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The Oneness of Body and Mind

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Buddhism teaches that the mind and body are not simply related; they are inseparable. The principle of the “oneness of body and mind,” called shikishin funi in Japanese, explains this idea.

Shiki literally means “color” or “form,” which indicates the body and refers to material or physical components that can be measured or seen. Shin means “mind” or “heart,” referring to the realm of thought, intent or spirit—the intangible components of one’s being. Funi literally means “not two” and is an abbreviation of the phrase nini funi, which means “two but not two.” This implies that the physical and the spiritual, though appearing to be distinct entities, are on the deepest level expressing the same core reality that is life itself (see Study Guide: Essentials Exam Part 2, pp. 51–52). In other words, they are two aspects of the same reality, which is the Mystic Law.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “A person can know another’s mind by listening to the voice. This is because the physical aspect reveals the spiritual aspect. The physical and spiritual, which are one in essence, manifest themselves as two distinct aspects” (“Opening the Eyes of Wooden and Painted Images,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 86).

Laughing and crying, for instance, are physical manifestations of our emotions. And a stomachache can reveal our anxiety or stress. Conversely, a toothache can put us in a sour mood, or a massage can calm our nerves.

Our life exists and continues based on the interaction of physical and spiritual aspects and the karma that we have formed in previous lifetimes. SGI President Ikeda writes: “When spirit and body work together in harmony, life continues moving toward fulfillment, realizing itself more fully at each upward turn. This is the ideal of human life. Of course, physical health is important, but so are mental and spiritual health, not to mention the health of society” (On Being Human, p. xxix).

In line with this, one way to understand the oneness of body and mind is through the lens of health. Naturally, having good health is a primary concern for most, if not all, people.

Moreover, Buddhism recognizes illness as one of the four universal sufferings of life. Rather than viewing it as something to be feared or loathed, Nichiren states, “Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way” (“The Good Medicine for All Ills,” WND-1, 937). Here, he points out that illness can be a catalyst for awakening the spirit to seek Buddhahood and build powerful lives unswayed by anything.

What is most important in overcoming illness, or any difficulty for that matter? It is our resolve.

President Ikeda also explains health and illness, or disease, from a broader perspective, saying: “Health is not a condition in which we merely escape negative influences. It is a highly positive, active state in which we hold ourselves responsible for such influences, in which we face and try to solve various problems—not just our own but others’ problems, too. The word disease implies a lack of ease, which conversely implies that health is a state of comfort. In the Buddhist sense, however, being ‘at ease’ does not mean freedom from difficulties; it means having the strength to meet and overcome any problem” (Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, p. 52).

What is most important in overcoming illness, or any difficulty for that matter? It is our resolve. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda makes this point, stating: “First, decide what you will do and be determined to win without fail. The outcome hinges on your resolve. This is the philosophy for success” (The Five Eternal Guidelines of the Soka Gakkai, pp. 54–55).

Once we resolve to win, we must also take action. Thus, the principle of the oneness of body and mind helps us understand that both our resolve and the efforts we make are crucial in breaking through any deadlock or obstacle.

When we base our lives on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are able to harmonize our “spiritual aspect” (internal workings) with our “physical aspect” (the actions we take), and we can vibrantly create the utmost value in every situation. Living in this way, centered on our dedication to spreading Nichiren Buddhism for the happiness of all humanity, is the best way to lead a healthy, joyful and fulfilling existence.

SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance

The following are the excerpted remarks of SGI President Ikeda from the book Humanism and the Art of Medicine: A New Century of Health.[1]Daisaku Ikeda, Humanism and the Art of Medicine: A New Century of Health (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Soka Gakkai Malaysia, 1999), pp. 4–5.

Buddhism is not simply a kind of spiritualism or an abstract theory. Buddhists throughout the ages have focused squarely on the reality of physical and mental illnesses, and sought to relieve the suffering of illness from the dual perspective of Buddhism and medicine. Still, it is only natural that Buddhism concerns itself primarily with the role of the mind. And as stress-related illnesses increase in the future, the relationship between the mind and health in general will be spotlighted all the more . . .

[Dr. Norman Cousins (1915–90) was a pioneer in research on the medical relationship of the mind and the body.]

Dr. Cousins lived a life of continual challenge and eternal youth. His research into the oneness of mind and body was not simply theoretical, either. He himself achieved miraculous recoveries from collagen illness—a life threatening connective tissue disease—with which he was diagnosed at 50, and a major heart attack at 65, going on to live until the age of 75. In those years, he produced an enormous amount of work of great and lasting value . . .

The question is, what had so strengthened his life force? I cannot help but conclude that it was his love for people and a strong sense of responsibility. Both of those are based on a great faith in humanity. Dr. Cousins summed up his beliefs in the single word, hope.

Hope, he said, was his secret weapon. In our dialogue, he remarked: “Death is not the greatest tragedy that befalls us in life. What is far more tragic is for an important part of oneself to die while one is still alive. There is no more terrifying tragedy than this. What is important is to accomplish something in this life.”

Health is not simply a matter of absence of illness. Health means constant challenge. Constant creativity. A prolific life always moving forward, opening up fresh new vistas—that is a life of true health. An unbeatable spirit is what supplies the power to keep pressing ahead.

(p. 9)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Daisaku Ikeda, Humanism and the Art of Medicine: A New Century of Health (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Soka Gakkai Malaysia, 1999), pp. 4–5.