Discuss & Discover
How to Practice Sampajañña
Q & A
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I’d like to discuss a practice that may be related to sampajañña. That is, the practice of moving the awareness throughout the body (body scanning). Specifically, as a preliminary practice to awareness of the disposition of the body or bodily posture.
(Body scanning is practiced in the Goenka method, but also features in the yoga nidra technique of Satyānanda Saraswati. Yoga nidra is probably rooted in a more ancient tantric practice of nyasa (placement) where mantras were “placed” in different parts of the body (or subtle body). Tibetan Buddhism, being influenced by tantra and Kaśmir Śaivism, probably also has a few related practices as well.)
Basically, the idea is moving awareness throughout the body, part by part — right thumb, right index finger, right palm, etc. In technical terms this would be a somatosensory, particularly proprioceptive, awareness. Neurologists have mapped out the relative size of areas in the brain internally representing the somatosensory system, and it looks like this:
When this mapping of the relative size of somatosensory representation in the brain is put into a 3D model, the look of it is kind of shocking!
Handsome little guy, isn’t he?
As a quick aside, notice the amount of sensitivity in the mouth and hands. Does the amount of brain real-estate devoted to the hands have anything to do with the pleasant sensation in the hands some people are said to experience in jhāna? How about the area devoted the mouth, does this give any new consideration to the “around the mouth” interpretation of parimukhaṃ?
What I’d like to ask is if this practice of moving the awareness throughout the body — part by part — can be helpful to Dhamma practice. Many Buddhist teachers have taught “counting the breaths” and many other techniques which might be considered preliminary practices to the full awareness of the breath and the actual instructions of the ānāpānasati sutta; could this kind of segmented bodily awareness be considered a preliminary practice to the full awareness of the disposition/posture of the body?
On the other hand, could this actually be detrimental and antithetical to Dhamma practice. Could this lead to an increased sensitivity of the physical/sensual body and it’s pleasures? As opposed to seeing the unattractive nature of the body when contemplating it’s grosser parts, or the transiency of the body when contemplating a decomposing corpse.
Analayo’s two Satipatthana books go over this topic in some detail. The first book is available online5, but not the second.
I recommend them. The trick is to make sure one’s body meditation conforms to that tetrad of satipatthana, it seems to me. I used to do body scanning & such when learning to walk & roll in Budo Taijutsu, but I wouldn’t call it satipatthana at all.
Thanks Dave! I haven’t read any Anālayo yet, definitely on my list.
I used to do Booj as well, haha
Interesting points! However, rusty as I am from my neuroscience days, I think proprioception is related to more than just somatosensory input. (there is conscious and unconscious proprioception and even phantom proprioception!)
Futhermore, the somatosensory homunculus is related to sense input and in the case of the sensations in the lips and hands during meditation, I’m not sure what input you could identify? (Or ‘contact’ to use Buddhist language). Unless you are focusing specifically on the contact of hands with the other hand or lips with each other/air? I feel that ‘pleasant’ feeling as something different to this though. Although the increased innervation in these areas perhaps has something to do with it…
I guess there’s two things we’re dealing with here. The feelings that we receive when our sense organs come in contact with sense objects outside of meditation, and the feelings we perceive in meditation which may not necessarily be related to clear cut stimuli.
In meditation we are focusing on feelings inside the body and withdrawing from external contacts, so the sense ‘inputs’ are different, in my mind. Furthermore we are honing that awareness to just one area of contact - with our chosen meditation subject in an effort to establish unity of mind. I don’t think it’s ‘antithetical’ to work from this point of view because we have to start somewhere and I guess it’s gotta be in the sense sphere
“I personally find body scanning in the beginning of meditation very useful to bring the mind inside and detach from buzzing thoughts and what’s happening outside”- i think i have to agree this because i have personally experienced it as well