The unreality of the body

The body is just another object. As other objects, the body is made out of our experiencing of it. There is nothing else to the body other than the colors that make up our seeing of it, the body sensations that make up our feeling of it, and the hearing, smelling and tasting of it. The cells, blood vessels and muscles we think constitutes our body are themselves nothing but colors and sensations.

Look at your hand for example. This particular pattern of color (which is nothing but seeing) is thought of (conceptualized) as “a hand” – but there is a massive conceptual structure of delusion that is attached to our notion of “a hand”, and its foundation is the belief in the external world. We believe that the hand exists whether it is experienced or not, but what a hand is, is the seeing of it. Turn the attention away from it and your hand ceases to exist. Our entire body is like that: entirely created in thought. It comes into existence the moment we think of it as such. Prior to that, there is just a field of pure experiencing.

The conceptual structure that make up our notion of the body is very heavy. It contains so much false beliefs and presuppositions that to untangle this structure and see the falseness of it is a massive undertaking. But it can be done.

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17 Responses to The unreality of the body

  1. says:

    Funny, I’m writing something about that in my blog (in Spanish) and the ideas are nearly the same!

    Good luck with your search

  2. Jhonny boy says:

    Yeah, we think we are that what makes observations around us when our self is just an observation as much as observations what emerge on the surface of that “grand” observation. We are observations of us 🙂 Life living us, not way around. People are starting to realize that and it’s a good thing that there is someones like you, saying it as simple as it can be said. No bullshit, just as it is.

  3. Niko says:

    Have you tried untangling this structure? and if so, what is the best means of doing so? I assume that there must be skillful ways of doing it eh

  4. Joel says:

    Seems a bit naive. Or else poorly written from the blog posts. Buddha was clear that things like muscles, tendons, and so forth do exist, but one should not identify with them. Goran thinks these things have no existence at all. I wonder, if his muscle snaps, will he realize why he has tremendous, unbearable pain, and get a surgeon?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      You don’t have to believe that muscles and tendons exist as something other than phenomenality/sensations in order for you to go to the doctor. When I play a video game I just don’t sit on my ass just because I know that that game isn’t an accurate representation of an objectively existing world. I participate and play along according to the rules of the game. And my motivations for doing stuff doesn’t come from my beliefs about what’s behind the game. The game itself is reason enough for taking action.

    • Neerav says:

      Hi Joel,

      I agree……the Buddhist teaching of “anatta”, according to one author by the name of Timothy Conway, was a skillful means by which one disidentified with the limited mind/body existence consisting of the five aggregates. You are exactly right about that. As someone else pointed out on a different blog, Goran seems to be falling very much towards the nihilistic extreme by saying that nothing exists, including one self. But who is saying that nothing exists? It is not the Self (i.e., God/Consciousness/Awareness/Mind/etc…) that is saying that, since the Self is everything. If everything is the one Self, and It is saying that nothing exists, then it is negating its own existence, which does not make any sense.

      If you study the teachings of the Buddha, he, along with his latter predecessors, Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti, warned against the trap of nihilism when they taught the doctrine of emptiness (shunyata), and dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) associated with Madhyamika (Middle Way) Buddhism, along with the other extreme of eternalism/essentialism.

      “I am not this. This is not me. This is not my self” is what the Buddha says, and goes with the point that you made about disidentification.

      Just because the subject-object duality ceases when you reach the state of non-duality (i.e., Oneness), does not mean that both the subject and the object cease to exist, including both one’s limited body/mind existence and the world around you. What ceases to exists is both separation and difference between the subject and the object. To think otherwise IS to fall into the dangerous spiritual trap of nihilism. Beware!!!

    • Tamas says:

      Göran, I think what you write becomes irrelevant at this point. Either there is an actual “outside” world, what we experience, or – as you think – there is not, and there is only the experiencing. In both cases, if your musles get hurt somehow, you’ll experience pain. So it seems to me that your philosophy is ultimately irrelevant to our everyday life, isn’t it?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      The problem is that we see objects of our experience, not as modulations of our own being, but as representations of actual physical, material objects we believe to be real and separate from us. We can’t help it. It’s like when you read a text and you can’t help but perceive the meaning, rather than the ink on the paper. It’s this “reality effect” that I attempt to undermine. Why? Because I believe it to be necessary, or at least helpful, in facilitating a spiritual awakening. Realizing those objects as, not objects of a perceiving subject, but as an objectivized aspect of yourself is half the battle. The other half is shifting into making this a perceived reality.

    • Tamas says:

      Göran, thanks for the answer. I read many of your essays, and I appreciate that you created this website.

      I see some problems however with this theory. (Sorry for the word theory.)

      The first one is this: let’s make a thought-experiment. In this scenario you create a robot, with artificial intelligence. Let’s suppose that this creature is made conscious (although this may not even be possible at all). Anyway, when this robot starts walking, seeing and hearing, it will have a conscious experience about the surrounding world. Now the question: how in the world should this robot know whether it actually has a body and it actually perceives the physical world, or if it is just a laptop computer and all the sensor data is just simulated for it? I believe there is no way to tell for sure.

      I think this is the case with us, humans too. I agree with you when you break down the process of seeing. All the forms are just color patterns, seeing and the presence of color are the same. BUT. But there is no way to tell for sure if there is an actual outside world, or not. All we have is the seeing, and the hearing. If there is an actual outside world, how else should you know about it than through your senses? Conversely, you have the seeing and the hearing – why does this mean that the objective reality does not exist?

      It is possible that your theory is right, but the actual outside world remains a vaild theory as well. Your mistake – in my opinion – is this: since we can’t decide for sure is the perceived world is real or not, you suppose that there can’t be an actual outside world.

      When it comes to the outside world concept, we should ask ourselves: which of the two theory is more likely? The perception-only theory or the objective reality theory? I think the perception-only theory has more problems to it. For example the problem of other minds. Or the problem of time while being unconscious (sleep or anesthesia: the world “goes on”), etc. – I don’t want to go into more details here.

    • Göran Backlund says:

      That exact objection is what my book deals with and deconstructs on a logical level, leaving you unable to even consider an objective reality as a possibility.

  5. Brutus says:

    I just stumbled across your blog (h/t to Ran Prieur) and will investigate as time allows. Let me offer something right away. There exists a great deal of contention about which reality is the one we should be attuned to: (1) material (objective) reality that we perceive only imperfectly or (2) phenomenal (mental) reality based on the mind (or perhaps consciousness). For several hundred years already scientists have argued that material reality is primary and that human experience is a reflection of it, variously defined and explained. You, along with a host of other mystics, philosophers, and New Age gurus, assert the reverse, that experience is primary and objective reality is merely an illusion. These positions are polar opposites and neither quite manages to encapsulate human ontology. I reject both extremes as far too reductive. (Everyone wants a union theory.)

    Whatever reality is truly (we clearly can’t grok it fully) and whatever we humans are within that, I find it pretty unimpeachable that we’re embodied beings. We live and breathe and eventually die. Human cognition is divergent from that of other living things with bodies, but it’s clear that many of them also have cognition, and thus, experience. One of our peculiarities is that some of us get wrapped up in abstraction thinking about thinking, with obvious recursion errors. My cat wouldn’t think twice.

    • Neerav says:

      Hi Brutus,

      You are very smart to reject both positions as extreme. In that case, one would have to find a middle way between the two in which both extremes are neither totally existent nor totally nonexistent. In Madhyamika (Middle Way) Buddhism, they speak of dependent origination, and so, to your point, I can say that both the material reality of scientists and the phenomenal reality of mystics are empty of inherent existent and are co-dependent arisings in that without one, you cannot have the other, and vice-versa. Neither exists on its own as being self-standing or self-existent without help or dependence on other things.

      Perhaps an alternative to this would be the neither/both position in which you reject the material and the phenomenal realities respectively as the ultimate, and assert that both are true, as they both depend upon each other to exist.

      See if that works for you! Namaste!

  6. Brutus says:

    I get what you’re saying (I think), and it kinda sorta works for humans, but it doesn’t exactly fit the rest of creation. A tree or bacterium has no need of human cognition to exist, nor does either have anything resembling human cognition to establish for itself a dependent middle way. Most living things are that way, and further, lots of nonliving things are quite independent of us. Thus, the supposition that humans in particular require or possess their own unique substrate of existence, bridging mental and material reality and bringing both somehow into existence, seems to me a fundamental fallacy. The middle way is then the lazy way, though not without a mountain of labored thought behind it.

    My own half-baked approach is to recognize that we humans have a rather unusual mental landscape that operates as an interface between internal and external states. It neither erases them nor asserts they don’t exist. Indeed, their interdependence is who/what/how we are in the world except for a few aberrant examples of no mind. The intersubjectivity of the phenomenological tradition in philosophy (e.g., Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Scheler) is another nod toward a hidden middle ground lying somewhere between people and things. These ideas are poorly redeveloped in various quantum philosophies gaining adherents in the last decade or so. I find the level of abstraction necessary to understand such things quite beyond the average person, but the ideas are nonetheless diffusing deep into the culture, which is proceeding to leave behind its own humanity in favor of wholly imagined (non)reality.

    • Neerav says:

      Absolutely, Brutus, since we are talking about human cognition

      As I said before, you are right to find a middle path or a middle way and avoid any extremes. You mentioned interdependence, which is part of the Buddhist teachings on the Middle Way, but you should find what works best for you. Wishing you all the best! Namaste!

  7. Marianne Sciberras says:

    The object creates the subject. Even in psychology that’s how it goes. An ego or attachment to an image must develop first (infant must see himself as his mother/caregiver) before it can be undone.

  8. Sergei says:

    Hello!
    As far as I see, you were deeply impressed by the Kant phylosophy.
    But Kant admits the existance of Reality as “things-in-itself”, and you do not.
    You think Kant was wrong?

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