What's NewLast Updated on 22 December 2015
Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue
Editorial : Denouncing the Body
The human body is an interesting space. It is where a person resides. It is cherished, decorated, cared for, and adored. It is also the cause of endless suffering and the reason for hard toil. The small area of the body surface consumed by the stomach also consumes the maximum labour and attention of a person. One adorns many hats to satisfy this stomach. And this stomach is bound by the pulls of the tongue. What may be pleasing to the tongue may cause misery to the stomach and what may be pleasing to the stomach may not interest the tongue.
The human body is also a centre of networking. It is from and to this body that countless interactions between humans and other living beings, and also between humans and objects, take place. This human body is the field of numerous and diverse range of emotions, feelings, realisations, sensibilities, knowledge, and many other experiences. It is the centre of attention of the entire humanity. It is for the body that everybody produces and strives. Even while not active, even while asleep, this human body is consuming vast resources created out of human endeavour. This wonderful piece of machinery has an ignition spark called life, the root of which remains unexplained by science to this day. Life has been explained, not its cause.
The amazing handiwork of nature called the human body suffers a pronoun displacement on its demise. When a person dies, she or he becomes ‘it’. The body, cherished till then, becomes an object of abhorrence, a piece of horror and any possibility of it getting active again sends shivers down the spines of all. A zombie is not something people look forward to meeting with!
All faith-traditions are unanimous on the impermanence of the human body. There is no other way, since this impermanence is an empirical fact.
However, there are diverse ways of looking at the body vis-a-vis the spiritual or religious life. Many traditions denounce the body by insulting it in their texts. In the Indian tradition, this practice is called deha-ninda. They emphasise the inherent filth that the body carries within and ask the spiritual aspirant to be indifferent to its pulls. Some faith-traditions decry the body, while not forgetting to add that it is through the body alone that one can attain the highest realisation. Some faith-systems consider the human body to be the temple of God and advocate decorating it. In fact, the standpoints of various faith-traditions on the position of the human body in spiritual life are so diverse that one is at a loss as to how to deal with it.
The human body is indeed filthy. There is no denying that. Holding on to its shaky foundations is the hallmark of a faulty world view. And that is the main reason why we should denounce the body. Because our body is the most palpable experience we have of holding on to a changing illusory phenomenon, mistaking it to be our only reality. How to understand the non-reality of what we perceive to be the reality? It has to be achieved through a process carried out with the aid of the body. And here is the conundrum. We have to denounce the body for what it apparently is, to get the realisation of what is truly behind it. The body is a part of a misreading of the divine principle. We wrongly see the divine principle as this universe. And the human body is part of this universe. We have to do spiritual practices through the body to realise that this apparent universe is actually an absolute divine principle.
There are two phenomena related to the human body that elude reason or science. First is life. How and when does life leave a body? All the matter necessary for the living of a body are present in the human body even when life goes out. What exactly stops it? To date, no satisfactory answer has been found by science. It could be explained as the faulty functioning of an organ but why it happens has not been explained. The second thing that eludes science is the strange phenomenon of a person identifying with a particular body. The human brain has a peculiar tendency to get associated with external objects and even bodies belonging to other people. Sometimes such an attachment takes the shape of a mania requiring urgent treatment. This emphasises the need to understand the exact dynamics of a person’s association with a human body.
When a person’s limb is chopped off accidentally by high-speed machinery, the brain does not get enough time to process the cutting off of the limb and maintains the nerve centres of the limb even when they are not there! This leads to the person who has lost an arm still feeling the movement of the fingers. This phenomenon is called ‘phantom limbs’. It leads to the question: what makes a person identify with the body. Various neuroscientists have conducted numerous experiments and have concluded that the notion of the human body being present in a particular locus is an illusion. That is a great finding!
Keeping these findings of neuroscience in mind, we have to stop overrating the human body. Overemphasising the importance of the body is at the root of most suffering. At the same time, one should not neglect the body. It is to be treated as one of those many instruments we use at work. It has to be kept in a fine working condition, properly maintained, and all ailments should be immediately treated. However, we should remember that the instrument is not the end; work is. And for a spiritual aspirant, realising one’s true nature, the divine principle, is the work at hand. It is in this respect that we should treat the human body as a temple. In a temple, the focus should be on the deity and not on the architecture or external decorations. Similarly, in the temple of God, the human body, the focus should be on God, not on the flesh and blood.
We need to denounce the body as a construct of the realm of ignorance. However, we need to acknowledge it as long as we dabble in this realm. It is the microcosmic representation of the universe. It is the subjective element of the objective universe. It is also the constant reminder of our faulty world view. It acts as a pointer to our wrong perception or non-perception of the divine reality. It is the ropeway to cross the chasm of this ignorant understanding and reach the supreme height of self-realisation. Seeing the body as inconsequential helps in considerably reducing the influence of bodily ailments. Also, a studied indifference to the body helps one maintain poise. A calm interior is much needed in the present-day world. The least we can do to achieve this is to abstain from bodily indulgences and discourses and concentrate on realising the ultimate truth.