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Mahayana, Theravada, ancient, modern? Even at the most basic level, the diversity of Buddhism makes a comprehensive approach daunting. This book is a first step in solving the problem. In foregrounding the bodies of practitioners, a solid platform for analysing the philosophy of Buddhism begins to become apparent.
Building upon somaesthetics Buddhism is seen for its ameliorative effect, which spans the range of how the mind integrates with the body. This exploration of positive effect spans from dreams to medicine. Beyond the historical side of these questions, a contemporary analysis includes its intersection with art, philosophy, and ethnography.

This chapter examines the importance of discord in the bodily practice of nonduality in the Vimalakirti. This sutra argues against what it sees as an important misconception about Buddhist practice, namely that it emphasizes rigid distinctions, such as between the idyllic nature of heaven and the flawed nature of life on earth. However, transcending these distinctions does not produce an experience of anesthetized tranquility but instead a uniquely human experience, which includes becoming ill and engaging in conflict-filled debates over dharma. In focusing on this embodied practice, the text can be understood as remaining consistently critical of both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Richard Shusterman’s somaesthetics provides a framework for analyzing the lived experience of the enlightened being, Vimalakirti, who is presented as a common layperson. One example of the importance of aesthetics can be found in Chapter Eight of the sutra where it discusses the importance of the lotus flower. It states that lotuses do not grow in pristine environments, instead they are nourished by filth and mud. Conflict is a necessity for self-cultivation and is thus an inseparable component of the embodied experience of enlightenment.

Open Access
In: Buddhism and the Body

The book explores Buddhism from the lived experiences of its practitioners. In a historical mode the book spans the abstraction of dreams to the concreteness of medicine. There are also chapters that analyze the importance of the senses in Theravadan bodily cultivation, the mind/body question in Zen and how the bodily practice of nonduality is inseparable from discord in the Vimalakirti. Beyond this historical side, contemporary analysis includes chapters on art, philosophy, and ethnography. This Introduction begins by outlining the history of strategies for denying Buddhism’s relationship with the body, which was done by criticizing it for being superstitious and idolatrous. These criticisms are predicated upon the premise that this religion is devoid of rational grounding, of which a connection to the body is of paramount importance. Exploring this critical perspective will underscore the value of bringing together the scholarly perspectives presented in this book. The chapter concludes by discussing the strategies of twentieth century religious leaders who began the process of responding to critics by emphasizing the bodily connections of traditional Asian religions.

Open Access
In: Buddhism and the Body