"Horrified, repelled, and disgusted by this rotten body..."

Hello everyone.
Today I’ve read AN 9.11 Sīhanādasutta for the first time and was quite baffled by one phrase the Ven. Sariputta says there:

“Suppose there was a woman or man who was young, youthful, and fond of adornments, and had bathed their head. If the carcass of a snake or a dog or a human were hung around their neck, they’d be horrified, repelled, and disgusted. In the same way, I’m horrified, repelled, and disgusted by this rotten body”.

  1. But I thought that disgust and other negative feelings should be let go, not cultivated by arahants! I thought that equanimous feelings about our body (and everything else) are the best ones.
  2. As a person who struggles with anorexia I can say that disgust for our own body is NOT a healthy feeling. It can lead to horrible things.

Why did Ven. Sariputta say so?..


I am pretty sure there is a sutta where a bunch of monks kill themselves after doing asubha meditation too much. This technique is not for everyone, it was created for a specific demographic, at a specific time, in a very specific environment, people who had to adjust to the life of a celibate mendicant. For someone struggling with body image issues, perhaps loving kindnness meditation directed towards the self would be a much better practice. Also remember that asubha practice was always taught to a monastic audience in the suttas, never laypersons, so you’re not expected to see and experience the human body the way a monk or a nun is.

Different practices are designed and work for different people, so it would be wrong if not downright dangerous to expect everyone to practice the way a celibate mendicant from ancient India would. Find the practices that work for you, and focus on those. Someone struggling with anger and ill-will should do loving kindness meditation, someone struggling with concentration issues could do samatha, a husband considering cheating on his wife could contemplate the repulsiveness of the body, etc.

Those were my two cents, hope that helped.


May you be well!

Yes, this is very true, i feel. I feel this also needs more attention. Because we can see, like you truthfully say, perceiving the body as really ugly, with disgust, is not healthy.
The same one can see with people who really perceive the body as not me and not mine. They have great problems. It is not healthy at all.

Probably there is a huge difference between perceiving the body and feeling etc. as not me and mine and knowing with wisdom it is not me and not mine.

If perception become true, i would say, that is a failure of wisdom. Perceptions are never more then mere perceptions. I know from my own experience that perceptions can be very strong, and experienced as ‘how it really is’ but that is not true.

I have a standard perception that people always think bad about me. For me this is very strong and not easy to see as a mere perception, but still it is, ofcourse. Or not, oeps :blush: :heart_eyes:

Perception that become true is a problem. For example, if one practices asubha meditation on the body, and the body really becomes perceived as intrinsically foul and ugly, that is rather a failure of wisdom and not its succes. It leads to misery. It is like one has lost all wisdom in stead of won any wisdom.

The same with me and mine making, i feel. If one really sees and knows with wisdom that body and feelings etc are not me and mine, that is very different from making a daily habit of perceiving body and feeling etc as not me, not mine. That last is conditioning, but the first is seen with wisdom. That is not a gradual proces of conditioning at all.

The description is not an instruction. Ven. Sariputta is simply describing why he was incapable of doing what he was accused of by the other monk. He isn’t telling anyone to be, “horrified, repelled, and disgusted by this rotten body”, but it making it clear that his mastery of mindfulness of the body has resulted in such an understanding.

Furthermore, it seems that contemplation of ugly is for those with right view, and who are capable of handling that understanding with regard to a body that is already understood as not mine. An ordinary person doesn’t understand where the line is and will easily end up hating themselves as a result.


Sariputta has no aversion to the body even if he considers it to be vile.

I can give some analogies

Suppose one develops a severe allergy to some food one likes.

Then, knowing that one has an allergy for the food, one would classify the food as absolutely disagreeable. But one has no aversion of the food because it taste the same as before but one’s understanding of causality has changed.

Sariputta has no liking or disliking in regards to the body, but he wants to get rid of it. He knows it’s suffering that must run out it’s course properly.

This is somewhat simlar to how a pregnant woman who wants a child doesn’t cut herself up to speed things up, and even tho she understands that pregnancy is suffering she is not averse as to go abort it.

The things taste & look the same for the arahant but they understand everything constructed to be absolutely disagreaable and have subdued their aversion & desire in regards to their subjective experience.

To them the body is like some heap of straw somewhere, they don’t get happy or upset about how it looks, how it is or what is done to it.

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So, basically “It’s too complicated for the likes of you to understand”.
I really don’t like that kind of answer because it doesn’t explain anything. It’s like some Christian ministers say “You are too sinful to understand the Way of God” every time when their flock starts to question the Bible.
In suttas Buddha says many times that negative emotions and feelings should be let go - he says that to the monks, Sariputta included.
So, why does Sariputta have these feelings and talk about them like it’s something good?..
This is a simple enough question, I shouldn’t be Enlightened to understand the answer.

I have these questions because to follow the Dhamma I have to know where does the Dhamma lead, right?..
So I have to look at the arahants and if I see something strange and questionable in the suttas I have to understand it. I can’t follow the way if the people who walked it before me ended up hating themselves, for example.

But he said he was horrified of it. A pretty strong word for something you have no negative feeling about. Arahants don’t feel fear, - or do they?..
Maybe the translation makes it sound stronger that it is in Pali?..

You don’t get horrified, repelled and disgusted by the pile of straw, right?..
You get horrified, repelled and disgusted only by something which horrifies, repelles and disgusts you.

Hi Gert, all I’m saying is that AN 9.11 is not an instruction. It isn’t necessarily useful, especially on the level of inspiration, which it seems to be what you took it as intended to be. We can discuss asubha if you want, but that wasn’t clear from your post.

If you don’t mind, could we take a few steps back? Where does the Buddha describe asubha or other thoughts/feelings as a “negative emotion” to let go?

I don’t know Pali so I can’t say in what suttas it is “asubha” which is translated as “disgust” and “fear”.
Moreover, English is not my first language so it is really hard for me to work through all that terminology that changes from sutta to sutta and from one translator to another. (I wish they all just left Pali terms there with a Pali-English dictionary ready on the site).

Do you mean to say that in this exact sutta Sariputta speaks about asubha?.. So, it is a result of a special practice which is not for everyone (yes, I do remember a sutta about monks’ suicide) and not just usual repulsion and fear?

Hi Gert, in AN 9.11 his understanding of the ugliness of the body has already culminated in the freedom (AN 7.49), and he’s merely using it to point out why it was impossible for him to have attacked the other monk.

I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t discuss asubha. What I’m saying is that contemplation of ugly is not intended to be an ordinary practice. For those without the right view, the thought is going to apply to self and will aggravate a mind already bent on sensuality.

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To be clear - I neither said that you said that nor was I implying it.

And that is exactly what I needed to know, thank you.
The thing is, when you answer a question (any question!) with “Those without the Right View wouldn’t understand” it sounds like there is no explanation and you just shift the blame to the one who asked the question, saying they are just unprepared.
But when you say that it was asubha, it all becomes clear. That is a sufficient answer.

To say that pleasant feelings are a suffering is also a strong word, they actually consider it relatively painful because they have discerned something better.

One can say that it is not that they hate the body rather they don’t approve of it’s begetting and prefer extinguishment.

The analogies i gave are very limited but i wanted to show the difference between experiencing the emotion of being freightened and making a value judgement.

Perhaps you misunderstood me.

I didn’t say, “Gert, you just wouldn’t understand.”

I immediately qualified the statement when elaborating: “… with regard to a body that is already understood as not mine. An ordinary person doesn’t understand where the line is and will easily end up hating themselves as a result.”

That’s why it is fruitful for those with right view. That was an explanation.

Disgust here is not aversion. It’s dispassion that leads to enlightenment. In another sutta it says one should contemplate eating food & taste as if they are eating their own children due to hunger in a desert.

Desire → It’s good, It’s nice,beautiful and repeated grasping
Aversion → It’s bad, It’s ugly, should be destroyed - also repeated grasping
Ignorance → Doesn’t care and don’t think about it
Dispassion → Contemplate about it but without any grasping

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The problem here is the simile. The person with a dead body around their neck doesn’t feel dispassion about the dead body - they feel fear and disgust. And Ven. Sariputta says he feels the same as them.
I have a feeling this simile is not the best one, if honest.

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That’s why we are puthujjana. :slight_smile:
Remember how Nanda(SuttaCentral) before enlightenment says compared to deities human females are worse than monkey corpses. That’s the view of a person(still puthujjana) who has seen heaven.
Ven. Sariputta who has seen Nibbana should see human body worse than that.

Take for example a fly or maggot. It does not have a perception that a decaying stinking oozing body is not attractive and is also not repelled, disgusted by it. Probably it likes it. Finds it attractive, tasty, nice. Other beings too.

So, this shows, i feel, such perceptions of repulsiveness or attractiveness are something subjective. It depends on bhava and on personal things what is experienced as nice, ugly, beautiful etc. and what is repellend and not. It has never anything to do with wisdom or seeing things as they really are.

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Hi Gert, I do agree that it is confusing for Ven. Sariputta to claim the same disposition as an ordinary person, but the reason the simile is still very effective is because the young, beautiful person is disgusted with the random rotting carcass hanging on their neck, which is in complete opposition to their healthy and youthful body, which they hold dear. Ven. Sariputta is describing a degree of dispassion that the young person is only capable of generating towards that which is “foreign” and unwanted.

Also important to note that some of the similes in AN 9.11 mirror contemplation of elements found in other suttas, where the point seems to be, “How can this body, out there with other forms, subject to change, disease and death be dear?”

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I somehow get a feeling than Ven. Sariputta was so far gone from an ordinary person’s perspective (and he possibly didn’t presume that a layperson would hear this discourse or read it later) that he didn’t think how such a person could interpret this simile.
Maybe this is why.