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.