Recognising the Importance of Body
The second part of transformation is to recognize, or reinstate, the importance of the body. To reiterate, the extreme ascetic perspective is that the body must be punished, because we feel the effects of the conflicting emotions or deadly sins through the body. However, when we learn to practice awareness and mindfulness in Buddhism, it is as much physical as a mental act. Just the act of sitting in meditation means that we have to become the body, instead of trying to dissociate our mental states from our physical states.
In its incarnation, the body is not just a bundle of flesh, bones, fluid and biochemical processes. Without the body we cannot do any kind of spiritual practice at all. We have to use the body to practice mindfulness and awareness - we have to pay attention to our physical posture and we have to pay attention to our breath. Sitting meditation is about learning how to be the body because the body is not something that we have; the body is something that we are. The body has to be seen as an integrated unit, where body and mind have become completely conjoined.
Learning how to become aware of physical states and processes is an extremely important part of Buddhist meditation. This includes observing how the body reacts to the conflicting emotions: How do you feel physically when you get angry? How do you feel physically when you are lustful? How do you feel physically when you are feeling jealous, when you feel love, when you are feeling joyous, when you are experiencing pleasure, when you are physically aroused, when the body is in a state of stasis? These are the things to be aware of, instead of learning to dissociate ourselves more and more from the body through our spiritual quest. We have to remember to remember the body. We have objectified our body so that we use our body as if it were something that we own, like a toy or a machine or a car. That kind of attitude is totally non-spiritual, whereas learning to integrate with the body, to reconnect with or "remember" the body, is a spiritual exercise.
This kind of attention to the body is very different from how we normally view the body. Even when we are paying attention to our body through exercise and diet, we still regard it as something that is there to do our bidding. We go to the gym and if we do not get the results we want, we get angry with our body as it if were somebody else! By paying attention to the body with a sense of intimacy, we see that it plays an important part in everything that we experience. This is not the body that we "own" and objectify, but the body of our lived experience. Everything we experience is psychosomatic because the body is always involved, whenever we look through our eyes, whenever we hear through our eyes, whenever we hear through our ears, and in everything that we experience in terms of our feelings and sensations. We can see then, that paying attention to the body is an extremely important aspect of learning how to transform ourselves on the spiritual path.
Paying Attention to Our Thoughts
The third part of transformation involves paying attention to our thoughts - how we think and what we think about. When we start paying attention to our thinking, we find that we actually generalize quite a lot. This generalization involves the aspects of exaggeration and underestimation. It is important to note that Buddhism recognizes the opposite of exaggeration, which is very hard to translate, but which si something like "diminution" or "minimization". We always believe that everything that we think corresponds to the truth. For instance, whenever we experience something unpleasant we have to find someone to blame, whether it is ourselves or somebody else. However, sometimes things just happen, and no one is to blame.
We need to pay attention to how we generalize, because we generalize about people in so many different ways. For example, if someone was in a relationship with a person who treated them badly, they tend to generalize and think that everyone they become involved with in the future is going to treat them badly as well. In Buddhism, specificity is very important - we must pay attention to the uniqueness of each circumstance and situation.
It should also be noted that from the Buddhist perspective there is rarely ever such a thing as pure thought. Not pure in the sense that it is unsullied by defilements and obscurations, but pure in the sense that it is not tainted by some kind of emotional overtone. Thoughts and emotions almost always go together, so that when we are attracted to a certain thing we tend to exaggerate all of its positive qualities and minimize all of its negative ones. This does not mean that thoughts cause emotions or that emotions bring about thoughts; they simply arise together.
In other words, the construction of who we believe we are, what the world is like, how we should behave and how we should interact, is n ongoing exercise we are undertaking all the time. By paying attention to our thoughts we can learn how we are contributing to the world we live in. Buddhists do not believe we are spectators who have simply been thrown into the world that is pre-made or pre-given. We are participants in a continuous project of constructing and reconstructing the world in which we live. This is called vikalpa in Sanskrit and namtok in Tibetan. The basic point is that it is never a finished project. Everyone is contributing to the so-called "common world" that we live in. Even the natural world is to a large degree affected by our human mind.
Although we are always in a state of transition,
transformation does not mean some kind of dramatic transition from a static
state of existence to some other elevated state that is completely divorced
from the previous one. Transformation, in the Buddhist context, is connected
with taking notice of what is happening. If we do not take any notice
of what is happening we do not grow. However, if we begin to notice everything
that is taking place within our minds and bodies and the world around
us, we will inevitably grow as individuals. In that way, the spiritual
path is not completely divorced from our worldly affairs. In fact, dealing
with worldly affairs can be as much a part of the spiritual path as sitting
in meditation or doing prayer.