This is Article No. 7 in the ‘Buddhism’ series.
It is also the third of six articles, which explore the ’emptiness’, or non-personal nature, of the ‘Form’, or ‘conceptual form’, aspect of our cognitive-perceptual experience – that which Buddhist tradition calls the rūpa skandha. Together these articles make up a single longer article, or six-part mini-series of articles, which are best read in order. When all these articles are published, you will be able to click on the titles below to access the other parts.
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 3: The Body
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 4: Mindfulness and Emptiness
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 5: The Heart Sutra
The Rūpa Skandha – Part 6: Equanimity and Being
Bringing Awareness ‘Into the Body’
I find the notion of Being, which I introduced in my last article (here) to be an extremely useful notion for making a deeper connection with the practice of Mindfulness of ‘the Form of the Body’ (kaya), which is the first of the ‘ Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ and corresponds with the rūpa skandha. In that article, I also pointed out the way the Buddha, not only took the existing ancient Indian ‘Five Skandhas’ teaching and gave his own interpretation of it – but adapted the same five-fold enquiry framework in the creation of his ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ model. The diagram below shows the correspondences between the skandhas and ‘Foundations’.
The implicit choice on the part of the Buddha, to address the rūpa skandha, or ‘Form’, or Thinking aspect of the mind, by the advice to bring awareness into the ‘Form of the Body’ (Kaya) is deeply significant, and has, for me, a wonderfully contemporary feel about it. Many modern psychotherapists, heirs to the various traditions within psychoanalysis and humanistic psychotherapy, would say the same. We could even think of this first ‘Foundation of Mindfulness’ as the first ‘exercise’ at the Buddha’s Mindfulness workshop. The first step in his ’embodied Consciousness’ training – in the Buddha’s systematic and comprehensive program of personal, transpersonal and spiritual healing – was to ‘bring awareness into the body’ by being aware of our body’s position in space as we go about our lives.
‘Bringing awareness into the body’ does not stop there however – with the rūpa skandha and the first ‘Foundation of Mindfulness’, which is kaya, or Mindfulness of ‘the Form of the Body’. It is important to understand, that what the Buddha is addressing in his ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ framework, is not a model in which the first ‘Foundation’, and first skandha, relates to the ‘body’ and all the rest are aspects of ‘mind’. On the contrary, all the Foundations, and all the skandhas, are aspects of an integrated ‘body-mind’ experience. Moreover, the whole four-fold process is one of deepening into the experience of embodied Consciousness, at successively deeper levels – starting with Mindfulness of ‘the Form of the Body’ (kaya), and then working round the mandala in a clockwise direction.
This notion of embodied Consciousness is fundamental to our understanding – there is no Mind / Body split in the Buddha’s model, and it would be a terrible mistake for us to introduce one. This is why it is so important that we do not mistake the rūpa skandha for ‘body’, and do not take Mindfulness of Kaya literally and narrowly as somehow denoting the totality of bodily experience. We would do well perhaps, to think of ‘the form of the body’ (rūpa / kaya), not as ‘the body’ but as our doorway into the body-mind – our doorway into that deeper and fuller experience of ourselves which can be spoken of in terms of ‘ the somatic’, or of ’embodiment’. The form of the body is the venue for, and the starting point for, our exploration – and while is the apparent container of our somatic process, it is, more importantly, itself contained by Consciousness.