Overcoming Attachment to Body

The below article and practices are extractions from “Body speech and Mind” by Namgyal Rinpoche

Attachment to body speaks to an unbalanced cherishing of form, and an overemphasis of sensuality. You might expect that this speaks to the kind of arrogance where we dote on our bodies too much, but it can also speak to anxieties where we have a difficult time facing things in the moment, because we are not grounded in our bodies enough.

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Mindfulness of body is the first of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. We need to start with body, because it is our anchor in reality. Our thoughts, feelings, and states of mind originate in the body.

The practices below are external-insight meditations on the body that help us to view the body from outside as it really is. Remember that mindfulness of body doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy our bodies, but we are enjoying them fully realizing the reality of what they are, their impermanence, and their preciousness.

downloadPractice 1: Drawing the Skeleton

Draw the skeleton of the human body – the atthi. Get an anatomy art book from the library and copy various views of the body. Learn what your arms, legs, trunk, head are made of.

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downloadPractice 2: Watch documentaries 

Watch films about anatomy, the human body, or the history of human dissection and Da Vinci.

Alternatively or additionally, you can read books on the topic, ideally with life pictures of the human body.

downloadPractice 3: Skin, Flesh, Bones

With the above practices as background, Namgyal Rinpoche then suggests:

You can work at applying that knowledge to yourself when you do the visualization of bones, flesh, skin. Certainly to begin with, you should work with each category fairly slowly.

There are various ways of approaching this practice.

  1. Either you can work with visualizing the full skeleton, then the fleshy bits, the muscles and organs, and then the covering of skin (including the hair and nails) and then back again, reversing the other. You can do this three times.

2. Or you can do first the head area – atthi, mansam, taco; taco, mansam, atthi – then the trunk of the body, and then the arms and legs, the appendages […]

3. Or you might want to practice a third way, by moving from upper to middle to lower body regions.

While you are saying the mantra you should imagine or feel the location of that category in your body. Anatomical studies will give you a greater sense of where the various organs and so forth are found.

Atthi = bones

Mansam = the Pali word for the fleshy tissue and organs

Taco = the outer membrane, the skin and hair

As you say Atthi, visualize the skeleton; as you say Mansam, visualize the flesh, and as you say Taco, you work with the skin and hair. In the pause, reflect briefly on the state of mind, then go through Taco, Mansam, Atthi, with their visualizations.

The above meditation was often the first given to novice monks when they began their studies.

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