What is “Kāya” in Kāyānupassanā?

Revised May 20, 2018; February 17, 2019

1. There are two meanings to “kāya”: one is “kāya” for the body, and the other “kāya” means “collections” or “aggregates” of anything: rūpa, vēdana, saññā, sankhāra, or viññāna.

  • Sabba” means all. Therefore, “sabba kāya” is the same as “pancakkhandha”; see, “Five Aggregates – Introduction“, and follow-up posts.
  • In the Satipatthāna Sutta, one contemplates on the five aggregates via four categories (kāyānupassanā, vēdanānupassanā, cittānupassanā,  and dhammānupassanā).
  • Kāyānupassanā deals mostly with bodily actions.Kāya” + “anupassanā” rhymes as “kāyānupassanā“; see, “Satipatthāna – Introduction“.

2. We experience pictures, sounds, smells, tastes, touch (which are all different types of rūpa), and dhammā (things which we think about).

  • Note that dhammā are different from dhamma (without the long “a” at the end) in Buddha Dhamma; the latter dhamma refers to “teachings of the Buddha”.
  • Even though “rūpa” is commonly used to describe “material objects” (which are really “vanna rūpa” or “rūpa rūpa”),   rūpa includes sounds (sadda rūpa), smells (gandha rūpa), tastes (rasa rūpa), and touch (phoṭṭhabba rūpa).
  • I will just use the term “rūpa” to include sounds, smells, tastes, and touch as well as pictures for the rest of the post.
  • Dhammā are a type of rūpa too, but they are below the suddhātthaka stage and “cannot be seen or touched” : “anidassanaṃ, appaṭighaṃ, dhammāyatana pariyāpanna rupam“; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhammā are rūpa too!“.

3. Something is a picture or a visual object only when one is seeing it. A moment later it is only a memory, and it is now a “memory of an old picture”. If we visualize a house that we are building, that is also a picture in the memory plane, an “envisioned future picture”.

  • In the Anatta Lakkha Sutta (SN 22.59), “all rūpa” are described as 11 categories: “Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ atītā­nāgata­pac­cup­pan­naṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ..”. They are past, present, future, near, far, likable, distasteful, fine (not strong), coarse (strong), internal, and external; see also, “Five Aggregates – Introduction“.
  • For example, feelings (vēdana) khandha can be any in the 11 categories. Here, near and far means recent or way back in the past. Internal is one’s own and external is feelings of the others; one needs to be aware of other’s feelings in the sense that “if I do this, it could cause a feeling of grief to so and so”, as an example.

4. It is good to contemplate these concepts and have a good idea of how different representations mean the same things: Pancakkhandha is the same as “sabba kāya”, both include “everything in this world”. Please send me a comment if this is not clear. Many people think “Kayānupassanā” is just about one’s body, and that is not correct.

  • But we don’t think about the “whole world” out there either. We think about a tiny fraction of that “world out there”. AND we get attached to (tanhā) even a smaller fraction.
  • Thus even though pancakkhandha (five aggregates)is unimaginably large, the fraction of pancakkhandha that we interact with or think about is very small. And we form attachments (via greed or hate) to even smaller fraction, and this is the pancupādanakkhandha, the aggregates that we attach to with greed and hate (and ignorance). Upādāna means “drawn to”, and that is what one grasps willingly because one thinks there is happiness in them.
  1. For example, we all know about the zillions of stars out there, or about the other planets in our Solar system; but do not generate any greed or hate about them. We only attach to some of the pictures, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch that we interact with daily, which is indeed a tiny, tiny fraction of the “world out there”. The biggest component of our “pancupadanakkhandha” is the dhamma aggregate, the things we think about. Let us discuss this a bit more.
  • Thus here we are concerned with only a tiny fraction of “sabba kāya“: Only those that lead to greed, hate, or ignorance. This is the same as pancaupādanakkhandha, which is a tiny fraction of pancakkhandha.

6. When we contemplate this a bit more, we realize that most of the pictures, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch we think about belonging to the dhammā category; see #2 above.

  • A long series of thoughts may start with an “old picture” that is in our memory (say an old friend), and then we start generating more thoughts about that person, and then we get into something altogether different: We may think about the nice neighborhood that person is living in and then start thinking about building a house there. Thus we may end up thinking (generating sankhāra) about something totally different. Thus it now belongs to the dhammā category.
  • Later, we need to focus on such thoughts or dhammā in the “cittānupassana” and “dhammānupassana”. What we need to do in “Kāyānupassanā” is to mainly control our speech and actions first. This way we will be able to slowly change our habits (gathi) and start controlling our “automatic actions” that we used to do almost on impulse.

7. We already discussed how we need to be “morally mindful” while we are in any of the four main postures (Iriyapathapabba), and also in any of “sub-postures” or basically any movement (sampajānapabba).

  • For example, we see a likable picture (a person or an item) we need to immediately think about whether it is appropriate to take the action that automatically comes to our mind with our old habits. We may be waiting at the airport for the next flight and see a bar; instead of going there and have a drink, it may be more productive to get on to the internet and read something useful. It is more productive to take a nap if one is really tired.
  • In another example, someone may come to you and accuse you of doing something wrong. Instead of just retaliating, it may be a good idea to calm down and listen to that person first to see whether you have indeed done something unknowingly to aggravate that person.

8. AS we discussed in the post, “What do all these Different Meditation Techniques Mean?“,  Anupassanā means “discard according to the principles learned” (“anu” means according to and “passanā” means to get rid of). We need to logically think of what would happen if a certain action is taken. If that seems to lead to a “bad ending” we need to discard it.

  • Thus “Kāyānupassanā” in the iriyāpatapabba and the sampajānapabba means to contemplate on the moral consequences of an act one is about to do and abstain from doing it if it seems to have bad consequences.

9. Now, there are three sections in the Kāyānupassanā where one specifically contemplates the physical body. These are patikulamanasikāra pabba, dhātumanasikāra pabba, and navasivatika pabba. These sections involve just contemplating on the nature of our physical bodies.

  • In the patikulamanasikāra pabba, the 32 parts of the body are discussed. Those body parts are not very appealing when separated from each other. It is amazing how our bad perception of hair in the dinner plate is so different from the admiration we have for the hair that is attached to our head. The hair in the plate could be one of our own, but still, we do not like it.
  • The nail on the finger is something we admire, take care and some ladies paint them too. But as soon as it is cut, it becomes something not appealing.

10. What we form a liking for is the “whole complete package” with all 32 parts that are in “good condition”. We get distraught when hair starts greying, or the skin starts sagging.  A beautiful person may become ugly in an instant if the face becomes disfigured due to some mishap.

  • The reality is that all the above IS GOING TO HAPPEN to us in the future. As long as there is birth, there is decay and death.

11. The section (pabba) on dhātumanasikāra pabba is to contemplate on the fact that all our bodies are composed of just four entities. They are patavi (solidness), apo (liquid-ness/tendency to bind together), tejo (heat or warmth), vayo (wind). Out of the six dhātu, akāsa (space) is there too, but viññāna (consciousness) does not belong to the physical body.

  •  Those four things make all bodies — whether beautiful or ugly. There is nothing special.

12. The third section (pabba) of the physical body, navasivatika pabba, is to contemplate what happens to a dead body over the course of many months if left out on the ground to decay. (That was commonly done at the time of the Buddha.)

  • Again, whether it is a body of a homeless person or an emperor, the same decay process will take place. Eventually, all body parts will be absorbed to the ground or released to the air.

13. All three of those sections are to help us lose attachments to our physical bodies. The purpose is NOT to get distraught but to develop the wisdom to realize that it is common to us all and will happen.

  • A major component of our suffering arises when we eventually realize that we cannot maintain things to our satisfaction. Most people do not like to think about this inevitability. They just want to “whatever it takes” to maintain a beautiful body. The more one does that, the more one will be depressed later.
  • Instead what we should do is try to maintain a healthy body by eating well and sticking to a good exercise program. It is not the “eye-catching aspect” that matters more. One should be more concerned with the health of the body.
  • Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly (see, “Spark” by John Ratey“) will keep the body and the mind in good condition, so that we will have enough time to at least get to the Sotapanna stage of Nibbāna.

14. It is important to remember that in all these “anupassanā“, we need to contemplate on the Three Characteristics of nature (anicca, dukkha, anatta) when we contemplate on the unfruitfulness in attaching to “things and concepts”.

  • Also, it is important to examine the potentially “bad outcomes” of immoral and unwise actions.  We should also think about the wisdom of our stressful attempts to try to maintain our body appearances. (Especially using artificial techniques like botox). The sooner we realize this, the less stressful it will be.

15. Finally, in those three sections on the body, patikulamanasikāra pabba, dhātumanasikāra pabba, and navasivatika pabba, we need to contemplate on not only our own body (this is what ajjhatta means in these three sections), but also on the bodies of others (this is what bahiddhā means in these three sections).

  • We can not only contemplate on other humans (famous, poor, rich, young, old, etc), but also on animals. It does not matter who or what it is, we all will eventually become dust. But, for many, this realization comes only after going through much effort in vain to keep the body “beautiful” via artificial means; then it could be too late.
  • Therefore, ajjhatta and bahiddhā means somewhat different things in these three sections compared to other sections.
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