Gentle realizations: Meditation on the body

I was reading the Satipatthana Sutta as translated by Thanissaro about the Buddhist mediations on the body. Buddha said think of the body as a:

…sack open at two ends which was full of various kinds of grain — wheat, rice, mung beans, kidney beans, sesame seeds, husked rice — and a man with good eyesight, pouring it out, were to reflect, ‘This is wheat. This is rice. These are mung beans. These are kidney beans. These are sesame seeds. This is husked rice,’ in the same way reflect on this very body from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin and full of various kinds of unclean things: ‘In this body there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine.’

This meditation is one of the ways to see things as they really are and not to fantasize or sugar-coat them. To look at the body as a compounded thing made up of various internal organs, cells, fluids. I would not go so far as to call these things “unclean” as Buddha does in this translation. That, to our ears, gives it a moral tone which I am certain the Buddha did not want to imply. What we call “unclean” is often what we practice aversion to – we try our best to avoid talking about it and thinking about it. But for many this avoidance becomes obsession. The Jewish tradition of definitions of uncleanliness gave rise to Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees in Matthew 15 where he concluded (Matt 15:11)

What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”

Present day spirituality would have us look at the body as both a thing, but also as alive and a part of our transcendance. The mind is not separate from the body, the body is not lesser and the mind or spirit greater. They cohabit this nexus which we identify as ourselves. What Buddha would also point out is that identification of a self is in itself a mistake. There is no self there. There are only the co-dependent arising, abiding and disspating of bodies, minds people and things.

Each split that we create: mind/body, self/other clean/unclean is itself constructed. Once we can see or experience the unity the categories become more fluid, less constricting and in a sense less useful to the maintenance of our self identity.

And it all arises, abides for a while and passes away…

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