I also see some Bodhisattvas
Who attained the following truth:
“The nature of things is not dual.
It is [formless] like the sky.”
(The Lotus Sūtra p.11)

Buddhism teaches that all things exist through dynamic mutual participation; in other words, all things are involved in one another. All phenomena, which we usually think of as separate or distinct, are actually intimately related to, or even identical with, one another. These teachings are the natural implications of the basic Buddhist principles of interdependence and consciousness that are the subject of the previous chapters. The non-dualistic world view of Buddhism is very different from the dualistic religious, philosophical and even scientific world views that are so prevalent in modern culture.

Shiki Shin Funi: Non-Duality of Body and Mind

Let’s begin our exploration into the non-dualistic world view of Buddhism with the non-duality of body and mind. In Nichiren Buddhism, we use the phrase shiki shin funi to express this. Shiki means “body” or “form.” Shin means “mind” or “heart.” Funi means “non-dual.” This simple phrase, shiki shin funi, encapsulates a whole different attitude towards the relationship between mind and body than the typical assumption characterized by Western philosophy. In that view, the body and mind are separate entities that have somehow been fixed together. This dualistic idea has dominated the Western world since at least the time of Plato. According to the teachings of Plato, we are actually souls who, due to our passions and ignorance, have been dragged down from the world of ideal forms into a body that exists in this material world. We must each strive to free ourselves of sensuality and ignorance so that we can return to the perfect world of forms and avoid the fate of continual reincarnation. This might sound like Buddhism, but it is actually very different. In fact, it is very close to ideas that were explicitly rejected by Śākyamuni.

Before we explore the differences between Buddhism and Platonism, let’s look at how this Platonic idea has come to us in our time and the consequences of Western culture’s adherence to this idea. The idea that we are immortal souls trapped in material bodies because of our sensual desires was fairly widespread throughout the Roman Empire in the early days of Christianity. Teachings about successive reincarnations and the duality of the body and soul were even accepted by many early Christians. This was particularly true of those with a more metaphysical or philosophical frame of mind, like the Gnostics and the influential third-century theologian Origen. This was in spite of the fact that the Bible itself does not discuss human life in this dualistic way. More importantly, the promise of Christianity is not to free the immortal soul from its bodily prison but rather the resurrection of the dead, which is the restoration and transformation of the entire person. In the end, Christianity as we know it prevailed over the Gnostic Christians and the various pagan cults and mystery religions. In the process, it suppressed the Gnostic teachings regarding reincarnation and their more extreme forms of dualism. Unfortunately, the Church retained the attitude that the soul is good and the body is evil. St. Augustine was especially responsible for this, since he was the one who formulated the doctrine of original sin and associated it with sensual desire. It should be noted that before becoming a Christian, Augustine had been a member of the Manichaeans, a Gnostic sect which taught that the body and the material world are evil while the soul and the spiritual world are good. It seems that, after converting to Christianity, Augustine was able to reject the more extreme forms of those teachings; nevertheless the underlying attitudes remained. From that point on, Western Christianity has officially taught the essential unity of the body and soul but has persisted in viewing the body with suspicion at best and contempt or even hatred at worst.

In the 17th century, Descartes reexpressed the body and mind split with a vengeance. Descartes, of course, is famous for having said, “Cogito, ergo sum,” that is, “I think, therefore I am.” Essentially, he asserted that his identification of the self was real because of his perception of reflexive self awareness. The Buddhist rejoinder to this might well be, “I think, therefore there are thoughts, from which the notion of a thinking self is derived.” Anyhow, according to Descartes, the body and mind are two distinct substances. The body is a substance that extends itself in space, while the mind is a thinking substance. Descartes then had to explain how the body and mind related to each other, and finally seemed to settle on the pineal gland as the contact point. We might snicker at this, but Descartes’ speculations eventually became the “common sense” assumptions that we live by today – except for the part about the pineal gland.

Without going into the long and complicated history of Western science, religion, and philosophy, the situation as it stands today is as follows: Science and medicine (with the exception of psychology) have taken over the study of the material world and the body. In short, their jurisdiction covers anything that extends into space with a material form and can be quantified, those things that Descartes called extensive substances. Science, in its more materialistic modes, even tends to insist that the mind is not another substance but merely a by-product of material processes. That is certainly one way of resolving the dualism. Religion, on the other hand, has taken over the mind. It tends to either ignore the material world or castigate it as a distraction from the heavenly bliss that awaits us, so we should just concentrate on more spiritual concerns like the state of our soul. Some forms of religion even teach that the material world is only an illusion that derives its reality from the spiritual world or the mind. This is another interesting way to resolve the dualism. The end result is that the whole person, encompassing both a bodily and a mental or spiritual aspect, is not viewed in an integrated way by most secular and religious institutions.

The consequence of this situation is a severe alienation from ourselves that affects both our mental health and our physical health. Origen, the aforementioned third-century theologian, castrated himself because he felt that his bodily desires were preventing him from realizing his spiritual goals. This is one example of this kind of self-destructive dualism. The Heaven’s Gate cultists who committed suicide in order to free themselves of their “bodily containers” also come to mind. Several of the male members of that group had also castrated themselves. Śākyamuni, on the other hand, taught that we should take care of our bodies. We should realize the preciousness of our life as a human being, because it is through our bodily existence in this world that we can come to know and to practice the Buddha Dharma. Far from seeing the body as an enemy or a prison, Śākyamuni Buddha taught that the body itself should serve as a foundation for the practice of mindful awareness that leads to enlightenment. Specifically, we should cultivate mindfulness of the body, beginning with the breath. We should then extend our awareness to the body’s states, functions, and composition. This is a much healthier and far more productive way of relating to the body.

As for the mind, it has also been underestimated by the scientific and the medical community until fairly recently. Western medicine, following Descartes’ lead, had generally approached the body as a kind of machine. This machine, it was said, could be fixed simply by repairing or replacing parts, or by introducing the right drugs. The mind’s influence on health and its role in the healing process was not taken seriously until the early 1990s. Doctors certainly knew about the “placebo effect,” that describes the positive effects of the patient’s faith in a treatment, even though the treatment was not real. They also knew that many illnesses like ulcers, chronic fatigue, allergies, or anorexia were either brought on or aggravated by stress or mental illness. These were therefore dubbed “psychosomatic,” which means “physical symptoms caused by the mind.” These, however, were often looked upon as exceptions to the rule that the body and the mind are two distinct entities affecting each other only incidentally. This began to change due to research done by people like Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel. Over the course of a decade, beginning in the mid-1970s, Spiegel studied the effects of participating in support groups on women suffering from advanced breast cancer. While Spiegel had expected to discover that participation in such groups could improve their emotional health, he also discovered that the women who participated in such groups extended their life spans by an average of 18 months. This was more than twice that of those who did not attend these groups, and was also more than could be accounted for by the medical treatments available to them. Spiegel published his findings in 1989, and many others have attempted to follow up on his research.

Regarding this research and other discoveries and experiments, in their book Mind/Body Medicine, Daniel Goleman and Joel Gurin, make the following comments:

Taken together, these research efforts and clinical experiments suggest that the split between mind and body, long taken for granted in Western philosophy, is illusory indeed. The studies are also part of a new synthesis in medical science. They are part of mind/body medicine: An approach that sees the mind – our thoughts and emotions – as having a central impact on the body’s health.

For patients, this new synthesis has a very practical significance. It means that by paying attention to and exerting some control over emotional and mental states – your worries, hostility, habitual reactions, pessimism, and depression – you may help yourself to stay healthy or recover more rapidly from being sick.

From the perspective of doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals, this new way of seeing things suggests there is much to be gained if they go beyond attending to physical disease and attend as well to the overall experience of illness – the way the disease affects a patient’s spirits and the emotional reactions it calls forth.

In short, one basic tenet of mind/body medicine is that it is best to treat the whole person: Treating emotional distress should be an essential complement to standard medical care. Another tenet is that people can be active participants in their own health care and may be able to prevent disease or shorten its course by taking steps to manage their own psychological states.

Of course, these principles must be tempered with a realistic view of the many factors at work in health and illness. No one is promising that people can cure themselves of disease just by thinking happy thoughts. That simplistic idea ignores the complexities of biology and the wired-in destiny of our genes. Worse, it can leave people feeling guilty about being sick at all. that is not the message of mind/body medicine.

But the evidence is growing stronger that states of mind can effect physical health. And while that effect may not be as dramatic as, say, the power of penicillin to fight a strep throat, it can be meaningful nonetheless. Mind/body approaches can certainly reduce the severity and frequency of medical symptoms. For example, they can make chronic headaches less frequent, reduce the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy, speed recovery from surgery, and help people with arthritis feel less restricted by their pain. Moreover, the same approaches may help strengthen the body’s resistance to disease. (Mind/Body Medicine, p.5)

In Nichiren Buddhism, the practice of Odaimoku has been used to harness the power of the mind to overcome illness. While the practice of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyao is primarily directed towards attaining awakening, Buddhism recognizes that a mind that is healthy and in harmony with the Wonderful Dharma is also a mind that can positively affect the health and harmony of the body.

The Buddhist view of the body and the mind is very different from those of Plato, Augustine or Descartes. Instead of thinking of the body and mind as two distinct substances, Śākyamuni Buddha spoke of the body and mind as different aspects of a single process. In the Buddhist tradition, it is taught that an individual is made up of five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. In fact, everything that we experience comes under the heading of one or more of these components. They are not, however, five separate substances, but are different factors or stages in the process of consciously experiencing anything, including the experience of being a self. Form, then, represents the object or objects experienced through the five senses, or mental objects like thoughts and emotions, experienced through the mind. The object then gives rise to feelings, which can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. What is felt is then perceived as particular objects. These perceptions give rise to certain attitudes, decisions, and actions that are the mental formations. These, in turn, gives rise to the awareness of a conscious subject who is experiencing these things and reacting to them. Though Buddhism focuses primarily on the consciousness or self-awareness that is the end result of this process, it recognizes that consciousness would not arise in the first place if it were not for the objects of which it is conscious. Without the objects, there would be no conscious experience. Even the Consciousness Only teachings do not negate the objects of experience. They simply focus on the fact that, without the medium of consciousness, there would be no awareness of reality and that all things can be viewed as manifestations of a universal process that gives rise to consciousness. This view sees both the mental and physical aspects of reality as integral to each other. Therefore, the physical, or objective aspects of reality, and the mental, or subjective aspects of reality, are not separate substances, but are instead two different poles of the process of dependent origination.

Looking back to the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination, we can see that consciousness gives rise to body and mind, which in turn gives rise to the six senses. The storehouse consciousness, which is actually the field of all previous physical and mental actions, gives rise to our current physical and mental states. These allow us to experience the world again, in terms of our physical senses and the mental sense of thoughts and ideas. Our conscious experience of physical and mental events then leads to further activities of body and mind. These also become seeds in the storehouse consciousness where they come to fruition in future mental and physical experiences. In this process, there is no separate, unchanging soul trapped within a physical body that needs to return to the purity of a spiritual realm. Instead, Buddhism’s goal is the transformation of our conscious experience of life, which includes both mental and physical phenomena. Rather than freeing ourselves from our bodies, the goal of life is to awaken to the Wonderful Dharma so that both our bodies and minds can express the wisdom and compassion of buddhahood. When we chant Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, it is for the transformation of our whole being, not just our minds.

In summary, the dualistic view of Plato, that has formed the basic attitude or bias of Western culture, considers the mind (or soul) as separate from the body, which is its prison. The goal of Western spirituality is to deny the desires of the flesh and transcend this world for a purely spiritual existence where the mind is free of the constraints of the body and its demands and fragility. In reaction to this, Western science has insisted that the mind is merely a by-product of the body (specifically the brain) and that material comfort and success in this life is the only paradise which can actually be realized. Buddhism, however, recognizes that the body and mind are different aspects of dependent origination and that happiness is only found by overcoming the self-centeredness and egoism based as much upon the mind as it is upon physical desires. Furthermore, Buddhist practice is based upon the cultivation of insight into both mental and physical processes in order to realize the true nature of all reality, encompassing both body and mind. Unlike the dualistic spirituality or reductionist materialism which has dominated the West for most of its history, Buddhism presents a world view and a way of life that is profoundly free of dualism and recognizes the unity of body and mind.

The practice of Odaimoku in regard to the non-duality of body and mind has already been mentioned. But what did Nichiren specifically teach about the causes and treatment of illness in reference to the Lotus Sūtra and Odaimoku practice? In a letter to a follower who had fallen ill, Nichiren explains the nature of illness by quoting a passage from Chih-i, the founder of the T’ien-t’ai school, which lists six causes of illness. The first five are basically physical or material causes of illness which can be treated with various forms of medicine, surgery, or exercise. The sixth cause of illness is listed as “the effects of karma,” referring to the effect of actions stored as seeds in the storehouse consciousness. Above and beyond the prevention and treatment of illness by medicine, surgery, exercise, or a healthy diet, we must be aware of and take responsibility for the spiritual world, which is the hidden side of the material world.

The following passage from Mind/Body Medicine shows that doctors have learned that our attitudes and beliefs do affect the body:

When it comes to health, attitude does count. Numerous studies have linked such psychological characteristics as optimism, hope, and sense of control to increased physical well-being. Healthy optimism is not a Pollyannaish, unrealistic attitude, but one that embodies the belief that people can be active players in their own lives. Pessimism, on the other hand, breeds passiveness.

Although research on the link between optimism and health is technically difficult to undertake, several studies have now shown that optimism does keep people healthy. Other psychological characteristics related to optimism – namely, hope, and a sense of control – have been found to be important to physical health as well. Conversely, a lack of control can lead to a sense of passivity and defeat – what psychologists call learned helplessness – that is linked to poor health. (Ibid, p.366)

These doctors come to the conclusion that our internal beliefs and attitudes have a very powerful effect on our bodies. Therefore, one of the best cures for illness is “hope and a sense of control.” Nichiren came to essentially the same conclusion. For Nichiren, the primary source of “hope and a sense of control” is the unborn and deathless nature of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha’s awakening, the essence of the Lotus Sūtra and the key to our own buddhahood. Therefore, rejecting or ignoring the Lotus Sūtra is to deny buddhahood itself. Embracing the Lotus Sūtra, on the other hand, is to embrace buddhahood, the key to health and wholeness of body and mind. For this reason, it was Nichiren’s conviction that faith in the Lotus Sūtra is the key to resolving all of our problems and suffering. As he wrote in the same letter to his sick follower:

Based on the passages quoted above, I suspect that your sickness does not originate outside the six causes of disease. For now, let us set aside [the first] five causes of disease. The sixth or karmic cause of disease is the most difficult to cure. It can be light or heavy, but this is hard to determine. However, the karmic disease caused by slandering the Lotus Sūtra is the worst. Even [legendary physicians such as] Shên Nung, Huang Ti, Hua T’o, and Pien Ch’üeh would just stand by with folded arms; while Jisui, Rusui, Jīvaka, and Vimalakīrti would be tongue-tied [if they were asked to cure it]. Only the good medicine of the One Buddha Śākyamuni’s wonderful sūtra can treat it. (Ōta Nyūdō-dono Gohenji, Shōwa Teihon p. 1116. Authentic copy extant. Also see p. 34, WNS: FI 6))

Eshō Funi: Non-Duality of Living Beings and Their Environment

Buddhist non-duality does not just stop with the body and mind, however. The teaching of dependent origination also implies the non-duality of life and its environment. The Nichiren Buddhist term for this is eshō funi. Eshō is a compound word, formed by the words ehō, which means “dependent reward,” and shōbō, which means “the reward proper.” Dependent reward refers to the environment upon which living things depend for their lives, the exact nature of which is determined by the karma of the life or lives in question. The reward proper refers to the body and mind, which is the direct reward of karma. Funi, as before, means “non-dual.” The term eshō funi means that body, mind, and environment are not separate entities, but are all the manifestations of karmic activity.

In the West, our attitude towards the world around us has been very dualistic and destructive. We have tended to view ourselves not only as separate and distinct from the world around us but even as the lords and masters of creation. The Bible itself seems to recommend this approach in Genesis 1:28 where God says to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This Biblical verse does not necessarily mean that we should go out and clear cut the forests, strip mine the hills and hunt animals into extinction if it seems to serve our needs. Quite the contrary, there are many other parts of the Bible where it is clear that people are not to act in this way. However, once again the Platonic dualism, which views this world as a physical prison or a dark cave, set the tone for the Christian West and its interpretation of the Bible. The typical view of Western civilization has judged the environment to be useful at best and an adversary to be conquered at worst.

Only comparatively recently have we begun to awaken to a more holistic view that sees human beings as a part of the natural world instead of apart from it. One encouraging scientific theory is the Gaia hypothesis, which recognizes the interdependent relationship between life and its environment.

In his book, Earth in the Balance, Al Gore briefly explains the Gaia hypothesis and its implications:

And if we could find a way to understand our own connection to the earth – all the earth – we might recognize the danger of destroying so many living species and disrupting the climate balance. James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, maintains that the entire complex earth system behaves in a self-regulating manner characteristic of something alive, that it has managed to maintain critical components of the earth’s life support systems in perfect balance over eons of time – until the unprecedented interference of modern civilization: “We now see that the air, the ocean and the soil are much more than a mere environment for life; they are a part of life itself. Thus the air is to life just as is the fur to a cat or the nest for a bird. Not living but something made by living things to protect against an otherwise hostile world. For life on the earth, the air is our protection against the cold depths and fierce radiations of space.”

Lovelock insists that this view of the relationship between life and the nonliving elements of the earth system does not require a spiritual explanation; even so, it evokes a spiritual response in many of those who hear it. It cannot be accidental, one is tempted to conclude, that the percentage of salt in our bloodstream is roughly the same as the percentage of salt in the oceans of the world. The long and intricate process by which evolution helped to shape the complex interrelationship of all living things may be explicable in purely scientific terms, but the simple fact of the living world and our place in it evokes awe, wonder, a sense of mystery – a spiritual response – when one reflects on its deeper meaning. (Earth in the Balance, p.264.)

The interdependence of life and its supporting environment has been a part of Buddhism from the very beginning. Just as Śākyamuni Buddha taught that one should be mindful of the body, he also taught that one should reflect on the elements that make up the body. As in most of the ancient world, the Buddha taught that these elements consist of earth, air, fire, and water. In fact, it is fairly easy to recognize our dependence upon these four elements, which are usually thought of as non-living matter. For instance, could we live without food, which is derived from the soil? Could we live without air to breath, water to drink, or the warmth of the sun? Even a simple reflection upon the way our body is composed of the four basic elements should be enough to make us realize that we are nothing without the environment of which we are a part.

The Mahāyāna teachings often use the Jewel Net of the god Indra as a metaphor to help people realize the interdependence of all things, including life and its environment. The Jewel Net of Indra is said to cover the entire universe. At each intersection of the net is a jewel which reflects all other jewels in the net and is in turn reflected by them. Each jewel, then, receives all the others and is received by all the others. In the same way, all things contain one another. Every living being is a reflection of the world from which it arises and the world in turn reflects the living beings. In Nichiren Buddhism, life and its environment are also viewed as mutually supportive and reflective.

In a letter to a follower, Nichiren explained the meaning of eshō funi using the analogy of a body and its shadow:

The ten directions are the environment (ehō), and sentient beings are the living beings (shōhō). The environment is like a shadow, and a living being is like the body [casting the shadow]. Without the body there is no shadow, without a living being there is no environment. So, living beings and their environments arise together. (Zuisō Gosho, Shōwa Teihon p. 873. Authentic copy extant. Also see p. 121, WNS: FI 6)

It was Nichiren’s firm conviction, based upon the teachings of Mahāyāna Buddhism that the environment does not merely support life but in fact reflects the inner nature of the life it supports. This idea goes beyond the psychological idea of projection, wherein people project their own unconscious assumptions and biases upon their experiences. While the contents of the unconscious certainly influence the way we perceive the world around us, according to the Buddha Dharma, the same karma that determines the nature of our bodies and minds also determines the nature of the world in which we live. By the same logic, we are not only responsible for the kind of people that we are and that we will become, but we are also responsible for the kind of world we live in and that we will end up living in.

The six worlds on the wheel of becoming and the four higher worlds of the disciples, solitary contemplatives, bodhisattvas, and buddhas are actually examples of the various forms of life and their corresponding environments. The teachings of dependent origination, the three truths and the nine consciousnesses are different ways of explaining how this works. According to dependent origination, all things arise through the interplay of cause and effect. According to the three truths, nothing possesses an intrinsic fixed nature, but everything does have a temporary nature in accord with the causes and conditions which bring them about. According to the nine consciousnesses, the storehouse consciousness is the field wherein the various causes and conditions interact. These interactions are the basis for the birth and death of all beings and the worlds that they inhabit. The six worlds portray the various temporary natures that arise, including the body, mind, and the environment, all consistently expressing the nature of the karmic seeds from which they arose.

In 13th century Japan, the Japanese people were the victims of plagues, earthquakes, political oppression and the threat of foreign invasion. Nichiren taught that this was because people did not realize that it was in their power to change their lives by taking up faith in the Lotus Sūtra, the key to buddhahood. Nichiren insisted that if people put their faith in the Lotus Sūtra, they would be able to sow the seeds of buddhahood in the depths their lives and change both themselves and their circumstances. According to Nichiren, one can plant the seed of awakening through the simple act of chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. By doing this, one is setting in motion the causes which will bring about the revolution within the storehouse consciousness where all the seeds of karma are contained. Once this inner transformation from delusion to awakening is accomplished, all aspects of life will change. It was Nichiren’s hope that one day all people would embrace Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō and thereby awaken their minds, restore their health, and bring peace to the world in accordance with the teachings of non-duality.

A sacred writing of the Nichiren tradition says:

The One Mind that is the Dharma-realm includes life and it’s environment, body and mind, insentient grasses and trees, earth and sky, and all existence without even a speck of dust left out. A single thought-moment of the mind includes all phenomena because it permeates every part of the single thought-moment of the Mind which is the Dharma-realm. Realizing this principle is also the One Mind which is the Dharma-realm. But even though we chant Myōhō Renge Kyō, if we think that the Dharma is outside of our own minds, such is not the Wonderful Dharma at all, but only a crude teaching. Such a crude teaching is not [the Lotus] Sūtra. If it is not [the Lotus] Sūtra, it is only an expedient. It is only the initial gate. If it is the teaching of the expedient initial gate, it is not the direct way to becoming a buddha. If it is not the direct way of becoming a buddha, then even though we train according to it for many lives through innumerable kalpas we will never become a buddha. Therefore, when we chant the Wonderful Dharma and read the Lotus Sūtra, we should have deep faith that our every thought-moment is Myōhō Renge Kyō. (Issho Jōbutsu-shō, Shōwa Teihon p. 42-3. Listed in the Rokuge. )