(5.59) If, mind, you are concerned
About death taking this body from you
And its being burned or buried beneath the ground,
Why do you cherish it so now?
(5.60) Why, mind, do you hold this body as “mine”
And grasp it with such affection?
It is only borrowed from others
And will soon be taken from you.
Shantideva now begins his explanation of the moral discipline on gathering virtuous Dharmas. He begins by helping us break free of our obsessive concern with our bodies.
It first should be noted that Shantideva is not saying our bodies are unimportant. Our human body is the vehicle through which we can engage in virtue, including our meditation practices. Our body is incredibly precious. The path is long and we need a long life to be able to make progress on it. Without this body we could not serve others, give good advice, engage in prostrations or our tantric practices. There is no doubt our body has great spiritual significance and importance.
But what it isn’t is a cause of our happiness. It is a vehicle through which we can accomplish spiritual goals, so of course we should take good care of it, but it utterly fails with respect to the purposes we normally assign it. The delusion of attachment, quite simply, views some external object and wrongly considers it to be a cause of our happiness. A glass of water may look thirst quenching, but when we swallow and discover it is salt water we feel like throwing up. The same is true for all objects of attachment. They mistakenly appear to our mind to be objects of our happiness, but when we take refuge in them for this purpose they always fail to satisfy. Our body is, in many ways, our most deceptive object of attachment.
Such is our concern for our bodies that we are seriously distracted from gathering virtue. Take a moment to consider just how much of our daily energy is aimed at trying to please or take care of the body. First, let’s look at the time we spend caring for our body, say 30 minutes a day cleaning it, 30 minutes a day dispelling the impurities it produces. Three hours a day feeding it, an hour a day preparing its food. Eight hours a day resting it as we sleep. Eight hours a day working at our jobs to have the financial resources we need to clothe it, feed it, move it around and house it. Many people try pamper it with spa treatments, make it appear more attractive than it really is with make up or painful surgeries, or create pleasant feelings in it by eating delicious foods, taking intoxicants or the endless efforts aimed at obtaining sexual pleasures. If you look at the whole world from a macro-perspective of what everybody is doing, we are left with one conclusion alone: we all worship the God of our body. Shopping malls, hospitals, restaurants, cars, buildings, gyms, factories and finance are all almost exclusively aimed at meeting the needs of our bodies.
And for what? Most of the negativity we engage in is done for the sake of attachment to our body. We spend almost all of our money on it. And what does it give us in return? Aches, pains, disease and death. Sex is enjoyable, sure, but is it worth it? All the mental and physical effort it takes to have it, is it worth it all for a few short moments of pleasure? The longer we stay in our body, the more it betrays us with more pain, less ability to do things until eventually the final betrayal of all, it dies. When we need it the most, it abandons us. The pleasures of the body are short-lived at best, but what we sacrifice to secure them (our karma, our time, our precious human life) last forever.
Sometimes it can make sense to engage in negative actions for the sake of some higher purpose, such as killing somebody to protect those he is about to kill. But is it worth it to engage in any negativity for the sake of trying to please the slave-master of our body? Shantideva asks what is it really about our body that warrants such attachment? We have no answer to this question. We will be separated from our body anyway at the time of death. This body that we cherish is going to be burned or eaten. This will happen.
And what makes it particularly foolish is our body is not even our own body. It was taken from our parents, it is made of all the food and animals we have eaten. There is nothing about it that is ours other than our selfish thought thinking it belongs to us. We should not go to the other extreme of thinking it doesn’t matter at all – it does – but it matters for its usefulness in accomplishing spiritual goals. Beyond that, it is a burden we carry around with us everywhere and we should long for the day when we can finally see it for what it is. In reality, it is really like a piece of clothing we wear for a while and discard. Our goal is to no longer ever identify again with one of these fleshy things. Why settle for pus and blood when we can enjoy bodies of blissful vajra light?