THE BODY’S LANGUAGE
We speak to each other using a shared vocabulary and grammar. This makes it possible for us to understand each other. Sometimes we have to learn a new language to communicate with others. I know this to be a difficult challenge from my recent efforts to learn enough Japanese to get by on my trip there. (Note of confession - I was largely a failure in this regard).
Our Dharma great-grandfather, Kukai, the founder of the Shingon tradition, proposed that we cannot know the Divine directly but that we can communicate using three different languages - body, speech/breath and mind. He based his teaching on three practice bases, each one being the language of those modes. Mantra (what we call recitation or chanting) uses the sounds we make with our breath. Mantra expresses sounds of letters, words and collections of words . What we take as the meaning of a phrase is not the mantra meaning. That lies in the expression of a universal sound, which is itself the expression of a particular energy or force, what we call Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Mandala are cosmic landscapes, which we enter mentally through visualization. Mudra is specific hand positions, that likewise express universal energies.
These stylized and formal languages are captured in specific patterns of sound, movement and imagined space. We can also understand at an even more everyday level, the language of the body. When we touch a surface, when we walk along the ground, when we suddenly notice bright sunlight or the sound of a bird, we are understanding something of who we are. Before or even without conventional language, the body speaks to us, providing information about our experience. Our movement practices, such as the walking and chi-gong we perform regularly, offer us opportunities to hear and speak that language.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu
Read this week’s Ask the Religion Experts column here