by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

The Repository of Spiritual Need

The fundamental nature of the Unborn can be found within the body and the fundamental nature of the body can be found within the Unborn.

The Unity of Body and Mind

The nature of the relationship of body and mind has been the subject of philosophical speculation for over two thousand five hundred years. For over a century, theorists in the field of psychology have weighed in on the subject. And in recent decades, some scientists have attempted to explain all mental phenomena in terms of physical (usually chemical) processes. The point of view of Zen Buddhism on the relationship of body and mind is neither philosophical nor psychological nor materialistic reductionist. The experience that comes from the serious practice of meditation provides a spiritually pragmatic reason for asserting that body and mind are two complementary aspects of a complex unity.

The simplest proof of the unity of body and mind is obtained by noting the way in which physical posture in formal meditation affects attitude of mind. Two aspects of physical posture are particularly important. These are the position of the spine and the state of relaxation of the abdomen. The spine must be upright without being rigid. The abdomen must be fully relaxed. These features of correct posture in meditation are facilitated not by muscular effort, but by the way in the which the pelvis tilts forward when we sit correctly on the cushion (or bench or chair--the same basic principle applies to all ways of sitting). (For readers who are new to meditation and for more experienced meditators who wish to review the instructions on how to sit correctly, a link to my video instructions on meditation is included at the bottom of this page.)

Correct sitting greatly helps in cultivating a bright and upward-looking, serene and accepting attitude of mind. The uprightness of the spine is especially helpful in nurturing the "bright and upward-looking" aspect of the meditative mind. The relaxation of the abdomen is especially helpful in nurturing the "serene and accepting" aspect of the meditative mind.

Rev. Master translated a Japanese term for the meditation practiced in Soto Zen, moku sho, as "serene reflection." It can also be rendered as "silent (or still) illumination" or "peaceful brightness" or "all-accepting brightness" or "upward-looking serenity." All these terms express the two aspects of the attitude of mind that is nurtured through the uprightness of the spine ("bright and upward-looking") and the relaxation of the abdomen ("serene and accepting").

This description of the correlation between physical posture and mental attitude is a rough approximation. It provides a simple explanation of the reason why the physical posture is so important in formal meditation. It can serve as a gateway into a deeper truth, for it turns out that the "attitude of mind" that is "nurtured" in formal meditation was always there, being an aspect of our Buddha Nature. When we meditate truly we allow what was always there to manifest naturally by ceasing to do that which obscures it. From this deeper perspective, we are not so much "nurturing" or "cultivating" an attitude of mind as allowing the Buddha Mind to manifest in and through our body and mind.

Great Master Dogen said that our body is "deeply significant." In Zen training, we attempt to make the best possible use of the body through practice of the Middle Way--the path of compassionate discipline and respect that transcends the opposites of willful wallowing in sensual indulgence and wilfull denying of the body's needs. Body and mind are impermanent, coming into existence and passing away in accordance with causes and conditions. This impermanence does not make them evil and unclean: they arise and pass within the Great Immaculacy. And they can be the vehicles of enlightenment.

Karma and the Body

There is a deep mystery in the process through which karmic "jangles" of grief, delusion, fear, hatred, horror, longing and self-judgment coalesce and are reborn in a new life form. Within this mystery is the deeper mystery surrounding the process through which merit is allocated to the raw jangles of spiritual need in order to shepherd them to the Love and Wisdom of the Eternal.

Our body is the repository of spiritual need. Karmic jangles of confusion and pain are held as knots, or blocks, of tension throughout the body. Particular organs of the body hold particular blocks. A common and well-known example of the relationship between such a jangle and a particular organ is provided by the relationship between worry and the stomach. People who are especially prone to worry often develop ulcers and other stomach problems. All of the other organs have similar relationships with particular karmic jangles. Some examples include grief and the lungs (deep sobs come right out of the lungs), fear and the kidneys, anger and the liver, and disappointment (saddened love) and the heart (beings can literally die of a "broken heart").

The knots of tension can have their origins in our past-life inheritance. Or they can have been created in this life. In either case, correct spiritual training--meditation and the practice of the Precepts--makes it possible for the Love and Wisdom of the Eternal to soften and loosen these knots (or blocks). As they soften, they release into feeling. Feeling is the "reaper of karma," and each knot of spiritual need is a piece of karma that must come fully due in order to be fully helped. This is why serious training can trigger such deep emotions, and sometimes painful sensations, weakness and other bodily symptoms. As can be seen in the first chapters of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom great faith and determination are required when this process is happening at a deep level.

Karmic Debt and Repayment

Rev. Master's master used to caution people, "If you meditate you run the risk of being grabbed by the Cosmic Buddha." In other words, when we meditate truly, we are inviting our karma to come due so that all the spiritual need can get the Help of the Eternal, and in the process we are in for a very rough ride at times.

What does it mean to say that karma "comes due?"--Imagine that a man is sitting on a bench in a park eating his lunch. He has a big lunch and everything is wrapped in paper and plastic. As he eats, he drops the wrappers to the ground. By the time he is done with his meal, litter is strewn all around the park bench. He leaves the park a dirtier place than when he arrived. In this metaphor, wilfull non-Preceptual action is represented by the man's strewing of litter. The mess that remains is the karmic debt, that is, some form of spiritual mess that is going to have to be cleaned up by one means or another. The "mess" can also be seen as a big lump of spiritual need. Somehow this mess has to be cleaned up; somehow the need has to be met. When time runs out and the clean-up has to happen (the need has to be met), karma has "come due."

Now imagine that someone sits down on the park bench right after the man who left the litter. This person also eats his lunch in the park but does not drop any litter. But neither does he bother with the litter that the first person has strewn around the bench. This second luncher finishes his meal and leaves. The park is no dirtier, but also no cleaner. This second person represents someone who has lived a moral life but who has not done much in the way of cleaning up the inherited karmic mess. This person has not left a karmic debt, and neither has he paid off much of the inherited karmic debt.

Imagine that a third person comes along and sits down to have lunch on the park bench. This person does not strew litter. At the end of the meal, he pauses to clean up around the bench. When he leaves the park, it is a cleaner, brighter place for his having visited it. This person represents the person who undertakes the cleansing and conversion of karma through serious meditation and training in the Precepts. This person has done more than live a good life. He has repaid the karmic debt, that is, enabled all the spiritual need stored within the body to find its way to the healing Love and Wisdom of the Eternal. This person will not pass on a mess of his own making, or of another's making, to another being: the cessation of suffering has been realized.

Examples of all three of the kinds of people represented by our three lunchers can be found in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom. Please see Plates XIII-XVIII (first edition, Plate IX) for examples of the first two. For the third we have the example of Rev. Master herself.

But what if no one cleans up the litter that was strewn around the park. Eventually the wind comes up and scatters the litter widely. Here and there a piece will be picked up by someone and properly disposed of. Some pieces will eventually get covered in leaves and dirt and gradually decompose. In the long run, everything is part of nature and will be included in nature's endless recycling of matter. Here the wind represents the Compassion of the Eternal, which directs every bit of need to an appropriate form of Help. The natural processes of decay and recycling represent the many ways in which karmic debts are repaid.

Not infrequently, a person who has inherited the karma of someone who wilfully harmed others will be given the opportunity to show compassion to someone--or some being--who has inherited the karma of a person (or being) who was a victim of those wilfull acts. Or the person who inherited the victim's karma will be given the opportunity to show compassion to a person (or being) who inherited the perpetrator's karma. For perpetrators tend to judge themselves very harshly at the time of death, and those who inherit the karmic jangle left by such a person need to know human compassion and forgiveness. And sometimes separate karmic streams interweave in victim/perpetrator relationships through a number of lifetimes in each stream of karma. A person may have inherited victim karma from one life and perpetrator karma from another, and karma of the corresponding perpetrator (in the former case) and victim (in the latter) may have been inherited by another person. In such cases, opportunities for the cleansing and conversion of karma may manifest in very complex ways within the relationship of the two people who have inherited such interwoven karma. There are innumerable variations on this theme.

Particularly heavy karma, that is, wilfull non-Preceptual actions that are especially desperate and horrific, such as the worst forms of wilfully trying to wreak vengeance upon (cause pain to) others, may come fully due through an extreme form of victimization, through insanity, or through rebirth in realms of extreme suffering. Such ways in which karma comes fully due are not pleasant, but neither are they punishment. They constitute a very strong signal: "WRONG WAY!"

One of the Buddha's disciples was murdered after having become deeply enlightened. The Buddha explained that this was a consequence of wilfully non-Preceptual acts of someone whose karma the disciple had inherited. Enlightenment does not free us from the full functioning of the law of karma: that which was sown must one day be fully reaped. Enlightenment does free us from the bonds of ignorance--from enslavement to greed, hate and delusion. That is, the liberation realized through enlightenment is liberation from the perpetuation of suffering. And it is not just liberation from: it is liberation to truly follow our own wonderful True Nature.

As is so often the case in discussing the teachings of Buddhism, the concepts of "karmic debt" and "repayment" are rough approximations to truth which cannot be carried too far. Such metaphors have their use and can convey helpful aspects of the truth. The whole truth is beyond our powers of comprehension.

Looking Up and Looking Down

From a worldly point of view, karmic debt and repayment manifesting through successive rebirths may appear to be a fantasy--or final proof of the ultimate futility and injustice of existence. Is our karmic inheritance a kind of original sin loaded at birth upon an innocent victim who must now struggle along through life with misery that he did not create?--From life-denying ascetics to the philosoper Schopenhauer, there have been those who have espoused such pessimistic points of view down through the centuries.

There is an alternative to such counsels of despair. From a more enlightened point of view, the process of rebirth is the expression of cosmic Compassion of infinite patience: all spiritual need continues to be given new opportunities to find its way to the Help of the Eternal. Beings who died in some degree of spiritual confusion and pain left jangles of spiritual need that we "picked up" at birth. Our impermanent body, subject to illness, old-age and death, is the precious repository of this spiritual need. Therefore, the life of this transitory, suffering body is the opportunity for a load of need to be helped.

The Eternal leaves it up to us whether we will despair because of the painfulness of existence, or whether we will accept suffering and train so as not to perpetuate it. We are free to look down or to look up. Those who insist on looking down find plenty of proof that life is futile and unjust; those who choose to look up find plenty of proof that the Compassion of the Eternal extends to and through all existence.


Click here to Proceed to Part IX, "The Refinery"

Click here to go to Rev. Master Koshin Schomberg's video Introduction to Serene Reflection Meditation

Click here to return to the Table of Contents of Book One: How to Grow a Lotus Blossom: Reflections



Click here to go to Table of Contents of Book Two: How to Grow a Lotus Blossom: Reflections in a Disciple's Life

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