Why did Jeanne DeSalzmann so emphatically emphasize the effort to begin to understand the body--and life itself--through sensation?
Because we are not in deep relationship with our sensation, we don't really understand what our body is or what it is capable of. Not the physical feats that the body is capable of, the skills of athletes and dancers: what we are speaking of is a much deeper sense of being that is key to beginning to understand why we are in this body in the first place.
The parable of the incarnation presented to us by Christ -- in which the fundamental understanding, as well as the fundamental mystery, is that Godhood discovers itself within flesh --calls us to the same question. There is something about having a body that is vitally , supremely, important.
I don't think we know exactly what that is.
In examining my own recent experience of life--my own inner rates of vibration, combined with my attitudes, emotions, and the conjunction of impressions--and contrasting it with those around me, I conclude that we human beings are, for the most part, experiencing through our minds and our emotions. The body is merely an accessory that provides pleasure or pain, not a vessel in which the emotions and the mind dwell. The constant sense of physical, cellular sensation is absent.
As the Germans would say, "das geht nicht." (That won't do.) In order for anyone to have a definite sense of living in a body, which spawns a permanent and uncomfortable question, it is necessary to develop an organic sense of being--an unrelenting and reciprocal connection to physical sensation.
This comes up as a result of something I read in Dogen's Shobogenzo today. This
particular quote is taken from Chapter 86, page 133, book 4 of the Nishijima and Cross translation as published by Dogen Sangha press.
"To have been born in the human world yet nonetheless wantonly to pursue a political path or a worldly career, idly spending one's life as the servant of kings and ministers, encircled by dreams and illusion, and in later ages to proceed toward pitch darkness still without anything upon which to rely, is extremely stupid. Not only have we received the rarely received human body; we have also encountered the rarely encountered Buddha-Dharma. We should immediately cast aside all involvements and should swiftly leave family life and learn the truth. Kings, ministers, wives, children, and relatives, inevitably, are encountered everywhere, but the Buddha-Dharma, like the udumbara flower, is hardly ever encountered. In conclusion, when impermanence suddenly arrives, kings, ministers, friends and relatives, servants, wives and children, and precious treasures, are of no help; each person simply proceeds to the underworld alone. What accompanies us is only our good or bad Karma. When we're about to lose the human body, our regret at the loss of the human body might be deep."
Dogen brings up two key themes here. The first is the absolute and essential role of our body in the process of development: no caterpillar, no butterfly. As I pointed out not so long ago, we are here for a reason. We are in these bodies for a reason. This may be the most important moment that our soul encounters in its infancy. What we do now determines everything that comes later.
The second theme is that at the end of life, we present ourselves to eternity holding the entire contents of our vessel, everything we have ever experienced and done, as an offering. Right now, we may feel safe sealed within the walls of this physical vessel, but imagine how defenseless we will be without it: our carapace stripped away, the exposed contents naked and trembling before an eternity of time.
Will we be prepared, when that moment comes?
One last observation: the rare udumbara flower is not a mythological blossom; it exists in nature, but the nature that it exists within is our inner nature.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.