Contemplation of the Body: Kāyānupassanā (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)


revised on 2020-05-29


By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)


Anupassanā means contemplate for many times until penetrating the Dhamma. In this body, contemplations were practicing with the 14 types of objects and are divided into six parts.

[1] Mindfulness of Breathing
[2] Postures and Activities (two parts)
[3] Anatomical Parts and Elements (two parts)
[4] Nine Contemplations of the Corpse in Decay.

Contemplation or meditation is exercising the mind with the objects of meditation. Let mindfulness stays with the object. First, the Buddha taught Mindfulness of Breathing. Here in and out breaths are objects. Sati only takes the objects, and ñāṇa (knowledge) knows the object. Both of them are working together. Next body contemplation is The Four Postures; sitting, walking, standing and lying down.

The body cannot survive without changing with the changing of postures that it can survive longer. But for most people not aware of the changes, because of a lack of mindfulness or awareness. They are doing things habitually, and the mind is at other places. These are connections with the big postures and actions.

There are also other small activities. These exercises are in the Mindfulness with Clear Knowing (sati-sampajāna) or mindfulness and clear knowledge (sati-sampajañña). The instructions for clear knowing are; going forward and returning; looking ahead and looking away; flexing and extending the limbs; wearing clothes and carrying things; eating, drinking and tasting; defecating and urinating; walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking and keeping silent.

The next two exercises are Anatomical Parts and Elements: Contemplating the anatomical constitution of the body; direct mindfulness to an analysis of the body parts. It listed various anatomical parts, organs and fluids. Review 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 impurity.

There are: head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowel, mesentery, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints and urine (it can include the brain).

There is a sutta in the Sutta Nipāta called Vijaya Sutta—Victory on Delusion, where a thorough investigation of the body leads from its outer anatomical parts to its inner organ and liquids. The aim of the contemplation described was to reduce one’s attachment to the body.

The sutta itself was a good contemplation on this subject. With the development of medical science, nowadays it is easy to visualize the outer and inner organs. Some people donated their bodies for this purpose. There is a method called plastination of the bodily parts for study.

The next exercise is “On the Elements”; where the body is analyzed into its four elementary qualities. The instruction for this contemplation is: He reviews this same body; however, it is placed, disposed of as consisting of elements.

In this body, there are the earth, the water, the fire and the air elements. Contemplation of the four elements has the potential leads to a penetrative realization of the insubstantial and selfless nature of the body or material reality.

Nine Contemplations of the Corpse in Decay:

These are the contemplations of the corpse in nine stages of changing or decay. So, it involves some degree of visualization and reflection. The yogi has to compare his own body with what he would see in a charnel ground. As though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground:

① one, two or three-days dead, bloated, livid and oozing matter

② being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, various kinds of worms

③ a skeleton with flesh and blood, held together with sinews

④ a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, held together with sinews

⑤ a skeleton without flesh and blood held together with sinews

⑥ disconnected bones scattered in all directions

⑦ bones bleached white, the color of shells

⑧ bones heaped up, more than a year old

⑨ bones rotten and crumbling to dust. This body too is of the same nature. It will be like that and it is not exempt from that fate.

These practices highlight two things; the repulsive nature of the body as revealed during the stages of decomposition and death is inescapable destiny for all human beings or living beings.

In all these body contemplations, Sayadaw talked about Mindfulness of Breathing more than others. So, here I will present only ānāpānasati.

Mindfulness of Breathing

In practice, we need diligent (ātāpī). Effort (viriya) has two kinds; bodily and mental efforts (kāyika viriya and cetasika viriya). Mental effort is more important of the two. The yogi must have the continuous effort with seriousness and mind energy. Knowing (sampajañña) is—always reflecting what one’s is doing and always has an awareness of the mind states.

This is the balancing of art in practice. Protecting the practice is mindfulness (sati). Samādhi (concentration) and paññā (discernment) are also included. Ātāpī is a right effort (sammā-vāyāma); sampajañña is right view (sammā-diṭṭhi) and sati is right mindfulness (sammā-sati). Natural phenomena are doing their jobs. They are not mixed-up. For example, the eye is doing the job of the eye, the ear also doing the job of the ear, when we are watching a video.

The five path factors (kāraka maggaṅga) are working together. Sīla—ethical conducts (precepts) has been undertaken during the practice. After the first path of knowledge, it becomes the eight path factors. And then the ethical conducts become natural sīla. Sitagu Sayadaw U Nyanissara delivered many talks on the Ānāpānasati Sutta. People who have interest in detail should listen to these talks.

For sitting meditation, using a quiet place to sit. The sutta mentioned under a tree or near a tree (rukkhamūla), an empty room or place (suññāgāra). Sitting crossed legs with a straight back (in a relaxed way). Sati is taking the meditation object.

Mindful of the breaths at the touching point. This was from the commentary. In the sutta—only mentioned—established mindfulness in front of him. The touching point of the breath can be at the tip of the nostril or upper lip, depend on each person.

  1. Mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out
  2. With the development of the stage (1), the yogi knows the long in-breath and out-breath, short in-breath and short out-breath. The progression from knowing longer breaths to shorter breaths reflects the fact that the breath naturally becomes shorter and finer with the continued practice.
  3. He trains thus: I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body. He trains thus: I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.

In this stage, he must know the whole body. Here Sayadaw said that some had wrong interpretations and translations. By observing the whole physical body was not ānāpānasati—mindfulness of the breathing. Knowing the whole in-breath and out-breath, from the beginning, middle and the end at the touching point (i.e., at the nostril or upper lip).

At the stage (2), the yogi did not know like this. The commentary interpretation was right. According to Sayadaw, traditional interpretations were starting even from the time of the Buddha. By observing the whole physical body, the object is changed (not the breathing anymore).

  1. He trains thus: I shall breathe in calming the bodily formation, He trains thus: I shall breathe out calming the bodily formation.

Here also calming the breath. When the practice is developing, the in and out breaths become refined. And then both of them disappear. In this sutta, the Buddha taught the first tetrad (four stages) only. It is for the beginner yogis. In the Ānāpānasati Sutta, the Buddha taught 16 stages—the four tetrads. The other 12 stages are for yogis who had developed jhānas (absorption states).

After the above four stages, the Buddha continued to teach; “He abides contemplating the body internally; externally and both.”According to the commentary; internal and external bodies were one’s own and others. This is possible for yogis who have developed jhānas.

These things were mentioned in Pha-Auk Sayadaw’s teachings and his yogis’ experiences. (Other ways of explanations see Ven. Anālayo’s book on Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta). Here Sayadaw proposed his idea on this point. The external body was in and out breaths. The internal body was the mind of knowing the breaths. With progress in the practice, one can know the contemplating mind with another mind.

In this way, the wrong view falls away on the object and the mind. In the Visuddhimagga—mentioned contemplating the object and the knowing mind. When you are practicing alone, how can you contemplate others? In the sub-commentary; by contemplating on others even could not develop samādhi.

With the continued practice and progress, discerning of the nature of arising and passing away culminates in a comprehensive vision of impermanence. To regard all phenomena as impermanence leads to knowledge and understanding.

Insight into the impermanence of the five khandhas is right view and then leads directly to realization. Natural phenomena are with the arising and there is cessation. Therefore, dhammas are not existing by themselves. They exist only by conditions.

Mere awareness and clinging to nothing: Mahāsi Sayadaw wrote in his book. By knowing in this way, there was only body existing and no thought of a person or being. So, taṇhā and diṭṭhi could not enter the mind. Except knowing the body and not clinging with other thoughts.

To observe objectively, without getting lost in associations and reactions. Freedom from identification enables one to regard any aspect of the experience as a mere phenomenon. And then free from any self-image and attachment. Clingings are falling away. The practice of ānāpānasati comes to succeed. Other body contemplations also have to practice in this way. (Sayadaw explained very short and general for each of the following on the other body contemplations).


revised on 2020-05-29; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36986#p36986 (posted on 2019-11-22)


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