Saturday, July 23rd
- Martin Goodson

In this Fathom Long Body...

& forthcoming events for w/c 25th July 2022

The long march to separate body and mind may be here.




The first mark of all things is that they are subject to change.

However, this change is marked by a cyclical pattern at its simplest 'coming to be and ceasing to be', on a great wheel that turns and turns again. We have day and night, week after week, seasons and years. Ideas too, come and go and then come back again.

Back in 1999, the the Wachowski sisters (they were brothers at the time but later transitioned), brought out the first of their 'Matrix' films. The theme, in case you missed them, was about the enslavement of humans by machines in a virtual world. The machines used the living energy of biological bodies to power themselves and in order to avoid humans rising up to overthrow their captors they created a virtual world (our world), and pumped this directly into our neural networks. In this way, all of us remained blissfully unaware of our true situation whilst being beguiled by the virtual world in which we were born, lived and died. A hit concept that was well executed and made a multi-million dollar franchise which still rolls on, the last release being in 2021.

This high concept franchise took its idea from an old philosophy that arose in Egypt and spread through the middle east and beyond in the first centuries C.E.. This philosophical movement became known, later on, as Gnosticism. One of the central ideas being that each of us contains a divine spark that fell into gross matter. That we are on the whole unaware of this situation and that malevolent spiritual beings called 'archons' seek to keep us immersed in our ignorance so that we will not escape from this material world.

Echoes of early Buddhism, may come to mind on reading this description. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there may have been some cross-fertilisation as we do know that Buddhist monks were visiting the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Both trade and new ideas having traveled along the Silk Route, about the same time as some of the Gnostic sects were coming into existence.

In the end, what we know as mainstream Christianity and the Council of Nicaea (325AD) condemned this notion as heresy and the rest is history, as they say.

Only, Christianity did still adopt this idea of a divine soul being trapped inside a material body along with the association that the soul is 'of God' whilst the body is 'of the earth' and the earth is 'of the devil'. Hence all that stuff about 'sins of the flesh'.

This notion of soul, spirit, consciousness or mind being 'trapped' in failing flesh is making a comeback, this time in a more secular form called 'transhumanism'. This 'new' philosophy which originated in the middle of the last century has been picking up speed, particularly amongst the tech-billionaire class. One strain of this movement has now formed its own religion called 'Terasemism' founded by Martine Rothblatt, a lawyer, entrepreneur and trans-activist. The aim of Terasem is to eventually do away with the body completely and gain immortality by uploading consciousness or 'mind' into digital space. This is the dream, at any rate.

Those actively involved in Zen practice might see a problem with this as far as our own training is concerned. The Buddha does not share this view of a split between mind and body (refer to his original theory of mind - the 18 dhatus which makes objects of sense - including physical senses - interdependent with consciousness). Buddha nature, which is formless by nature can only express itself through forms and that includes rupa - or the physical form of the body. Although the mental formations may appear separate they are intimately entwined with the body too. And yet, there seems to be an urge in the mind to 'rise above' this 'limitation'. It has been pointed out many times that we humans, by being aware of our own mortality, identify our selves as independent beings from our physical root. This is part of the delusion of a separate 'I' as the Buddha taught. Were this not the case then indeed it may well be possible to upload consciousness into digital space.

Having said this, there is provision within the teachings for the mental formations to continue beyond the life of the physical form. The Five Skandas describe four types of mental formations and one physical one. As intentional activities are karma-producing those seeds that do not expire in this life must go on and work themselves out in new forms, not always human and perhaps not always material. Whether this is sufficient a loophole for the transhumanists, I cannot speculate. However, the karmic bind also means that over time the potency of seeds expire and death and transformation must ensue. That is simply built into the system.

Rather than resisting the nature of all forms, the Buddha pointed to our true nature which is always in flux. Thus, in order to become aware of our true nature it is necessary to not be 'trapped' by identity with forms (whether physical as 'body' or mental in terms of views and opinions), as 'I' am wont to do. As my own late teacher said shortly before she died: "Forms come and go, but Life - that always goes on!"


The survey for the new course is now up so when you have a minute please do go over and make your choices. There is also space for you to suggest topics for future courses.

Please note there will be no live-streamed Zazen meditation this week as I will be away on holiday. We will be back to normal the following week. In the meantime you can always select one of the pre-recorded sittings from the Meditation page.