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Home Teachings Non-Self The Teaching of Non-Self - Material Body

The Teaching of Non-Self - Material Body

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Article Index
The Teaching of Non-Self
Introduction
Material Body
Belief in Creation
Attachment to Self
Vipassana Meditation
Feelings
Perception
Volitional Activities
Consciousness
True Dhamma
What Five Aggregates Are Like
Summary of Processes
All Pages

Material Body

What is rupa, the material body which is wrongly conceived and held as self? The following material qualities form the foundation of a material body. They are the sensitive part of the eye which enables one to see objects, the sensitive part of the ear which enables one to hear sounds, the sensitive part of the nose which enables one to smell odoures, the sensitive part of the tongue which enables one to sample the taste, the sensitive part of the body to feel the touch, the material quality of base, that is, the seat of consciousness, and the material quality of the life principle or vital force.

If we consider carefully we can see that eye consciousness arises because of the sensitive material quality of the eye, and from eye consciousness comes the concept of a living entity of self. Similarly, it can be understood that it is because of sensitive material qualities of the ear, nose, tongue, and body, we have the consciousness of hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.

The material quality of base, which acts as the seat of consciousness is responsible for thoughts and thinking results in the notion of self or living entity. The material quality of the life principle is the vital force which vivifies all material bodies and preserves them from decay and decomposition. This life principle, which is just a material quality, is wrongly believed to be a soul or a living entity. In the absence of the sensitive material qualities such as the sensitive part of the eye, etc., there is no such thing as soul or living entity.

For instance, consider a wooden figure of a man which resembles a living person in appearance, but is devoid of the sensitive material qualities of the sense organs that can give rise to different cognitions. Consequently such a wooden figure etc., is never mistaken for a living being with a soul or a living entity. There arises also no notion of a soul or a living entity with respect to the body of the person who has just died, the reason is that there is no longer any sensitive material qualities such as the sensitive part of the eye etc., in that body. So long as the sensitive qualities such as the sensitive part of the eye etc., exist, other material body elements which are their co-adjuncts and concomitant with them are also wrongly conceived as self or living entities. Material bodies such as sight, sound, odour etc., which are concomitant with the sensitive material qualities of the eye, etc., are misconceived as soul or living entities when seen, heard, smelt, etc. In short, the whole material body which is co-existing with the eye, etc., is regarded to be a living entity. In common parlance, too, the whole body which is compounded of the material qualities is spoken of as self, soul or a living entity.

The usage in the daily life of expressions such as self or a living entity is not utterance of falsehood but conforming to the convention of the world. From the point of view from the ultimate and absolute reality, all the material substances of the whole body are not in reality self, individual, or a being, but only the aggregates or matter or material qualities. Therefore, the Blessed One had pronounced definitely and explicitly that "although individuals view the aggregates of material qualities as a living being or a living entity, but in reality, it is not self, soul, or a living entity. It is merely a physical phenomena." But exponents of the doctrine of Self, who hold that the material substance in their body is self are bound to come up with the question, 'Why is it not self?' Therefore, the Blessed One had also provided an explanation that why it is not self in the following manner.

REASONS SHOWING WHY MATERIAL BODY IS NOT SELF)

"Bhikkhus, if the body were self, the inner core of one's own body, the body would not tend to affliction or distress. And one should be able to say of the body , 'Let the body be thus (in the best of conditions); let the body not be thus (in the worst of conditions).' It should be possible to influence the body in this manner."

HOW THE BODY INFLICTS SUFFERING

"Were material body the inner core, or self, it should not cause suffering."

But actually the body is imposing suffering in this manner, it does not remain youthful and vigorous, it distresses by growing old and by decaying, and it distresses by dying. Without the body, one would be free from afflictions of getting grey hairs, fallen teeth, bent hunch back, deafness, poor eye-sight, and wrinkled skin infirmity. The body is therefore inflicting these sufferings. Again, because of the body, one is troubled with sore-eye, earache, tooth-ache, back-ache, flatulence, feeling hot, cold, painful, itching, diseases of blood, skin, stomach, urine or with high blood pressure, etc. These ailments arise because of the body through which they make their manifestations. We suffer from hunger and thirst because of the body, and because of it, we are subjected to be attacked by mosquitoes, insects, or afflictions by other oppressors. Suffering in the states of miseries and woes are also due to the body.

In short, one suffers from all these various ailments and afflictions because of the existence of the body. It is, therefore, the body whose function is to bring about distress and impose suffering. In addition, the body is responsible for the phenomenon of death in the human existence. When the material qualities in the body undergo deterioration and decay, death occurs. Therefore it may be said that the body inflicts suffering by causing death. Thus we can reflect that if the body were self, it would not inflict us with sufferings of old age, disease, and death. One usually causes sufferings to others, but not on oneself.

Therefore, if the body were self or the inner core, it should not inflict suffering on itself by bringing about old age, etc. Furthermore, even before the onset of old age, disease, and death, the body is subjecting to various distresses. A young person, although he is free from ailments and enjoys good health, cannot remain long in any of the body postures such as sitting, standing, or walking. He has to change his postures quite often. It is within the experience of all of us that we cannot remain for as long as we wish in any body posture. We find it difficult to remain seated for half an hour or one hour without changing the posture or lie down for two or three hours. Constant changing of postures is necessitated by feelings of hotness or tiredness in the limbs after a certain amount of time in one position. All these distresses arise because of the body. In other words, it is the body that is inflicting these distresses.

Thus one may reflect that if the body were self, it would not impose these sufferings on one.

THE BODY IS NOT SUBJECT TO ONE'S WILL

Furthermore, it is stated,

"If the body were self, the inner core, it should be possible to say of the body, 'let the body be thus (in the best of conditions), let the body not be thus (in the worst of conditions).'"

Truly, one should be able to exercise one's will on the body if it were one's self. All beings desire to have their material body youthful and healthy in appearance, and to keep it away from old age, illness, and deterioration resulting in death. But the material body is never obliging, it refuses to be subject to one's will. Its fresh youthfulness fades into aged debility and its robust health declines against one's will, resulting in illness, disease, and finally in dissolution and death. Thus the body is not amenable to one's control and not manageable according to one's wish.

The Blessed One pointed out, therefore, that the body is not one's self or the inner core of one's body. Let us briefly restate the meaning of the Pali passage quoted above:

"Bhikkhus, the body is not self; if it were self, it would not inflict suffering. And it should be possible to say of the body, "Let the body be thus (in the best of conditions), let the body not be thus (in the worst of conditions). If the body were self, the inner core, there would be no infliction of suffering on oneself, and it should be possible to subject it to one's will.

The fact of the matter is that the body is not self or one's inner core. Hence, it inflicts suffering on one and refuses to be controlled. The Blessed One continued to further explain this fact.

DIRECT EVIDENCE OF HOW THE BODY IS NOT SELF

It is not possible to influence and manage the the body. In reality, the body is not self or one's inner core. Hence, the body oppresses with old age, disease, etc. Furthermore, it is not amenable to one's management and control. To reiterate, in reality the body is not self or one's inner core. Since it is not self, this the body tends to affliction and distress. It is not possible to manage and control the body by instructing, 'Let it be thus (in the best of conditions), let it not be thus (in the worst of conditions).'



 

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" The mind is difficult to see, very delicate and subtle; it moves and lands wherever it pleases. The wise one should guard his mind, for a guarded mind brings happiness. "

The Dhammapada


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