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Body contemplation for first stage of Awakening...supported by the Suttas?

Hello all,

Are there any sutta references to support the Thai monastic teaching of body contemplation as the mode to the first stage of Awakening? I ask because, at Stream Entry, the first fetter of personality view is eliminated. Personality view is supported by clinging to all 5 aggregates (not just form). So one would imagine that the contemplation needed to attain freedom from this fetter would include all the aggregates, not just the body. Or perhaps I am misunderstanding the exact definition of “sakkaya ditthi”…

Many thanks.
Kind regards,
Vic

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I think the idea is that the body is the easiest to see as not self, and after that you can basically apply the same insight to the other 4 aggregates. I.e. the mind is not-self for the same reasons as the body; impermanence and suffering.

SN 12.61 seems to support the body as being the easiest; even an ordinary person can become disillusioned with the body.

But as SN 12.61 shows, seeing only the body, and not also the mind, as not self doesn’t go far enough. But I would think this would apply to people who have not heard the Buddha’s teachings.

I mean, it’s easy to forget how counter-intuitive the idea of the mind being non-self is. I don’t think the mind of any ordinary person would go there. On the other hand, once you have heard the non-self teaching of the Buddha, I don’t see how the mind could not go there, especially after seeing the body as not self.

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Thank you, Erik. This is a very helpful sutta. I am unclear on why there is a strong emphasis on only body contemplation (after samadhi) as the path to Stream Entry. Perhaps one of the Thai-trained monastics could comment on that at some point…

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The body is the subject recommended in the suttas by virtue of the fact that it is listed first in the Anapanasati and Satipatthana suttas. It is easier to comprehend impermanence in materiality than in mentality, and realization of impermanence is the leading factor in stream entry (SN 25).

" A comprehensive realization of impermanence is a distinctive feature of stream-entry. This is the case to such an extent that a stream-enterer is incapable of believing any phenomenon to be permanent."—Analayo

If the fetters are studied they show a movement to abandon clinging from body to mind to immaterial:

“There are 10 fetters tying beings to the wheel of existence, namely: (1) personality-belief (sakkáya-ditthi, q.v.), (2) sceptical doubt (vicikicchá q.v.), (3) clinging to mere rules and ritual (sílabbata-parámása; s. upádána), (4) sensuous craving (káma-rága, 4.v.), (5) ill-will (vyápáda), (6) craving for fine-material existence (rúpa-rága), (7) craving for immaterial existence (arúpa-rága), (8) conceit (mána, q.v.), (9) restlessness (uddhacca, q.v.), (10) ignorance (avijjá, q.v.). The first five of these are called ‘lower fetters’ (orambhágiya-samyojana), as they tie to the sensuous world. The latter 5 are called ‘higher fetters’ (uddhambhágiya-samyojana), as they tie to the higher worlds, i.e. the fine-material and immaterial world (A. IX, 67, 68; X. 13; D . 33, etc.).”—Nyanatiloka

The Buddha states unequivocally the body is the place where defilements manifest and are defeated:

"Monks, whoever develops & pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skillful qualities are on the side of clear knowing. Just as whoever pervades the great ocean with his awareness encompasses whatever rivulets flow down into the ocean, in the same way, whoever develops & pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skillful qualities are on the side of clear knowing.
“In whomever mindfulness immersed in the body is not developed, not pursued, Mara gains entry, Mara gains a foothold.”—MN 119

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Paul1, but is the realization of the impermanence of the form sankhara (and not the others) enough for Stream Entry? That’s my question…for it appears just as you stated, seeing impermanence in the body is easier…but is it sufficient? And one may say from Erik’s earlier reference (SN12.61) and also how Stream Entry is defined, probably not.

I have always struggled with this Sutta, the Anapanasati Sutta and the Satipatthana Sutta as there is so much overlap and they all seem to satisfy each other and say the same thing–have awareness imbued with wisdom, of all phenomena. The way I read MN119 is that one can use the body (including the breath) as the anchor of our awareness while being aware of all the other phenomenon. It even says so under the section on “Full Awareness”. And this process can lead to samadhi or be used for contemplation depending on one’s intention. The specific contemplations on foulness etc are to develop dispassion so as to let go of sensual attachments.

However, I wonder if I may be missing something fundamental; I am reading Ajahn Dtun’s autobiography and he has explained in detail how he used asubha contemplation of the body as the way to Awakening.

Thank you for your detailed response, Paul1. Please do share any other thoughts.

This is one aspect of the Thai Forest Tradition I’ve never understood, either. I sometimes wonder if Thai Forest monastics are even defining stream entry the same way the suttas are.

MN 44 quite plainly defines “sakkaya” as “the 5 grasping aggregates.”

UPDATE: since you brought up Ajahn Dtun, @Vic, his description of stream entry is mentioned here. His description of stream entry as " one who, to some extent, has let go of attachment to the body by clearly realizing that this body is not the mind and the mind is not the body" doesn’t seem like EBT stream entry at all.

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The body is more gross than feelings or mind, the advantage being it is easier to contemplate its impermanence:

“the sequence of the satipatthãna contemplations leads progressively from grosser to more subtle levels.11 This linear progression is not without practical relevance, since the body contemplations recommend themselves as a foundational exercise for building up a basis of sati, while the final contemplation of the four noble truths covers the experience of Nibbãna (the third noble truth concerning the cessation of dukkha) and thus corresponds to the culmination of any successful implementation of satipatthãna.”—Analayo

Mindfulness of the body is necessary in overcoming the gross fetters 1-5:

"Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, he would tether them to a strong post or stake.[1]

[…]

“Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding. We will steady it, consolidate it, and set about it properly.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”—SN 35.206

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I agree with you wholeheartedly, TheSynergist. And it’s not only Ajahn Dtun but also In the writings of Ajahn Thate talking about Ajahn Mun’s teaching, Stream-Entry appears to be letting go of the mind’s identification with the body. Although it appears that this is in contradiction with the EBTs, intuitively I feel that perhaps we are not understanding their approach fully and perhaps things are lost in the translation from Thai. Especially because all of the attained Thai masters stress citta- and dhamma-anupasana, so in a way they are constantly working with the other khandhas. Ajahn Dtun’s autobiography talks about this quite explicitly and he also states it clearly in almost all his Dhamma talks.

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@Vic — Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on here, whether this is a re-definition issue or a sloppy translation issue. I could see it going either way.

I agree, Thai forest masters do indeed stress full-blown anatta of all aggregates, not merely body/form. It’s just not clear to me about whether they make this a requirement for stream entry (as the Suttas seemingly do), or whether this is just something one accomplishes upon full awakening.

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Position of body contemplation regarding to 8 fold path, is represented in Satipatthana Sutta, as one of the foundations of mindfulness.
The detailed How-To guide of body contemplation is Kayagatasati Sutta, and more.

Upto until winner of 3rd path, we are attached to body. Hence upon rebirth, we will born with another body.

DeAttachment to subtle aggregates, like sense consciousness, mental fabrication, are only available to non-returners.

It is not same to dismiss other contemplation. We can contemplate mind activity, feeling too, but they are inevitably about form/body, or perception of form/body.

All lower 5 fetters are about identification of body and form, of this world.
Without a body, there is no desire for food, sex. There is no fear of death, there is no aversion or ill-will towards other beings.

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