397. The flesh of the world

Of all the ideas in East Asian Buddhism, the hardest for us to take seriously is that the whole of reality is the Buddha’s true Dharma body. Or, in Dogen’s reading, all of reality is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

But to take an idea seriously is not to take it literally.

What we’re dealing with here isn’t a concept, it’s a way of reconfiguring ourselves with the rest of creation, seen and felt as an alive whole. It’s hard for us, as it’s a right brain perspective in a left brain world.

This idea of all of reality being like a living body, whilst located within Chinese and Japanese culture, keeps recurring unexpectedly. For example, the modern French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty talked about “the flesh of the world”, by which he meant the entanglement we have with all creation.

Which is a very helpful way of looking at things, because it helps us locate the place of suffering.

When we look at Buddhist ideas from the perspective of our individualistic culture, we want to locate suffering as something internal to the person, some unresolved psychological issues, an imbalance which can be rebalanced.

So the contrasting idea derivable from Merleau-Ponty of the “Flesh of the world” being cut by the mirror of the self and that being the location of suffering, is very helpful as an antidote to that unconscious individualism.

And it’s particularly helpful as you can take from it that all the peculiar language of Mahayana Buddhism is an attempt to stitch together and to heal that fundamental wound.

Hence we get odd language; stillness which isn’t still; silence, which isn’t the absence of noise, and space, which isn’t the absence of things.  Again not conceptual language, not something to construct a world, but rather something to revitalize and reimagine ourselves within a world—within a world which is alive and whole and active and differentiated. As a body is.

The language that we use is an expedient means to stitch this wound together.

Whether the wound is stitched together or not, there always remains a scar.

The voices which  speak from the position of the scar are our Ancestors.