Toward an Eastern theory of the mindbody

The originality of this Eastern view consists in the fact that mind-body unity ('oneness') is conceived as an achievement rather than an essential relation, which can be reached through physical practice (Yuasa 1993). This implies a form of knowing which is strictly corporeal and that can be developed through 'self-cultivation' (in Japanese, shugy-o). Pragmatically speaking, the process of self-cultivation is fundamental at any stage of our existence. We cultivate a plant in order to let it grow; we educate our children in order to let them be good adults, so we 'cultivate' our minds in order to let them be in harmony with our bodies. According to Yasuo Yuasa, one of the greatest theorists of the body in the contemporary period, personal 'cultivation' is the philosophical foundation of Eastern theories, where the mind-body relations represent not only a way of 'thinking' about the world, but also a mode of 'being' in the world. In other words, we could say that self-cultivation is a valid method of overcoming dualism through praxis. For instance, a famous renga poet, Shinkei conceived the 'training' and the 'diligence' in composing waka poetry as follows:

Whatever the way [of practice], shouldn't one's mind change greatly through training (keiko) and diligence? If so, no matter how much one is exposed to sacred teaching and books, attainment is not his unless he knows for himself what is cold to be cold, what is hot to be hot.

The phrase 'to know for himself what is cold to be cold, what is hot to be hot' is a common Zen expression meaning that cultivation can only be understood by personal experiencing with the whole body-mind. This fundamentally means that true knowledge cannot be obtained simply by means of theoretical thinking, but only through 'bodily recognition or realization', which means through the utilization of one's total mind and body. This can be seen as a way to 'learn with the body', not only with the brain (Yuasa 1987).

In other terms, the practice of self-cultivation is designed as a form of personal growth that accompanies the spiritual development, or the enlightenment of the person. Accordingly, everyone can become enlightened when the entire mind-body is completely dissolved to the point that there is no hint of ego-consciousness at work. At this stage, thought and action, when they are engaged, are no longer two distinct, competing factors in the being of a person; instead, they reach a level of oneness.

Let me quote an example, the performance of a master in martial arts. To reach a high performance in martial arts means to achieve a state of body-mind oneness (as the Japanese idiom suggests) where one can move the body freely without intending it. Zen monk Takuan Soho, who lived nearly five hundred years ago, curiously suggested that our mental attitude should be trained in a bushi way (Takuan 1986). He said that a person who becomes stagnant in certain thoughts, stiffened on pondering on something (what he called a 'delusory' or 'unbalanced' mind) is like the swordsman, who is unable to execute his techniques because he is captivated by the movement of his opponent's sword, or his opponent's movements, in short, by the changing situation. On the contrary, a skilled swordsman acts in a state in which the mind flows freely in all directions, forward, backward, right and left, as he wishes without becoming stagnant. He called this an 'original' or 'right' mind, as if to say that at the center of these movements lies an 'immovable wisdom' or 'state of no-mind'. At such a time, the mind 'fills' the body and it expands unlimited in order to reach the optimal performance. In his words:

If one puts his mind in the action of his opponent's body, his mind will be taken by the action of his opponent's body. If he puts his mind in his opponent's sword, his mind will be taken over by that sword. If he puts his mind in thoughts of his opponent's intention to strike him, his mind will be taken over by thoughts of his opponent's intention to strike him. If he puts his mind in his own sword, his mind will be taken by his own sword. If he puts his mind in his own intention of not being struck, his mind will be taken by his intention of not being struck . . . What this means is that there is no place to put the mind . . . If you put it in your right hand, it will be taken by the right hand and your body will lack its functioning. If you put your mind in the eye, it will be taken by the eye, and your body will lack its functioning. If you put your mind in your right foot, your body will lack its functioning. No matter where you put it, if you put the mind in one place, the rest of your body will lack its functioning.

(Takuan 1986: 30)

It comes naturally to ask the question: 'Where shall the mind go then?' Following Takuan, the correct answer is 'anywhere'. The mind should be able to move freely in all parts of the body. 'In this way, when it enters our hand, it will realize the hand's function. When it enters the foot, it will realize the foot's function. When it enters your eye, it will realize the eye's function' (ibid.: 31). In other words, the 'right mind' is like water, whereas the 'confused mind' is like a cube of ice: 'when ice is melted, it becomes water and flows everywhere' (ibid.: 32).

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