I recently went to a dhamma talk that I am skeptical of for a few reasons. One of the things we were told in this talk is that the mind always lies and the body never lies, which (in a mundane sense) doesn't line up with what I know.

He specifically told us to go by how our body feels when asked for money by a panhandler. He said that if we feel bad physically when asked, we should not give money, but if we feel good physically, we should. (Part of the reason I am skeptical of this dhamma talk is that he said a bunch of really negative things about panhandlers here and about the idea of giving them money, which seems not based in Buddhist thought at all)

Personally, I have had many times where I have been convinced I was suffocating during a panic attack. I have also read many studies where "gut feelings" - that is, physical feelings people interpret as guidance - are shown to perpetrate racist or other -ist biases in society. In a mundane sense, I am skeptical of the idea that bodily sensations are significantly more trustworthy than thoughts.

My question here is if there is anything in the suttas (preferably the Pali canon, but I'm also interested in other sources) regarding this idea of trusting the physical sensations of the body as some great arbiter of truth.

EDIT: Since someone mentioned not having more context, I'd like to make clear, we were not given much more context than I mentioned above. I'll do my best to explain what we were told exactly. This talk was specifically part of a once a week service for lay people who may not even identify or consider themselves Buddhist, and I do not believe the teacher expects that many of his audience even meditate outside of this once-a-week practice. The dhamma talk was centered on the Pāramitās and this discussion about the body was part of the part of the talk on generosity. The teacher briefly defined each term, and then spoke about them.

For generosity, he said panhandling was an opportunity to practice generosity, which seems fair to me. Then he started talking about all the concerns he has had when approached by a panhandler- he spouted off a very very long list of negative beliefs or stereotypes about panhandlers, and then talked about how those thoughts were suffering. He made no positive statements regarding giving money to panhandlers, except for the initial statement that it was an opportunity to practice generosity. This is where he says that the mind always lies, but the body never lies, and that we should listen to our bodies when asked for money by panhandlers. Specifically, he said that if you felt bad and uncomfortable physically, you shouldn't give. This struck me as giving people carte-blanche to never be generous and also never consider why they didn't feel comfortable being generous.

His only reference for "the body never lies" is a mention that "his teacher" taught him this, but throughout the talk he referenced non-Buddhist western "Mindfulness" teachers more than anything Buddhist, so I am unsure if his teacher was even nominally Buddhist. There was a strange emphasis on how these virtues were also important in Christianity as well, which I couldn't place/understand.

The reason I asked the question is that I had an immediate reaction of "This can't possibly be true" but I wanted to get a second (and a third and so on if possible) opinion to be sure that I wasn't dismissing the teaching unfairly, or perhaps discover if it was at least rooted in something that was less likely to be used as an excuse for unskillful means.

  • 1
    Maybe trust your body (instincts) when it seems to be saying that you should not trust this teaching... :)
    – user13375
    Jun 25, 2018 at 17:54

3 Answers 3


Obviously, it's not really the "body" that is wiser, it is the non-conceptual mind which constitutes the underwater part of the iceberg the top of which we see as our conceptual mind. The question is, should we trust it?

Generally speaking, in western culture the body with its instincts and emotions is seen as an animal - stupid and violent, while the rational mind is seen as all that is good in the human. However, other cultures may have different basic assumptions. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think that in Asian cultures the ancient heart-mind (the deep emotional mind - what we westerners usually call "the subconscious") - is generally recognized as a source of wisdom, harmony, and the arts - while the modern rational mind is often seen with suspicion as the source of confusion and conflict.

As for canonical evidence, all we have are some bread-crumble trails that look cohesive enough to some but not convincing to others, as is often the case with Buddhism:

Buddha of Pali Canon spoke about "mindfulness of body" (kayagata-sati) and "the signless" (animitta). The contemporary Mahayana tradition holds that these are references to tapping into the non-conceptual mind, which is experienced as (psychosomatic) sensations in the body.

Personally, I was given a significant amount of training and instruction on getting in touch with the above through various psychosomatic practices, and in my experience it all comes together quite cohesively and makes total sense. To me these practices were presented as integral part of the teaching and I certainly see them as important as meditation and study of texts, if not more important.

As for the textual sources, the closest I can think of is Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body by Reginald A. Ray (a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and a Ph.D). There is also a 100% western work called Focusing, developed by a psychologist Eugene Gendlin in 1970s, which speaks about same thing from a slightly different angle (thanks to Ronald Cowen for pointing out the Focusing book to me). If you are interested in emotional intelligence and psychosomatic methods, whether Buddhist or not, these two books are recommended.

Now, to address your specific concern: you are right that in an untrained person the signals from the non-conceptual mind can come mixed up with all kinds of phobias and prejudices, so a lot of preliminary work is required to clean that up until it can be fully trusted. That said, I do believe that the more someone is "enlightened" the more he or she can utilize the non-conceptual mind to its full capacity, which exceeds that of conceptual mind.


Not knowing more than what you offer in the question it sounds to me like this is a bit of hogwash. I don't know of any Sutra or Buddhist teaching that would answer your question in the affirmative. Rather, I'd say that often our "instincts" often just reflect the habits that we've engendered over countless repetitions. Most of us have very bad habits myself included. All sentient beings have ignorance as a basis for these bad habits.

For instance, humans largely have an unconscious bias for those people who look like them. Project Implicit at Harvard is doing a lot of work to uncover these subconscious habits of mind. Here is a test you can take to uncover your own implicit bias. I think it is far more useful to become familiar with these subconcious habits and evaluate them with your rational mind rather than learning to turn off your rational mind and just following these "gut instincts" without critical reflection.

My two cents to be taken with a grain of salt...

  • Is your Buddhism teacher a western person? I'm very surprised you were never taught any of this. I think I remember you mentioned it was a female, which makes me even more surprised, since more women seem to be in touch with this stuff than men...
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jun 25, 2018 at 21:25
  • Yes and no. I have many teachers. The female teachers are western though. No, I've never heard anything even remotely resembling this teaching. We are taught that gaining confidence is important, but that should be done based upon rationale analysis. One gains confidence in the teachings by applying the techniques and analyzing whether they work.
    – user13375
    Jun 26, 2018 at 13:56
  • Wow, that sounds like a very different Buddhism than what I was taught, particularly by the Koreans. In my Buddhism the psychosomatic and the trans-conceptual was/is def. more important than the rational, which is mostly a crutch for beginners.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jun 26, 2018 at 14:34
  • Huh. Do practitioners of what you are taught score better than the average on the implicit bias test above? That might be a good study...
    – user13375
    Jun 26, 2018 at 15:51
  • I think they most likely do. Because bias comes from unconsciously internalized preconceptions, discovering and eliminating which (with the help of psychosomatic methods) is a major component of the trans-conceptual teaching.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jun 26, 2018 at 15:57

Maybe I just don't understand your question at all.

The body doesn't know anything. The mind is the forerunner of all things (Dhammapada). And strictly speaking, the body doesn't exist at all. It's just a compilation of different phenomena (earth, water, fire, wind etc) that can be known and changed. Rupa (matter) doesn't know, nama (mind) does. Tension (wind element), what would that signal? Maybe some alert state, well, that's mind again.

So, I would be very surprised if someone could come up with a sutta which shows that the body is always right. (I mark this question as favourite to not loose site of it, cause it's intriguing.) What does it even mean?

Can the mind lie or be wrong. Definitely. All mind states with avija/ignorance are. But there are also lot's of mind states with wisdom. Think of the jhana's for instance. How can mind states with wisdom be lying?

My impression is that you are skeptical with good reasons. My advice would be to leave what this teacher said behind you, let it go. If it's only confusion and raising doubts then it's not helpful to you. (Mind you, I'm not saying anything about the teacher, since I don't know him.)

Addition after edit question of OP: If we scratch everything unnecessary then I think the main point of the question is whether giving is good or not. In that case I would suggest that giving dana has a lot of positive things to offer.

  • It aligns your mind towards non-attachment and letting go.
  • It creates happiness.
  • It creates compassion.

There are probably more positive effects of giving in the teachings. And since I'm not a scholar I leave it at that.

I wouldn't make too much of the comments of the teacher. He seems to be parroting. It's not important. Just give if you feel like it. Don't if you don't feel like it. Make it a training, not a 'must'.

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    I think the question is how to interpret (whether to trust) bodily feelings ("gut feelings"), e.g. which are interpreted as fear etc.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 25, 2018 at 20:25

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