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..:: The Body ::..


Alan Schneider


              All that we know of experience and consciousness either comes to us through the body, or in relation to the body.  What ever this existence may be, the body is clearly the perceptual anchor that holds us in it.  This even applies to the great range of extra-personal, that is, spiritual, phenomena of perception, and the subconscious realms as well – frequently one and the same perceptual region – these occur locally in our personal awareness, however altered that state of awareness may have become, and regardless of the possible or probable origin of the stimulus in question.  

            On a verifiable, scientific level, the body is composed of various proteins and acids suspended in a solution of water – actually well over ninety percent water.  This intricate mixture of many chemical elements not only sustains a metabolism, but sustains the electrodynamic central nervous system referred to so often in these essays, which, in turn, sustains the psychological mechanisms of perception – including the self-perception also often our subject in SYNERGY – the ego.  Beyond this, science also indicates the operation in awareness of many unsensed but still influential psychological states acting in the subconscious region of the mind. To this day, the difficulty of scientific observation of these states has frustrated the researchers involved in the behavioral investigation of consciousness, resulting in much long standing controversy and many diverse, and often conflicting, theories of awareness and behavior.  

             Beyond the purview of science, the landscape of consciousness becomes even more confusing, as every manner of popular, pseudo-scientific, and spiritual interpretation vies for out attention and certification.  And the non-verifiable context of most of these theories throws the door wide open to wild conjecture of all kinds, further complicating the situation for the human observer who must make sense of this world. 

            Now, some of the preeminent spiritual theories of perception are notably more sensible than others, at least in the admittedly subjective opinion of this observer, most notably Hinduism and Buddhism, although these also have their irrational and fantastic features, to be sure.  In particular, the Hindu cosmological system is quite sensible as a Monistic theory of Creation.  The emergence of the Trinitarian Godhead of a Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer from an initial unmanifest condition (the Brahman), seen as the seed ground of creation and manifest form, is both wise and logical.  Hindu cosmology would say that the body is, or is an expression of, Karma, created by the Godhead through the action of the Kundalini Energy – the primordial energy of Creation – as is everything else we can perceive as a physical form.  This Karma can, and eventually completely will, be converted to another foundational Hindu concept, Dharma, through devotion to spiritual duty, living, ritual, and study.  The more we live in Dharma, the closer to God we become while still alive in the body – this is the action of Right Hand Tantra – seen in meditation, Yoga, and Hindu rites of spiritual Ascension.  Right Hand Tantra is offset by Left Hand Tantra, the action of genital sexuality and associated procreation and family life. Hindu cosmology describes the balanced evolution of consciousness through four fundamental stages of life as Tantra progresses from largely Left Hand practice to exclusively Right Hand practice with the advance of age and wisdom – the stages of student, householder, renunciant, and teacher, again, a profoundly logical, sensible system of thought. 

            For the practicing Hindu, the body, apparently made of flesh, is really made of the Divine Substance of Karma, and constitutes God’s gift of opportunity for spiritual growth, exploration, development, and ultimately reunion with the Godhead through Ascension.  In fact, this spiritual system holds that we never really leave the Divine Presence, and that the life shown to us in sense perception is fundamentally illusory – Maya – caused by the turbulence of activity on the Physical level of consciousness. The practice of meditation progressively calms this external turbulence, eventually revealing the Truth of Consciousness as Love, Light, and Supreme Being in the ecstatic state of Samadhi – full reunion with God and the Divine Essence.  To the Hindu, Samadhi is our natural state of existence and perception, while Maya is the result of Karma, and specifically that form of Karma experienced through sense perception as the body.  Ultimately, everything in this paradigm is an expression of the highest mode of Divine Existence – the Brahman – radiating forth into manifestation as the Godhead, even the Karma and the body of flesh.  We simply must choose to look away from the realm of physical distractions long enough, often enough, and persistently enough to identify the spiritual truth underlying the material illusion. 

            Buddhism is essentially an outgrowth of Hinduism, one that occurred under conditions in which the predominant Hindu philosophies of the time had become significantly corrupt and materialistic.  As a corrective to this spiritual malady of those days, the Buddha (born to a Noble Hindu family as Prince Siddhartha) prescribed a particularly austere lifestyle of renunciation and spiritual devotion described as the Noble  Eightfold Path, still followed as the primary mode of Buddhist practice today.  This Path was conceived of as necessary to overcome the inherent tendencies of the body to succumb to desire and Desire Action – the self-manipulative activities designed by the ego to gratify desire. Such activities are seen in Buddhism as doomed to failure – the temporarily successful Desire Action only breeds addiction to the senses, and is bound to fail with the advent of old age and infirmity in any case.  Yet, the body is prone to this fallen orientation, and requires the sternest of corrective measures to turn it back to the Path of Enlightenment.  Buddhism perceives the body, nervous system, and ego as the Dark Trinity of Materialism and Maya – the collective enemy of spiritual growth and development, and is significantly more severe than its parent Hindu systems in that regard.  The attainment of spiritual grace and Enlightenment is seen as the only real hope of human beings trapped in the storm of the senses and physical appetites created by the body.  Sadly, there is much spiritual justification for this viewpoint,  particularly when the many physical and mental addictions of the flesh are considered – indeed, it frequently appears as though we born to be addicted creatures.  The Buddhist is far less concerned with the theoretical why of our manifest form than with the how of treating its flaws and imperfections immediately, here and now, in this life and this incarnation.  

            At the extreme of renunciation, beyond even Buddhism, is the Jainism tradition.  Historically, the Jains would not even wear clothing, live in housing, or accept anything other than the gifts of food they frequently would not even voluntarily solicit for themselves.  The original Jain disregard and contempt for the body was truly remarkable, viewing it as a chalice of filth, and appropriate only as a target of abuse and degradation, since the spirit entrapped within it was unquestionably afflicted by this prison of the flesh.  The many physical mortifications of the body seen in traditional India (and even some quarters of India today), such as reclining on beds of nails, walking and lying on hot coals, piercing and lacerating the limbs, and refusing to eat or sleep, are traceable in many cases back to the Jain tradition, where open warfare was declared on the physical organism without the possibility of quarter or truce.  

            Of course, the West has its many spiritual equivalents of the austere traditions of the East, notably seen in the more severe sects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with equally, or perhaps even more, horrific abuses of the body taking place.  In the opinion of this author, such practices are heavily psychologically motivated by severe childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse that goes unrecognized and untreated, resulting in a life long hatred for the body and the material condition of existence.  As such, they represent psycho-spiritual imbalances, not correctives.  There simply is no valid point in assaulting the body from any spiritual or philosophical perspective – for better or worse, this body is what we have to work with in life, and assault does not equal respect any more than does addiction or gluttony.  How wise was the Biblical admonition: “All things done in moderation, and none to excess!”  And, of the three Cabalistic routes to Ascension (Severity, Mercy, and Mildness), the Middle Way of Mildness is by far the most tolerant and appropriate one for most people to follow.  

            Although this cannot be verified scientifically, the probable meaning of life seems to be that we are intended to reach the highest level of awareness possible, a process of psychological development that becomes increasingly spiritual in character as successive levels of that process are attained.  The successful implementation of this meaning as a lifestyle depends on respect for the body as the Karmic platform upon which all subsequent perception is established.  Yes, we can, should, and do achieve much higher states of perception than the mere physical gratification of desire, but if the terms of this achievement involve significant levels of physical abuse and neglect, whether voluntary or otherwise,  the mantel of suspicion and scrutiny must be raised regarding the personal motives of those involved.  And, yes, the highest states of spiritual bliss and radiance really do seem to originate beyond the physical body, and point to a permanent realm of existence beyond the flesh, but we still must take this on faith while alive, without the comfortable assurance of science, and find ourselves confronted therefore with the need to make whatever peace is possible with our blood and bones as the known conditions of this existence. As Buddhism has said, to “Chop wood, and Carry water” without expectation remains the highest state of Enlightenment attainable!


                                                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                                               (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)


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