The 37 Limbs of Enlightenment


Prof. Lewis Lancaster


Chapter 31  

Chuan 19

(Part IV)

The Four Applications of Mindfulness  
—     T.1509-198c:2Off.

I. The Application of Mindfulness to the Body.


How does one attain the Four Applications of Mind­fulness?


The Practitioner who dwells in pure morality and single—mindedly practices with vigor, intuitively sees that the body is marked with impurity in five ways. What are these five?

(1) The place of birth is impure;
(2) The semen is impure;
(3) Own—nature is impure;
(4) Self—attributes are impure;
(5) It is totally impure.

(1)What is meant by the statement ‘the place of birth is impure?’

The head feet belly, back, sides, ribs, and all the impure things are joined together; this is what is meant by a ‘woman’s body’. Within this (body) there are the impurities of the immature and mature embryos, feces, and urine; outside is the wind of defilement (klesa), actions (karma), causes (hetu), and conditions pratyaya), which blows the seed of consciousness into the space between the two embryos. There for eight or nine months it is as if in a pit of feces and urine. Thus it has been said:

This body is stinking and dirty;   199a

It is not born from a flower blossom;

Nor is it born from a Campaka Tree;

Further, it is not from a jewel mountain.

This is what is meant by the phrase ‘the impurity the place of birth.

(2)   ‘The semen is impure.’

Because the father and mother blow upon the flame sexual desire with the wind of false imagining and wrong thoughts, blood, marrow, and fat flow forth, and being heated, change into sperm. The seed of consciousness, which is caused and conditioned by former actions, dwells in the midst of menstrual and seminal fluid. This is what is meant by ‘semen of the body’.

This body’s semen is impure;

1t is not an excessively wonderful treasure;

Not from a pure source does it arise;

It is only from the urine path.

This is what is meant by ‘the semen is impure’.

(3) ‘Own—nature is impure.’

From the soles of the feet to the top of the head, covered on four sides by skin, one is full of impurities Even though decorated with cloth, perfumed and fed with the best tasting delicacies, not for the space of a single night is (one’s body) pure. Even if the clothes are those of the gods and the food that of gods, because of its nature the body is impure. How much more so when it is the clothes and food of men.

The nature of earth, water, fire, and wind,

Can be changed from impurity;

But though an entire ocean be poured over this body,

Still it could not be made fragrant or pure.

This is what is meant by ‘own-nature is impure’.

(4) ‘Self—attributes are impure.

This body has nine holes from which impurities al­ways drain. From the eyes flow tears; from the ear comes wax; from the nose snot; from the mouth saliva; from the anus and penis there always flows feces and urine, and all the hair pores excrete perspiration.

Various impure things,
Completely fill the body,
Always flowing out without stopping,
Just like the contents of a bag with holes.

This is what is meant by the ‘self— attributes are impure’.

(5) ‘Totally impure.’ 

If the body is thrown into the fire, it will become ashes; if eaten by worms, it becomes feces; if it lies on the ground, it decomposes and becomes dirt. Put into the water, it will become distended and swollen, and then it will rot and be eaten by water worms. Of all dead bodies, the human body is the most impure. The impure dharmas of the nine marks are to be explained in detail.

If you observe this body closely,

In the end it goes to the cemetery;

It is difficult to manage and unpredictable;

 Like a petty man, it turns its back on favors done.

 This is what is meant by ‘totally impure’.

This body, from the time it is born until it dies, is impure, as are all the things that approach near it or the spot on which it rests. This (situation) can be compared to fragrant, delicious, and pure water, which flows in a hundred streams and is changed into salty and bitter water when it enters the great ocean. Even though one eats various good tasting and beautifully prepared foods that are delicious to smell and finely textured, when this food enters the stomach (which corresponds to the) ocean, it is changed into impurity.

The body is like this from birth to death. It is always impure and extremely despicable. When the practitioner contemplates this body, notwithstanding the fact that it is impure, (the notion) that there is the slightest bit of permanence is an error, for it will re­vert to impermanence. Furthermore, even if (there is the knowledge of) impurity and impermanence on the one hand, the slightest (notion) of pleasure on the other is an error, for it will revert to suffering. This body is the birthplace of all suffering. Water comes from the earth, wind from space, fire from fuel and suffering external as well as internal comes from the body. By internal suffering is meant such things as old age, sickness and death. External suffering includes the sword, the stick, cold, heat, hunger, thirst and the like. Thus if one has a body, one has suffering.


     The body not only has suffering for its nature, but from the body there also comes pleasure. If one could be bodiless as (you) desire, who then would be the receiver of the pleasure of the five senses?


The Truth of Suffering as expounded in the Four Noble Truths is understood by the enlightened man to be really suffering. Foolish men call it pleasure. We should rely on the enlightened person and disregard the foolish ones. This body is in truth a thing of suffering, but since slight suffering can put an end to great suffering, (the foolish) regard it as pleasure. Take for example, a man who has been condemned to death. He will rejoice in a lighter punishment. The fact of the matter is that the lighter punishment is suffering, but because it saves him from death, he considers it to be pleasure.

           Another case is newly (arisen) suffering which mistaken for pleasure. When one first sits it is pleasurable; after a long period of time it becomes suffering. When one first walks, stands, or lies down there is pleasure, but doing so for a long period is suffering. By doubling up, stretching out, looking up and down, rolling your eyes, or panting, pain constantly adheres to the body. From the first moment of conception and birth, to death, there is not a moment when there is pleasure.

     If you take sexual desire to be pleasure, then, because the malady of this desire is so acute, another woman must (always) be sought. But the more you get the more acute the malady.

     It is a similar situation to having fire cauterize a skin wound; for a moment there is a slight pleasure, but then the pain becomes deeper. This slight pleasure is, in fact, caused by the sickness, and thus there is no real pleasure.

     The man who has recovered from sickness has com­passion when he observes others (who are ill). A man who is free of desire sees sexual desire in the same light. He pities (those with this) madness, consumed as they are by the flame of lust and suffering so much pain. It is for reasons such as these that we know the manner and cause of suffering in the body.

     The Practitioner knows that the body is only an impure and impermanent thing of suffering. However, there is no choice but to sustain it. When a son is born, even if he is corrupt and evil, because he is theirs, the parents must nurture and rear him.

     The body, in fact of matter, is without a self. Why is this? (It is without a self) because it is not its own master. Just as a paralyzed man cannot look up or down, cannot go out or come back, or a man who has had a disease of the throat cannot talk, in the same way we know that the body is not its own master. It cannot be used in the way of a man who has possessions and uses them as he wishes. Since the body is not its own master, you know that it is without a self.

     The Practitioner contemplates the body in this light: viz, that it is impure; impermanent; full of suffering; empty; and without a self. It is an unlimited evil. Similar to these are (all his) observations of the body.

     This is what is meant by ‘Application of Mindfulness to the Body’.