We all know how our mood can be affected when we have an illness or a physical complaint. Our overall health depends on both our physical and mental well-being.
The principle of 'the oneness of body and mind' is a translation of the Japanese expression 'shikishin funi' which could also be expressed as 'our bodies and our minds appear to be two different things, but at their source are one'. Naturally we will wonder how physical, material things like our bodies can be no different to the mental and spiritual aspects of our lives, but when our bodies are ill our general mood or state of life can be low, and when we feel stressed that can in turn impact on our bodies.
At this point it is useful to introduce a principle called 'the three truths' which looks at some ideas which underpin the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism.
The first truth (Jp. ke) is that everything, every phenomenon, goes through a cycle of being created, growing and developing, maturing, then declining before reaching the end of their useful life. In short, this truth confirms that phenomena only exist temporarily. This is particularly relevant to our physical attributes, our bodies, and it also applies to other phenomena we can perceive with our senses. In terms of the phases of the rhythm of life, this truth refers to the phase when we are alive and have a physical body.
The second truth (Jp. ku) seems to contradict this idea of temporary existence by telling us that there is an essential aspect to the changing processes of life. For example, before phenomena are physically created, and after they reach the end of their existence, their essential nature exists in the universe. This truth reminds us that from the Buddhist perspective we are not just flesh and bones, biological cells and chemical elements, but we also have spiritual energy, which we become aware of through our thoughts and our life-. In terms of the phases of the rhythm of life, this truth refers to the latent phases before we are conceived, and after we have passed away.
So, on one hand, Buddhism explains that everything is temporary, and at the same time we are told that some sort of energy exists before something physical comes into being.
When I think about what has happened to my own body, I know that I don't look much like I did when I was five, or fifteen, or indeed, sadly, twenty-five. My body's cells have been busy replacing themselves, and although I know that the boy in the photograph is me, a lot of changes have taken place over the years. Broadly though, despite the changes in my body, I am still me. Yet, the cells in my body are made of chemical elements, each of which consists of atoms which are also in constant flux, having in their own chemical way been vibrating and demonstrating change. To what extent am I the same collection of elements I was when I was a boy?
Something, however, has kept me together. The thing that is consistently me, the aspect of life that ensures I am a continuation of the person that I was ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago; what is that?
The third truth (Jp. chu), links the ideas of the first two truths together, and says that there is something in life which ensures consistency between each of these two phases. This is described in Nichiren Buddhism as the Middle Way.
The idea of the Middle Way had originally developed when Shakyamuni Buddha saw that neither a life of hedonistic worldly pleasures, nor a life of purely spiritual pursuits could bring genuine happiness. He realised that the true nature of life was something else that transcended both these physical and spiritual pursuits. As Buddhism developed, the expression 'The Middle Way' was used to describe the continuity in the unfolding rhythm of life: out of latency, a physical being emerges (which then grows, matures, then declines and dies) before returning to latency again. Then, when the conditions are right, the energy manifests as another physical being and so on.
So while we are shown that there are both physical and non-substantial aspects to our lives, we also realise that we cannot ignore either of them. Instead Nichiren Daishonin showed us that we can harmonise and energise both the physical and spiritual aspects by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which is the expression of this Middle Way, this binding, consistent aspect of life which wants life to manifest its greatest potential, and create the most value. By chanting we draw out the universal energy that permeates not only our own lives, but also all phenomena, and that is the expression of the eternity of life both through life and death.
If we take the example of a coin which includes both the head side, and also the tail side. They are not separable. Even if you could divide a coin into two with the head in one hand and the tail in the other, what you would be left with would no longer be what it started out as: a coin. It would be useless in a shop or a bank. It is much better to keep the coin whole and useful. We could say that the idea of 'being a coin1 permeates the whole object, both heads and tails. Similarly, Buddhism looks at 'life' and explains that while the physical aspect of life and the non-physical aspect of life appear to be two very different sorts of thing, actually each is one of the aspects of what life is and does. The Middle Way is an expression of the third truth, that life has an aspect of temporary existence while it emerges in a physical body, as well as an aspect of emerging and returning to latency but life alternates from one state to the other in an eternal cycle.
So what does this all mean for us?
Biologists will say that human life starts with conception and with regard to our physical bodies they are on the mark. The Buddhist view is that before conception the non-physical energy of my life was waiting, latent in the universe, until the right causes and conditions arose. At some point in the future when my body is no longer able to function, that will be the end of this temporary existence, but the non-physical will continue on, merging with the energy of the universe, returning to latency.
So if my body and my mind are both expressions of the Law of the universe (described as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), when there is disharmony somewhere in my life this will become apparent in either my physical health and well-being or my spiritual life-condition. If I want to re-establish harmony, the best starting point is to stimulate the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Buddha nature, in my life. Of course, Buddhism recognises the value of appropriate medical procedures and treatments (we should absolutely not think that chanting alone will be sufficient). By fusing with the universal law which harmonises both the physical and non-physical aspects of life we will develop the wisdom to know what action to take, as well as draw great protection out of the environment, in the shape of the right medical practitioners with the best knowledge of our condition and the best treatments.
Now we can come back to the oneness of body and mind, or in Japanese shikishin funi. Shiki refers to all matter and physical phenomena, including the human body. Shin refers to all spiritual, unseen phenomena, including reason, emotion and volition. Funi literally means 'two but not two'.
It is because both body and mind are each expressions of the Middle Way, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, that body and mind are one. Our bodies are the physical manifestation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and our minds and spirits are the non-physical manifestation of the same law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
If my body is unhealthy, my life-state is at risk of being affected by that condition. For instance, it can be depressing to be physically incapacitated or incredibly frightening and stressful to deal with a potentially life-threatening illness. Alongside working with doctors to find the best medical solution to our physical ailments, we can also positively affect the situation through tackling our own attitude towards the problem we are facing. I believe that the best thing for both my body and my mind, therefore, is to raise my life-condition and reveal the best possible state: Buddhahood, which I do through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that our mind can have a powerful effect on our body. For example, if my mind is affected, perhaps by the stress of twenty-first century life, this can result in physical symptoms (some common examples are the so-called psychosomatic conditions like eczema, psoriasis, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease). While seeking the best and most appropriate medical attention, practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism also use their faith, practice and study to alleviate the stress, and thereby also make a great cause for reducing and transforming the physical condition.
Many members of SGI have experienced improvements in the areas of health and their physical condition through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I met the practice of Buddhism when I was recovering from a broken leg after a motorbike accident. I did not have an instantaneous miracle cure when I started to chant, but I quickly developed a healing mental attitude, which in turn helped the process of physical recovery. Understanding this connection between body and mind has been very useful on other occasions when one or other aspect is feeling tired or out of rhythm.
So if we wish to be truly happy, while we may follow Juvenal's injunction to the youth of Rome to acquire a sound mind in a healthy body1, as Nichiren Buddhists we know the cause that ensures that both our bodies and our minds are in harmony with the rhythm of life itself. With Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can be happy in both body and mind. •
1 'Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpora saw', Juvenal's Satire X