Body and mind, or ruup-naam, are the two principal components of our experience. Our conscious experience is comprised of, and made possible, by two distinct pieces – a physical body, and our mental functioning. Body and mind work together to create the experience of a sentient being. They need each other. They arise together and support each other. Everything we do is a result of body and mind working together. They work together to accomplish tasks in daily life. They also work together to create suffering, but they can instead work together to create non-suffering.
Body and mind work together to create suffering when they are left to their own devices – when they are left to operate without any supervision. Body and mind work together to create the experience of sense contact, then the mind reacts to that sense contact, that it itself participated in, with craving or aversion. The mind then tells the body to say or do things in pursuit of more of the sense contact it finds pleasing, or it tells the body to say or do things to try to avoid sense contact it doesn’t like, much like a dog chasing its tail. It becomes a self-sustaining cycle of suffering.
This is what happens when body and mind are left unsupervised, like mischievous children left alone. They need someone to look over them so they don’t hurt themselves or others. What watches over body and mind is mindfulness. When mindfulness, or nonjudgmental self-awareness, stands with body and mind in the present moment, the behavior of body and mind naturally changes. Mindfulness doesn’t have to actually do anything other than be present with body and mind. Children naturally behave differently when their mother or father are in the house, then when they are away. Just the fact of their presence makes a difference. I think this is sort of a fact of human nature – that people behave differently when nobody is watching, like kids in a classroom without a teacher.
So body and mind work together to create suffering when mindfulness isn’t around to look over them. And body and mind actually feel better when mindfulness is with them, just as a child feels calmer when his or her parent is near. Just as body and mind can make mischief together to create suffering, they can work together to keep mindfulness close at hand so they don’t get into trouble together. This is the basic principle of Mahasati Insight Meditation. Body and mind work together to help mindfulness stay close. They work together to keep mindfulness from wandering off somewhere. When mindfulness is close, their suffering decreases.
When it comes to the body and mind making trouble, the mind is the instigator, and so it really needs mindfulness to watch over it. In the principle sutta describing the practice of insight meditation, the Satipatthana Sutta, or the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, 3 of the 4 foundations are mental (feeling, mind, and dhammas). This shows how important it is to have mindfulness of the mind.
The body is the first foundation, and it is what helps get mindfulness situated in its role as guardian of body and mind. The mind, of course, is what initially invites mindfulness in when it tells the body that it’s time to meditate. But the body is what helps get mindfulness established at the start. This is because the body is easy to find. The mind can be tougher for mindfulness to see in the present moment. The mind often hides behind thought.
So the body helps get mindfulness in place in its role as the guardian of body and mind. It also helps to make sure that mindfulness doesn’t get confused by the mind and wander off. Even though the mind invited mindfulness in to begin with, like a mischievous child, it likes to play games and play hide and seek with mindfulness by creating thought. Over and over again, the body helps mindfulness find the mind again by continually showing mindfulness where the present moment is.
So with our Mahasati insight meditation practice, we start by being aware of the feeling of the body moving. We then expand mindfulness to also watch over what the mind is doing in the present moment. 3 of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness are mental, and it is the biggest troublemaker, so we can’t neglect the mind. Over and over again the mind will try to use thought to play hide and seek with mindfulness, but since the body is continually moving, it is constantly calling mindfulness out of thought and back to the present moment. Eventually, mindfulness learns how to not go into thought, by not following the story of thought. It learns how to keep watch on the mind even when the mind is generating thought. This is how body and mind work together to create non-suffering instead of suffering.