Summarizing the Body Section
Today, I will complete my explanation concerning the section on the body
in the Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. I would therefore like briefly
to summarize some of the main points in review. Even though the Lord Buddha
actually taught this Discourse to monks, those lay people proposing to calm
their minds may also use this practice to advantage and receive the resultant
The Lord Buddha taught that one must first establish mindfulness inside one's own body. As there are so many different organs and parts, the examination takes up one part at a time. On establishing mindfulness inside the body one recognizes that breathing is a natural experience common to everyone. He therefore taught to breathe in-and-out mindfully. One should be aware of the breath's length, but concentrate on just one point (at the nostrils or upper lip) rather than following the breath along. The mind, the body and the breath will all become calmer and more refined; yet even though you may feel that the breathing has actually stopped, do not release your concentration from its established point.
There are two ways of taking up another part of the body for examination. One way is to leave the breathing and turn to concentrate on some other part. Another way is to retain mindfulness of breathing as an anchor and then couple it with the contemplation of a part of the body. This combined contemplation can only be used while the mind has yet to reach one-pointedness. At this stage one can use thinking as a helper in restraining the mind from going outside. When it wants to go out then let it go into this body.
You should also be aware of other areas. Note your posture and inspect your body to see how it is positioned. Notice the present posture, if you are sitting for example, and then the various sub-positions, such as how the feet and hands are placed. Being clearly aware of all of this is clear-comprehension (sampajannya).
After being aware of the body's posture, one can then scrutinize the body itself more closely by examining its component parts and organs. Some parts are directly discernible to the eyes (such as the hair, nails, teeth, and skin) and some cannot be seen (such as the flesh, sinews, bones and the various internal organs.) One can start off by examining them all in general or go straight in to pick out and closely inspect each part. This depends on your own preference.
After examining the body's component parts, one can view them to a deeper level by analysing them in terms of elements. Extract out the hard parts as earth element, the fluid parts as water element, the warming parts as fire element, and the blowing parts as the wind element. The remaining empty spaces are the space element.
If the body and its elements were actually separated in this way then this assemblage or body would be no more and life would be lost. However, when the elements associate together then this assemblage is present and alive. It is breathing, it changes its posture, and its various external and internal parts are in order and working together. This, then, is the body we have here now.
One can further investigate and see that when the elements dissociate the wind element will expire and with it the in-and-out breath. After the wind element, the fire element extinguishes, leaving the once-warm body cold. Then the water and earth element will gradually disperse until nothing remains except the empty spaces of the space element. Before each one of us was born, this body did not exist, and eventually it must also return to nothingness.
The Nine Cemetery Contemplations
Carrying one's investigation on to another level, one finds that once the
wind and fire elements are lost, the body ends up being called a corpse. That
corpse isn't anything other than this body. When the elements are assembled
together, it's a living body, when they have dispersed, it's a corpse.
Although the Lord Buddha taught us to examine this body, actually to see the corpse within it is difficult. He therefore explained the use of a real corpse so as to be able to compare the two. Everyone has, at one time or another, had to come across someone dying or a corpse.(8) Nowadays, however, the corpse goes through so much dressing and making-up that its true nature does not appear. Therefore, we have to rely on these guidelines:
1. Reflect on a corpse dead for one, two or three days: bloated, turned
an ugly green colour and festering.
2. Next contemplate on the corpse thrown away (in a charnel ground) being devoured by many animals: the crows, vultures and ravens, dogs and jackals tearing at and eating the corpse.
3. From there consider the corpse stripped of its flesh by the animals but with the skeleton still smeared with blood and flesh and held together by the tendons.
4. And further consider the skeletal corpse devoid of flesh yet still spotted with blood and held together by the tendons.
5. From there consider the skeletal corpse devoid of flesh and blood, yet held together by the tendons.
6. Then consider that skeletal corpse with all its holding tendons gone, the former skeleton now scattered here and there. The bones of the feet have gone one way, the bones of the hands another. The thigh bones, pelvis, spinal vertebrae, ribs, breast bone, arm bones, the shoulder blades, the neck vertebrae, the jaw, the teeth and finally the skull have all come apart in different directions. They are now just bare bones.
7. ...yet those bones are recent and therefore still white...
8. ...and after a year passes they are reduced to being just heaps of old bones.
9. Then the bones rot and decay and become dust; blown and scattered by the wind so that they cannot even be called bones anymore.
The examination as taught by the Lord Buddha takes this body up part by part. Examine a living body and foresee how it too must inevitably be without life. The fear that may sometimes arise in this contemplation usually comes from lack of knowledge. This ignorance and loathsomeness make one imagine that there is harm or danger lurking. But when one discerns what it is all about --and that in truth there's no danger involved-- then that fear will fall away. Once you have mastered your timidity you will be someone eager and brave for the truth, no longer afraid of ghosts and the like.
Inspecting the House
My explanation of the investigation of the body requires the mind to make
an inspection tour. This is much like moving to a new house which also needs
an initial inspection. One tours the whole house to check out where everything
is. However, this does not mean one must always be on the move, continually
inspecting as if one did not need to rest. When one really needs to rest, to
sit or lie down, then one must stop in one place. The complete inspection of
the house finished allows one to choose, according to one's preferences, exactly
where to place the chair or bed so one can rest. The Lord Buddha, therefore,
offered many different methods which I have been explaining here. He pointed
out the way to enter into this body and inspect it in its entirety. When in
need of rest, one can then sit or lie down where one is comfortable. One can
repose on the breath by settling mindfulness on a single point there, or rest
in any one of the thirty-two parts of the body. One establishes a single focus,
for example, in the bones until the skeleton manifests. Otherwise, you can contemplate
the corpse. Whatever aspect appeals to you --be it living or dead-- that is
up to you.
If you are satisfied with the breath as the mark, then centre your mind unwaveringly on just one single point there. If the mind wants to move around then let it tour through the other parts --but make sure it stays within the body. Otherwise you can use both together, but this is not yet samadhi, for that requires a centring, a gathering together at one point.
26th August 2504 B.E. (1961)
* * *
The Body: Inside and Outside, Arising and Disappearing
Would you all now centre mindfulness inside your own body. The mind may
now try to escape, going out and involving itself in various worries. This happens
because everyone tends to have concerns about his or her work, family, home
or other areas. Use mindfulness and clear-comprehension. Be determined to set
your worries aside and lead the mind to collectedness inside your own body.
You may fix your concentration at the nostrils or upper lip or on any of the other objects which I have explained previously. According to the Discourse (Satipatthana Sutta), being aware of the breath is concerned with knowing the internal and the external, and knowing the arising and the disappearing.
Observing the external according to the conventional understanding means knowing the breath's contact point at the nostrils or upper lip. This conventional frame of reference is one which everyone who watches that point will experience and this is called seeing the external.
Looking at the internal with the ultimate understanding is the seeing that the very breath is made up of the four elements. Hold your hand near your nose so that the exhalation strikes it. You will then feel some hardness in the contact, some blowing, some moistness and some warmth. The experience of hardness is the earth element; moistness is the water element; blowing, the wind element; and warmth, the fire element. Though this is just the breath, from a more profound viewpoint it is composed of the four elements. This is called seeing the internal. Looking at the external with conventional understanding (sammati) one sees the breath. Looking at the internal with ultimate (paramattha) understanding there are the four elements.
Taking this now on to another level: The seeing of the breath is the external, whereas the seeing of the mind is the internal. This latter is the concentrating of the mind, fixing it so that the mark or sign arises. It is similar to a photograph: The object filmed being external, and the image on the lens or on the film being internal. Focus your mind to see the external and the internal.
When you concentrate in this way, you will see arising and disappearing. Breathing-in is the arising, breathing-out is the disappearing. The inhalation is also actually the bringing in of the four elements and the exhalation is the removing of them. This then, is an arising and a disappearing every time you breath.
While people are still breathing, they are attached to the various things, but when that breathing ends so does their conscious recognition of clinging to anything. The aim of the Lord Buddha's Teaching about seeing the body in the body is therefore to see and be aware of the internal and the external, the arising and the disappearing. Be aware of the existence of your body, especially of the breathing, but only to the extent necessary for knowledge and to establish mindfulness. Let go and do not grasp at anything. Be aware that this body exists and this breath exists and at the same time release everything. Let go. Empty your mind and make it clear and at ease. Firmly establish your mindfulness on the object you have fixed upon.
Sitting here in practice you may experience some discomfort or pain. You
may ache or feel stiff or you are being bitten by mosquitos, or else you may
feel restless and fidgety. Even though you may have physical pain and mental
pain, just be aware of whatever is painful. Bodily discomfort, mental discomfort
--why is there distress? One can find the cause in the material or carnal things,
the baited hooks or amisa. Realize that these are the things which cause the
various forms of suffering. If you feel some mental discomfort --perhaps a stifled
or oppressed feeling-- and your mind won't settle down, then examine to find
its cause. You may find that your mind is concerned with numerous anxieties
and is unable to come to collectedness. Or the cause may be in that you have
never practised tranquillity meditation before and the mind still runs off here
and there. It has never been still before and therefore is not satisfied with
such a state. Be aware that there is always a cause, a baited-hook, present
in the things that come in and bring suffering. When you are settled into your
practice and experience bodily and mental pain, look to see where it originates.
Do not submit to the pain but keep up the practice according to one's original
intention. That pain will then gradually fade and the mind's foundation will
be established more firmly so that such stability brings forth happiness.
When you experience a pleasant feeling of either body or mind, then be aware of it as such. You may experience a cooling breeze which refreshes your body, and no ache or stiffness is present. Consider what caused this pleasant bodily feeling. If it came from the environment, the weather and such like, or your aches left when you changed your posture, then realize that this is still material, baited-hook pleasure. It is all dependant on external things.
Be aware of the cause of any pleasant mental feeling. Sometimes it may arise when the mind dashes out to some pleasurable involvement outside and is lost therein. You can then see its dependence on external things: This is baited-hook pleasure. However, when the mind is steady and centred in calm with rapture, ease and bodily and mental happiness present then this is a non-material happiness (niramisa). This is pleasure independent of external baited attractions. That bodily ease should also be seen as arising from the mind's state of calm and not from external material things.
As the mind steadily stabilizes, that pleasure will become more and more stilled and refined until it is experienced as neither-painful-nor-pleasant. The mind is then firmly centred. This neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling is independent of external things.
When using mindfulness of breathing in your samadhi practice you must also note the feelings that arise. At first they will be painful and then they will subside and pleasant feeling will be experienced. When this becomes more and more refined, pleasant feeling will fade, and intermediate, neither-painful-nor-pleasant, feeling will arise. At this level of practice, the mind is established and firm but there is still a need to check that the baited, externally fed, feelings of either pain or pleasure do not arise. One's level of calm will then bring a non-material happiness which should be used to encourage one's contentment in practice. However, do not also become attached to that happiness. Just aim for one-pointedness of mind.
27th August 2504 B.E. (1961)