Some religions or cultures believe that our physical body is an abode. A temporary house where one or more entities reside. Some believe a soul resides in the body, others believe that there is more than 1 soul and they congregate in our physical body to form a person. Some claim that these souls or soul is inherently holy and will revert to their divine form after death. Others claim that this body is an abode for gods.
Does Buddhism have a similar concept of a holy abode?
I think it is a yes and no answer.
In a discourse by Arhat Sariputta, he drew an analogy that our body is similar to a house. A house is actually an enclosed space. Where previously an empty space existed but due to the assembly of walls and roof, an enclosed space is created. That become known as a house. If we are not careful, we might jump to the wrong conclusion that Arhat Sariputta is teaching us to view our physical body as an abode (house).
That is actually very off the mark. The point He is trying to teach is the inherent emptiness of things in Samsara. Various factors come together to create a new identity.
Why do Buddhist try to avoid teachings that advocate viewing our body as an abode?
Simply because it will create an allusion that “something” is residing in it. The belief of a soul or perona. I call it the little man or woman delusion. For some people, their conflicting emotions add to the confusion and they believe in multiple entities within their body.
Buddhism taught the contrary concept of no-self. There is no “little man” in our head, operating the body. No soul. That “little man” is an illusion that is self created. That illusion is what bound us to a state of becoming and being.
I have tried sharing this concept with others and it is not something that is easily accepted by the audience. For a start, it is beyond imagination and creates fear in most people.
So how do we even begin to teach?
One of the way is to dismantle the attachment to this body. (the holy abode)
In Theravada Buddhism, it is direct meditation. You either sit beside a corpse and watch it rot in front of you or you contemplate the repulsiveness of your own body.
But there again, such practice may be not acceptable. When people are happy with their body, taking care of it, enchanted by its beautiful form, worshiping it with fine clothing and perfume; They do not want to even hear the suggestion that the body is repulsive. Sitting in front of a corpse is repulsives and perverse. The human anatomy model is scary.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is indirect indoctrination. We offer hope for a better life, more mundane success if you chant a sutra. In the sutra there are many stories to fascinate. Promising you relieve from sufferings that you are familiar with. Offering you hope that compassionate divine beings are there to listen and help. If only you chant the sutra first and it works!
Then in the sutra, you start to repeat a story of a father and his children over and over again. It’s a third party narrative. It is a story about others, not me. So it is okay. Like reading a news. Oh so poor thing (Not me)
In that story the burning house is filled with worms and maggots, (decay) poisonous creatures and wild animals (sickness). Ghost wails and demon screeches (the conflicting mental agony) You have to let go and try to venture out. Look beyond the burning house and accept the Dharma. After daily chanting for years, hopefully some practitioners will get it and truly let go of their “abode”. The burning house is their physical body, it is samsaric existence! Stop their self delusion and self denial and recognise the hard to accept Truth. Every abode in every lifetime is a burning house!
So you see, a yes and no answer is appropriate for the question raised.
Buddhism is just interested in teaching an enlightened outlook in life. When one is not ready, the Mahayana does not give up. We have special method to guide, holding one’s hand all the way. Teach according to the audience’s receptiveness.
May all be well and happy.