For Death is the End of Life
146. When this world is ever ablaze, why this laughter, why this jubilation? Shrouded in darkness, will you not see the light?
147. Behold this body — a painted image, a mass of heaped up sores, infirm, full of hankering — of which nothing is lasting or stable!
148. Fully worn out is this body, a nest of disease, and fragile. This foul mass breaks up, for death is the end of life.
149. These dove-colored bones are like gourds that lie scattered about in autumn. Having seen them, how can one seek delight?
150. This city is built of bones, plastered with flesh and blood; within are decay and death, pride and jealousy.
151. Even gorgeous royal chariots wear out, and indeed this body too wears out. But the Dhamma of the Good does not age; thus the Good make it known to the good.
Chapter 11 of the Dhammapada is probably the most concise summary of the Buddhist view of the body – mainly, that is is repulsive, foul, and above all, hurtling at a million miles towards disintegration and putridity. Because of ignorance, we do not see the body for how it really is. We spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars yearly just to beautify our corpses, painting our dead nails and styling our dead hair; we spend hours every day, trying in vain to hide the filth and rot that lies under the surface of our skin. Our entire society, our entire species is in denial when it comes to the physical form – and as a result, the average person cannot hope to experience their bodies without a precarious vanity or self-destructive hate. Identifying with the body, seeing it as one solid entity worthy of attachment instead of the empty, ever-changing process of decay and rebirth that it is, is a surefire path to misery, no matter what society may tell you at the moment. A great quote by David Foster Wallace sums up the pain that comes from clinging to the impermanent.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.
Then Mr. Wallace killed himself.
I want to mention, before we go deeper, that repulsion and distaste are not the same as shame and hate – quite the opposite, in fact. Misguided self-loathing or anger, manifesting themselves in self-consciousness, anxiety, and even seriously self-destructive behavior, are from the same pain-drenched root as vanity and self-worship; where a beautiful person may cling to their appearance, heedlessly indulging in a momentary alignment with an ignorant fantasy that cannot be sustained, one who sees themselves as ugly also clings to their appearance, heedlessly rebelling against a momentary misalignment with the same bullshit fantasy. Between the extremes of clinging to an empty, meaningless definition of beauty and fleeing from an empty, meaningless definition of ugliness, there is dispassion – the realization that both an ugly body and beautiful body are empty, worthless, and headed for the grave. That is the goal of Buddhism – neither rejoicing nor rebelling, but simply knowing without involvement.
And that’s where 32 Parts of the Body Meditation comes in. This ancient Buddhist practice is designed to break down the body into various subsections, and then into even more specific constituent parts. By focusing one’s attention on each separate element (body hair, head hair, teeth, piss, sweat, blood, fat, intestines, puss, etc.), one can shatter the fantasy of the united, unchanging body and gain a fuller understanding of two things:
1) The human body is super fucking gross, no matter who you are. You start to view attractiveness differently once you realize that the girl you’re pining over is nothing but 32 different lumps of matter, most of them gross.
2) You learn that the body isn’t really good or bad, but just there. It just is. When you break up your body, something you normally struggle to see objectively, into these individual elements that you have very few preconceived notions about, you start to realize that this mass of blood and tissue is only as beautiful or as ugly as you decide it is. And once the spell is broken like that, once clear thinking and mindfulness take the power back from magazines and advertisements and social expectation, the freedom is incredible.
Mindfulness of the 32 Parts of the Body meditation isn’t for everyone, but for those who are interested, I highly recommend trying it. The guide I linked to above is a great starting point, as are the writings of Pa Auk Sayadaw, whose masterwork Knowing and Seeing contains a huge amount of information regarding this type of mindfulness.
Just remember, you’ve got poop inside of you.