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Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia

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Return to Genesis of Eden?

Macey, Joanna 1991 World as Lover World as Self,
Parallax Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-938077-27-9

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

Extract from: Body and Mind from World as Lover World as Self Joanna Macey

The environmental crisis has deep attitudinal roots. To restore our environment we need to heal our relationship with it, and that means healing the split in the psyche that cuts us off from the material world. It means revisioning the relation of mind to, matter. The bulldozing of nature and the abuse of our own bodies reveal the depth of this separation, the fear it engenders, and the need to control.

What ways of thinking can help us come home again to the physical world? The materialisms of Marxism, capitalism, and classical science offer little help. They do not heal the separation, because they give no authority to subjective experience. The very values and yearnings within us that would move us toward wholeness are considered peripheral.

When we turn instead to the realm of spirituality, we find that the major religious traditions of our planet are afflicted with the same split-a deadening dichotomy between matter and mind. Behind their theologies and symbol systems, we detect a revulsion against the flesh, as if the mental realm were more real and more valuable than the physical.

Thus the separaton of mind from matter has generated two opposing ways of viewing reality, giving rise to what British novelist and scientist C.P. Snow called the "two cultures' that have divided the modern world. One derives from science, the other from the humanities, and there is little communication between them. As I journeyed between the cultures-from theology to Marxism, from social science back to religion, I encountered in each the split between mind and body. It was hard to find a philosophy or religious system that did not perpetuate it.

After I became acquainted with Buddhism and experienced the luminous beauty of its teachings about the mind, I began to wonder what the Dharma had to say about the body. Did it accord reality and dignity to the physical? Was it free of contempt for matter?

On the surface, it would appear not. There is much in early Buddhism that seems, at first approach, to echo, if not aggravate, the dichotomy between mind and matter. There is a strong ascetic flavor to the Pali Canon. The body is said to be as insubstantial and illusory as a 'mass of foam," and the world a mirage," a "bubble." The monks of the Sangha are counseled to avoid temptations of the flesh by cultivating revulsion for the body. To this end meditative guides are provided in the scriptures, urging the monks to develop aversion by seeing the body in terms of "kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.'

In ancient India, too, there were contending schools of thought as to the relation of mind and body. The materialists reduced mind to matter, and Vedantic thought reduced matter to mind. Buddha offered a totally new approach. He did not explain one in terms of the other, or question the reality of either. Instead he showed how they interact, how they dependently co-arise.

Their interdependence is given special emphasis in the Buddha's teaching of paticca samuppada. There, in the classic series of twelve conditional factors, name-and-form (namarupa) is the factor that represents the body. It arises conditioned by consciousness and conditions, in turn, the arising of perception. In rendering the series, a number of texts pause here and circle back, so to speak, inserting that consciousness itself arises conditioned by name-and-form. Now all the factors are implicitly understood to co-arise with each other, but in the case of mind and body a loop occurs to make their interdependence crystal clear.

In referring to mind and body, the preeminent disciple Sariputra likens them to:

two sheaves of reeds leaning one against the other. Even so, friend, name-and-form comes to pass conditioned by consciousness, consciousness conditioned by name-and-form ... If, friend, I were to pull towards me one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall; if I were to pull towards me the other, the former would fall.

If body and mind are to be seen as interdependent, why then the ascetic passages and the cultivation of revulsion in the early texts?

Such passages must be seen within context. Renunciation and sexual abstinence were the norm for all wandering religious movements of the time. The Sangha as a monastic order in India had a stake in helping its adherents maintain celibacy. Given that the scriptures of the Pali Canon represent the views of the most narrowly monastic of the early Buddhist schools, it is not surprising that they feature attitudes which facilitate self-denial and celibacy. Furthermore, and the essential point, these reflections on phlegm, pus, mucus, and so on, did not degrade the body to exalt any higher function or faculty.

The body, although viewed as mercilessly as by any first-year medical student, was not dismissed as less real or less valuable than consciousness, reason, intellect. As the monk was to meditate on the impermanent and composite nature of the body, so was he also to meditate on the composite and transient nature of the mind. Mind, too, was dissected and viewed in terms of the passing flux of thoughts, perceptions, and sensations of which it is constituted. No essence was held up as inherently nobler, purer, or more real than this bag of decaying flesh. The monk's goal, in reflecting on the body, was to become more mindful of it, not to withdraw from it or to alter it.

Therefore, the ascetic flavor of the early Buddhist texts should not mislead us; never is matter presented as less real than consciousness, or as inherently dangerous. Pleasures of the flesh that stimulate our craving are to be shunned, but so are tendentious views and judgments.

Indeed, the body appears to be seen as more innocent and less dangerous than our conceptual reifications. Craving is described in the Mahanidana Sutta in terms of four kinds of grasping: "grasping at things of sense ... speculative opinions ... rule and ritual... theories of the soul." Of the four kinds of clinging, only one is physical, only one involves bodily appetite.

In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha says, "The untaught manyfolk, brethren, might well be repelled by this body, child of the four great elements, might cease to fancy it and wish to be free from it, [seeing its] growth and decay." Yet the manyfolk are not repelled by consciousness; they cling to it, thinking, "This is mine, this I am, this is my spirit." But the body persists for years ten, thirty, fifty, a hundred or longer-whereas consciousness changes ceaselessly. "Just as a monkey, brethren, faring through the woods ... catches hold of a bough, letting it go seizes another, even so that which we call thought, mind, consciousness, that arises as one thing, ceases as another, both by night and by day.' These who are repelled by what is transient should hardly prefer mind to matter, he suggests as he concludes: 'Therefore, itwere better, brethren, if the untaught manyfolk approached this body, child of the four great elements, as the self rather than the mind."

The Buddha himself was scorned by his early ascetic companions for having, in his pursuit of enlightenment, indulged the flesh rather than punished it. Like them, he had mortified the body in grueling austerities. The hunger, filth, and exhaustion he inflicted on himself has been vividly portrayed in Buddhist art. Then, before seating himself in meditation under the bodhi tree, he accepted from a woman a meal of rice and milk. He told later how, when he did this, the yogis, "turned on me in disgust, saying the recluse Gautama has reverted to a life of abundance.' And when, after his enlightenment, he went to preach to them, they said, 'Here comes the recluse Gautama who lives in abundance ... Let us not salute him."

But the woman who brought food to Gautama is honored in carvings throughout the Buddhist world. Kneeling with her bowl beneath the lotus throne, she serves as a reminder that the body is not to be despised as less real or less worthy than mind.


If consciousness co-arises with form, can it be limited to the human realm? Is it the unique possession of our species? Does it set us apart from the rest of the phenomenal world?

To these questions, the Dharma says "No." Consciousness pervades all forms of existence. That teaching can begin to free us from the anthropocentrism that we have inherited from the Semitic religions. ... Consciousness is throughout, but it is not unitary; it is not, in the Buddhist view, the unchanging oneness we find in Hinduism. There the orrmipresence of Brahman, or the pervasiveness of Vishnu, remains changeless and eternal behind the screen of illusion (maya). Awareness of it requires that we see through or strip away the material particularities of life forms. But in the Buddha Dharma, where it co-arises with form, consciousness is, in every instance, particular. It is characterized not by sameness, but by "thatness" or "suchness" (tathata).

While all the worlds and planes of existence teem with consciousness, human mentality presents a distinctive feature: the capacity to choose, to change its karma. That is why a human life is considered so rare and priceless a privilege. And that is why Buddhist practice begins with meditation on the precious opportunity that a human existence provides-the opportunity to wake up for the sake of all beings.

The Dharma vision of a co-arising world, alive with consciousness, is a powerful inspiration for the healing of the Earth. It helps us see two important things: It shows us our profound imbeddedness in the web of life, thus relieving us of our human arrogance and loneliness. And, at the same time, it pinpoints our distinctiveness as humans, the capacity for choice. In appreciating these teachings, I have found systems thinking to be extremely helpful.


Like Buddhism, general systems theory (or, more particularly, in this context as systems philosophy) recognizes that consciousness is endemic to the universe, immanent in all life forms. This pervasive nature of mind is articulated by systems thinkers in a variety of ways. For example, Gregory Bateson refers to 'the pattern that connects" in the flow of information or feedback loops that interweave living systems, and Ervin Laszlo speaks of the "interiority" of living systems:

The phenomenon of mind is neither an intrusion into the cosmos from some outside agency, nor the emergence of something out of nothing. Mind is but the internal aspect of the connectivity of systems within the matrix. It is there as a possibility within the undifferentiated continuum, and evolves into more explicit forms as the matrix differentiates into relatively discrete, self maintaining systems. The mind as knower is continuous with the rest of the universe as known. Hence in this metaphysics there is no gap between subject and object... these terms refer to arbitrarily abstracted entities.

Natural systems are both physical and mental. ... Mind and body then are two perspectives of the same phenomenon, and you cannot reduce one to the other. Like two sides of a coin or the inside and outside of a house, they are inseparable. And they correspond to each other in complexity-the subjective experience of a cell would be correspondingly simple; and it would be hard to imagine by a brain that is composed of a hundred billion cells.

One way in which a nerve cell's mind, or a tree's or a dog's would be different in "feel' is that it does not loop back on itself in the complexity of circuits that are required in order to plan ahead and make decisions. Self-reflexive consciousness is an attribute of certain mammals with very large brains. It evolved as the system grew so complex in its organization and behaviors, that it could no longer self-regulate automatically or on instinct alone. Feedback about feedback, in assemblies of loops, had to be consciously monitored. We watch what we do, and decide. Choice enters the scene. We can change our karma.

We exist in nested hierarchies of natural systems, from the molecules and organs that comprise our bodies to the social systems and ecosystems that sustain us from without. Neither the systems inside us nor the systems around us have this self-reflexive consciousness. That capacity to think and choose requires the high degree of internal differentiafion and the high degree of organized integration that big brains, like the human and presumably some marine mammals, have developed.

Considering what humans are doing to their world, our use of self-reflexive consciousness is not very encouraging. But the story is not finished. As they have throughout time, systems continue to self-organize and evolve, and new levels of systemic mind can emerge. They can emerge as we work together, in synergy toward common goals, weaving new neural assemblies and feedback circuits.

As we take part in the healing of our world, we are supported by the co-arising universe itself. Life pulses through its mind-body, taking countless forms to accompany and teach us. They exist within us in the beautiful homeostatic systems of our "bile, blood, and mucus"; they surround us in the ecosystems of swamp and forest and in the social systems of our neighborhoods. We don't have to go it alone, and we can't. The strength and wisdom we need is not to be concocted on our own, but found in interaction-for that is how they arise, interdependently.

The same is true for our goals and the visions that guide us; they too dependently co-arise. New visions do not come from blueprints inside our heads that are shaped by past experience and old habits of thinking. They are born as we interact with our world, and receive fresh sensations and perceptions. And for that we need Earth and body, the stuff out of which we are made. They remind us that we are not brains on the end of a stick, but an organic, integral part of the web of life. Matter itself, if we attend to it mindfully and gratefully, can help liberate us from delusion; for it is mind, not matter, that is in bondage. Indeed, the particularity of matter, the thingness of things, is helpful to the mind in returning it to the immediacy of experience. For it is not through its fancies, delusory as they can be, nor through the concepts to which it tenaciously clings, that mind is illumined. It is through attention to the here and now, the immediacy of experiencing what eludes its fabrications, that mind can overleap its old self-enclosing constructs and perceive the living process of which it is a part.