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Mind and Body
A review of the required literature, Robert Thurman's "Wisdom" (Thurman), Karen Armstrong's "Homo Religiousus" (Armstrong), and Oliver Sacks' "The Mind's Eye: What the Blind See" (Sacks), gives significant insights into how the mind and body must work together to create our lived experience. Though the three authors may initially appear to discuss somewhat different topics, they have vital commonalities. The readings will lead the thoughtful reader to a three-pronged thesis: that mind/body coaction ideally involves knowledge of the genuine "self"; that there is a common experience of "self-delusion"; and that "universality" is of ultimate importance. The "self" is approached uniquely by each author. Thurman's is a Buddhist perspective explores the different concepts of "self" from self-ish to the self-less ideal. While Thurman does not speak specifically about mind/body interaction, his deference to the power of the mind is clear. Armstrong also speaks of the self's importance, though she does so in addressing religion across the board. In Armstrong's viewpoint, the crucial nature of the self and mind are also clear. Sacks specifically speaks of the self's/mind's crucial interaction with the body in his study of sightless subjects and the effects their selfhoods have on their bodies' adaptations to blindness. Self-delusion is also discussed by these three authors. Thurman addresses self-delusion as a necessary result of our "I vs. I" and "I vs. Them" tendencies. Armstrong discusses self-delusion in the human tendency to see our relationship with God as uniquely our own. Sacks' observations of living subjects delves into subjective reality, delusion and its effects on the body. Finally, all three authors uphold the ultimate importance of universality. Thurman stresses the liberation of self-less-ness connecting every human to everyone else in the universe. Armstrong stresses the universality of common religious experience. Finally, Sacks' observations and analysis of his human subjects accentuate the universality of mind/body interactions and adaptations.
Analysis: How the Mind and Body Must Work Together to Create our Lived Experience
Analysis of the Mind/Body coaction invariably involves the "self" and ideally involves knowledge of the true "self." Robert Thurman and Karen Armstrong seem to dwell primarily on the mind while Sacks shows the application of the mind to the body and vice versa. Robert Thurman addresses the crucial discovery of the true self from a Buddhist viewpoint in "Wisdom." Thurman's explanation of Buddhist philosophy, which is distinct and often at odds with Western thinking, believes that discovery of the true self is a beneficial form of selflessness that "does not mean that you are disconnected," but that we are all "still totally interconnected" (Thurman). Thurman goes on to say that this selflessness allows us to exceed the limits of human potential (Thurman). For Thurman, the realization of the true self brings liberation and enormous potential for the mind. Also adopting a religious scrutiny of the self, Karen Armstrong's "Homo Religiousus" explores the commonality of all genuine religions, again relying on the importance of the true self. For Armstrong, the "self" is discovered by "ekstatis," which is "stepping outside the norm" and by "kenosis," which is the emptying of the self (Armstrong). The emptied self that is examined by Armstrong becomes a liberated and potential-rich source of power, as well. It is in Oliver Sacks' work that the power of the mind and its interaction with the body are most clearly seen. Sacks also emphasizes the centrality of the "self" in "The Mind's Eye: What the Blind See." Examining various mind/body adaptations by people blinded at different stages of their lives by different circumstances, Sacks finds that "control is only defined by one's self"(Sacks). Outlining a remarkable variety of adaptations, the bases of which sometimes seem to conflict, Sacks focuses on "the relationship between the mind and the brain, along with the self and experience" finding that all are intimately interconnected and vital to adaptation by the blind. In sum, the true "self" is honored by all three authors as the gravamen of genuine existence, reposing in the mind and ultimately illustrated by Sacks as being capable of initiating, fostering and maintaining authentic bodily changes.
A second corollary examined by all three authors is our unfortunate capability for self-delusion and the effect that can have on the body. Thurman, in particular, focuses on the essential constant striving away from the self-delusion of "I vs. I" and the tendency of a human being, particularly in Western culture, to think of one "self" in constant conflict with its other "self," even extending to a stance of the "self" fighting against every other "self" in the universe (Thurman). This self-ish conflict is seen by Thurman as a debilitating detriment to the mind's potential. Armstrong also addresses the individual habit of viewing religion "in terms of a personal relationship with God" (Armstrong), which at times militates against religion's true genesis and goal. In Armstrong's viewpoint, this self-delusion is a warping, stultifying force that must be counteracted by self-knowledge. Finally, Sacks speaks of individual self-delusion as a constant struggle, because "A person's personal reality is not affected by what he is told, but by the way he interprets what he is told" (Sacks). For Sacks, that recurrent, highly subjective "reality" has real effects on the body's ability to adapt to blindness. For all three authors, the tendency toward self-delusion is a given in human experience, and particularly for Sacks that self-ish-ness has factual and measurable bodily effects.
A third common concept among these three authors is the importance of universality. Thurman's examination of universality is presented through his particularly Buddhist viewpoint, which maintains that "selflessness" necessarily leads to a unifying universality and that "One of the most significant changes you will notice upon discovering you selflessness is that your sense of being separate from everyone else has now eroded. Your new awareness enables you to perceive others as equal to yourself, a part you, even. You can see yourself as they see you, and experience empathically how they perceive themselves as locked within themselves" (Thurman). For Thurman, this Buddhist universal self-less-ness is a liberating phenomenon that enables us to see our intimate interconnectedness with everyone in the cosmos. Thurman maintains that this acknowledged universality opens us to nearly immeasurable potential. Armstrong's examination of universality is slightly different in that it examines the commonality of all genuine religions; nevertheless, her analysis gives ultimate weight to universal commonality, for the self-emptying of "kenosis" ultimately connects the individual with the "sacred energy" of the universe (Armstrong). As with Thurman's self-less-ness, Armstrong's "sacred energy" is a source of nearly limitless potential. It is with Sacks' obervations that we see that potential applied to mind/body interactions. Sacks further explores the global/universal quality of human mind/body interaction in his observations of the adaptations forged by his blind subjects. Sacks' search for common threads of mind/body interaction and experience lead him to universality within the body and within the "universe" of human-to-human experience, for "one can no longer say of one's mental landscapes what is visual, what is auditory, what is image, what is language, what is intellectual, what is emotional -- they are all fused together and imbued with our own individual perspectives and values" (Sacks). In their studies, all three authors find a universal common ground that Sacks ultimately observes in measurable mind/body coaction.
The three authors in this project approach three superficially disparate topics from three different approaches. Robert Thurman's "Wisdom" approaches the "self" from the uniquely Buddhist perspective, while Karen Armstrong's "Homo Religiousus" approaches major religions from an historical/world-theological perspective and Oliver Sacks' "The Mind's Eye: What the Blind See" addresses measurable, anecdotal experiences of adaptation by various subjects who have lost their eyesight. Despite their somewhat different approaches, all three authors lend significant supports to the vital coaction of mind and body. The crucial nature of the "self" is explored by each author,…[continue]
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