Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Giving away our body

(5.86) Because I use this body to practise bodhichitta,
I should not harm it for the sake of temporary benefits,
But care for it so that I may fulfil my bodhichitta wish,
So that eventually all living beings’ wishes will be fulfilled.

We are taught that we need to give away everything, including our body.  This does not, however, mean we throw our life away.  To give away our body is an action of mind in which we cease to impute “mine” on our body, and instead we impute “others’.”  We still retain control of our body, but no longer ownership of it.  In truth, we have never owned our body, it has always belonged to our parents.  It is only our selfish ignorance that imputes “mine” onto it.

There are three main reasons why we should give away our body.  First, if we no longer grasp at our body as our own, we will no longer suffer on account of it.  When somebody else’s body gets hurt, we don’t suffer from it because we are not imputing “mine” onto their suffering.  In the same way, when our body experiences some form of pain we will no longer suffer from it because it will not be “ours.”  Second, we will naturally engage in virtue with it.  If our body belongs to others, we will naturally use it to serve their interests.  We do not steal the belongings of others and use them for our own purposes.  If we view our body as belonging to others, we will view using it for our own purposes as mismanagement of their resources at best, theft at worst.  Third, dying will not be a problem for us.  The sufferings of death are associated with the feeling of having our body ripped away from us.  But if we long ago gave away our body to others, death will not represent any great loss.  The only reason we experience human suffering is because we identify with a human body and mind.  Giving away our body to others helps break our identification with it, and thereby frees us to become who we were truly meant to be.

There is no contradiction between giving away our body and taking proper care of it.  When we borrow something from somebody else, we are far more likely to take good care of it because we know it is not ours.  If we borrow somebody’s car, we fill it up with gas before we return it.  In the same way, knowing our body belongs to all living beings, we will feel a responsibility to maintain it, keep it healthy, keep it safe and keep it alive for as long as possible.  We will invest in it so that it can better serve those it belongs to.

(5.87) Those who lack pure compassion and wisdom
Should not actually give away their body
But, instead, devote it to accomplishing
The great purpose of this and future lives.

To actually give away our body in this context would refer to literally handing over our body to others, such as becoming their slave or giving our inner organs to others who might need them while we are still alive.  If we are sufficiently realized, this would not be a problem for us, but few of us are so advanced.  Besides, acting in this way would likely do more harm than good since it would bring the Dharma into disrepute.  Actually giving away our body could also refer to being willing to sacrifice our life for the sake of protecting others, such as a soldier who throws himself on the grenade to save those in his squad.  While few of us encounter such situations in our daily life, we can nonetheless deeply rejoice in the mind that is willing to do such things.

However, there are many practical ways we can give away our body.  For example, if we see an old lady struggling to carry her grocery bags, we can carry them for her.  This is offering our body to others.

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