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Asubha Meditation

BunksBunks Australia Veteran

Asubha (foulness / unattractiveness of the body) was taught by the Buddha to help his followers see the true nature of the body in order to decrease and eliminate greed and lust.

I’ve found it to be beneficial in my practice.

For anyone interested in practicing this, you may find visual props helpful. May I suggest searching the following on YouTube:

WARNING: Some of these videos are not for the faint hearted!

  1. “Human Autopsy” uploaded by Bhikkhu Samahita.
  2. “Asubha meditation on the foulness and impermanence of the human body and it’s 32 parts” uploaded by LK King.
  3. “VLOG #17: Seeing Disgust in Food” uploaded by Bhikkhu Samahita.
  4. “How to practice asubha meditation guided asubha meditation by Ajahn Martin (20/05/17)” uploaded by Forest Dhamma Talks.
  5. “We need to find a weapon to fight the onslaught of raga-tanha Dhamma talk by Ajahn Martin (10/04/19)” uploaded by Forest Dhamma Talks.

🙏🙏🙏

ShoshinKerome

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I'll be completely honest, and with no false modesty or whatever: I only need to see my naked body in the mirror, to know of the advancing deterioration caused by wear & tear, fatigue and ageing. This is not the body I had as a teenager, and what worked yesterday, works less well, today.
    It's letting me down, this vessel of mine; through accident and perhaps even unintentional neglect, I have taken for granted its continued function, to my cost.
    But at least I'm upright, breathing and still above ground.

    Unattractive as it may certainly be, it's mine and I call it friend.
    Acceptance of decay is a healthy thing...

    BunksKundolobsterFosdick
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited July 9

    I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Vesali in the Great Wood, at the Gabled Hall. Now on that occasion the Blessed One, with many lines of reasoning, was giving the monks a talk on the unattractiveness [of the body], was speaking in praise of [the perception of] unattractiveness, was speaking in praise of the development of [the perception of] unattractiveness. Then the Blessed One addressed the monks: "Monks, I wish to go into seclusion for half a month. I am not to be approached by anyone at all except for the one who brings almsfood."

    "As you say, lord," the monks responded to him. And no one approached the Blessed One except for the one who brought almsfood.

    Then the monks — [thinking,] "The Blessed One, with many lines of reasoning, has given a talk on the unattractiveness [of the body], has spoken in praise of [the perception of] unattractiveness, has spoken in praise of the development of [the perception of] unattractiveness" — remained committed to the development of [the perception of] unattractiveness in many modes & manners. They — ashamed, repelled, & disgusted with this body — sought for an assassin. In one day, ten monks took the knife. In one day, twenty monks took the knife. In one day, thirty monks took the knife.

    Vesali Sutta
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn54/sn54.009.than.html

    After this Amanda requested that the Buddha give the monks an alternative teaching. The Buddha agreed and offered guidance on the mindfulness of breathing.

    I think what this sutta suggests is that “perception of the unattractiveness of the body” is a practice, a pragmatic method, not a statement that asserts definitively: the body is unattractive. This is worth bearing in mind in our current social environment of widespread eating disorders and other examples of poor relationships with the body.

    It’s a balance, like all things. Asubha was taught as an antidote to greed and lust, as @Bunks has said, but not everybody requires this precise antidote, and like all practices it’s not to be clung to once its usefulness has been exhausted.

    lobsterBunkspersonDavid
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited July 9

    I think in particular in response to lust it is interesting. When we see a beautiful human being we see certain proportions, shapes and curves, the glow of healthy skin and muscle, a sufficiency of fat but not an excess. These things do not represent the truth of what we see, instead they arouse an instinctive response which calls up lust.

    If we learn to see a little deeper and can come to recognise the body for what it is, a collection of muscles and blood and guts and bones in all it’s slimy and sticky truth, then we can disassociate a little from the perception of beauty.

    But I think in the end one should strive for more than just breaking the association with lust. Seeing the body exclusively as slimy and gory and smelly and unpleasant is also to bring associations into what you see, a different association but also not one that totally accurate.

    I would like to end up in a place where I can still enjoy the aesthetics of things, be it human bodies or art. But the thing is that it should not cause desire and greed to arise.

    One other thing I would mention is that watching CSI is also good for the practice of Asubha. Almost every episode you get shown bodies in various states of decomposition, the results of autopsy’s, burns victims, all kinds of different forms of death. You kind of get used to it, and also the idea that the body has all these various properties.

    Bunks
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited July 9

    @Kerome what about the Body Positivity movement? I think it’s very common today to have a lot of desire for others’ bodies, but mostly disgust for one’s own. I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience, but it does seem to be common.

    One method for people who dislike their bodies is to dissociate from them: this body is not me. But another method can be to develop a new appreciation for one’s body: this is actually a beautiful body; in its own way it’s kind of miraculous; it’s got me so far in life.

    Are these both good methods? Is one more “Buddhist” than the other? Personally, I think they can both be helpful, depending on the individual.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    It is certainly advised that if one is practicing asubha meditation that it should be balanced with metta meditation for ourselves and others as anger may arise.

    When I met Ajahn Brahm I spoke briefly to him about asubha meditation and he basically said he wasn’t much of a fan of it and found the monks he knew who practiced it ended up disrobing anyway.

    adamcrossleylobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited July 10

    Kammaṭṭhāna meditation takes many forms. :)

    Wrathful meditation another visualisation practice can be very intense. >:)

    This morning doing yoga, working with the body, I was focussing on areas of tightness. That involves experiencing tension and letting it be or relaxing. I personally find this far more helpful, useful and practical. I tend to send metta, light and gratitude to my body. <3

    The question of control or mastery over hunger, lust, pain, mental states etc comes in my experience from the most simple but sustained practices. Too many people have not practiced but try and find relief without skills of calming, visualisation, focus etc. Quite often when overwhelmed ... :)

    Bunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    @Kerome what about the Body Positivity movement? I think it’s very common today to have a lot of desire for others’ bodies, but mostly disgust for one’s own. I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience, but it does seem to be common.

    One method for people who dislike their bodies is to dissociate from them: this body is not me. But another method can be to develop a new appreciation for one’s body: this is actually a beautiful body; in its own way it’s kind of miraculous; it’s got me so far in life.

    Are these both good methods? Is one more “Buddhist” than the other? Personally, I think they can both be helpful, depending on the individual.

    I think it’s just the opposite, that one should have respect for one’s own body in all its varied aspects, including the slimy guts and other contents. It is the smoothly functioning chemical works that keeps us alive.

    It’s the desire for other’s bodies that causes the problem. So seeing all these different aspects as also being present in their bodies can move us away from seeing the body as an object of beauty. So this is a certain measure of being more conscious, of being aware of all these gross features as well as the aesthetics.

    Pride in one’s own body can also cause problems. A lot of body builder types suffer from this, after putting so much effort into making it function just so they have a lot invested in it.

    BunkslobsterKundo
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    "A cartoon in an American medical magazine shows four senior medical students standing together. Three are engaged in active conversation. Only the remaining one turns his head to take notice of a pretty nurse. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Guess which one has not done twelve pelvic examinations today." It is doubtful that many persons outside of the medical profession will appreciate the meaning, but to medical students and interns it speaks a reality. During his months of training in obstetrics and gynecology the medical trainee must spend many hours engaged in examining and handling the most repulsive aspects of female genitals. As a result he finds the female body becoming less attractive and his sexual urges diminishing. During my own years as a medical student and intern, this observation was repeatedly confirmed by the comments of my co-workers, both married and single. As we have seen, the same principle is utilized in the sections of the Discourse on repulsiveness and the cemetery meditations." Dr Douglas Burns (psychiatrist and Buddhist)

    Interesting....I wonder if a surgeon would operate on his / her own partner?

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Aversion therapy which Asubha is an early example of, was designed as a quick fix for
    the early sangha.

    This page has far better tools and some practical links at the bottom
    https://healthypsych.com/learning-center-buddhist-psychology-theory-tools/

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Bunks said:
    "A cartoon in an American medical magazine shows four senior medical students standing together. Three are engaged in active conversation. Only the remaining one turns his head to take notice of a pretty nurse. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Guess which one has not done twelve pelvic examinations today." It is doubtful that many persons outside of the medical profession will appreciate the meaning, but to medical students and interns it speaks a reality. During his months of training in obstetrics and gynecology the medical trainee must spend many hours engaged in examining and handling the most repulsive aspects of female genitals. As a result he finds the female body becoming less attractive and his sexual urges diminishing. During my own years as a medical student and intern, this observation was repeatedly confirmed by the comments of my co-workers, both married and single. As we have seen, the same principle is utilized in the sections of the Discourse on repulsiveness and the cemetery meditations." Dr Douglas Burns (psychiatrist and Buddhist)

    Interesting....I wonder if a surgeon would operate on his / her own partner?

    Ethically, it would be unthinkable, unless of course it was an immediate critical emergency..

    I strongly object to the phrase 'repulsive aspects of female genitals' by the way.
    For millennia, women have been conditioned to believe that periods were filthy, unwholesome, unclean, and completely unacceptable in a person supposedly the essence of decorum and dignity. Even in some religions today, a menstruating woman is considered 'unclean' and that really riles me.
    Talk about victimising and stigmatising our gender for nothing more than a natural occurrence.
    As if women don't have enough to contend with in their day-to-day comings and goings, without also having to defend a perfectly normal and some might say, miraculous portion of their bodies.

    That said, I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that women's genitalia is a disgusting feature of their anatomy. I just think you could have worded it better...

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Well, it was just part of the quoted text. And let’s be honest, genitals in general are a bit dangly, inelegant, awkward and repulsive ;)

    Bunks
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @federica said:

    @Bunks said:
    "A cartoon in an American medical magazine shows four senior medical students standing together. Three are engaged in active conversation. Only the remaining one turns his head to take notice of a pretty nurse. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Guess which one has not done twelve pelvic examinations today." It is doubtful that many persons outside of the medical profession will appreciate the meaning, but to medical students and interns it speaks a reality. During his months of training in obstetrics and gynecology the medical trainee must spend many hours engaged in examining and handling the most repulsive aspects of female genitals. As a result he finds the female body becoming less attractive and his sexual urges diminishing. During my own years as a medical student and intern, this observation was repeatedly confirmed by the comments of my co-workers, both married and single. As we have seen, the same principle is utilized in the sections of the Discourse on repulsiveness and the cemetery meditations." Dr Douglas Burns (psychiatrist and Buddhist)

    Interesting....I wonder if a surgeon would operate on his / her own partner?

    Ethically, it would be unthinkable, unless of course it was an immediate critical emergency..

    I strongly object to the phrase 'repulsive aspects of female genitals' by the way.
    For millennia, women have been conditioned to believe that periods were filthy, unwholesome, unclean, and completely unacceptable in a person supposedly the essence of decorum and dignity. Even in some religions today, a menstruating woman is considered 'unclean' and that really riles me.
    Talk about victimising and stigmatising our gender for nothing more than a natural occurrence.
    As if women don't have enough to contend with in their day-to-day comings and goings, without also having to defend a perfectly normal and some might say, miraculous portion of their bodies.

    That said, I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that women's genitalia is a disgusting feature of their anatomy. I just think you could have worded it better...

    They’re not my words @federica. Note the quotation marks and the reference to Dr Douglas Burns after them.

    I just thought it was an interesting article worth sharing.

  • My instinct is very much to prefer “bodies are miraculous” to “bodies are repulsive”.

    “The human body is beautiful.”
    [...]
    “Accepting your body is crucial for your peace and freedom. Every human being is born as a flower in the garden of humanity. And flowers differ from each other. If you can’t accept your body and your mind, you can’t be a home for yourself.”

    Thich Nhat Hanh, Fidelity

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    My instinct is very much to prefer “bodies are miraculous” to “bodies are repulsive”.

    Thats very understandable. But “bodies are miraculous” also is a little short of a complete description.

    I think TNH’s saying is very much in line with those poor monks choosing the assassins knife - the original asubha contemplation is not ideal. The Buddha was not infallible, shock horror B)

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited July 11

    I have probably spoken to five different monks about this and (as expected) received five different responses as to the importance of asubha meditation.

    I’d say some people just don’t find its beneficial in their practice while others (like yours truly) do.

    Each to their own..... 👍

    lobsterShoshinKundo
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited July 12

    @Kerome said:
    the original asubha contemplation is not ideal. The Buddha was not infallible, shock horror B)

    Good point. It’s very interesting that he gave a teaching, it failed, and then he chose another teaching. Is this upaya in action?

    I’ve been reading @Jason ’s blog recently, and he presented it as evidence that the Buddha may not have been omniscient. Perhaps it’s more important to be a sensitive and flexible teacher than it is to be omniscient.

    Another example that Ajahn Sumedho gives is:

    After Brahma Sahampati's visit, the Buddha was on his way from Bodh Gaya to Varanasi when he met an ascetic who was impressed by his radiant appearance. The ascetic said, "What is it that you have discovered?" and the Buddha responded: "I am the perfectly enlightened one, the Arahant, the Buddha."

    I like to consider this his first sermon. It was a failure because the man listening thought the Buddha had been practising too hard and was overestimating himself.

    [...]

    [When he gave his next teaching to the five ascetics] instead of saying 'I am the enlightened one', he said: 'There is suffering. There is the origin of suffering. There is the cessation of suffering. There is the path out of suffering.' Presented in this way, his teaching requires no acceptance or denial. If he had said 'I am the all-enlightened one', we would be forced to either agree or disagree - or just be bewildered.

    Ajahn Sumedho, The Four Noble Truths

    The Buddha didn’t usually make omniscient statements; he chose to stay within the realm of verifiability and human experience. As such, the asubha teaching isn’t doctrinal; it’s one available method for releasing attachments. But I feel like I’m repeating what’s already been said now.

    Interesting thread, @Bunks :)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Bunks said:

    @federica said:

    @Bunks said:
    "A cartoon in an American medical magazine shows four senior medical students standing together. Three are engaged in active conversation. Only the remaining one turns his head to take notice of a pretty nurse. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Guess which one has not done twelve pelvic examinations today." It is doubtful that many persons outside of the medical profession will appreciate the meaning, but to medical students and interns it speaks a reality. During his months of training in obstetrics and gynecology the medical trainee must spend many hours engaged in examining and handling the most repulsive aspects of female genitals. As a result he finds the female body becoming less attractive and his sexual urges diminishing. During my own years as a medical student and intern, this observation was repeatedly confirmed by the comments of my co-workers, both married and single. As we have seen, the same principle is utilized in the sections of the Discourse on repulsiveness and the cemetery meditations." Dr Douglas Burns (psychiatrist and Buddhist)

    Interesting....I wonder if a surgeon would operate on his / her own partner?

    Ethically, it would be unthinkable, unless of course it was an immediate critical emergency..

    I strongly object to the phrase 'repulsive aspects of female genitals' by the way.
    For millennia, women have been conditioned to believe that periods were filthy, unwholesome, unclean, and completely unacceptable in a person supposedly the essence of decorum and dignity. Even in some religions today, a menstruating woman is considered 'unclean' and that really riles me.
    Talk about victimising and stigmatising our gender for nothing more than a natural occurrence.
    As if women don't have enough to contend with in their day-to-day comings and goings, without also having to defend a perfectly normal and some might say, miraculous portion of their bodies.

    That said, I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that women's genitalia is a disgusting feature of their anatomy. I just think you could have worded it better...

    They’re not my words @federica. Note the quotation marks and the reference to Dr Douglas Burns after them.

    I just thought it was an interesting article worth sharing.

    The error is mine in the attribution.
    I apologise, @Bunks.
    However, my objection still stands for the reasons stated.

    adamcrossley
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @federica said:

    @Bunks said:

    @federica said:

    @Bunks said:
    "A cartoon in an American medical magazine shows four senior medical students standing together. Three are engaged in active conversation. Only the remaining one turns his head to take notice of a pretty nurse. The caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Guess which one has not done twelve pelvic examinations today." It is doubtful that many persons outside of the medical profession will appreciate the meaning, but to medical students and interns it speaks a reality. During his months of training in obstetrics and gynecology the medical trainee must spend many hours engaged in examining and handling the most repulsive aspects of female genitals. As a result he finds the female body becoming less attractive and his sexual urges diminishing. During my own years as a medical student and intern, this observation was repeatedly confirmed by the comments of my co-workers, both married and single. As we have seen, the same principle is utilized in the sections of the Discourse on repulsiveness and the cemetery meditations." Dr Douglas Burns (psychiatrist and Buddhist)

    Interesting....I wonder if a surgeon would operate on his / her own partner?

    Ethically, it would be unthinkable, unless of course it was an immediate critical emergency..

    I strongly object to the phrase 'repulsive aspects of female genitals' by the way.
    For millennia, women have been conditioned to believe that periods were filthy, unwholesome, unclean, and completely unacceptable in a person supposedly the essence of decorum and dignity. Even in some religions today, a menstruating woman is considered 'unclean' and that really riles me.
    Talk about victimising and stigmatising our gender for nothing more than a natural occurrence.
    As if women don't have enough to contend with in their day-to-day comings and goings, without also having to defend a perfectly normal and some might say, miraculous portion of their bodies.

    That said, I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that women's genitalia is a disgusting feature of their anatomy. I just think you could have worded it better...

    They’re not my words @federica. Note the quotation marks and the reference to Dr Douglas Burns after them.

    I just thought it was an interesting article worth sharing.

    The error is mine in the attribution.
    I apologise, @Bunks.
    However, my objection still stands for the reasons stated.

    No worries @federica! Apology accepted 🙏🙏🙏

    adamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    It’s interesting that the asubha meditation also changes one’s view on loved ones, or at least it did for me, the little bit I practiced it. It’s not just sexual desire that it alters but for example my view on my mother’s aging body became different, and so on.

    lobster
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