“The greatest way to reduce suffering in our lives and the lives of others is to take care of our bodies, along with our speech and our thoughts” (Thich Nhat Hanh).
“Body, speech, and mind are considered the three doors to enlightenment” (Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche).
If they are not seen and used as doors to enlightenment or a more enlightened state, they may become pain body, pain speech, and pain mind, which may lead to much suffering, conflict, and war. However, with practice “pain body dissolves into stillness, pain speech dissolves into silence, pain mind dissolves into the spaciousness of pure nonconceptual awareness”.
Although the trinity of body, speech, and mind is characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism, the same or similar trinities can be found in other traditions. In the West we may talk about thought (mind), word (speech), and deed (body).
Body, speech, and mind are one, but it seems useful to first deal with each of them separately. Several levels can be distinguished for each. Ken Wilber and others refer to three levels :
For the body the three levels are the physical (or gross) body, the subtle body, and the very subtle (or causal) body that is also referred to as the body of light or clear light.
For speech the three levels are ordinary speech, in which words and sentences have a meaning, speech as sound (vibration), and silence.
For mind the three levels are the thinking mind, the observing (witnessing) mind, and the divine or kosmic mind.
Beyond the three levels is the nondual, which includes and transcends all levels.
The Physical Body which is also referred to as the gross body. Mainstream science and our mainstream culture seems very much focused on this level, often to the exclusion of the other levels, which leads to a greatly impoverished science, society, and personal life.
In our mainstream culture we tend to perceive the body as material and separate from its environment. This can lead to much alienation, which seems to be a common affliction in our culture. This root problem of separation is addressed in many spiritual traditions and practices. There is much evidence that our body is continuous with the environment. For example, we exchange air with the environment; we exchange heat; we are electromagnetically continuous with the environment, etc. In other words, we are integrated with the environment, we are one with the environment, we are not separate from it.
Science and Spirituality. The recognition of oneness in holistic science such as quantum physics and ecology connects at least to some extent with discourse in spirituality in which oneness often plays a central role. However, keep in mind that the oneness recognized in holistic science is not exactly the same as the oneness in lived spirituality. Oneness in holistic science remains third person experience, that is, experience of the investigating scientists, whereas oneness of lived spirituality implies subjective experience beyond words. Mystics who often refer to oneness seem to agree that mystical experience or the mystical state of being cannot be adequately described by words.
The Subtle Body. - At the subtle level of the body, integration appears even more profound than at the physical level. Unfortunately, the subtle level is pretty much ignored in mainstream science and our predominant culture. But there is scientific evidence of subtle energy or energies that characterize the subtle body. Albert Einstein intuited such energies when he wrote: “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable”.
The Body of Light, which represents the very subtle level, is considered the highest attainment according to Tibetan Buddhism such as the Dzogchen Teachings and Mahamudra. In it we “recognize that space is light, that light is space, and that light and space are energy – there is no separation. This recognition of no separation appears as clear light. Clear light is not white, yellow, blue, red, or green. It is pure awareness. The moment you realize that light, you are liberated”.
Speech, Sound, and Silence
As in the body, in speech we may distinguish three levels that appear interconnected in a continuum.
Words and sentences with a meaning The lowest level, with which we are most familiar, represents speech that consists of words and sentences with a meaning such as, for example, the sentences “This apple is green,” or “Body, speech, and mind are important aspects of human existence.” ONTOLOGY : Depending on how we define or understand the words we use, our speech may be more or less precise, more or less inclusive, etc. GRAMMAR : And depending on the kind of grammar, syntax, and logic we imply, our speech may be more or less restricted or open, etc. For example, speech that relies heavily on nouns and implies a noun-verb structure appears more frozen than a more verb-based language that conveys more directly the fluidity of reality. Whether a purely verb-based language is possible seems controversial.
Sound Regardless of what kind of language we use, we have to keep in mind that language abstracts from reality and therefore cannot represent reality as it is. Thus, language can be seen as a map. A map is NOT the territory it represents. A map represents at best some aspects of reality that have been abstracted - to abstract means to select. Therefore, when we use language we inevitably lose much of the richness of reality. But we can at least try to avoid grave and misleading distortions.
Meaning remains, of course, important for our orientation in the world. But it seems desirable to go beyond meaning so that we can come still closer to reality. How is this possible? Shinzen Young (2016) and others have suggested to experience words, phrases and sentences as sound and its rhythm (that is, as vibrations). In this way we can directly relate to or even merge and become one with the vibrations or dynamics of the universe. We can overcome the inevitable separation that is created by the meaning of words and sentences. We can listen to the sound “without interference from words, ideas, philosophies, or other concepts”. “We can thus learn to listen to our own thinking as we would listen to a stream of water, a splashing fountain or a chorus of song from a flock of birds...It’s only the murmuring brook of the mind... No big thing - nothing to get excited about, nothing to get disturbed about”, “just a long, continuous, murmuring stream of vibrations”.
Singing, chanting, and music can also transport us beyond meaning and abstraction.
Silence And beyond or at the root of sound is silence. “Silence means: inside you, you are just spaciousness, uncluttered spaciousness. Silence means you have put aside the whole furniture of the [thinking] mind – the thoughts, the desires, the memories, the fantasies, the dreams… You are just looking into existence directly, immediately. You are in contact with existence without anything in between you and existence”. “And that silence is the door to the divine”. After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Mind spans the continuum form the thinking mind to the observing witnessing mind (mindfulness) to the kosmic mind, which is also called divine mind (in Yoga) or undeluded mind (in Tibetan Buddhism) or no-mind (in Zen Buddhism).
The thinking mind In our culture many or most people seem to be stuck in the thinking mind. Although occasionally they may have glimpses of mindfulness and the kosmic mind, they seem to be pulled back into the thinking mind due to our strong cultural conditioning. Plato, Aristotle, and subsequent philosophers, who took the prime importance of the thinking mind for granted, have shaped our culture to a great extent. Descartes, the highly influential French philosopher, went even further when he declared “Cogito, ergo sum,” which means "I think, therefore I am". If one has at least an inkling of mindfulness or the kosmic mind, one could turn this statement around and say: I am and I can think and feel and partake in the observing and kosmic mind.
In our culture and mainstream science thinking is often based on Aristotelian either/or logic. We have, however, also non-Aristotelian both/and logic and fuzzy logic that unites what either/or logic has torn apart.
The observing witnessing mind (mindfulness) Due to increasingly stronger influences of Eastern spirituality that emphasizes the cultivation of higher (or deeper) states of consciousness, an increasing number of people in our Western culture seem to realize that the thinking mind, although very useful and important, represents only the lowest (or most superficial) level in the mind continuum. Nonetheless, they find it difficult to turn off the activity of the thinking mind when it is not needed. There are, however, some helpful methods such as gibberish, laughing, dancing, etc. When we practice gibberish, the thinking mind becomes so confused that it gives up, and when we really laugh we cannot think at the same time. Dancing and other activities also may involve us so much that the thinking mind loses its grip.
The practice of mindfulness can also be helpful. Practicing mindfulness (mindfulness meditation), which is not easy for most people but highly rewarding, creates a distance from the thinking mind and thus leads to calmness and peacefulness. However, thoughts may still arise. We don’t suppress them – that wouldn’t work – we just observe them in a detached way, and thus they lose their grip on us because we no longer identify with them: we are no longer our thoughts, we are infinitely more than these thoughts. In that spaciousness they cannot possess us. They are no longer the master, we have become the master in the infinite spaciousness that surpasses any identification with thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
The kosmic mind Mindfulness meditation does not only create spaciousness and distance, it also provides insight, and for that reason it is also called insight meditation. In the vast spaciousness it allows us to observe and investigate how we experience the world and ourselves: we may notice that what often appears solid such as our sense of self and objects actually changes. The change may occur through two fundamental forces: contraction and expansion, which in Daoism are referred to as Yin and Yang, or in other traditions as negation and affirmation, no and yes, etc. These forces create waves or vibrations that interconnect everything. Thus, the universe appears as an interconnected field of vibrations. We are integrated into this field. Even when we die we remain within this field, and in this sense we are immortal. Thus, both life and death are contained within the universal vibrational field.
As I become aware of my participation and integration in the universal activity or vibrational field, my sense of self changes. I am no longer exclusively identified with my thoughts, emotions, and feelings (body sensations). Even in distress and in pain, even while dying, I remain connected with the all-encompassing universal activity (HOLOMOVEMENT). I might lose this awareness and then distress and pain resurfaces. However, regular meditation practice may reinforce the awareness of our universal connectedness and oneness and thus lead us toward the kosmic mind.
In mindfulness a separation of the observer and the observed (or the witness and the witnessed) might still be present. However, this separation may be overcome when one experiences the witnessed as arising within the witness. This leads to the kosmic mind, the highest level in the mind continuum, a state that is often referred to as samadhi. One cannot describe this state through language because it remains unnamable; one has to be it…
Interconnections, the body-speech-mind complex
Although I have dealt with body, speech and mind separately, they are not separate. They are intimately interconnected, and for this reason, it would be appropriate to refer to body-speech-mind. 3G's :
Thoughts of the thinking mind are expressed through language, and both thoughts and language influence the body and our actions.
The mindful observer witnesses the thinking mind, language, the body, and its actions, as well as the sound of speech and the subtle body/energy.
The kosmic mind and the body of light are one in the silence of the unnamable.
With body, speech and mind in perfect oneness I send my heart along with the sound of the bell May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness And transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.
(Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of a part of a Buddhist poem)
Although samadhi may often be considered the highest spiritual state, if it does not embrace the lower levels of existence, it appears incomplete. In other words, nirvana remains incomplete when it excludes samsara. For this reason in Tantra and other spiritual traditions, nirvana has to be found in samsara, and the two are therefore not opposed to each other: samsara and nirvana are one, the relative and the absolute are one. The well-known Ox Herding Pictures that represent the Zen path to enlightenment also convey this insight. Reaching enlightenment on a meditation cushion is not considered the final stage. The final stage is pictured as the return to the market place, to society. “Enlightenment deals with everything; nothing is excluded”(Namgyal Rinpoche 1983). It is, however, recognized that one may have to retreat first from society to become awakened before one can practice enlightenment in society. But for some a total retreat might not be necessary.
According to the mechanistic and materialistic worldview of Newtonian physics, bodies of different dimensions such as stars, planets, rocks, organisms, cells, and molecules are material and separate from each other. They may interact but nonetheless they remain separate. This belief creates many problems, one of which is alienation and loneliness. However, although the materialistic and mechanistic worldview is still widespread in our culture, holistic science (such as quantum physics and deep ecology) has gone beyond the dogma of separateness.
Quantum physics has shown that so-called subatomic “particles” may manifest as particles or waves depending on how they are observed, which integrates the observer with the observed. Since waves interact, an integration and oneness results that surpasses separateness. These and other findings of quantum physics allow us to conclude “that material bodies are no longer the basic objects of physics.”. Thus quantum physics offers avenues that are far beyond beliefs and attitudes of mainstream culture and mainstream science such as mainstream biology and mainstream medicine.
In the last decades holistic science has advanced even beyond quantum physics that recognizes only four fundamental forces in nature:
the strong and
weak nuclear force,
We have now scientific evidence for an additional force or forces, referred to as subtle energies. Tiller (1997, 2007) has shown that subtle energies may change matter. He considers this breakthrough as “A Second Copernican-Scale Revolution” (Tiller 2007).
Beyond subtle energies, the liberated person may become very subtle energy (also referred to as causal energy).
Speech as words and sentences, although very useful for communication, appears rather limited because “whatever you might say something "is", it is not.” To render speech more universal we may focus on the sound of words, phrases, and sentences. Silence - the unnamable - provides the background from which sound and speech arise.
The thinking mind, although very useful, has also limitations, especially if it is restricted to Aristotelian either/or logic that is still the predominant logic in our culture and much of science, although more inclusive ways of thinking such as both/and logic have been available for a long time, and more recently fuzzy logic has been developed. Witnessing our thoughts in mindfulness reminds us that we are more than our thoughts; and the awareness that the witness and the witnessed are not two can be referred to as the kosmic mind.