Where Buddhism Meets Gendlin

Month: February 2010

Kāyagatā Sutta (MN 119) – the Mindfulness of the Body Sutta

Mindfulness of the Body is often underrated. The disbelief or surprise – I imagine, even the skepticism – at this practice and teaching, the teaching of the power of mindfulness of the body, is hinted at in the beginning of the Kāyagatā Sutta, the Mindfulness of the Body Sutta, MN 119. I’m going to see if I can make the time to slowly translate it, with a commentary.

In the beginning of the sutta, the scene is set. This introduction is something like the later scene beginning the short Heart Sutra. The Buddha is meditating, and Avolokitesvara looks into the five skandhas and sees they are empty.

In this earlier Pāli sutta, the Kāyagatā Sutt, the morning almsround has has been completed and the monks are sitting around in the main hall talking after their meal. The Buddha, the Blessed One, is meditating in his hut, and the conversation in the hall turns to discussion of the Buddha’s claims about the power of mindfulness of the body. The monks’ are generally exclaiming, “Amazing! Wonderful! Marvellous! What the Blessed One says about mindfulness of the body is amazing.” One translation has it that they were in awe of the depth to which the Buddha had developed mindfulness of the body. We might well be astonished at the depth of his embodiment. So let’s add that into the atmosphere in the hall, as the Buddha, having risen from his meditation, enters the hall. The one who has seen into the nature of the body, the Blessed One, enters, and the monks go quiet.

Mindfulness of the Body is Rare

The following words from Almaas ring true, for me. People that I interact with daily are centred, for the most part, in the rarified atmosphere of their imaginal world; and some cannot at all grasp that there may be a difference between how they conceive their world to be, and their actual phenomenological, lived-world of embodied experience.

Douglas Harding’s Headlessness is a classic example – people think that the little buzzes and sensate squiggles in the space of awareness are directly a ‘head.’ They don’t get that this ‘head’ is a concept, a referring thing, meant to point to the actual experience. A typical seeker’s response, to a experiential inquiry question, is to go straight to conceptual understanding.

In an interview Almaas said: “Most people live in one part of themselves. They live in their thoughts, or their emotions. It is rare to find a human being who truly lives in his body. Most people are not that interested in their bodies, not in a real way. People are interested in their bodies in a superficial way. They take baths and go running, things like that. But to actually feel the body, sense it, make it a real part of themselves, that’s a different story.”

May all human beings inhabit their bodies.

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