The First Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Body: The Body as Being Nonstatic, Impermanent
We saw in the Mahayana tradition that with the general way of focusing on the body, what we distinguish about it is that it is unclean and impure. We take our body to mind with that way of focusing on it. So, we can do that with our hand for example. What we understand is that it is not clean and not pure the way that we might think that it is. If it were inherently clean, why do we have to wash it all the time?
We want to focus on the body in terms of the noble truth of suffering. Remember there are three types of suffering in general: the suffering of unhappiness (the suffering of suffering), the suffering of ordinary happiness (the suffering of change), and the all-pervasive suffering of uncontrollably recurring rebirth.
Aspects of the Body as True Suffering: Its Gross and Subtle Impermanence
The first aspect of that unclean, impure body as an example of the first noble truth, true suffering, is that it is nonstatic, impermanent. Nonstatic means changing. There are two levels of that. There is gross impermanence and subtle impermanence. The gross one is that the body comes to an end. This body is going to eventually be finished and disintegrate and rot, etc. The subtle level is that each moment, each day, the body comes ever closer to its end. Every day we are coming one day closer to our death, one day closer to this body falling apart and ending.
This is true no matter what plane of existence we are born into. Remember, we have to consider these meditations not only in terms of rebirth in the realm of desirable sensory objects, which has all the various life forms such as ghosts, animals, humans etc. and a certain level of divine beings or gods; but also we need to think of this in terms of these higher planes of ethereal forms and formless beings. We need to think of both, because the Indian non-Buddhist systems put a tremendous emphasis on these higher states of absorption. We need to watch out for being tempted by these higher states, because in them you are temporarily free of certain feelings. But you are not rid of them forever; you eventually have to come down from these states. Since we can practice these higher absorptions – the so-called “dhyanas,” etc. in our present human rebirth, which if we become fixated on them could become causes for rebirth in these higher states – we need to focus on the fact that even the body of a being in these higher realms is an example of true suffering. It will come to an end, and every moment it gets closer to that end.
So, any type of samsaric body that we take will be not only unclean and impure, but also in the nature of the suffering of change, because it’s nonstatic.
The Suffering of Uncertainty
Of the six types of suffering of samsara in general, the suffering of no certainty is that there is no certainty of what type of body we are going to have. It is the suffering of having to forsake our bodies repeatedly, of having to fit into rebirths repeatedly, and the suffering of having to change our status repeatedly from exalted to humble, from high to low. In one rebirth, we have a human body and in the next the body of a cockroach – this type of thing. In addition, it is the suffering of having no friends. There is nobody that we can rely on that we are always going to be with in each lifetime.
Why? It’s because the body is changing from moment to moment. We’re going to have to change bodies over and again. So, we and try to recognize and distinguish this aspect of suffering of the body. We can’t hold onto it. It is going to change and we will need to have another body and another body. There’s no certainty in terms of what type of body we are going to have. We know we can’t keep the same friends and this is not very nice.
The discriminating awareness that the body is nonstatic eliminates the distorted way of considering the body. This is holding what is non-static to be static and unchanging.
We can also analyze as an example of the body, the aggregate of forms of physical phenomena, including sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, and so on. These also constantly change and so they are also suffering, because there is no certainty about what we’ll experience. We can be sitting cross-legged here and there’s no certainty that our knee isn’t going to start hurting or our face start itching in the next moment. That’s a type of suffering.
In addition, there’s no satisfaction. Eating one bite of delicious food is never enough. That’s often an interesting question. How much of this delicious food do I need to eat in order to enjoy it? Is just one tiny mouthful enough? So, there is the suffering of this delicious tasting food and if we eat too much, it becomes unhappiness.
I had a very interesting example this morning. This is Denmark and you have fantastic Danish pastry. Even though I had a full breakfast, we passed a bake shop and there were Danish pastry in the window and out of greed came the thought, “Let’s buy some Danish pastry.” One was not enough because there were so many wonderful kinds and variety. So I bought two. The first taste of each of them was delicious. It was wonderful. I ate some more of each of them and continued to enjoy it. But, then I was really very full. Then, came this mentality in which I wouldn’t want to waste them and throw them away; so I finished both. By the time I finished them, I was no longer enjoying the pastry. This is a clear example of how there is no certainty. Even though I was eating the same piece of pastry, it is changing and it is suffering. There’s no satisfaction.
Additional Sufferings of a Human Rebirth
In terms of the eight sufferings of human rebirth, this is the suffering of being parted from what we like, as in I really like this delicious taste or I really like this physical sensation. As another example, if a loved one holds our hand, it’s really nice and we like I; but then impermanence strikes: they go away. We have to be parted from that physical sensation; or, still holding hands, our hands start to change. They start to sweat and it becomes very unpleasant holding this person’s hand. So, there is the suffering of being parted from what we like.
Then, there is the suffering of meeting with what we do not like and not getting what we like even if we try hard to find it. For example, we order this food on the menu, our favorite food, and we try to get something that we really like. They serve it to us and it has too much salt or something like that. Even though we tried to get this physical thing, a taste, we don’t get it.
We might think that isn’t it a good feature that something is impermanent, that it changes, particularly in terms of pain and something unpleasant – these also are not going to last forever. That certainly is the case and is true. But, the suffering of change and impermanence in that sense doesn’t come just by itself. We have the eight sufferings of human rebirth and the six sufferings of samsara in general and they all come together. Although that pain of having a cold or having a toothache or something like being in a dentist chair with drilling, that is all going to come to an end, still there’s no certainty of what’s going to follow and when are we going to have another toothache. There’s never any certainty. Even though we try to get what we want and like, we are frustrated, don’t always get it, and we have to be parted from what we do like due to impermanence. Due to impermanence, we also meet with what we don’t like. That is also impermanence. All of these come together.
The Second Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Body – The Body as Being Miserable
The second aspect of close placement of mindfulness on the body as true suffering is that this unclean, impure body is miserable – “miserable” is again the word “suffering.” This is because the body is under the control of other factors. This refers to the true origins of sufferings through the twelve links of dependent arising. Because this body comes from unawareness, from ignorance, from confusion, from disturbing emotions, and from the compulsiveness of our behavior, and is under the influence of all that, then it is a problem and it’s miserable.
Thus, of the eight types of suffering of a human rebirth, this unclean body goes through the suffering of birth, sickness, old age and death. These sufferings are in the nature of all-pervasive suffering. In other words, no matter what type of samsaric body we have, it involves these problems.
We need to recognize the problems associated with birth. There’s this body when you are a tiny baby and you can’t even control going to the toilet. You can’t do anything with it. You can’t walk or talk. Then, it gets old, gets sick and dies. So, that’s part of the problems of the body. Recognize the reality; that’s the way it is. The body is like that because of the whole mechanism of the twelve links of dependent arising that describes our attainment of such a body that serves as the uncontrollably recurring basis for experiencing the suffering of unhappiness and the suffering of change or ordinary happiness. On the basis of our hand, for example, we can experience pain when it gets banged or pleasure when it is held by a loved one – as long as it is held for not too long and our happiness turns to unhappiness.
Also, on a mundane level, it requires hard work to take care of our body. Shantideva says it very nicely, that it’s almost as if we are a servant to this body. We have to clothe it, feed it, wash it, put it to sleep and make money in order to support it so that it has food and so on. The amount of time that we take to take care of the body is unbelievable, isn’t it? It really is.
So, try to recognize that. This is the close placement of mindfulness on the body, to distinguish what it actually is so that we really identify clearly true suffering. That’s the second aspect.
Participant: Why does a daily life with a body need to be labeled as suffering?
It needs to be understood as suffering in order to overcome the incorrect consideration of it as happiness and that it is wonderful. Because if you don’t recognize the problems that are involved, you are not motivated to actually get rid of them.
But you can care for the body and you can care for other people and still not feel that the body is suffering.
Sure, you can care for your body and not label it as suffering. That’s just a label. The point is that the body is an uncontrollably recurring problem and is something that prevents you, thinking in a Mahayana sense, from being of the best help to everybody. It certainly does prevent you from being of best help to everybody. I mean what a drag it is, if we are fortunate enough to be a human, to be a baby again. While you are a baby, maybe you bring joy to your parents, but they also have to clean you and feed you as well, even when they would like to keep sleeping, so you bring a lot of suffering to others. As you get old and also when you get sick and so on, also it’s not very easy to help others. So, this body is very limited and that’s a problem if you really want to help others. Our body may be too young, too old or too sick.
Isn’t labeling the body as suffering another type of suffering?
It’s another type of suffering if you are overwhelmed by it. But if you label it as suffering, then you have identified what you want to get rid of. You wouldn’t aim for any true stopping or any liberation or enlightenment unless you identify what it is that you want to get rid of.
We want to get rid of this type of body and attain, instead, the body of a Buddha. If we attain the physical body of a Buddha, we don’t get tired, we don’t get old, we’re able to multi-task on an unlimited level the way that a Buddha does. We want to be able to communicate fully to absolutely everybody. We don’t have to spend all our time learning a million languages. So, suffering means limitations in this context.
Labeling the body as suffering depends upon what you mean by suffering. If you mean by suffering “oh this is awful” and like that, then there is a disturbing emotion that is involved with that and then what you say is correct. You don’t want to be disturbed by it, but you do want to recognize it for what it is. It’s suffering; it’s a limitation. You would like to not have this limitation because you really would like to help everybody.
I look at myself. In a few months I’m going to be seventy and I have so much more work that I want to do on my website. There’s so much more material that is sitting in my computer that hasn’t been worked on yet and I’m seventy years old and I’m going to die at some moment. You accept that reality. You have to prioritize. You try to do everything to live longer, as long as possible with a clear mind and energy, but there’s no certainty. You can’t guarantee that you’re not going to have a heart attack tomorrow or five minutes from now.
Many years ago, I had a teacher that I was translating for. He was the abbot of Namgyal Monastery, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery. Once when I was translating for this abbot when he was teaching a group of Westerners lam-rim, the graded stages, he was explaining that death can come at any time and you can’t guarantee what is going to happen. Right after he said that, he had a heart attack. We all had to leave the room quickly and within about five minutes he was dead. Wow, talk about a heavy teaching! He certainly didn’t do that on purpose, but death can come at any time and this was an unbelievably strong experience for all of us there.
So, the body definitely has limitations, and that is a problem, isn’t it? I would like to work 100% of the time on preparing material for my website and administering it and taking care of it and all of that, because it’s benefiting a lot of people. But, my body is a limitation. I get tired, I have to eat, I have to sleep, I have to go to the toilet, I have to wash, take it for a walk like taking a dog for a walk. There are so many things that we need to do that take up our time. That’s a limitation, because it’s very time consuming.
Now, we could enjoy life and see that we are doing all this in order to benefit all beings and take food not out of attachment but take it as medicine to give us the strength to benefit all others. We can use the lojong mind training methods to change our attitudes about it. Definitely; still it’s time consuming and that’s the way it is. We need to accept that, as I accept that I am growing old for example.
Although the body entails suffering, at the same time, isn’t having this human body something to rejoice in and feel grateful for? Isn’t that important to acknowledge?
Yes, it is important. When we look at the body as suffering, that doesn’t negate or contradict the teachings of the precious human rebirth. We can rejoice. It is fantastic that we have a precious human rebirth, because on the basis of this human body and mind we can make progress and we can help others much more than if we were a cockroach in a cockroach body.
In terms of tantra as well, anuttarayoga tantra, our human bodies have a subtle energy system that allows us, when we work with it, to access the subtlest level of mind for the most efficient cognition of voidness. It’s great that we have this body, but first we have to overcome attachment to it and an incorrect consideration of it. The incorrect consideration is the body-beautiful. You just want to admire yourself in the mirror and make it look pretty, and you’re so attached to other people’s bodies as well.
A lot of people do object to these teachings because of the culture in the West of the body-beautiful and our custom of doing everything to make the body as beautiful as possible. But, one of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey,always liked to quote this phrase. “No matter how much you try to wash a turd, it’s still dirty.” It’s an interesting point of view. Likewise, Nagarjuna said that this body is the perfect machine for making feces and urine. Put food in and it converts it to feces and urine. Is this all you want to do with this body? Do you want to use it only as a machine for manufacturing feces and urine? There’s much more that we can do with it besides that. It’s very interesting and these are all things that you look at in terms of the body so that you don’t get so attached to it. What you want to overcome is uncontrollably recurring rebirth, getting this type of body over and again.
The Third Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Body– The Body as Being Devoid of a Coarse Impossible “Me”
The third aspect is that the unclean impure body is devoid – that’s the word “voidness” or “emptiness.” Specifically, it’s devoid of a coarse impossible “me.” Now we get into the presentation of the different types of impossible soul or “me.” This is the one asserted by the non-Buddhist Indian tenet systems and it is an atman or a soul or a “me” with three qualities.
First of all, it has the quality of being static. This means that it is unaffected by anything. The next quality is that it is a partless monad and this means that it is not made up of different aspects. It’s coming out of the Indian Samkhya system in which you have the three gunas: the sattva, rajas, tamas, and everything is made of that except the atman. So, it’s partless and it’s not made of these three. Then, there are various theories in these Indian systems of the self being a partless monad either the size of the universe or the size of a little spark of life. The third quality is that it can exist independently of a body and mind, specifically when it is liberated.
This soul, this atman, that never changes comes into the body and it inhabits it as its residence and as something it possesses and controls and makes use of and enjoys. This is the non-Buddhist Indian concept. Then it flies out and goes into another one. The atman is not an imputation on the body, but is something separable from it and when liberated it can exist totally separate without a body or mind.
It’s different from the Western Biblical idea, because even if there’s a soul that enters a body as something separate and occupies the body; nevertheless, when you go to heaven you still have a body and mind, don’t you? So, it doesn’t have all the components of this atman. It’s interesting when you start to compare these various ideas.
This non-Buddhist Indian view is the incorrect view that the body is something that an independent “me,” a pure soul, unstained by anything, goes into and enjoys and makes use of. It’s like a residence. So, with such a view, you are looking at the unclean body in that way, as something clean that you could reside in, but in fact the body isn’t something that such a “me” could go into, because it is devoid of such a “me.” There is no such thing as that coarse impossible “me.”
So, we reflect on the causes of the body. The causes of the body are a sperm and egg. We wouldn’t want to have a whole plateful of sperm and egg to eat or something like that. That wouldn’t be very pleasant. The nature of the body itself is what I was mentioning about it being a machine for manufacturing urine, excrement, vomit and mucus. The result of the body is that it becomes a rotting corpse. This is what it is and you discriminate that the body is unclean and impure. That eliminates not only the incorrect consideration of what is unclean and impure to be clean and pure, but it also eliminates the distorted way of considering the body, which is devoid of an atman, as being a residence or a possession of that type of atman. The body can’t be a type of a thing to control or make use of or enjoy. If the atman is so pure, how could an atman enjoy what is so unclean? Why would it want to occupy and make use of that?
So, the unclean, impure body is true suffering because, although the conventional “me” is an imputation on it and can’t exist separately from a body, the body isn’t something that we can ever possess. When you start to think of this suffering aspect of the body – it’s being devoid of a coarse impossible “me” – and start to analyze, you start to realize what the problem with this body is. It’s not that there is a separate “me” that could possess the body, like I could possess a good brain or a strong body. We might conventionally have a good brain and a strong body. But these are not something that we could actually possess as a separate “me.” They’re not something that I could possess or make use of. Why? Because there is no certainty of what will happen, so you can’t hold onto any aspect of the body and possess it and use it. That’s suffering, isn’t it?
For example, I have a very good mind. I think I have a very good memory. I was a translator; His Holiness the Dalai Lama could speak for ten minutes and, without taking notes, I could remember and I could translate it all. You can’t hold onto that kind of memory. Now, as an old man, my short-term memory is very poor. I can’t remember what I did five seconds ago, so I couldn’t possibly do that kind of oral translation. That’s the problem of this body. There isn’t some static “me” that’s separate from it that can hold onto it and make use of it like a tool or a machine and enjoy it.
The type of food that you could enjoy when you are twenty years old makes you sick when you are seventy years old. The type of physical activity you can do when you are seventy and when you are twenty is very different. You can’t hold onto it. It’s not something you can possess. So, that’s the suffering aspect of the fact that the body is devoid of a coarse impossible “me” and isn’t something that can be used by such a “me.”
An Example of Meditation on the Body
Let’s try meditating on our bodies with what we’ve covered so far. Just look at your hand and do the meditation. What is it? It’s changing all the time. It’s going to rot and fall apart. It has all this suffering. I have to wash it all the time. I have to cut the nails; how boring. If I put it down on something sharp it starts to bleed; my goodness, what an inefficient thing. Of course, I can use it very well and it’s helpful, but it really is a very limited thing and it’s not something that I can possess and use as a “me” separate from it. If I really wanted to use something as a tool, I wouldn’t use something as inefficient as a hand. I would use a screw driver to take a screw out, rather than a hand. To bang in a nail, a hand is not terribly efficient. I’m going to use a hammer.
These ways of thinking are practical. They make you lose attachment to your body and not over-estimate it.
The Fourth Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Body – The Body Lacks a Subtle Impossible “Me”
The fourth aspect is that the unclean, impure body lacks an impossible soul, namely a subtle impossible “me.” That would be a self-sufficiently knowable soul, one that could be known without its basis for imputation simultaneously appearing. When we think of ourselves now, there has to appear simultaneously in our thought our unclean impure body with all its problems.
Do you follow this? It’s not such an easy point? This is an automatically arising incorrect appearance and that appearance is that it seems as though I can know you or see you or think of you without a basis of imputation appearing at the same time. For example, I see Theo. I think that I am just seeing Theo. I don’t think that I am seeing a body and as an imputation on the body is Theo although obviously I am seeing a body with Theo as an imputation on the body. But, I imagine I am just seeing Theo.
On the telephone, what do I hear? I am hearing Theo talking. Well, what am I hearing? I’m hearing sounds. I’m not even hearing the sound of his voice. Who knows how the telephone works? It’s some movement of electricity and something inside of this black rectangular object that is producing something that sounds like a voice. But, how does it seem to us? It seems that I’m hearing Theo speaking, doesn’t it? That would be a self-sufficiently knowable “me.”
There is no such thing as a self-sufficiently knowable “me.” Even when I think of somebody, there is the mental sound of a word, a name. We can’t think of a person without the name or mental picture or something simultaneously with that. So, this is a suffering that it’s not like that. What does that mean? We start to analyze it and think about it. What that means in terms of the unclean body with all its problems is that you cannot think about yourself without that unclean, impure body with all its problems also appearing.
What is the implication of that? The implication is that you can’t avoid facing the fact that there is this body with all these problems and you have to deal with it. I think that is the significance, at least that is the significance from my own analytical meditation on why that’s a problem. There isn’t a “me,” knowable all by itself, that I could think about getting liberated. There is no “me” that you can think about like that. You can’t deal with yourself without having to deal with all the problematic bases of the self. You can’t deny that with my mind I have all these disturbing emotions, and with my body I have this sickness or that sickness, or this age or that age, or this amount of hormones going through it or whatever. You have to deal with it. The problem is if you deny that and think that you can just work on yourself, ignoring your body, mind, personality and so on.
The Prasangika View of a Subtler Impossible “Me”
Then from a Prasangika point of view, we take even an even subtler impossible “me” as the impossible “me” that the body lacks. This is a “me” whose existence is established by a self-defining characteristic mark on the side of the unclean, impure body as the basis for its imputation and which by its own power makes me “me.” In other words, we think that there’s something on the side of the body that makes me “me” by its own power. That’s called “self-established existence,” existence established by something on the side of the body and the side of me that makes me unique and individual.
When we think of our unclean, impure body, since there is nothing on its side from its own power that makes me “me” and makes me special, then I’m not someone special. This is again from my own analytical meditation. What is the problem with this? I’m not special. There is nothing unique on my side that makes “me” me, so like everyone else, I’m also going to undergo repeated rebirth with the suffering of birth, sickness, old age, and death. I’ll also need to undergo all the difficulties entailed in gaining liberation. I am no exception. To think that we are an exception, that we are special and we don’t need to do all of that – Milarepa had to do all of that, but I don’t’ have to do all of that – is absurd.
Tsongkhapa was so advanced and had such unbelievable understanding and look at how much he wrote and how much meditation and how many retreats and how many monasteries he established and so on and yet he did three and a half million prostrations as a preliminary. But I imagine that I don’t have to do that. I’m an exception. I’m special. There is something inside me that makes me “me” and I don’t have to do all of that.
But, that is not the case. That is false and it’s suffering. It would be nice if I didn’t have to do all of that; but sorry, there is nothing that makes me special. That is suffering. That you understand when you realize the truth about this body and that you are going to have to deal with it. I am going to have to deal with the fact that I am old. If I have a sickness, I am going to have to accept it and deal with it. It’s just reality and nothing special about me that I don’t have to deal with it or I don’t have to undergo all the difficulties that are entailed with taking care of the body.
Gaining the discriminating awareness that the body lacks an impossible soul eliminates the distorted way of considering the body, which lacks a subtle impossible soul, as having a subtle impossible soul.
These are the four aspects of the first noble truth, the truth of suffering that we try to focus on when we do this close placement of mindfulness on the body. The body is impermanent, miserable, devoid of a coarse impossible “me” and lacks a subtle impossible “me.”
Review of Meditation of the Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Body
To review, whether we are talking about our body or the physical sensations we have, they’re changing from moment to moment, they’re miserable because of all these aspects, like we can’t depend on them, we never know what is coming next, things happening that we don’t want to happen to our bodies, and so on. For example, I might be trying to make my body very strong and healthy as an older man. I do a lot of physical exercise. I didn’t want to sprain my knee, but one day I lost my balance and fell down while I was trying to do squat with a very heavy weight on my shoulders and I sprained and banged my knee. So, we meet with some things that we don’t want to meet with. Why? It’s because of this body, this older body and I don’t have good balance and I fall down. If I didn’t have this type of body, I wouldn’t fall down and bang my knee. Then I rejoice because it only hurt for half a day and then went away. But, there’s no certainty that I won’t lose my balance and fall down again.
No certainty; we have to undergo birth. I mean really if I think about next lifetime, if I am fortunate enough to be a human, I have no interest whatsoever in being a baby and having to go to school again. Who wants to do that? As a baby and a child, I would have to learn so much and it would take so long before I would reach the point where I could actually do something significant of benefit to others. There’s just this whole period in between being at my prime in this life and in a next life. So, that’s really boring, isn’t it? But, I want to have a precious human rebirth and that is what comes along with it. It would be much better to be an enlightened being and have the type of body that even though it manifests as seeming like this ordinary type of human body, nevertheless doesn’t have those limitations.
Again, it’s non-static; it has all sorts of limitations associated with it and it’s not something that you can hold onto and possess and use and enjoy as a separate “me.” It’s not something that you can ignore and deal with just “me.” You have to deal with it and there is nothing special about “me.” I have to go through all the stages of the path to gain liberation and so on. There is nothing special about this body. So, that’s the meditation.
Short Guided Meditation on the Body
Let’s meditate again. Please take off you sock and look at your foot. A foot is really a very strange looking thing, if you think about it. It’s a good example because it smells and if you walk on the ground it gets dirty and if you’re not used to walking barefoot, then if you walk on sharp pebbles it hurts. Look at your foot and try to distinguish these characteristics of it.
It’s not a pure thing by any means, because you can also imagine the skin falling off and so on. The foot gets very dry and the skin cracks and if not washed in a long time it smells. It’s not very nice. And if you haven’t cut your nails, there’s nothing attractive to your foot.
Then distinguish the characteristic feature that it is changing all the time. It’s dependent on other things. Put it in tight shoes and it hurts. Take off the tight shoes and it feels better, but it doesn’t last. It gets cold, gets sweaty, and gets hot. Physical sensations are changing all the time.
It requires an awful lot of work to take care of it. You buy shoes, they wear out and then you have to buy new ones. With a child, the foot is constantly growing bigger so you have to buy new shoes every couple of months. That’s really expensive. You have to cut the nails and wash it and do so many things. You can get a blister when the shoes are too tight. There are a lot of problems associated with a foot like this and you are going to have another foot in each lifetime.
It’s not something that I can depend upon and make use of and enjoy, like there is some separate me inside and I am going to use these feet to go somewhere. That’s really weird. I want to go over there to the refrigerator. I’m going to use this foot to take me there? That’s really weird, isn’t it?
But I have to deal with the feet. I can’t think of me separate from this foot with all its problems and limitations. And there is nothing special about me. I have feet and I should be happy that I have feet. I have to take care of them.
So, the meditation is just really acknowledging the realty of this foot. It’s nothing that is so beautiful and clean and wonderful and it’s always going to work properly as if it were a perfect machine and not break down and I can just ignore the feet. I have to deal with them, get new shoes, and wash them.
Now try to put all of that together. This unclean foot is in the nature of true suffering and a true problem. You focus on the foot with that understanding. It’s not just perfect concentration of seeing it with one of these aspects, but with all four aspects. There is no certainty of what kind of foot you will have in your next life – a human one or a dog one, or maybe you’re reborn as a fish and have no feet. You will have to give up having a young healthy foot when you have an old foot and so on. It’s not as if there were a separate me and you can go to the store and get a new foot.
I was thinking how, if you are not very supple, there are places on your foot that you can’t really see very easily, so if you get a splinter on the outside part of your foot and you try to take it out, it’s very hard to actually see it to be able to take it out. It’s like having an itch in a place on your back that you can’t reach. These are some of the limitations that you acknowledge. The foot is not such a wonderful perfect thing, and this realization helps at least to overcome attachment to it. It helps get rid of this illusion that my foot or your foot is so beautiful. You know, someone that you are sexually attracted to, they have such beautiful feet? I mean, come on. Okay?
So, that’s a type of guided meditation to remind you of the various points. But the thing is that you should remember all of these points so you don’t need any guidance and you have the discipline to actually do the meditation and to maintain the mindfulness to remember it.
Another Way to Meditate on the Four Close Placements of Mindfulness
These four aspects of true sufferings – nonstatic, miserable, devoid of a coarse impossible “me,” and lacking a subtle impossible “me” – can also be applied to all fours objects of the close placement of mindfulness: the body, feelings, mind and all phenomena. All five aggregates are included among these four objects. The aggregate of forms of physical phenomena include the body, the aggregate of feelings includes the feelings, the aggregate of consciousness includes the six types of consciousness, and the aggregates of distinguishing and other affecting variables include all other nonstatic phenomena.
They are all changing all the time, so nonstatic. All of them are miserable in the sense that they uncontrollably recur and that you can’t count on any of them for lasting security. You have to give them up and they entail all sorts of other problems. And all of them are devoid of a coarse and subtle impossible “me.”
Note that being nonstatic, miserable and devoid of an impossible “me” are the three main characteristics that you learn to understand in the Theravada approach as well. Anicca is impermanence; dukkha is suffering; and anatta is no coarse or subtle self. It is the same type of structure as in the Mahayana presentation, just with a slightly different explanation.