Perception of Impurities Part I

Meditation on Perception (pp. 59-64)

“And what, Ananda, is the perception of unattractiveness? Here, a bhikkhu reviews this very body upward from the soles of the feet and downward from the tips of the hairs, enclosed in skin, as full of many kinds of impurities: ‘There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, fluid of the joints, urine.’ Thus he dwells contemplating unattractiveness in this body. This is called the perception of unattractiveness.” –The Buddha (tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Perception of Impurities

The Buddha called this perception “unattractiveness.” Bhante G. calls it impurities. Either way, the point is that we fall into the trap of perceiving our bodies and those of others as either attractive or unattractive, pure or impure.  Using mindfulness, we are able to see that body as it really is:  impermanent, unreliable, and of selfless nature.

As we have learned earlier, the body is a concept. We use the term body as a form of identification for ourselves and to communicate it to others. The body that we refer to is always changing as we noted in the perception of impermanence. It is not the same body from moment to moment. The body is not our “self’ as we noted in the perception of selflessness.

Going further, this perception of impurities, allows us to understand and know that the body consists of many parts, none of which are attractive or unattractive. These parts are just are. With this perception, we perceive the body and its parts exactly as they are. We are perceiving with equanimity, the seventh factor of enlightenment. As the Buddha explained, our attitude toward the parts of the body will be similar to our observations about examining many kinds of grain. We recognize the types but we don’t have a positive or negative emotion about each kind.

To reach this understanding, we can use the seven factors of enlightenment as described in the first healing perception of impermanence. We use mindfulness, investigation, effort to come to joy, tranquility, increased concentration, and equanimity about the body and its parts.

Meditation of Impurities

  • Begin by settling in.
  • Cultivate living kindness toward all beings
  • Remind yourself that your intention in meditation on the parts of the body is to overcome pride and self-hatred for your own body and lust and loathing for the bodies of others.
  • Meditate first on each of the five most visible body parts as these are the ones by which we most often judge in ourselves and others:  head hair, body hair, nails, teeth and skin.
  • Starting with head hair, notice that this part is often perceived as an object of beauty.
  • Next, note its impermanence. Hair falls out, changes in texture, gathers dirt, grease, and odors.
  • Next, note its unsatisfactoriness as it doesn’t meet our expectations of always being beautiful and clean.
  • Next, note its selfless nature. We cannot ultimately control its fate.
  • As a result if these meditations, observe your attitude toward hair.  Is it still beautiful or ugly?  Or is it just hair?
  • Continue to examine the other four body parts in the same way:  body hair, nails, teeth, and skin.
  • Examine the other body parts listed in the Buddha’s instructions to Ananda above.

Reflection

  • Reread this talk and reflect on the parts of the body.

Meditation

  • Practice the meditation of impurities.  Do you notice your attitude toward your body and the bodies of others changing to other than beautiful or unattractive?

Next: Perception of Impurities Part II
Previous: Perception of Selflessness Part II