How should "Kaya" in MN 119 be interpreted?

I have been reading “Mindfulness in Early Buddhism” by Tse-Fu Kuan. In it he says that “Kaya” can mean the whole of consciousness. I have always taken the reference to “body” below to mean tactile sensations

They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body.
‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī passasissāmī’ ti sikkhati;
MN 119

,but for purely practical reasons found it useful to try to expand it to all six senses. Needless to say this made me wonder if “kaya” in the quote actually was intended to mean the six sense bases of consciousness.

Here is a quote from Kuan:

The implication is that liberating insight results from proper recognition and even reorientation of one’s experience conditioned by the six senses. In the Sabba Sutta (SN IV 15) the Buddha says that the six senses and their objects are “the all.” This implies that our subjective experience is our “world.” Liberation consists in transformation of our “world” into a soteriological experience. Hamilton (2000: 107) says,

What really matters is understanding one’s experience: it is this, no more and no less, that brings liberating insight. And in focussing his teachings solely on the means to achieving that insight, the Buddha metaphorically relates the different aspects of what we think of as the world around us to one’s subjective experience.

Similarly, kayagata sati or kayasati is mindfulness directed to kaya, the locus of our subjective experience through the senses. Such mindfulness can transform our subjective experience, i.e. our “world,” and thereby enable us to achieve liberation by properly steering the cognitive process so that evil unwholesome states can be prevented from entering our “world.” Kayagata sati or kayasati is a general guideline or fundamental principle applied to the path to liberation, and is not restricted to those specific exercises, including those related to the physical body, given in different versions of the Kayagatasati Sutta

This seems reasonable to me, but I would like to know what our Pali and Chinese scholars think. Actually, everyone in welcome to chime in.

Hi @Raftafarian

If you look at the word sakkayaditthi, this is made up of three words:

  • sat: true
  • kaya: body
  • ditthi: view

Therefore it is often translated as self-view, identity-view or embodiment-view. This leads me to believe that while in many cases kaya will mean physical body, in some cases it might have a broader use. This would be similar to the way that the word body in English could be used in the sentence a body of work. If it is used in this broader sense, a body might also include consciousness. For instance, someone under the influence of sakkayadiththi may identify consciousness as self. In such a case, consciousness could become part of the self-body that is identified with, so to speak.


Sound reasonable :slightly_smiling_face:.

“Ma’am, they speak of this thing called ‘identity’.
“‘sakkāyo sakkāyo’ti, ayye, vuccati.

What is this identity that the Buddha spoke of?”
Katamo nu kho, ayye, sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā”ti?

“Visākha, the Buddha said that these five grasping aggregates are identity.
Pañca kho ime, āvuso visākha, upādānakkhandhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā,

That is: form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.

seyyathidaṁ—rūpupādānakkhandho, vedanupādānakkhandho, saññupādānakkhandho, saṅkhārupādānakkhandho, viññāṇupādānakkhandho.

The Buddha said that these five grasping aggregates are identity.”

Ime kho, āvuso visākha, pañcupādānakkhandhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā”ti.

MN 44

“But ma’am, how does identity view come about?”
“Kathaṁ panāyye, sakkāyadiṭṭhi hotī”ti?

They regard form as self, self as having form, form in self, or self in form.
rūpaṁ attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṁ vā attānaṁ, attani vā rūpaṁ, rūpasmiṁ vā attānaṁ.
They regard feeling …
Vedanaṁ …pe…
perception …
saññaṁ …
choices …
saṅkhāre …
consciousness as self, self as having consciousness, consciousness in self, or self in consciousness.
viññāṇaṁ attato samanupassati, viññāṇavantaṁ vā attānaṁ, attani vā viññāṇaṁ, viññāṇasmiṁ vā attānaṁ.
That’s how identity view comes about.”
Evaṁ kho, āvuso visākha, sakkāyadiṭṭhi hotī”ti.

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The quotes above and below convince me that if you want to dispell notions of the self, especially the more viseral embodied self, meditating on the whole of consiousness is the intent of the my quote from MN 119. It also drives home why it is so important to look at the source text.

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Yes, I often find that it helps to understand how the breath is related to states of mind and vice versa. So I tend to experience the whole body, as quoted below, by also noticing states of mind.

This is short on detail, it doesn’t mention that the unconditioned element is separate.

“This is called the All as a phenomenon to be abandoned.” Samyutta Nikaya 35.24

The word ‘kaya’ means ‘group’ or ‘collection’ therefore it seems it cannot refer to only consciousness.

What is quoted from MN 119 is part of the following sequence therefore it is unlikely it relates directly to the six senses.

It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut. They sit down cross-legged, with their body straight, and establish mindfulness right there. Just mindful, they breathe in. Mindful, they breathe out. When breathing in heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing in heavily.’ When breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’ When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ When breathing out lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing out lightly.’ They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing in stilling the body’s motion. They practice breathing out stilling the body’s motion. As they meditate like this—diligent, keen, and resolute—memories and thoughts of the lay life are given up. Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. That’s how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.

MN 119

The Pali for “world” is “loka” rather than “kaya”.

I am refering to the six sense bases of consciousness as a group.

It is possible that the word “body” is being used in two different senses here or that the term is being used metaphorically meaning to reduce effort or distractions. That said, I looked up saṅkhāra in the Online Pali English Dictionary and found this which, if I am correct (I am not sure this is applicable or not), would be exactly what I was hoping to find. It would be saying to relax the duality between subject and object within the six sense bases. If this is true

Sankhāra Sankhāra [fr. saŋ+kṛ , not Vedic, but as saŋskāra Epic & Class. Sk. meaning “preparation” and “sacrament,” also in philosophical literature "former impression, disposition, " cp. vāsanā] one of the most difficult terms in Buddhist metaphysics, in which the blending of the subjective-objective view of the world and of happening

This would lead to the state described to Bahiya where there is no you in that or by that, in between that.

I do not mean to dismiss what you are saying, but if kāyasaṅkhāra can be interpreted as relaxing/reducing the duality between subject and object within the six sense bases or even just reducing effort or distraction, I think it is worth considering. The fact that we have to unify the mind means it is partitioned. Partitioned into what? Subject and Object?

Again, I do acknowledge that what you said has merit.

PS Added later:

We are only ever directly aware of the world of our internal senses bases. When the Buddha talks about the arising and ceasing or the world it is the world we are conscious of (the internal world), not the external world which does not go away because we meditate.

Sounds like Hinduism. :slightly_smiling_face:

To clarify, it appears partitioned.

The EBTs seems to explicitly teach there are internal & external sense spheres (e.g. MN 148).

You appear to be suggesting there was something inherently “one” that became “partitioned”.

Ud 1.10
“In that case, Bāhiya, you should train like this: ‘In the seen will be merely the seen; in the heard will be merely the heard; in the thought will be merely the thought; in the known will be merely the known.’ That’s how you should train. When you have trained in this way, you won’t be ‘by that’. When you’re not ‘by that’, you won’t be ‘in that’. When you’re not ‘in that’, you won’t be in this world or the world beyond or between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.”

I consider this to be the most important verse in the canon. It tells us what the Buddha experiences and it should be our goal. When you reach the level he is at you won’t stand in relation to that or the world. Before that you do stand in relation to that and the world.

You are the subject and that and the world are objects before, but this dualism does not exist after. There is no you standing in relation to the world after.

Before the experience was effectively partitioned/split into you and that, but not after. When there is no partition/split there is unification of experience.

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I doubt the most important verse in the Canon would be spoken to a wanderer passing by.

It is not about whether one is a wanderer passing by or not.

It is about who can understand the teaching first with their developed faculties.

Bahiya has developed his faculties, just need the true dhamma to realize it.

If the above is the case, why was the same verse taught to an old monk the Buddha appeared to scold for his lack of training in SN 35.95?

Because his lack of training. :sweat_smile:

Some people like to hang around, but not focus on training.

Just look at current sangha, some like to preach (even they don’t understand yet), some like to comment about the world, some like to chant, some like the dana, some like to build, Etc, etc.

As, Buddha already said in SN 35.95. There is no need any other comment.

The reason why it is important is that out of the shelf of books that is the canon, this was how the Buddha summarized it. Clearly he thought it important. It’s like the Christian golden rule, the rest of the new the New Testament is commentary.

The common meaning of non-dualism seems to be something akin to oneness. In this case, there is still a you standing in relation to the world, in that you are one with the world (or all that is). There is still a locus of self that is indicative of clinging.

However, the Buddha’s version of non-dualism (I’m using this loosely as this is not really a Buddhist term) is when there is no centre at because identification ceases. This is not non-dual because the multiple become one, but rather because there is neither multiple nor one; technically, there may be no none either, because zero makes sense only in relationship to something.

I assume you were leaning towards this second kind of non-dualism when you said there is no you standing in relation to the world after; but I thought I’d offer the disambiguation in case.

Hmm. It seems like a stretch to read kaya to mean the whole mind, but your point is interesting, too. The six senses do get treated as synonymous with the world in some passages. Kaya, BTW, is also used for the “groups” of the six sets of six in Abhidharma. The six consciousnesses, contacts, feelings, etc. They all are psychological elements that relate to the six senses. So, that might be a context that entered the reading for ancient Buddhists. Words can have multiple meanings. Language is not math, and words don’t have single, fixed values all the time.

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The Patisambhidamagga interprets as follows: :saluting_face:

239 How is it that (5) he trains thus “I shall breathe in acquainted with the whole body [of breaths]” (6) he trains thus “I shall breathe out acquainted with the whole body [of breaths]”?

240 Body: there are two bodies: the mental body and the material body. What is the mental body? Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention, and mentality are the mental body, and also what are called cognizance formations: these are the mental body.

What is the material body? The four great entities and the materiality derived by clinging from the four great entities, in-breath and out-breath and the sign for anchoring [mindfulness], and also what are called body formations: this is the material body.

241 How is he acquainted with these bodies? When he understands unification of cognizance and non-distraction through long in-breaths, his mindfulness is established (founded). By means of that mindfulness and that knowledge he is acquainted with those bodies. When he understands unification of cognizance and non-distraction through long out-breaths, … through short in-breaths, … through short out-breaths, his mindfulness is established (founded). By means of that mindfulness and that knowledge he is acquainted with those bodies.

242 When he adverts, he is acquainted with those bodies. When he knows, he is acquainted with those bodies. When he sees, … reviews, … steadies his cognizance, … resolves with faith, … exerts energy, … establishes (founds) mindfulness, … concentrates cognizance, … When he understands with understanding, … When he directly knows what is to be directly known, … When he fully understands what is to be fully understood, … When he abandons what is to be abandoned, … When he develops what is to be developed, … When he realizes what is to be realized, he is acquainted with those bodies. That is how those bodies are experienced.