Perception of Danger

Meditation on Perception (pp. 65-68)

And what, Ananda, is the perception of danger? Here, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, a bhikkhu reflects thus: ‘This body is the source of much pain and danger; for all sorts of afflictions arise in this body, that is, eye-disease, disease of the inner ear, nose-disease, tongue-disease, body-disease, head-disease, disease of the external ear, mouth-disease, tooth-disease, cough, asthma, catarrh, pyrexia, fever, stomachache, fainting, dysentery, gripes, cholera, leprosy, boils, eczema, tuberculosis, epilepsy, ringworm, itch, scab, chickenpox, scabies, hemorrhage, diabetes, hemorrhoids, cancer, fistula; illnesses originating from bile, phlegm, wind, or their combination; illnesses produced by change of climate; illnesses produced by careless behavior; illnesses produced by assault; or illnesses produced as the result of kamma; and cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, and urination.’ Thus he dwells contemplating danger in this body. This is called the perception of danger.” (tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Perception of Danger

In this perception, the Buddha lists a number of illnesses that can befall the body.  The term, danger, means the possibility of afflictions (e.g. injury, disease) affecting the body. Although the types and descriptions of bodily disease have changed over time (there are over 13,000 illnesses listed in the ninth edition of the World Health Organization’s international classification of diseases), the point the Buddha makes is still relevant: the possibility of harm or injury to the body is great and inevitable.

Five explanations for why the Buddha listed these diseases

  1. The body is not a single entity.  It is made up of parts, each of which is susceptible to disease.
  2. Disease is inevitable and by contemplating on this list, we become aware of the truth.
  3. The condition of each part of the body is impermanent, always changing.  The body and its parts will not stay disease-free permanently.
  4. When we are enjoying good health, we can become attached and take pride in our well-being.  We then forget the suffering of others or take pity on them.
  5. We can take precautions and take care of our body as best we can to avoid these diseases.

Taking precautions against danger

Anxiety, fear, anger and other mental formation can affect our emotional and physical health. The Dhamma (teachings) can help to prevent these mental formations from arising. In the Eightfold Path, the sixth step, Right Effort, is the main prescription to overcome unskillful thoughts and cultivate skillful ones.

As Bhante G. notes, “Not only could the Dhamma alleviate Girimananda’s emotional and physical suffering, but it could lead him to nibbana, which is ageless and beyond death.” p. 68

Reflection

  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  What is the state of your body and its parts now?  If you are experiencing well-being, are you attached and taking pride in this condition?  Are you remembering those who are ill and suffering from the dangers of the body?  If you are experiencing a disease, how can you use Right Effort to overcome the mental formations that arise?

Meditation

  • As you meditate, note the selfless nature of the thoughts and sensations of the diseases that may arise.  Note the impermanence of these thoughts.

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