These are notes taken from Joseph Goldstein’s book
“Mindfulness”. These are the first section from
Chapter 10, Mindfulness of physical Characteristics.
We study the body to take us beyond the concept of “body” as
This chapter studies the body in
And the body’s nature of impermanence, to decay
and then die.
What is the body,
through contemplation of its anatomical parts.
“Again, monks, one reviews this same body up from the soles of the feet
and down from the top of the hair, enclosed by skin, as full of many kinds of
‘in this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin,
flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen,
lungs, bowels, mesentery, contents of the stomach, feces, bile, phlegm, pus,
blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, and
Why would the Buddha want to
contemplate the parts of the body that are called in Pali, the asubha or the non-beautiful or
unattractive aspects of the body?
This will diminish the strong
conditioning of the mind towards lust and attachment to the body.
The body is just a collection of
That which we often associate with
the self – the body- is just an interdependent system of components.
So scientifically, we can allow for
entropy of the different parts and systems – the thermodynamic law which says
that all systems tend to disorder or to decline.
We are reminded of the impersonal
and unreliable nature of the body.
Seeing clearly what the body really
Helps free us from pride and lust
Disparagement and fear
Personal Note: When I
was a dancer in my twenties and thirties, I studied experiential anatomy for
dance and then I noticed how much it helped me with meditation, connecting
through the felt sense of the body, all the different systems of the body. This deeply increased my ability to
stay with and feel my body, whether the sensations were aversive or blissful. At first, I didn’t associate this body
study with Buddhism and sometimes felt it was actually solidifying my
attachment to the self. So I was
so happy when I actually found the anatomical studies in the sutras. This Body/Mind Centering work I had been
doing as a dancer required that I often spend months on feeling each system –
bones, muscles, organs, breathing, nerves, etc. which I now had found in the classical teaching
of Buddhism. As I have matured as
a practitioner, this subtle understanding of the systems of the body has
increased my ability to enter the subtle energy body and to learn a deeper
level of concentration on following the body sensations until the point where
the body disappears.
At the same time, this section of
the mindfulness sutra has also come under deep scrutiny because some of it
implies a disgust with the body and what seems like, unintentionally
strengthening an unwholesome disgust or aversion to our bodies. Especially as a feminist, I found this
hard to agree with. It seems like
the patriarchal religions of history had a need to put so-called earthly things
down, like bodies, earth, women, children etc. so that they could “transcend”
the very strong attachment all people have to our bodies as our “Self”. We are strongly attached to life’s
activities and often have an aversion to death. These attachments and aversions need to be opened up before
we can feel liberation. Sometimes
the contemplation of the non-beautiful qualities of the body can help liberate
us from our lust and attachment to the body and its extension to the “self”. I have learned to be less critical of
this section as I contemplate the goal of freeing myself from attachment to the
body and also to put this section in its historical context of ancient India
Labels: Joseph Goldstein"s Mindfulness, mindfulness of physical characteristics, Satipatthana Sutra