The Great Freedom of Seeing the Body for What It Is

Here is a very helpful teaching on the body by Ajahn Chah from a talk he gave called “Clarity of Insight.”

“The Buddha taught to transcend delusion. The way to transcend it is through clearly seeing the body for what it is.” Ajahn Chah

“With penetrating insight you must see that the true nature of both your own body and other people’s is essentially the same. There is no fundamental difference between people’s bodies. The body is just the body; it’s not a being, a self, yours or theirs. This clear insight into the true nature of the body is called kāyānupassanā. A body exists: you label it and give it a name. Then you attach and cling to it with the view that it is your body or his or her body. You attach to the view that the body is permanent and that it is something clean and pleasant. This attachment goes deep into the mind. This is the way that the mind clings to the body.

Personality view means that you are still caught into doubt and uncertainty about the body. Your insight hasn’t fully penetrated the delusion that sees the body as a self. As long as the delusion remains, you call the body a self or attā and interpret your entire experience from the viewpoint that there is a solid, enduring entity which you call the self. You are so completely attached to the conventional way of viewing the body as a self, that there is no apparent way of seeing beyond it.  But clear understanding according to the truth of the way things are means you see the body as just that much: the body is just the body. With insight, you see the body as just that much and this wisdom counteracts the delusion of the sense of self. This insight that sees the body as just that much, leads to the destruction of attachment (upādāna) through the gradual uprooting and letting go of delusion….

Seeing the way the body truly is, clearly and beyond doubt from within the calm of samādhi, leads to the mind experiencing a strong sense of weariness and turning away (nibbidā ). This turning away comes from the sense of disenchantment and dispassion that arises as the natural result of seeing the way things are. It’s not a turning away that comes from ordinary worldly moods such as fear, revulsion or other unwholesome qualities like envy or aversion. It’s not coming from the same root of attachment as those defiled mental states.

This is turning away that has a spiritual quality to it and has a different effect on the mind than the normal moods of boredom and weariness experienced by ordinary unenlightened human beings (puthujjana). Usually when ordinary unenlightened human beings are weary and fed up, they get caught into moods of aversion, rejection and seeking to avoid. The experience of insight is not the same.

The sense of world-weariness that grows with insight, however, leads to detachment, turning away and aloofness that comes naturally from investigating and seeing the truth of the way things are. It is free from attachment to a sense of self that attempts to control and force things to go according to its desires. Rather, you let go with an acceptance of the way things are. The clarity of insight is so strong that you no longer experience any sense of a self that has to struggle against the flow of its desires or endure through attachment. The three fetters of personality view, doubt and blind attachment to rules and practices that are normally present underlying the way you view the world can’t delude you or cause you to make any serious mistakes in practice.

This is the very beginning of the path, the first clear insight into ultimate truth, and paves the way for further insight. You could describe it as penetrating the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are things to be realized through insight. Every monk and nun, who has ever realized them, has experienced such insight into the truth of the way things are. You know suffering, know the cause of suffering, know the cessation of suffering and know the path leading to the cessation of suffering. Understanding of each Noble Truth emerges at the same place within the mind. They come together and harmonize as the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, which the Buddha taught are to be realized within the mind. As the path factors converge in the center of the mind, they cut through any doubts and uncertainty you still have concerning the way of practice.”  Ajahn Chah


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

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