The reflection and the water


A friend who practices yoga said this to me: “While I’m doing yoga, I really get a sense that ‘I’ am not my body.”

The great question (or one great question) is: “What am I?” We are not expected to answer this question with words. As part of our practice, the answer is only: “I don’t know.” After some time of sitting with this question, it’s quite clear that you are not your body. That’s easy. Then we need to sit with our awareness, consciousness, and Western concepts of the soul.

T’ung-Li says, “The Buddha’s three bodies are like a reflection on sunlit water. The incarnated body is the reflection. The reward body is the sunlight. And the real body is the water. Here, the Buddha tells Subhuti that if he wants to see the water, he needs to look past the reflection and the sunlight.”

(From The Diamond Sutra, tr. Red Pine, 2001, p.109.)

This idea of the three bodies of the Buddha is new to me, but basically, the “incarnated body” (the reflection) is the one we all know about, the physical body. The “reward body” (the sunlight) is a spiritual body that enlightened beings have. The “real body” — or the “dharma body” (the water) — is the true body of us all.    



4 responses

  1. I attended a dharma talk recently on the body. At first I thought the talk was not relevant, for I believed that we were merely that which carried forward from lifetime to lifetime or that which was extinguished after reaching enlightenment. I find that our body is impermanent, and consequently, we are more than our body but the Middle Path does not teach exclusionary thinking, I don’t think.

    I find the body hard to experience outside of the sensations. To me, the body is an abstract thought. I think with awareness through yoga and meditation I will more fully live the three bodies you speak of.

  2. I’m not sure I will ever really understand the “reward body,” but I think it’s helpful to see our physical bodies as merely reflections of something else. I also connect this teaching to the idea of each being as a drop of water that came from and returns to an ocean, and moreover, to the idea that a fish doesn’t know what water is. Our “water” is different from that of the fish, but our ignorance is the same as the fish’s ignorance.