All encompassing practice: body, speech and mind

Posted by on Nov 8, 2012 in Buddhism | No Comments

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the nature of self in Buddhism, today I’m going to talk about another way Buddhism carves us up.

Whereas in the Western (Cartesian) model, we tend to think in terms of body and mind, Buddhism thinks of body, speech and mind.

Initially, this seems a bit weird. But it shows the importance of communication in Buddhism. It also suggests the spectrum of body to mind, rather than thinking of it in terms of a dualistic split.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if you think about it, speech is part body and part mind. I suppose you could say the same about all movement in the body. But the speech seems to be particularly connected to the mind – both its conscious and unconscious aspects.

The issue of whether or not ‘mind’ even exists – whether it’s just neurones firing – I’ll leave for another time. So if you have a problem with the concept of a mind that is not wholly identified with the brain, think of this metaphorically. Indeed, Buddhist texts and ideas should all be seen in this way in the final analysis, since reality is beyond language.

Language is used as a ‘finger pointing at the moon’. It should never be confused with the moon itself.

Back to body, speech and mind.

Speech and voice as diagnostic tool

This triumvirate approach appealed to me from the moment I first heard it. Firstly because, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we can think of our speech as a diagnostic tool, helping us to work out where we’re at at any one moment. Where is the voice coming from in the body? What is it’s tone? How guarded is our speech right now? How well formed are the ideas we are communicating? How many ‘ummm, errr, you know, like’ do we use. I saw a t-shirt the other day. It said “The art of conversation is, kinda like, y’know, dead an’ stuff.”

An all-encompassing practice

The other reason I like this idea is it gives you another way to develop your practice. A practice that encompasses body, speech and mind encompasses all aspects of life. This perspective can be seen in some of the practices in Tibetan Buddhism. These ‘visualisation’ practices aren’t just visualisation practices. They involve prostrations and ‘mudras’ (gestures) – thus including the body. They also include mantra and prayer – thus including the speech.

If we explode that out off the cushion and into the rest of life, it gives us a model for Buddhist living. How we use our bodies can become a practice. We can be mindful of how we sit, stand, walk or lie down. We can also be mindful of how what we do with our bodies impacts on others (at the extremes, we can avoid violence and sexual exploitation, or drag someone from the path of a car they haven’t noticed… probably because they were texting… nearly went under a bus, lol).

We can also look at how we treat our bodies: what do we feed it, how hard do we push it, do we give it enough sleep, etc.

Mindfulness of our speech: how do we speak to others, how truthful and kind are we, how much better do we make the days of strangers in random interactions, how do we use our voice in the sphere of politics or social networks to make a difference.

And the mind, well, there’s plenty to say about that, but for starters, check out my post on the four right efforts.


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