Spiritual Mind, Buff Body?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 10, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

Ken Wilber, famous Integral philosopher, makes like a Playgirl:

ken wilber naked

Like lifting weights to get our bodies in shape, we need to train our mind and heart to grow their ability to love, forgive, offer empathy. We need regimens to grow Buddha-Jesus hearts. ~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Most spiritual traditions forget the body and focus on the mind and heart. Not Ken Wilber, Integral Philosopher. Not Sakyong Mipham, the buff, weightlifting, marathon-running, golf-obsessed Shambhala Buddhist teacher. Not the Samurai of old, who practiced kyudo (archery), martial arts and horsemanship…along with meditation and the less strenuous contemplative arts of haiku, calligraphy, tea and flower-arranging. And not the Shaolin monks of legend.


  • why is it that most of our society gets that it’s important to work out and train the body…but forgets to train the mind through daily meditation or other practical, simple mental exercises?
  • And why is it that the religious and spiritual communities, all too often, do little by way of taking care of their bodies, lost as they are in navel-gazing?


It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don’t we think about training our mind?

sakyong mipham rinpoche


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


22 Responses to “Spiritual Mind, Buff Body?”

  1. This is one of the several reasons I have a personal preference for Yoga to Buddhism. It's a better fit for me because I like the way Yoga treats the physical as just another way to be spiritual. Plus, I can't begin to do a lotus position.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Darren says:

    This has been a struggle for me in the past. I then studied for 3 years to become ordained while simultaneously studying to become a black belt in karate. I am now a second degree black belt and do physical fitness training with Frank at http://www.qfitindy.com and I still struggle with the physical. It is the practice, though, no? My body is as much a part of the world in which I live as anything else. How do I interact with it?

    Thanks for the great post… Just as a point of reference, those Shaolin are more than likely performers more than monks. It is the way of it now but they are still quite impressive.

  3. I wrote my previous comment before looking at the excellent first video above of Sakyong Mipham. Clearly he sees the mind/body connection very much like Yoga sees it. I have to confess, I've rarely heard a Buddhist commentator come across this way. But I really like this lama, at least from this one video. His whole tone and approach are very appealing.

    As for Wilber, some people feel that the biggest problem with him is that he considers himself a God, a notion certainly not contradicted by this particular pose and expression in your picture above!

    Bob Weisenberg

  4. Phyllis S says:

    Ken Wilbur must have spent a lot of time reading Marvel comics in his youth and wanted to look like one of them. The body is very plastic and will take on the form you deem for it. His physical aesthetic amuses me. It seems to reveal a lot of tension overall, as in tightly wound.

  5. Good point, Phyllis. I was deeply put-off by the picture, but I never thought of it the way you expressed it before, as a sign of what's going on inside.

    I hesitated to write this before, because I haven't read Wilber and can't make any judgments on my own. But as a matter of information, the problem Wilber's detractors have with him is that he considers himself a kind of God. This notion that he considers himself a God would certainly not be discouraged by this particular photo.

    Bob Weisenberg

  6. You don't need to sit in Lotus! Trungpa Rinpoche was all about zafus, gomdens (which he more or less invented for we Westerners, it's the higher-up square cushion) and even chairs if need be are all "kosher." That said, we Buddhists do tend to forget or ignore the body much more than our yoga sisters and brothers.

  7. Karina says:

    Whoa Ken…so glad you ditched that tired old checked sports coat, seen in so many of your books! I believe Ken's pix is for real…and I am forever grateful to him for the inspiration to take up hatha yoga. Six years later, with countless meditation and yoga hours behind me, and most of Ken's books read, it is dedication to several authentic developmental lines that keeps my head above water and my halcyon heart unbolted, despite these crazy times, crazy life. SweetThanksBe!

  8. Ramesh says:

    Bob, don’t judge a book by its cover, nor a mind/spirit by its muscles, or lack thereof. The greatness of yoga, and especially its tantric aspects, is body/mind/spirit integration. However, many great yogis (Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharishi) never spent much time doing asanas except sitting in the lotus position. So, many enlightened Buddhists never bothered to have a six-pack-abdomen like Wilber. In tantric yoga (both Buddhist and Hindu) there are actually meditation techniques used as substitutes for doing asanas, as well, so this is a complex issues. Wilber has made a point of emphasizing the body-mind-spirit balance in all his books, and I think he sees himself as a work in progress, and definitely not a God. (Where did you get that idea?) I have read most of his works, interviews, articles, etc., and I have not read that he considers himself any more than a pundit (scholar) and someone whose goal is to remind us of the importance of integral development. Indeed, he has made a point of not calling himself a guru. The body/mind/spirit are nested layers of existence, one transcending and including the other, so in yoga the body is the outer layer of the mind, the shell, so to speak. Keep in mind that Wilber considers Ramana Maharishi one of the greatest yogis of modern times. Not because of his physical looks (he would not make the cover of the body-obsessed Yoga Journal today) but because he understood the inner illumination and wisdom revealed by his spirit. This fact, shows, I think, that Wilber considers the body for what it is, a vehicle, a tool, a step, a yantra, toward higher and deeper development. So, let’s celebrate diversity–yogis come in all physical shapes and spiritual forms.

  9. Hi, Ramesh. I'm having trouble figuring out what you thought I said that would lead to this particular response. I do celebrate diversity, just as you suggest. And I try not to be in the habit of judging a book by its cover.

    As for Wilber, as I've written in out other exchanges, I know nothing very little about him and should not be commenting. The impressions I've cited come, of course, from Falk, which we've also discussed. He does seem to be a controversial figure, but I shouldn't be writing about him until I'm better informed.

    Thanks for writing.

    Bob Weisenberg

  10. Hi, Ramesh. I'm having trouble figuring out what you thought I said that would lead to this particular response. I do celebrate diversity, just as you suggest. And I try not to be in the habit of judging a book by its cover.

    As for Wilber, as I've written in out other exchanges, I know nothing very little about him and should not be commenting. The impressions I've cited come, of course, from Falk, which we've also discussed. He does seem to be a controversial figure, but I shouldn't be writing about him until I'm better informed.

    Thanks for writing.

    Bob Weisenberg

  11. Hi, Ramesh.

    I'm not sure you noticed that this post and my comment were from three months ago. I've already agreed with you here and in our e-mails that I shouldn't be commenting on Wilber until I know more.

    I don't know how much clearer I can say it than I did in my last comment above: "As for Wilber…I know nothing very little about him and should not be commenting….I shouldn't be writing about him until I'm better informed."

    Aren't we in wild agreement here?

  12. Ramesh says:

    Bob, Yes, I think we are in Wild Wilberian agreement now!!!

  13. I hope I end up loving Wilber when I finally catch up on him, Ramesh. I really do. Your endorsement certainly makes me open to that. Thanks.

  14. Ramesh Bjonnes says:

    If you have the time, the best place to start with Wilber's integral theory, I think, is the 800 or so page book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. If you don't want to spend the time or the money, the second best choice is A Brief History of Everything, which is basically a short version of the former book. I also recommend The Marriage of Sense and Soul, which is his attempt at integrating science and spirituality. I do not recommend A Theory of Everything, and if you want to know why, you can read my criticism of that book on Amazon.

  15. Thanks, Ramesh. I'm not sure Wilber is where I want to go next in my spiritual reading, certainly not an 800 page book. There must be some excellent New Yorker depth articles I can read that will give me a good feel for Wilber. Do you have any of those to recommend?

    This just reflects where I happen to be right now. There are other times I would relish a highly scholarly, all angles considered, intellectual tour-de-force like Wilber has apparently written, but right now I'm going in the opposite direction–radical simplification and integration of the non-verbal, non-intellectual aspects of the big three ancient Yoga texts into my everyday life.

    So, if I'm going to do anything with Wilber now it will have to be in-depth articles or blogs. Perhaps I should just got to his website. I assume that would be pretty representative.

    Thanks for your help.

  16. Greg says:

    Are we to expect a Waylon Lewis versus Ken Wilber bout any time soon? You'll probably need a good "cut man" in your corner, Waylon. It could be a WWE first live event in Boulder. In the saffron trunks in this corner we have Waylon (the green man) Lewis and in the other corner we have Ken (the philosopher of Wheaties) WIlber wearing golden brown trunks. I would even make a trip to Boulder to see that. (Maybe it could be a fundraiser for Elephant.)

  17. Sandy says:

    I certainly would not suggest Sex, Ecology and Spirituality as an introduction to Wilbur. If you want more of the heart of the man before diving into his theories on holons and the structure of the universe et al, may I suggest "Grace and Grit," or "No Boundary."

  18. Aron Stein says:

    He with the best man boobs wins.
    Kens Moobs>Mine

  19. ARCreated says:

    I was not the least put off by the picture 🙂 I think his body is a testament to what the mind can achieve…
    I myself am not that interested in THAT level of physical intensity, but I do have a more tantric philosophical taint to my practice that believes our bodies are part and parcel of the process and are to be enjoyed and well cared for as this joy called life is all about the experience…but if this life handed you physical limitations then you can enjoy the belly button as well…It's all a matter of degrees.
    PS For the record I believe EVERYONE is a god…we can't help it…we are part of source therefore we are source AKA god 🙂 it's my version of reality that works for me 😉

  20. ARCreated says:

    PS>..I love to read anything Bob and/or Ramesh have written…thank you both for your insights!! and I love your pictures too 🙂

  21. I'm almost ready to release my picture to compete with Wilbur's. Just a little more work with the weights and I'll be ready.

    On second thought, maybe I'll just challenge him to a winner-takes-all tennis match. He wins, he takes the universe. I win, I take the universe.

    Bob Weisenberg

  22. nandop says:

    I like Wilber's ideas, and I think they're good for helping us understand a lot.

    Plus, I think Yoga + Ayurveda makes an amazing integral system for the whole spiritual journey.