tranquil L I F E S T Y L E    M E D I T A T I O N

R  E  S  O  U   R  C  E  S

Asubha

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

INTRO | BASICS | POSTURE | SAMATHA||VIPASSANA | BREATH | METTA | ASUBHA | WALKING
 

Asubha is usually translated as 'impurity.' Where metta is intended for those who experience anger, resentment and a general inability to love, asubha is intended for those who are particularly lustful, over fascinated with the sensual world. Metta practitioners don't love enough - asubha practitioners love too much. The various asubha techniques point to the conventionally less attractive aspects of the world. It is a style of practice not that commonly undertaken by lay people as there generally seems more need to work with feelings of negativity and self respect. One of the common areas of sensual distraction is the human body - both ones own and (particularly) that of others.

 

invader
hitch hiker

For example: one sees a member of the opposite sex. There is a feeling of attraction.
If you are aware of a general, obsessive or disproportionate interest in matters sexual, and were practising asubha, the signs attended to in relation to that body are chosen accordingly. What we usually tend to do is pay attention to the superficial signs like the face, the head hair, the breasts, the waistline, etc. With asubha, one contemplates the body with a different - and deliberate - approach. The picture on the left is of a human parasite. We all have a variety of these on and in different parts of our bodies. When you next feel inclined to kiss and lick and suck various parts of another persons body you could bring this picture to mind. What kind of feelings does that bring up as you contemplate that now? Kind of puts you off doesn't it? The idea is not to repulse but to be reflective.

 

 

release
terminal

The important thing to understand with asubha is that it is not trying to make everything look disgusting or make it seem as if the world is all just a sick joke. What it is trying to do is provide some balance. When we consider the second Noble Truth - desire - it is this energy of attraction, lust, wanting, greed, etc. that spins us round and round. Seeing attractive things is fine - wanting attractive things is fine - but when that wanting drives us or deludes us then we are caught in the sticky web of the world. Asubha tries to show the other side of the coin.
Food is another example. Obviously we have to eat but how much of our eating is through greed and how much is from need? Some people can become very obsessive about eating. You can see that someone who is anorexic doesn't need to practice asubha - they need to practice metta. People who over eat, are over weight, who eat compulsively or excessively could consider practising asubha. You can reflect on where the food comes from, how it's prepared, how it's mixed together when it's chewed, and where it stays in the stomach and intestines and then where it all goes. One practice monastics often observe is having all the food put into the alms bowl. All of it. The rice, the curry, the fruit, the ice-cream - the lot. All in together. Isn't this how it ends up in the belly?

A monastic reflection on the requisite of food:
Wisely reflecting, I use almsfood: not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification, only for the maintenance and nourishment of this body, for keeping it healthy, for helping with the Holy Life; thinking thus, I will allay hunger without overeating, so that I may continue to live blamelessly and at ease.

The idea here is not that the food has to be bland or unpleasant or that it musn't be enjoyed, it is just a clear reflection on what food is actually for.

 

dumb
youth in Asia?

Another attachment around the body is that of health and youth.
We obviously want to avoid getting sick and age will come soon enough but there is that in our society that doesn't even want to see any signs of it. Old people and the mentally unstable and the cripples are all tucked away out of sight. Obviously there are those that need special care but often it is expediency - no mess, let's keep the place tidy. This can be seen in the story of the Buddha's father protecting his son from seeing anything unpleasant - even to the extent that no dead flowers were allowed in the palace. Of course eventually the Buddha saw the four sights - old age, sickness, death and the holy man - and it was this that woke him up to the life of delusion he had been leading and decided him to take up the holy life.
We try to hold on to our healthy and youthful bodies. There is particularly a lot of pressure on women to maintain a certain shape body and to have hair that looks a certain way and the clothes and all that stuff. When you look at the pictures in fashion magazines - have you ever seen a picture of a model with snot running out of their nose? Yes, even they have this sometimes. But they never show it in the photos. It would spoil the illusion of beauty. There is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and taking care of the body but is it obsessive? Is there some basic discontent or denial of what nature provided or the path that it is leading down? One tries to keep fit and eat well and stay warm and healthy but of course, eventually, we die.


so cute

 

foot loose &
fancy free

And here we are - onto the biggie - DEATH.
There is not a lot in this life that we can be certain about but birth and death are two. Fear of death is is an extremely powerful and common emotion that most people deal with in a variety of situations and at many different emotional levels. The issue of 'self' is very tied up with the body and it is something that we tend to see as our 'selves'. The fear of madness can be considered in the same way - in that we identify our self with the mind and 'losing' the mind is the death of identity. This fear is compounded because we can be mad but still alive - a kind of nether world where we are but we are not. There are two ways of working with this:
The Buddha's teaching on not-self is very direct and totally liberating. Why fear the loss of what is not yours? [see: TEACHINGS - ANATTA] Relax. Enjoy, and let nature do it's thing. We love the sunsets but not . . . all that other stuff.
In the context of asubha one can reflect on the body as a form in nature. Observe one's own body, the bodies of other human beings - in all states of health, genders, size, age, etc., the bodies of other life forms - animal and vegetable. Contemplate the death of other life forms. Have you ever had a pet die? Have you ever killed an animal - intentionally or by accident? Reflecting in this way leads to dispassion as one comes to realise that everything that comes into being passes away.

 
On the death of her only son, Kisa Gotami lost control of her senses and in her madness went in search of medicine for her dead child. She carried the corpse everywhere she went and finally, when all else had failed she appealed to the Buddha, who realised that nothing would convince her until her mental equilibrium has been restored. He sent her to get a handful of mustard seeds from a house where there has been no death. Thinking how common these seeds are Kisa Gotami went into the village and tried house after house. Each offerred the seed but when she asked if there had been any death in the house each had some tale of sadness to relate to her. Finally, she came to her senses; with the conclusion that death is inevitable.
  There is another story from the Buddha's life that I will roughly paraphrase as it puts the metta/asubha thing into some perspective.
The Buddha was leading a group of monks who were particularly lustful. They lusted after food, they lusted after cloth for robes, material for building huts, after suitable sites for building huts, after women, - anyway, these guys were lustful. So the Buddha taught them asubha. He encouraged them to contemplate the foulness of the body, the impermanence of all things, etc. After some time he went on retreat by himself. While he was away a particularly enthusiastic monk had a good idea: 'Perhaps I could help the other monks? These bodies are loathesome and wearying, perhaps with a large sword I could help these monks be rid of this foulness.' So, cutting the story short he went about suggesting to monks that he chop their heads off. He got several customers. When the Buddha came back from his retreat he couldn't help noticing the diminished number of monks. 'Where have all the monks gone?' he asked. On hearing the story of the head chopping he called the remaining monks together and gave them a bit of a talking to. The main theme of his talk was metta.
INTRO | BASICS | POSTURE | SAMATHA||VIPASSANA | BREATH | METTA | ASUBHA | WALKING