This life of ours consists in this mind, body, and world. In everyday consciousness, we tend to view these as separate things, and in one sense they are. The mind is one thing, the body another, and the world around me something else. But ultimately, they are really of one nature. They arise and pass away together. One cannot exist separately from the others. Phenomenologically, you cannot have just a mind, or just a body, or just a world. This is something that is eventually seen directly with practice, but it is also useful to bear this in mind conceptually as we are walking the path. Otherwise, our practice can become unbalanced.
For example, it is not uncommon for meditation practice to become a purely mental thing – perhaps sitting in stillness with the eyes closed, attempting to cut off the mind from both the body and the world. In daily life, of course, it is usually the opposite. We are immersed in the world and out of touch with the body and mind. Ignoring one or more aspects of mind-body-world makes it more difficult to extricate oneself from suffering. All three are involved in suffering, in practice, and in liberation.
These three pieces of experience are really one thing. Though we can identify them separately, and attend to one aspect or another, they are really just different aspects of one reality. Mind, body, and world suffer together. Mind, body, and world practice together, and mind, body and world liberate themselves together. This is the nonconceptual truth of our lived experience. Coming at it from another direction, we could say that mental suffering is enabled by the way that we try to separate mind body and world. Suffering happens when the mind starts craving something different from itself, or from the body, or from the world around the body. We fail to see our life for what it is – this one unfolding reality – fully complete as it is in this moment. Of course the unfolding of our lives includes intention and has a direction. This is seen in the work we do to change things that cause suffering for others or ourselves, but that doesn’t negate the wholeness and completeness of each present moment. Losing touch with this wholeness is suffering.
To say that mind, body and world suffer together, practice together, and liberate themselves together is a sort of Zen way of putting it, but it is also in accordance with the Satipatthana sutta (Four Foundations of Mindfulness), one of the central texts in the world of insight practice. The Satipatthana sutta describes the different objects of mindfulness practice commended to us by the Buddha. The first foundation is the body. The other three relate to the mind, but in each, the practitioner is urged to be mindfully aware of the object both internally and externally, so the world is actually brought into the practice of each foundation. In our Mahasati insight meditation practice, we engage all three aspects together – mind, body and world. We cultivate awareness of the body moving, using that to help us also see the movement that is simultaneously happening in the mind, and our eyes are open, so we are not cutoff from the world around us.
I am not asking you to accept that mind, body and world practice and liberate themselves together as some sort of religious truth that you need to blindly believe. Rather, I suggest you hold it in mind provisionally as an expedient view toward practice. See if you can actualize this in your meditation. This means that when we’re meditating, we don’t pursue individual bits of experience like we normally do. When a thought happens in the mind, we don’t follow after it. When a feeling happens in the body, we don’t obsess about it. When we see or hear something outside, we don’t go running after it. In this form of meditation, we are not suppressing or ignoring anything, but we are also not losing ourselves in it. If you allow the unfolding of body-mind-world to be illuminated with awareness, you can come to your own understanding of body, mind and world suffering together, practicing together and liberating together.
Thanks, Michael, for such an illuminating piece of writing, as always! This one enables us to see the integral and the elements, to be aware of their unfolding so that we won’t lose ourselves in them.
Thanks again and do please keep on writing! Yours is one of fresh perspectives, prompting us to see things in a new light, from new angles, enhancing our understanding.
this essay provided me with a comfortable and logical explanation of these three elements and their interrelationships – beautifully written and easy to understand. Thank you.