Mind-Made Body

In the Sāmaññaphala Sutta we read that a meditator at some stage develops a ‘mind-made body’ (manomayakaya):

“And with [her] mind thus concentrated… imperturbable, [she] applies and directs her mind to the producing of a mind-made body. Out of this body [she] produces another body, having form, mind-made, complete in all its limbs and parts.”

What are we going to make of this? I haven’t ever heard anyone in the Pali-based field teach on this. Yet, it is squarely there in the progression of the Buddhist meditator’s path. We Westerners tend to take what makes sense to us and leave the rest, as though it was irrelevant. What if the mind-made body was more relevant than our cultural lenses could fathom?

Sue Hamilton (I of the Beholder, 2000): “Though what are commonly thought of as body and mind are thus equally integral to one’s experiencing apparatus, in early Buddhism it is accepted that it is possible for one’s body or physical locus to take different froms from that with which we are familiar. In particular, it is accepted that one’s body might be, or become, ‘subtle’, what to us in the West might be terms ‘ghostly’ or ‘ethereal’: not visible in the normal way that our dense physical bodes are visible.”

I think, when reading this, of the development of awareness of the subtle body in several disciplines, including in tantra (and, in particular, in Theravadan Tantra – see Kate Crosby on the Yogāvacara, 2000).

I hope to come up with a way into this topic of the subtle body (mind-made body), but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m welcoming of such.

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2 Responses to Mind-Made Body

  1. Shane says:

    I’m not clear about your reference to “Theravadan Tantra”, Christopher – I thought that tantric schools within Buddhism were a much later development, historically, than the Theravadan teachings. That is, tantric Buddhism arose some centuries after the development of the Mahayana teachings, as an outgrowth of Yogacara, Madhyamaka, and Hindu shaiva teachings. Perhaps in some cultures later developments – like Tantra – flowed back into Theravada cultures (?). I know that one scholar (Bizot?) speculates about the existence of such a school (no longer existing) in Cambodia. The point I’m trying to make is that there is little evidence to build up a picture of “theravadan tantra” practice. That’s not to say, that in today’s context, that theravada and tantric approaches couldn’t be used together – its just the historical support for such an approach is hard to find.

    • peony_au says:

      Dear Shane,
      Thanks for you input. I hadn’t seen this response of yours. The dialogue is much appreciated.
      Kate Crosby has produced quite a bit of evidence to support her ‘tantric theravada’ label. I’ll send you a copy of her detailed bibliographic essay on Bizot’s work, if you request it. It is very detailed in its descriptions of Pali-based tantric “yogāvacara” practices. She also she talks about this, in her recent very good introduction to the complexity of the so-called ‘Theravada.’ That book is called “Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity and Identity.” She writes there of the “borān kammaṭṭhāna/yogāvacara tradition that was ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia prior to more recent reforms.”
      Probably the origins of the borān kammaṭṭhāna will be forever lost in the mists of early Buddhist development, but I don’t see any reason for me to assume that it didn’t start reasonably early, even in parallel to the Sanskrit traditions, because the way I see it is that tantra is more about human need than it is about cultural transmission. I guess I feel that if we didn’t have a very early form of tantric Theravada, we would have had to develop it, anyway. 🙂

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