(5.68) A servant is not rewarded with clothes and the like
If he does no work;
So why do you insist on nourishing this collection of flesh and bone
When, even when fed, its loyalties lie elsewhere?
(5.69) In exchange for paying my body its wages,
I will employ it to create virtue for myself and others;
But I should not grasp it as “mine”
Because such grasping is a form of ignorance.
(5.70) I will regard my body as a boat –
A basis for coming and going –
And to accomplish the welfare of all living beings
I will transform my body into an enlightened wish-fulfilling jewel.
Not many of us have servants, but we do use service providers all of the time. Do we pay the barber if they don’t cut our hair? Do we tip the waiter if he doesn’t serve? Do we pay the Doctor if she doesn’t see us? We only pay people if they accomplish what we have hired them to do. Shantideva is encouraging us to enter into a similar sort of contract with our body. We have hired our body to take us to enlightenment, and we will only pay it its wages of food, clothing and shelter if it ferries us to enlightenment.
Previously, Shantideva was helping us to create some distance from the delusions in our mind by criticizing them. Now he is trying to help us to stop identifying with our delusions. In particular, he’s helping us to stop identifying with our body by viewing it as a vehicle. Most of us don’t take many boats, but we all use cars, busses, subways and the like. We should start to consider our body as our car, our vehicle for taking us to the city of enlightenment. We don’t identify with our cars (well, most of us don’t, at least), so too we should not identify with our body. This is hard, because when somebody talks about our body we have the distinct impression they are talking about us.
When we engage in the meditation on the emptiness of our “I” we check inside our body to see if we can find our “I.” Sure, our arms, legs, skin and bones are “parts” of us, but we wouldn’t say any one of these things is us. There is nothing anywhere inside our body that we can point to and say, “that’s me.” In fact, our language choices even now are pretty clear that our body is not us, we say, “my body,” implying there is a possessor of our body that is not the body itself. Just training in breaking our identification with our body is incredibly liberating. When our socks get holes in them or our car breaks down, we discard them and get new ones. We don’t feel like we are losing ourselves in the process, it is just something we have to do. Same with our body.
Of course we need to use our body. We should use it for meaningful purposes, namely practicing virtue. It gives us the means to practice virtue. Without our body, could we do so? Sure, if we were a formless realm god we might be able to, but instead we would be burning up our merit enjoying our absorbed mind. Our body is essential for Dharma practice. It gives us an opportunity to create for us a pure body of a Buddha, so that when we are separated from it we don’t have to assume another one ever again.
We must develop a different feeling about our body altogether. Our attitude needs to be to use it to be able to leave it behind. While we have the opportunity, we need to strive for a better body, a deathless vajra body. For me, one of the best ways to develop renunciation and Bodhichitta is to think, in my heart is the substantial cause of the body of Heruka or Vajrayogini. So our attitude is let’s go in and ripen it. Why be attached to this horrible thing? Attachment to this gross form stops us. We must acknowledge this attachment and do something about it.
This body finally has its use as the passageway to the very subtle body at our heart. In this way we can have a direction for what we are trying to do with our body. We can develop distaste and disgust, and develop a strong wish to develop the body of a Buddha. Why do we stay so attached to this gross form when beneath we will find the deity body? We must understand what it is that is preventing us from doing that. It’s attachment to it – looking to it as a source of happiness. Attachment to this body is preventing us finally from attaining the wish-fulfilling jewel body of a Buddha.