Sunday, 16 October 2016

Bodies and their Drivers

By H R Giger

We talked about this weird thing called body that possesses us and we are seemingly incapable of controlling it much. However we do perceive ourselves as drivers of this biomechanical biodegradable monkey suit. It seems, that we can command it and it takes us wherever we want. In return it demands fuel and rest. It comes with an auto pilot installed - the Ego, which takes care of most of the driving tasks. Its so efficient that people are hardly aware of it and think they are doing all the driving, because it fools us into thinking we are the Ego. The huge colony of cells takes care of most of its functions from growth, repair and fighting invasion of other colonies of cells. The auto pilot ensures preservation, defence and copying of it. The higher mental functions provide it an overall direction. The journey of a body is presented to the Self in its full glory and with all the bells and whistles in Technicolor 3D. The Self merely witnesses this experience, that we call a human experience.

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Do we drive the body or does the body drive us? We think we drive it but actually it drives us. There is an illusion of control. The illusion happens because of the identity. While the body is busy doing its thing, the Mind creates an owner of it and creates an illusion that the owner is in the driver seat. The illusion of identity is so complete that it sees the body as itself. When we say "me the body” or "my body", it is the identity speaking. Thankfully, the identity does not do anything else except taking on an ownership. Imagine if you, the identity, the person, having to do all the menial tasks of respiring, digesting, pumping of heart, cell division and repair, deciding which muscles to contract, how much and when, making sense of all the sense data, firing each of trillions of neurons in the exact pattern and all that, which the body does effortlessly and skilfully. If we were in driving seat, we would crash it within seconds and would crash it repeatedly even after thousands of years of training. No wonder that Mother Nature has taken away our license to drive and is doing it herself, while we sit on the passenger seat and enjoy the scenery.

So it is preposterous to assume that we have control over our body. It is not even ours and it does not really exist like we see it. We are being taken for a ride, it starts at the womb and ends on a funeral pyre. It seems surely meaningless if you see it in this way, until you realize that it is the journey and not the destination that is meaningful.

We do not have any control over the vehicle but we have some choices regarding what we see from its viewports. The most notable choices are happiness and suffering. The third choice is freedom from the body itself, which means giving up the choices of happiness and suffering both. This third choice is well hidden, thanks to the Ego and ignorance, and is accessible to only a few super users, under the advanced menu. The rest of us don't see it and think that we must continue the journey no matter what. This is good because the Self wants to go out for this ride, its the higher Will, not our will. The choice of freedom is enabled once the Self has seen everything there is to see during this brief human experience.

Unfortunately the choice of suffering is the default choice because of some technical issues and therefore, for most, the ride becomes unbearable. The smart users soon notice something wrong and launch complaints. The more brainy kind try to mess with the settings of the body, try to fix it, assuming they are in full control. Most of us need to be shown how to choose happiness and make the ride more comfortable. Once you choose happiness, you don't really need to do anything, the body and the whole human experience takes care of it all. You may need to nudge it a bit to stop it from going back to the defaults, but that is the only choice you have - to choose happiness again and again. Some do it nicely, and find the journey so thrilling that they don't want it to end. But that is not an option, in fact the body ensures that you want an end, by resetting the option back to the suffering. So it is wise to end it, or to put it in a better way, allow it to end when it is over. Who knows, perhaps other awesome rides are waiting for you out there.

How to choose happiness? Well, if you are a regular reader of this blog, then you already know it. Its been mentioned hundreds of times now. Anyway its worth repeating again in the context of a body. Knowledge of the body brings happiness and ignorance of it or attachment to it brings suffering. As simple as that.

The last article is a good place to start study of a body, even if it is brief and non-traditional. Knowledge should get rid of beliefs that keep us attached to a body, but since attachments are an Egoic tendency, one needs to know the Ego too. It was covered in fair details in preceding articles. Often the mere knowledge is not enough and one needs to also act in the light of it. Merely knowing something has little effect. We have already seen it as Cultivation. This is needed because the Ego is very strong and takes a while to give up its throne. Once you defeat it, its a piece of cake, and you let it auto pilot - its primary function. Another reason we need constant effort to remain on our chosen path is that the life keeps throwing stones, erecting hurdles and digging pits on our path, just to make the journey more interesting. We need to dodge, jump over and climb out of them, which is not only fun, it is also our training, our lesson. One need not suffer by life circumstances, one can take them as challenges, just like in any other game. Learning from the life experiences is the whole point of the journey, and the body is only a device, a vehicle that takes us through these experiences.

Why do I need to take all this trouble of knowledge acquisition, study and headache? Why can't I just live peacefully, drinking beer and watching TV all day? Unsurprisingly many do exactly that. You can try it if you are curious. I bet it won't last for a lifetime, unless, well, your lifetime is only a few months or years. Just when you think everything is set up perfectly and nothing more needs to be done, something will break, someone will drop in to create some trouble or the body itself may start causing trouble. This and many more reasons will force you into action of one or other kind and soon the TV and beer will become your last priority. I don't know about all, but an intelligent person can't even think of a repetitive life, where there is nothing new. A curious person seeks novelty not security. Stagnant water gets stale quickly, it needs to be flowing and fresh. One must continuously choose as long as one has a body.

Even if you are living a minimalist life, as many seekers do, there will be trouble. You will find it irritating that life situations don't let you meditate peacefully or to practice alone or to be in the company of wise. Its more so if you are a householder, married and have children. This continues until you realize that the real practice happens in the arena of life, not in a solitary ashram in some remote jungle. A seeker seeks solitude in order to recharge, to reflect on the experience earned so far and then its back to the marketplace [1]. A little net practice is necessary, but the real game happens on the pitch [2]. The game is to choose correctly in all situations. The choices regarding one’s body are a significant part of Cultivation.

Life is much more than just an experience of a body. The body is a tiny aspect of it. However while embodied we know life as only that - an experience in a body. For most of us there is nothing more to this life. May be there is, but if it is not in our experience yet, it is not very useful. What is useful is to know this experience fully and to avoid the pitfalls of suffering. There are many reasons one can turn the experience of a body into suffering, they range from frivolous to serious. The frivolous reasons lead to unnecessary suffering and funny actions, such as - people being not happy with the way their body looks. Its either not beautiful or not young and strong, so they try to fix it in odd ways, like by applying colours and pastes over the skin and hair, or by covering it up in gold or expensive clothing. It is the nature of the body to change, so such attempts do not last. Especially the females are seen doing these acts of deception, as they identify with their bodies and see themselves as lacking in some way. The Ego is the main motivator for such odd behaviours because a beautiful body means better chances of being accepted as mates and also better security. Everybody loves beautiful bodies, so good looks become just a means to "get" more love. A wise person realizes that the more important attribute of a body is not looks but health and fitness. A healthy and fit body automatically becomes attractive with an added bonus of less chances of suffering due to diseases.

Ugliness can be seen as an affliction of the body, brought about by unhealthy lifestyles. People eat too much, exercise too less and keep dumping junk into their body just because its "cool", that’s how they saw it on the TV, the commercial said, they can be cool just by drinking their brand of chemical cocktail. Some people do it out of peer pressure, they don't want to be called uncool and boring. If you find yourself doing it too, its time to seek a wiser peer group. Ugliness can be not only of the body, but also of the personality. If one’s behaviour is ugly, their pretty body is still repulsive. Simple attire and minimal body care and noble behaviour can make anyone angelic in looks and charms. A seeker does not care too much about the looks of his vehicle, but he also does not ignore it completely. The care happens out of respect for the body, not out of Egoic needs. A body is a marvellous instrument, and just like an engineer keeps his instruments in good order and good looking, a seeker does it too.

Aging is another affliction of the body. Mother nature is interested in keeping a body young and strong only till it reaches the reproductive age, it then hangs there on a plateau for a while in hopes of reproducing as many times as possible and then it starts breaking away. This is almost preprogramed and has evolutionary reasons. There are no evolutionary pressures to keep a body going once it has made a few copies of itself, it is better to recycle it back. I hesitate to call aging as an affliction, as it is natural, but gives rise to major suffering, and therefore we tend to see it as an affliction. Once the body starts breaking, one encounters various pains and a lack of strength and energy. The suffering comes out of a resistance to this condition, not out of the condition itself. If you accept your age and live gracefully with it, there is no suffering, its the business as usual. If you resist, you feel a lack, a loss and suffering ensues. People do not want to give up their old lifestyles that provided them various pleasures. The attachment to bodily pleasures makes it difficult to accept aging. The fear of being rejected by others also contributes to the suffering as old people are least wanted people in "modern civilized" societies.

Aging gracefully is an art and you will find some good advice and books on this subject. I will simply get to the point, which is - be aware and consciously accept aging process. Just like any other process, it is a happening, and it is perfect. A wise person makes sufficient provisions for old age and welcomes it. He does not cling to the young body, which is now a past event. He assumes new roles, when needed. Who is afraid of aging? One who has not lived his younger years fully, who has leftover desires. So it is wise to satisfy your desires while the sun shines, it will not last, and later in the life you will not be full of regrets. If its too late now, just accept the outcome, the bodily desires are a tiny aspect of life, it will be wiser to not to waste the remaining time too in suffering. Make some use of it.

It may happen in near future that we will defeat aging via scientific means. The body is a physical object, and so is subject to physical rules. Fortunately, there are no fundamental rules that necessitates breakdown of bodies. The degradation of body is mostly a failure of processes that clean up the toxins, prevent errors in DNA and perform cellular regeneration. So it is very much possible to devise means to keep the bodies young for a major portion of the life. There has been a good progress in recent years in the field of Gerontology, especially regarding stem cells and teleomeric regeneration. The least one can desire is prevention of painful conditions, loss of senses and memory and delaying major dysfunction of bodily systems. Restoring looks, vigour or reproductive capabilities etc. may not become a first priority, but that is possible too. Its all very interesting, but what are the implications and consequences of manipulating nature?

In my opinion, man manipulating nature is natural too and there is really no need to suffer aging if one can prevent it [3]. Just like any other disease, aging is a disease and can be cured or at least its duration can be reduced or its painful symptoms can be eradicated. Wouldn’t it just inflate Ego which thrives on a young body? The old age does deflate Ego by making one realize the impermanence of the body. But the major inflation of the Ego happens because of comparing oneself with old people. A young person sees himself superior to the old (at least in some ways), and when everyone around him would remain young, this comparison will be non-existent, resulting in a weaker Ego. The social evil of age discrimination will be gone. Longer youth can also give ample time to people to set up their lives. Not fearing that the old age will consume them soon, they can peacefully conduct the normal affairs of life. This can ease some anxiety and can actually calm down the Ego. The attachment to youth would go away because it will no longer remain rare and short lived. Note that we are talking about easing old age, not about eternal life. Although its possible that one can live longer if aging is controlled, but chances are that one would die anyway, but die young in the age of 120 or so [4].

So the death, disease, disabilities and deformities would be still there, unless science solves them too. Until that is done, we will need to manage them and accept them as a part of human experience. We will discuss these four Ds in the next article.


[1] Going back to the marketplace is a popular metaphor in Buddhist teachings.

[2] Cricket metaphor.

[3] This is an old debate. What is natural and what is artificial? Generally anything resulting from the agency of men is regarded as artificial. However, if you look closely, its the mother nature acting via the instrument of man. Just like an ant hill is natural, a skyscraper is natural too. The latter, no doubt, is a more sophisticated creation, but the distinction is superficial. Humans and human bodies are a part of nature and whatever they do are acts of nature. If you wish to go deeper, its all Presence essentially, it is impossible to say what is artificial when you look at Presence.

[4] It is interesting to see that many wild animals do not seem to age much. They look young, strong and beautiful for most of their lifetime and then they suddenly disappear. What happens is, the old age strikes them very fast. Even a slight disadvantage, such as a weak eye-sight or weak heart, results in immediate death, as that animal either cannot hunt, find food or becomes an easy prey. So old animals are eliminates from the ecosystem relatively quickly. Same reasons apply for damaged/diseased bodies of animals, they do not last long. This is not the case with humans, the social and familial structures support old people for many years, and so do the medical treatments. The result is, we find a lot of old and worn bodies in human world. This has obvious pros and cons.

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