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from the forest to one’s body: the changing landscape of spiritual practice

August 7, 2014

forestIn the Buddhist past, when questions have arisen about the authenticity of institutionalized, conventionalized Buddhist organizations, politics, beliefs, and practices, practitioners have retired into the “forest” (sktî, vana, aranya), the classical term for the uninhabited jungles of India. The “forest” was regarded as a place beyond the reach of conventional culture and institutionalized Buddhism, a place where the atmosphere was open and unobstructed.

Within Indian culture, the forest was considered the ideal place for spiritual practice because, in the forest, there are no rules and there are no presiding authorities. The only authority is the chaos of the forest itself. The only rule is what awaits there for each practitioner, uniquely, to discover. Memories of the past and plans for the future, the psychic infrastructure of civilization, do not apply: they have no bearing and they have no footing. The forest is about something else. In the forest, there is only the ever- present possibility of events, encounters, and insights that emerge directly from reality itself, pure and unpolluted by human wants, expectations, and attitudes. Uniquely in the forest, the most radical of all human journeys can take place, one which brings us into direct contact with primordial being.

Increasingly in this world of ours, there is no longer any geographical forest for us practitioners to retire to…the true forest is quickly disappearing, perhaps forever, from our world.

But there is a new wilderness, a new unknown and limitless territory, a new terrain of chaos, that calls us. It is a territory that has not been, and cannot be, colonized and domesticated by human ambition and greed, that in its true extent cannot be mapped by human logic at all. This is the “forest” of the human body. The body is now, I believe, our forest, our jungle, the “outlandish” expanse in which we are invited to let go of everything we think, allow ourselves to be stripped down to our most irreducible person, to die in every experiential sense possible and see what, if anything, remains.

(R Ray)

 

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