Examining the Body-Mind Connection Through Mindful Self-Reflection
The relationship between the mind and the body is a fundamental part of Dharma practice. As Anyen Rinpoche, founder of the Orgyen Khamdroling Dharma Center, explains, reflecting on the mind-body connection through mindfulness and self-discernment can help ground you and reconnect you in your own practice—which we all can use from time to time.
Usually when we think about the word Dharma, we think about teachings that someone gives, or texts that explain the methods for different kinds of practice. But really, the true Dharma that we need to understand is that of the mind itself. We need to relate to our own minds. That is real Dharma. Being in a position to practice Dharma at all, and then having the supreme good fortune to encounter it, is a very rare and precious thing.
It is very easy to become the mere reflection of a Dharma practitioner; but to become a Dharma practitioner who has all of the perfect conditions available to support his or her practice is a very difficult thing to do. We ought to reflect on the fact that we have at least some positive supports for Dharma practice. What good fortune we’ve had so far!
But, the extent to which we use these supports to actually practice is really up to us. We also need faith and the will to practice. Instead of having any spiritual inclination whatsoever, we might simply worry about making ourselves comfortable and happy. Or, we might focus on merely keeping our bodies healthy and looking young. In fact, in order to serve the body, we might actually push Dharma away.
It is important to examine the relationship between the body and the mind. For example, in this lifetime, the body and mind have an intimate connection. The idea of ego or the concept of self is created by each person’s mind. The idea and experience of self-attachment are also created by the mind. From beginningless time, our minds have engaged in self-grasping. Even though our bodies have changed in form and appearance over time, we have always perceived ourselves in a fixed and lasting relationship with a particular body during a particular lifetime.
We can also reflect on the fact that what could be self-arisen wisdom has arisen as ordinary consciousness instead, because of the attachment that we have to the body. In other words, the attachment to the body keeps us from experiencing the nature of mind.
We must realize that the body can be used for either a worldly or a higher purpose. We can use the body itself as a support for meditation, so that it becomes a support for the practice of Dharma and enlightenment. But the body can also be the basis or support for accumulating negative karma, which will cause us to inhabit samsara continually.
When reflecting on the mind-body connection, one thing becomes apparent: We ordinary practitioners have not even realized the selflessness of our own self. We have not even realized that our ego does not exist, yet we want to go on and call ourselves practitioners of the Mahayana and the Vajrayana and use that to feel superior to and judgmental of others. Understanding the relationship between the mind and the body is a fundamental part of Dharma practice that enables us to see the basis of our self-attachment, so we should not neglect it. We should never give up an opportunity to cut through the ego’s arrogance.
Just having a human life is not the same as having a precious human life. It is very important for us to contemplate and make choices about how we use our lives. It is important to treat this very lifetime as though it is precious. Simply realizing this life’s impermanence is not enough to cut through self-attachment.
Because few practitioners take up a life-long Dharma practice and delve deeply into a relationship with a spiritual friend to help them accomplish this, few can truly realize selflessness.
We should take a moment to reflect on our Dharma practice from when we began practicing up until now. Have our afflictive emotions decreased since that time? Are we less angry, less dramatic, and less extreme? Are we less worried about the behavior of others and more mindful about our own behavior? Has our self-attachment decreased? Are we experiencing more clarity and stability in the mind? Are we able to practice more?
If, after making this examination, we feel that we are progressing pretty well, then it would be good to keep at Dharma practice just the way we have been. If we examine ourselves and then think, “I haven’t changed as much as I should have as a result of practicing this long,” it would be good to evaluate and reflect on ways that we could change.
Tibetan Buddhists say “the mind is not hidden from us.” In other words, you are the only one who can really see the qualities of your mind. It is the same idea we express in English when we say that no one knows us better than we know ourselves. We are with ourselves constantly, and only we have the ability to discern our true motivations.
However, self-attachment and the ego are very seductive. It is very easy to be lured into thinking, based on our self-attachment, that “I’m doing really well. I’m a great practitioner.”
It is easy not to be objective in evaluating how our practice is going and what we are like as human beings. For example, it is difficult to reflect on situations as an outsider and consider how people perceive us. If we engaged in this mental exercise, we might start to have a different idea about who we are as compared to the person that we typically imagine ourselves to be.
In sum, whenever we engage in self-reflection, we must be objective. We must truly consider our progress and how we think our progress should be going. If we find that we are not practicing with the same enthusiasm we had when we first began, we can use mindfulness and discernment to reflect on which habitual tendencies most often overpower us. There are a lot of possibilities.
Perhaps we have a disposition that is often overpowered by laziness or distraction. We may also find that our faith degrades from time to time, and that this makes us lethargic. Sometimes our intellect might not be as sharp as usual. And, sometimes it is lack of diligence that afflicts us—we simply do not feel like making an effort at virtuous activity.
It is normal to become overpowered by any of these tendencies from time to time, but we should become aware of our energy so that we know when we are overpowered. We should make an effort to correct it, so that we do not become even more overpowered. Then, we can shorten the period of time that the afflicted state lasts.
My root lama used to repeatedly quote a great master who said,
Even if you straighten a bent piece of wood
When it meets with moisture, it becomes crooked again.
Even if you reform the negative aspects of your personality
When you meet with the right conditions, you will show your faults.
Like that crooked piece of wood, it is natural for us to revert back to how we were before—even though we may work very hard at changing. It is so difficult for us to consistently apply the mindfulness, discernment, and diligence that we need to keep ourselves straight. I reflect on this all the time; I think that it is one of the most important teachings that my lama ever gave me. He said it so many times about me in front of huge audiences of people, which was difficult to bear—it was extremely embarrassing. But now I find this particular piece of advice very valuable.
One of the ego’s greatest seductions is tricking us into believing that we have attained realization or some unusual sign as a result of our meditation. In these circumstances, we should notice what is happening in the body, but never get attached to it. We should strive to never generate hope or craving toward any particular meditative state. This is one of the most important ways in which we can apply mindfulness and discernment.
Excerpt from Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path by Anyen Rinpoche.