover what living as a human being truly means.
13 thoughts on “Our body, consciousness, and Buddha-nature”
Thank you very much for this Chong Go Sunim. I’m currently reading ‘One Korean’s approach to Buddhism: the mom/momjit paradigm’ by Sung-bae Park and so this post was very timely!
Wow. I’ve just been over to look at your notes on that book, which I had never heard of before,…
…and I must say that the parallels are striking (but, then again, I often find that when I look at your excellent blog!)
Thank you so much.
And thank you too Sunim for re-visiting Chapter Two of ‘No River to Cross’, always worth a new look!
With palms together,
Daehaeng gives us a clear answer to our discussion about being born with a human body at ‘The Vernerable Ya-un-Admonitions to Myself’, i find.
‘To think that the flesh is worthless and must be thrown away because it’s only a temporary combination is an extremely misguided idea. Without the body, you cannot develop, cannot broaden your wisdom, and cannot become a Buddha.’ ,
is a perfect answer to Marcus’ question,
‘But perhaps you think that because I love life and love relationships and love sex too, and love this wonderful physical world even with all its suffering, my attachments are so great that I can never leave Samsara?’
Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s words correspond to what Lama Gangchen teaches,’ religion has always focused upon the absolute level, the transcendental and so on; but we also need to take care of the relative level. We should not ignore or undervalue the pain and sickness of our gros physical bodies…If we take care of both… we can one by one remove the sufferings of our gross, subtle and very subtle bodies and minds, our society, environment and planet.’ (Self-Healing III,p.29)
Daehaeng, ‘By understanding visible phenomena, you can understand the invisible essence, the non-material foundation that gives rise to and animates all visible phenomena, and which always works together as one with all things.(p. 14)
Yes, my body is my vehicle to my root – in good times and bad.
LOL! Yes indeed!
The funny thing is, I actually had Chapter Two of ‘No River Too Cross’ open on my desk as I wrote my ‘question’ (it was not an actual question, it was more a rhetorical device addressed to Tanya in that discussion, as part of a much longer comment addressed to her).
If you believe that the Pure Land is not some far off realm (I’d say, ‘not ONLY some far off realm’) but can be touched right here and now (as Daehaeng Sunim writes elsewhere in the book – which I don’t have open right now this time) then of course we need our bodies and senses!
Of course, it’s all a balance, a middle-way if you like. Yes, becoming addicted to sense-pleasure is one extreme, but another extreme is rejecting the senses for a life only in the absolute realm (which, if the Heart Sutra is anything to go by, is impossible anyway!).
What does KunSunim say about emptiness verses form (senses) – it’s not the left foot or the right foot, but both feet together. That sounds about right to me.
Another passing thought – compassion has to be embodied – right? Well, so does our joy – surely? Anyway, the point is, you are right about the body being the vehicle to the root, and trying to deny or repress the body’s needs – and joys – has to be a mistake.
One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite Sutras:
“I am the Tathagata,
Most honored among people.
I appear in the world like a great cloud
To shower water on all parched living beings,
To free them from suffering
And so attain the joys of peace and comfort,
The joys of this world,
And the joy of nirvana.”
– The Buddha, Lotus Sutra, chapter 5
(Geene Reeves translation, emphasis mine)
Thanks again Evelyn, and all the best,
“rhetorical device addressed to Tanya” – you did that for me? well, thanks, Marcus!
I know we have different perspectives on many things, but I have never insulted you, tried to belittle you, or used sarcasm against you. In fact, I welcome and value your contribution to this blog and have said as much many times.
So I am hurt to see that your only comment on this post is this one full of sarcasm. This is such a happy and wholesome blog – thanks to the efforts of Chong Go Sunim and all the writers and commenters that make up this community – and it is a pity to spoil it.
You know, Tanya, I’d much rather be friends with you than engage in petty squabbling.
With palms together in respect,
seems, both you and me place emphasis on exactly the same issues, ‘– it’s not the left foot or the right foot, but both feet together. 🙂
love, peace and bliss
I love the middle path!
“…compassion has to be embodied – right? Well, so does our joy – surely? Anyway, the point is, you are right about the body being the vehicle to the root, and trying to deny or repress the body’s needs – and joys – has to be a mistake.” – Thank you Marcus 🙂
I am so grateful to have a human body. And soon it will be gone.
Hopefully not too soon!^-^ It’s kind of nice having you around!
Dae Haeng Kun Sunim
Chong Go Sunim
Recalling us to wisdom, and
Compassion for our selves and others’
You bring us through the sangha
To our bodies and our minds
To heal sins taught us
IN the World of, this realm of ego
You bring us
From the illusion
Of our separateness…
For these beautiful and timely
But moreso, Timeless and joyful