November 18, 2010

Touching Enlightenment with the Body

In an early Theravada meditation text, the phrase “touching enlightenment with the body” is used to describe the attainment of ultimate spiritual realization. It is interesting, if a bit puzzling, that we are invited not to see enlightenment, but to touch it--not with our thought or our mind, but with our body. What can this possibly mean? In what way can the body be thought to play such a central and fundamental role in the life of meditation? This question becomes all the more interesting and compelling in our contemporary context, when so many people are acutely feeling their own personal disembodiment and finding themselves strongly drawn to somatic practices and therapies of all kinds.

My sense is that there is a very real problem among Western Buddhist practitioners. We are attempting to practice meditation and to follow a spiritual path in a disembodied state, and our practice is therefore doomed to failure. The full benefits and fruition of meditation cannot be experienced or enjoyed when we are not grounded in our bodies. The phrase from the early text, when understood fully, implies not only that we are able to touch enlightenment with our bodies, but that we must do so--that in fact there is no other way to touch enlightenment except in and through our bodies.

-Reginald A. Ray, "Touching Enlightenment"

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