Over the last 15 years, Dr. Reggie Ray, Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, has developed a unique system of practices and teachings called Meditating with the Body. This is an excerpt from a podcast on meditation and the particular role of the body in meditation. He also explores how, in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, the body is understood as the gateway through which the entire universe is discovered. Click here to listen to the entire podcast. To find a variety of audio listening guides to assist you on your spiritual journey, please visit http://www.dharmaocean.org/online-courses-3/.
The view or the intellectual understanding of what we’re talking about is important. It’s crucial to have a conceptual understanding of the nature of ourselves and our life and the nature of the journey. When I teach in different places and I present a view, it’s interesting how many people already know it on some level. Often I feel even when I’m going into a new place and meeting people I’ve never seen before, I’m really just giving words to something that is already in them.
The reason that intellectual understanding is so key is that it makes room for our experience. To say that every moment of our life is an expression of love and is a blessing that brings us to the core of who we are potentially opens things up for people. They start looking at their life in a different way. This teaching of sacredness is the most radical in this tradition that I’ve run into.
People say, “Well, if everything is sacred, why do I have to do anything? Why can’t I just hang out?” Our tradition, that emphatically emphasizes sacredness, is also the most intensely practice-oriented tradition. You have to practice because if you don’t, then your body doesn’t know it. You just know it in your head, but that doesn’t free you.
People at the college I attended had a sign that said “The truth will make you free.” And what they meant was if you know enough, you’re going to be free. And that’s just not true, as we know. Because we know more now than we’ve ever known, and we’re less free than we’ve ever been. So practice is key. If you don’t do the practice, it’s not really going to be of much benefit. There’ll be a little bit of benefit. You can think about it and it’ll make you feel better, but it’s not going to change you.
Vajrayana: The Practice Lineage
Vajrayana Buddhism is called the practicing lineage. The meditation practice I talk about is based on being present in your body. And it’s the journey to becoming really present, present in the body, feeling life, the life of our body and all of the myriad, the unending plenitude of knowingness that is in our body.
The body is the river of our life. The body already experiences ourselves as the river of the person that we’re supposed to be. The body not only knows it, but is there. The body is our larger self. That’s why the body is so important. That’s why we have to come into our embodiment and into the feeling of our life, the somatic feeling. Another way to put this is that the body is the unconscious in the sense of all the information and all the parts of ourselves that we have lost, or that we never had, are in the body. They’re in the tissues. They’re in the cells.
Beyond Fear to Intimacy
So when we come into our body, we’re coming into the person that we’re supposed to be. And that’s why somatic work is so important. When we come into our body we discover that they’re places where we can’t go because we’re too afraid. There are places in us that are locked up and tense. There’s a door saying ‘no admittance.’ The no admittance sign was put up by our mind—not put up by the body. The body is totally open and always has been. But our mind doesn’t want to go to certain places in our body because we don’t want to know how magnificent we are and how vast we are. Our ego wants to keep things small.
You can see this in intimate relationships. In every relationship, infinity is calling. But we want to keep the relationship so small and so under control that there are just a lot of places we won’t go. We will not go there. Even though the relationship wants to go there. And the relationship is not the individual people. It’s not you and it’s not me. The relationship has its own life. It’s like the relationship is what we actually are together and we don’t want to go there. And so both of us keep it small.
We do that with our life. We want to keep it small. But the thing is the body doesn’t. The body is actually abiding at this moment in eternity. Jung said the unconscious wants to become conscious. The unconscious, for him, was not just the personal repressed material, it was the knowledge of the vastness of eternity. And the body wants us to know that, and it calls us.
The Universe Within
When we do the somatic practice, all of a sudden we’re there, something’s happening. It’s beyond us. We’re naturally afraid, but at the same time attracted to it because the answers are there. When we put our awareness in our body, what’s really happening is we’re simply opening ourselves to the awareness that’s already there. The whole picture of the universe is reflected in our body. We often say that to go into the body is to travel to the farthest ends of the universe. At least that’s the potential.
In the Vajrayana, meditation is all about the body. The whole tradition is about the body. Now this may be confusing because you study with certain Tibetan teachers and that’s not at all what’s going on. But in Trungpa Rinpoche’s teaching, the Vajrayana is about the body. And the further you go, the deeper you go into the body. At a certain point, all you’re doing is working within the interior of the body. And at that point, the body and the universe are the same thing. The body is the gateway to the farthest reaches of the universe. And all the forms of being in the universe are reflected in the body.
In one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s practices, you visualize the body of the teacher and in the body of the teacher are galaxies and nebulae and exploding stars. And the whole universe is actually in the teacher’s body. It’s not a metaphor. And it’s true of each one of us. So when we work with the body, we’re working with something that is endless. It’s infinite, and it’s eternal. This is why the tantric tradition says the body is the temple of enlightenment. Truly it is because within the temple of the body we discover everything that there is to be known and everything that we need to find out and become who we are.
About Dharma Ocean
Dharma Ocean is a global educational foundation in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, focusing on somatic meditation as the way to help students – of any secular or religious discipline, who are genuinely pursuing their spiritual awakening. Dharma Ocean provides online courses, study resources, guided meditation practice, and residential retreats at Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado.