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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
WINTER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 71 correlates of mind, are vital essences that are stored in and move throughout various locations of the body. In tantric theory, specific practices and transmissions involving appro- priate attention to these three subtle aspects of being facilitate training and mastery of the movement of energies and vital essences, eventually catalyz- ing an enlightenment experience that is authentic and irreversible. Hence, this subtle interface between body and mind becomes the key component of liberation: if the subtle body is mas- tered, the mind can be freed. For that reason, in Buddhist tantric practice, the subtle body takes on a role of supreme importance. Yangonpa further states that the mechanism for this kind of somatic awakening resides first and foremost in the simplicity of valuing, learning about, and experiencing the subtle body. The subtle body of Buddhist tantric under- standing is not subtle merely because it is invisible to the naked eye, but also because it can only be fully known through internal sensory or meditative experience. According to Yangonpa, simply learning a map of the subtle body is not enough. A yogic practitioner must pay attention to the field of the body’s experience, a notion that students of the dharma long accustomed to valorizing the mind may find challenging, though ultimately refreshing. In paying atten- tion to the body’s field of experience, the mind is naturally and immediately involved, but attention is drawn away from thought and becomes immersed in somatic feeling. In this way, the subtle body inhabits an “in between” mode of embodiment, mediating between body and mind. Our physical body, with its heavi- ness and self-regulating activity, seems largely out of our control. Similarly, we often experience the mind, with its flightiness and intelligence, as com- pletely unmanageable. The subtle body bridges these two realms—the mental and the physical—by privileging neither body nor mind in isolation, but rather accommodating both as an integrated whole. This whole is the field of somatic experience, as it occurs at the present moment. While the body may not be in our control, the quality of our attention to our experience is, and this is where we begin to enter the world of the subtle body. Here, we find a unique place of entry into a more conscious relationship with both body and mind. How, then, does one do subtle body practice? This question rests outside the scope of Religion and the Subtle Body, which instead explores the sociocultural and sociohistorical perspectives on the notion of a subtle body. However, we can look to another source—Rose Tay- lor Goldfield’s Training the Wisdom Body, out this season—for answers. Tay- lor Goldfield, a student of Khenpo Tsul- trim Gyatso, delivers an excellent and accessible handbook for those wishing to directly experience the subtle body. Echoing Yangonpa, she explains that the subtle body is easily experienced when we turn our attention to our lived expe- rience of the body: “We connect with the subtle body when we open to feel- ings, sensations, and patterns of energy in the physical body.” Taylor Goldfield emphasizes that this connection can also be heightened through yogic practices that increasingly draw our attention to the energetic dimensions of being. Taylor Goldfield explains that the state of a person’s subtle body is closely connected to his or her emotional health. Her book introduces us to many traditional Buddhist exercises designed to heal and balance the subtle body; even so, she also stresses that exercise in general can also balance the subtle body, pointing to the profound impact that everyday exercise can sometimes have on our emotional well-being. As she puts it: “When we feel anxious or agitated, exercising with vigor is highly beneficial for our subtle body. This is because anxiety often locks itself in the subtle body in a frozen energy pattern. This can occur anywhere in the body but often manifests in the stomach, the heart center, or the throat center. It can be difficult to sit with such a feeling, and moving the body may be more effica- cious in easing the stress.” The exercises offered by Taylor Goldfield can help unlock those energy patterns. This emotional connection can be viewed from another perspective as well. Tsoknyi Rinpoche, in his most recent book, suggests one way to experience the subtle body is simply to notice how emotions play out in our physical body. In any experience of emotion, there is both a thought component and a physi- cal component. An emotion changes our physical experience. If we are angry, we might become flushed and our muscles become tense. To notice this is to enter into relationship with the subtle body. The mechanism by which our body registers the emotion of anger is the movement of energy winds, or vayu. Observing this feeling coursing through our body, we might have a first-time experience of what energy wind really is. Simply bringing attention to this REVIEWS Appropriate attention to the subtle aspects of being facilitate mastery of the movement of energies and vital essences, eventually catalyzing an enlightenment experience that is authentic and irreversible.