Buddhism and the body

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The Buddhist tradition regards the body and the mind as being mutually dependent. The body or physical form (called Rūpa) is considered as one of the five skandha, the five interdependent components that constitute an individual.


Pali Canon[edit]

Sutta Pitaka[edit]

  • “Well, Lord, is the soul the same as the body, is the soul one thing and the body another?”
“I have not declared that the soul is one thing and the body another.”
Gautama Buddha, in Digha Nikaya, M. Walshe, trans. (1987), Sutta 9, verse 28, p. 164
  • Joined together with bones and sinews, having a plastering of skin and flesh, covered with hide, the body is not seen as it really is—full of intestines, full of stomach, of the lump of the liver, of bladder, of heart, of lungs, of kidneys and of spleen, of mucus, of saliva, and of sweat, and of lymph, of blood, of synovial fluid, of bile, and of fat, ... and its hollow head is filled with brain. A fool, overwhelmed by ignorance, thinks of it as beautiful, but when it lies dead, swollen up and discoloured, cast away in a cemetery, relatives have no regard for it. Dogs devour it, and jackals, and wolves and worms. Crows and vultures devour it, and whatever other living creatures there are. The bhikkhu possessing knowledge here, having heard the Buddha's word, indeed understands it, for he sees the body as it really is.

Mahayana sutras[edit]

Vimalakirti Sutra[edit]

Robert Thurman's translation, 1991[edit]
As translated by Robert Thurman in The Holy Teaching of Vimalakīrti: A Mahāyāna Scripture, Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, ISBN 8120808746.
Vimalakīrti debating Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. Chinese painting from the Dunhuang Caves, Tang Dynasty
  • Friends, this body is so impermanent, fragile, unworthy of confidence, and feeble.
    It is so insubstantial, perishable, short-lived, painful, filled with diseases, and subject to changes.
    Thus, my friends, as this body is only a vessel of many sicknesses, wise men do not rely on it.
    This body is like a ball of foam, unable to bear any pressure.
    It is like a water bubble, not remaining very long.
    It is like a mirage, born from the appetites of the passions.
    It is like the trunk of the plantain tree, having no core.
    Alas! This body is like a machine, a nexus of bones and tendons.
    It is like a magical illusion, consisting of falsifications.
    It is like a dream, being an unreal vision.
    It is like a reflection, being the image of former actions.
    It is like an echo, being dependent on conditioning.
    It is like a cloud, being characterized by turbulence and dissolution.
    It is like a flash of lightning, being unstable, and decaying every moment.
    The body is ownerless, being the product of a variety of conditions.
  • Therefore, you should be revulsed by such a body.
    You should despair of it and should arouse your admiration for the body of the Tathagata.
    Friends, the body of a Tathagata is the body of Dharma, born of gnosis.
    The body of a Tathagata is born of the stores of merit and wisdom.
    It is born of morality, of meditation, of wisdom, of the liberations, and of the knowledge and vision of liberation.
    It is born of love, compassion, joy, and impartiality. It is born of charity, discipline, and self-control.
    It is born of the path of ten virtues.
    It is born of patience and gentleness.
    It is born of the roots of virtue planted by solid efforts.
    It is born of the concentrations, the liberations, the meditations, and the absorptions.
    It is born of learning, wisdom, and liberative technique.
    It is born of the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment.
    It is born of mental quiescence and transcendental analysis.
    It is born of the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen special qualities.
    It is born of all the transcendences.
    It is born from sciences and superknowledges.
    It is born of the abandonment of all evil qualities, and of the collection of all good qualities.
    It is born of truth.
    It is born of reality.
    It is born of conscious awareness.

    Friends, the body of a Tathagata is born of innumerable good works.
    Toward such a body you should turn your aspirations, and, in order to eliminate the sicknesses of the passions of all living beings, you should conceive the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.
Burton Watson's translation, 2000[edit]
As translated by Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 2000, ISBN: 0231106572.
  • Good people, this body is impermanent, without durability, without strength, without firmness, a thing that decays in a moment, not to be relied on.
    It suffers, it is tormented, a meeting place of manifold ills.

    Good people, no person of enlightened wisdom could depend on a thing like this body
    This body is like a cluster of foam, nothing you can grasp or handle.
    This body is like a bubble that cannot continue for long.
    This body is like a flame born of longing and desire.
    This body is like the plantain that has no firmness in its trunk.
    This body is like a phantom, the product of error and confusion.
    This body is like a dream, compounded of false and empty visions.
    This body is like a shadow, appearing through karma causes.
    This body is like an echo, tied to causes and conditions.
    This body is like a drifting cloud, changing and vanishing in an instant.
    This body is like lightning, barely lasting from moment to moment.
    This body is like earth that has no subjective being.
    This body is like fire, devoid of ego.
    This body is like wind that has no set life span.
    This body is like water, devoid of individuality.
    This body has no reality but makes these four elements its lodging.
    This body is void, removed from self and self's possessions.
    This body is without understanding, like plants or trees, tiles or pebbles.
    This body is without positive action, blown about by the wind.
    This body is impure, crammed with defilement and evil.
    This body is empty and unreal; though for a time you may bathe and cleanse, clothe and feed it, in the end it must crumble and fade.
    This body is plague-ridden, beset by a hundred and one ills and anxieties.
    This body is like the abandoned well on the hillside, old age pressing in on it.
    This body has no fixity, but is destined for certain death.
    This body is like poisonous snakes, vengeful bandits, or an empty village, a mere coming together of components, realms, and sense-fields.
  • Good people, a thing like this is irksome and hateful, and therefore you should seek the Buddha body. Why? Because the Buddha body is the Dharma body.
    It is born from immeasurable merits and wisdom.
    It is born from precepts, meditation, wisdom, emancipation, and the insight of emancipation.
    It is born from pity, compassion, joy, and indifference.
    It is born of the various paramitas such as almsgiving, keeping of the precepts, forbearance and gentleness, assiduousness in religious practice, meditation, emancipation and samadhi, wide knowledge and wisdom.
    It is born of expedient means, born of the six transcendental powers, born of the three understandings, born of the thirty-seven elements of the Way, born of concentration and insight, born of the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, and the eighteen unshared properties.
    It is born of the cutting off of all things not good and the gathering in of all good things, born of the truth, born of the avoidance of indulgence and laxity. The body of the Thus Come One is born of immeasurable numbers of pure and spotless things such as these.

    Good people, if you wish to gain the Buddha body and do away with the ills that afflict all living beings, then you must set your minds on attaining anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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