George Harrison Says “We Are Not These Bodies”


A reader in North Carolina asks:

Could you please comment on this quote, which Tom Petty attributes to George Harrison: “Look, we’re not these bodies, let’s not get hung up on that.”

I’d be glad to! Because George Harrison is one of the key people in getting me into this whole Buddhist mess that I’m now inextricably mired in. I was a total Beatle geek by the time I was 15 years old and remain one to this very day. And since I’m a perverse weirdo sort of individual, many of my favorite Beatle tracks were the ones nobody else liked. I particularly dug the Indian-inspired tunes George contributed like Within You Without You , Love You To, The Inner Light and even Blue Jay Way. Hearing these songs and reading interviews with George really got me wanting to study Eastern mysticism in a serious way. Man, I even got into George’s post-Beatle Krishna Consciousness nuttiness like Living in the Material World and one of my all time fave Hari albums, Dark Horse, which nobody else likes except my friend Lesa. Another all-time great George Harrison record is his production of the Radha Krishna Temple album on Apple Records.

In fact, when I signed up for Tim McCarthy’s class on Zen Buddhism at Kent State University way back when, I’d actually been looking for something more like the kind of Hindu mysticism George was into. I settled for Zen Buddhism because it was the closest I could get.

By the time I started taking that class I was already well familiar with the oft-repeated phrase in Hindu mysticism, “we are not these bodies.” It was even on the back of some Santana album I saw once as a quotation from Sri Chimnoy. His version went, “We are not these bodies, we are the spirit-soul that flies within.”

I expected Buddhism would further elucidate this notion. But instead I clearly recall Tim saying once that it was closer to the truth to say “We are these bodies.” That was a bit of a shock. He didn’t say that was the truth, just that it was closer.

To say we are these bodies is wrong. But saying we are not these bodies is also wrong. It’s like when you’re arguing with someone and that person gets you into some hypothetical scenario that has nothing to do with the point you were trying to make. Then you find yourself arguing about something that has nothing whatsoever to do with what you wanted to say. The question does not fit the case. We’re given a set of two exclusive options and asked to pick one or the other. Either we are these bodies or we’re not. Philosophers and religious people have been going over and over and over with this debate for centuries. But Buddhism takes the stance that neither option is correct.

One time I was sitting listening to Nishijima Roshi give a lecture. I thought I’d figured his whole trip out. With his staunch denial of reincarnation and his very nuts and bolts approach about “the world as it is in front of us” I figured he was a pure materialist. I didn’t like him much anyhow. But I went because it was a convenient place to practice zazen with a group. I was dozing off during one of his talks when he said, “The material world is an illusion.”

Say what?

To me that sounded like the whole Hindu notion of “we are not these bodies.” The Hiundus have a lot of mythology about how the material world is maya, or illusion, and the true substance of reality is pure spirit. But I already knew Buddhism rejected that idea. So here I was presented with the notion that the material world is illusion, and so is the spiritual world. What’s left?

The answer is that no category or definition we can create to try and box up the real world we live in can suffice.

We are these bodies in the sense that what we are manifests as our bodily existence. We are our minds/souls in the sense that the mind’s reality is the only one we ever really know. But neither is really us.

In the chapter titled Inmo in Shobogenzo Dogen said it like this: “We ourselves are tools that it (inmo, the ineffable) possesses within this universe in ten directions. How do we know that it exists? We know it is so because the body and the mind both appear in the universe, yet neither is our self. The body, already, is not ‘I’. Its life moves on through days and months, and we cannot stop it even for an instant. Where have the red faces [of our youth] gone? When we look for them, they have vanished without a trace. When we reflect carefully, there are many things in the past that we will never meet again. The sincere (or pure) mind, too, does not stop, but goes and comes moment by moment.”

So in a sense George was right. We’re not these bodies. So let’s not get hung up on that. But then again we are these bodies so it’s impossible not to be hung up on that.

Take it away, George!

179 Responses

Page 4 of 4
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 7:46 am | |

    "So how is this description different to plain old materialism."

    How are you defining materialism?

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 7:49 am | |

    "Explain what you mean, your interpretation is not clear."

    What are you unclear on?

  3. Mysterion
    Mysterion January 25, 2012 at 7:53 am | |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 8:18 am | |

    Your interpretation of what he is asking.

  5. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2012 at 8:20 am | |

    Words are like pounding pilings into quicksand.

    Well, what do you mean by enlighten
    ment?

    Sit down and shut up.

  6. Fred
    Fred January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am | |

    "Nirvana being a "place" where the Buddha "resides"… that it is a "state of being".

    Yes, like no-self upon the Absolute

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 8:59 am | |

    And that makes sense? You're delusional.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 9:01 am | |

    "Your interpretation of what he is asking."

    I don't know how I can be clearer.

    Nirvana is not a state, nor a place.

  9. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2012 at 9:53 am | |

    I think there's some troll here.

  10. turiya
    turiya January 25, 2012 at 9:55 am | |

    "Nirvana is not a state, nor a place"

    so it's not conditional? Is that it? That seems to be the opposite of your first statement. Or use the word causal, is it causal? It seems Buddha generally spoke in negative (somewhat evasive speech) in regard to Nirvana but clearly from any unitive perspective it must be non-conditional or non-causal otherwise it is not Absolute liberation since it is bound by cause and effect. The fact that he deliberately avoided definition had it's own logic but regardless of this he was pointing to something however defined that was Transcendent or unbound to causation and the limitations of merely objective reality

  11. Troll
    Troll January 25, 2012 at 11:24 am | |

    What!!!! A TROLL on the Hardcore Zen blog comment string?!!!

  12. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm | |

    oh great, now someone has gone and created a google account with my name :(

    *I* am the original boubi !!

  13. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm | |

    Just for sake of clarity.

    This transient aggregate is the "one" who intervened on another blog in another language and on this one.

    The rest is just trolling.

    A question about definition:

    define yourself

    Once you find who you are, according to old friend Ramana you'll have answered all of your questions and your mind will be appeased.

    Meantime the Knights of the Green Shields stamp and shout!

  14. Manny Furious
    Manny Furious January 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm | |

    I know I'm sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, but….

    I think my explanation for the "fatalist/determinist/free will" debate applies to the "idealist/materialist" debate.

    As others have hinted at or outright said, language is the limiting factor here, and everyone is getting caught up in words, which do well to take us to certain points, but are often terrible for getting beyond those points.

    In the case of the materialist/idealist discussion, language does a great job of awakening a curiosity in us and of getting us to ask certain questions about the world. It does a terrible job of accurately reflecting that world and of answering those questions.

    Again, these are just concepts, neither of which can exist without the other. Idealism does not exist without materialism and vice-versa. This is out biggest clue to what the answer to your question is. But it's only a clue because language cannot do anything other than give us clues. To understand what that answer is, as another poster pointed out recently, you simply have to "sit down and shut up." Or, since I hate sitting meditation "wash the dishes/sweep the floor/work out/stare at your ceiling/etc. and shut up."

  15. Mysterion
    Mysterion January 25, 2012 at 2:40 pm | |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Convict
    Convict January 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm | |

    Al Kavadlo! Great to see the legend on here. Been loving those videos on the dragondoor forum dude. Keep up the great work. We're working out! hehe

  17. Dick Shunairy
    Dick Shunairy January 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm | |

    prod·uct/?präd?kt/
    Noun:

    1. An article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale.
    2. A substance produced during a natural, chemical, or manufacturing process: "waste products".

  18. Hefner
    Hefner January 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm | |

    TWO boubi's?

    VavaVooooooooooooooom!

  19. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm | |

    three!

    :p

  20. Boobies
    Boobies January 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm | |

    Two!

  21. boubi
    boubi January 25, 2012 at 11:19 pm | |

    trolling getting heavy, check IP address

  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 3:43 am | |

    "Nirvana is not a state, nor a place"

    so it's not conditional? Is that it? That seems to be the opposite of your first statement. Or use the word causal, is it causal? It seems Buddha generally spoke in negative (somewhat evasive speech) in regard to Nirvana but clearly from any unitive perspective it must be non-conditional or non-causal otherwise it is not Absolute liberation since it is bound by cause and effect.
    (dualism)

    The Unconditioned

    “At Savatthi. ‘Monks, I will teach you the unconditioned and the path leading
    to the unconditioned. Listen to that…
    “And what, monks, is the unconditioned? The ending of desire, the ending of
    hatred, the ending of delusion: this is called the unconditioned.
    “And what, monks, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Mindfulness
    directed to the body: this is called the path leading to the unconditioned…”
    [S. 43:1, p. 1372; cf. S. III, 22:23, 27, p. 872, where “full knowing” is defined
    with the same words as the unconditioned.]
    *
    “When, brahmin, a person is impassioned by greed, depraved by hatred,
    bewildered through delusion, overwhelmed and infatuated by delusion, then
    he plans for his own harm, for the harm of others, for the harm of both; and
    he experiences in his mind suffering and grief. But when greed, hatred and
    delusion have been abandoned, he neither plans for his own harm, nor for the
    harm of others, nor for the harm of both; and he does not experience in his
    mind suffering and grief. In this way, brahmin, nibbana is directly visible,
    immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be
    personally experienced by the wise.” [A. III, 55, p. 57.]

  23. Zippy Rinpoche
    Zippy Rinpoche January 26, 2012 at 8:48 am | |

    Nirvana? Smells like Teen Spirit to me.

  24. anon #108
    anon #108 January 26, 2012 at 9:49 am | |

    Re Nirvana –

    Here are the last few verses of Nagarjuna's take on Nirvana, from his Original Verses on the Middle Way (that's how I'm translating the title today) – the Mulamadhyamakakarika:

    There is absolutely no difference between everyday life and nirvana.
    There is absolutely no difference between nirvana and everyday life.

    Nirvana extends just as far as everyday life.
    There is not the slightest difference between them.

    Views on what is beyond cessation, what is the end of existence, eternity and so on,
    Are based on ideas of life starting somewhere and stopping at nirvana.

    If things are empty, finite and infinite have no meaning.
    How can something be both? How can something be neither?

    This? That? Infinite? Finite?
    Both? Neither?

    The Buddha never taught about things;
    He taught us how to stop wanting, how to get rid of what hinders us, how to be happy.
    *

    (Verses 19-24 of Chapter 25, "Examination of Nirvana" – from Mike Luetchford's interpretive translation of the MMK.)

    *This last verse is tricky to translate; it's also been read, for example, as:

    "The Buddha did not teach the appeasement of all objects, the appeasement of obsession and the auspicious as some thing [dharma] to someone at some time" (trans. David Kalupahana).

    – But Mike Luetchford's is appropriate, I think, in light of the discussion here.

  25. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 10:08 am | |

    One who sees conditioned arising, sees the Dhamma: and one who sees the dhamma, sees conditioned arising.

    That is nibanna.

  26. bat guano
    bat guano January 26, 2012 at 10:24 am | |

    Your Mom is nibanna.

  27. Emily
    Emily May 21, 2012 at 1:12 am | |

    Thanks for sharing, learn a lot. I want to buy louis vuitton shoes for my husband, it is said that black suits for men 2012 are also great.

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