The Miracle of Aliveness: Body Practice

by John Daido Loori Roshi

Featured in Mountain Record 25.4, Summer 2007

Body practice is not exercise. It is not martial arts or aerobics, jogging or pumping iron. Body practice is nothing other than washing the face and cleaning the body; it is urination and elimination; it is cooking food and eating a meal; it is healing sickness, actualizing birth, practicing life, realizing death. Only when this is understood can we begin to speak of martial arts, aerobics, and pumping iron. Body practice is concerned with self-realization through the body. It is realizing that this body is the body of the Buddha, the body of this entire universe.

Self-realization needs to be with our whole being.Unfortunately, the search forself-knowledge is usually regarded as purely a function of the intellect. Feeling and intuition are largely considered to be subjective, and therefore unreliable, instruments for realizing truth. Yet by reducing the search for truth to an intellectual activity, we achieve only a distorted understanding of who we really are.

This has resulted in a view of religion, psychology, medicine, and politics in which the human condition is divided into discrete physical, mental, and spiritual parts. From this perspective, we tend to see the human body as the exclusive province of medicine, relegating the spirit to the world of religion, and the mind to that of psychology. Human emotion is left out entirely. Because of this compartmentalizing, we have a psychology that, in attempting to understand the mind, isolates it from the body. Medicine, on the other hand, in trying to heal the body, often ignores the mind. And, generally, in our religions the body is essentially denied, so that what religion generally calls morality is, in fact, an attempt to control the body. Naturally, this causes great conflict.

In the political realm, heads of state routinely separate so-called “political issues” from human experience. They quietly sit down to discuss megatons of destructive power, kill-quotas, and “acceptable” losses as if they were dealing with abstractions. Meanwhile, the flesh and blood creatures who are the subject of those discussions know that pain, suffering, and death are not abstractions and that there are no “acceptable” losses of human life from nuclear weapons. But until we yell loud enough, “It’s not an abstraction! It’s my life you’re talking about, Ms. Politician, Mr. Negotiator!” politicians will continue making abstract, intellectual decisions that adversely affect the physical universe we share.


photo by Carole Nickerson


Luckily, some eyes are opening and we are beginning to discover the truth of the Buddhadharma realized 2,500 years ago, the truth that is the interrelationship and interpenetration of all things, the unity of body, mind, and spirit, the holographic nature of the universe wherein you cannot affect one part without affecting the totality.

Master Dogen wrote:

You should see the truth that all the buddhas of past, present, and future are awakened and practice the Way. They don’t leave out their bodies and minds. To doubt this is already to slander them. As we reflect quietly on this matter it seems quite reasonable that our bodies and minds enact the Way and our desire for enlightenment is awakened truly with the buddhas of the three periods past, present, and future.

The human body is not a hindrance to the realization of enlightenment; rather, it is the vehicle through which enlightenment is realized. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the very concreteness of the body and all of its peculiarities, we raise the bodhi mind. Through it we practice, realize enlightenment, actualize, and attain the Way. Because the body fills the mind and the mind penetrates the body, we call this “the permeation of body and mind.” That is to say, body/mind is the entire universe in all of its directions.