Kāyagatāsati/Kāyānupassanā – Mindfulness Immersed in the Body?

Many modern teachers of meditation teach mindfulness immersed in the body as a felt experience of the body (in itself). Is there any EBT support for such an approach?

Venerable Bhikkhus Ānalayo and Sujato, in their comparative studies of satipaṭṭhāna have noted that the 32-parts of the body meditation seems to be the only body meditation that can unequivocally be said to be original. This meditation, to me at least, appears to be a method using abstracted visual imagery rather than a felt sense. How can you feel hair, bones, or spleen?

Along linguistic lines; gata apparently can have the meaning of traveling. Could we take this to mean that kāyagatāsati refers to mindfulness traveling in/throughout the body? The PTS dictionary says no, it simply means mindfulness in reference to the body.

I vaguely remember a sutta where the Buddha says that even if he taught for 100 years he still wouldn’t exhaust all the topics one could meditate on within the 4 foci for mindfulness, this would then open the door to any skillful and wholesome contemplation in connection with those 4 subjects. Seems like a cheap copout.

Anyway, does anyone have some more definitive sutta references justifying a ‘mindfulness immersed in the body’ approach?


Great question. And methinks there’s lots of tradition to rethink and retranslate: This “abstracted visual imagery” often tastes very materialistic and mechanistic to me. But we are organisms (not dead mechanisms) embedded in an organismic “cosmos”, planet Earth (forget about the universe beyond Earth, Sun, Moon). We are now at a crossroads in the history of Life (Rapid climate change. 6th Great Extinction. Resource depletion. Planetary carrying capacity overshoot. …). Earth is no longer flat and infinite for all practical purpose as it was in the Buddha’s time. This poses a fundamental challenge to practice and theory. My hunch is that the Buddha saw things quite right (not things, but processes establishing “things”) and was 2500y ahead of other philosophers (e.g. Whitehead’s process ontology). Lots of later calcification to be chipped away.

AN 4.45:
[When this was said, the Blessed One responded:] “I tell you, friend, that it is not possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one does not take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.”

AN 9.38:
I tell you, it isn’t through that sort of traveling that the end of the cosmos is known, seen, or reached. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos.

"These five strings of sensuality are, in the discipline of the noble ones, called the cosmos. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing; sounds cognizable via the ear… aromas cognizable via the nose… flavors cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. These are the five strings of sensuality that, in the discipline of the noble ones, are called the cosmos.

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16 APS (ana pana sati). step 3 and step 4. Ven. anālayo follows the straightforward interpretation kāya as an anatomical body.

In the MA parallel to MN 10, look under kaya anupassana. The 4 jhana similes are part of “kaya”. So the “kaya” within those similes are referring to mindfulness immersed in the anatomical body.

MN 119 is in agreement with the above. Where the 4 jhana similes are under kayanpassana, and kaya in every one of those 6 exercises are anatomical body.

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You could argue that the mindfulness of the 4 postures doesn’t belong in the 1st foundation of mindfulness and I think that is correct. However it does provide the closest practice to a body awareness we find in the suttas. However it is Samatha- tranquility practice in preparation for insight work.

"Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, ‘I am walking.’ When standing, he discerns, ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, he discerns, ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, he discerns, ‘I am lying down.’ Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it. MN10

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What is the objective of right mindfulness?
I think it is for the purpose of attaining Samma Samadhi.
So anything aid this purpose will do the trick.
However, mindfulness of breath appears to be the oldest method.

Mindfulness (sati): This is alertness, which makes us aware of what is happening to
us, from moment to moment, through the five physical senses and the mind.
Mindfulness is essential to insight meditation, when it must be conjoined with a clear
comprehension of the suitability, purpose, and conformity with reality of any action.
Then it is called right mindfulness (sammā sati). Usually the average person acts
without any form of mindfulness; his acts are prompted by force of habit. Right
mindfulness has two functions: one is to increase the power of recollection and the
other is to evaluate what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Right mindfulness
is a spiritual faculty that maintains a proper balance of the other faculties—faith,
energy, concentration and wisdom.


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Thanks for raising this question. But I don’t think that we can answer it properly through the suttas, because I’m quite sure that either important information went lost, or a minor term was blown up over the years…

  • ‘kāyagatāsati’ is the only term in the suttas that includes ‘…gatāsati’
  • ‘kāyagatāsati’ (or any ‘-gatāsati’) doesn’t appear in the vinaya
  • yes, the term appears a couple of times in the suttas, but only MN 119 makes a big deal out of the explanation. Almost anywhere else it’s just mentioned without proper explanation. I personally don’t trust content in ‘collection-suttas’ that can’t be found anywhere else
  • an exception is SN 35.247 which explains kāyagatāsati basically as the practice of sense restraint. This context is plausible to me
  • the other ‘content-sutta’ with kāyagatāsati is AN 9.11, to me a weird sutta with Sariputta’s lion’s roar which tells us that only ‘one who has not established mindfulness directed to the body in regard to his own body might strike a fellow monk and then set out on tour without apologizing.’ so kāyagatāsati makes you careful & polite?!

So to me it seems that the term was transmitted as an important practice, but I think the original meaning went lost, maybe it was the sense restraint of SN 35.247. For some reason the editors felt that it needed to be filled with important content and assembled MN 119. I come to this conclusion because I value SN and AN highly when it comes to authentic content. If you trust the MN of course you come to another conclusion.

Btw. it is virtually absent in the DN as well. Only DN 34 has in its #1-series “Which one thing is to be developed? Mindfulness with regard to the body, accompanied by pleasure” (also to be found in SN 16.11) - nothing else.

Btw. where does Kāyānupassanā appear except in the subtitles of MN 10? Did I miss anything, or is it basically an editorial term?


Your perspective here is a common point of disagreement in Buddhism. Here, similar to many, you are taking ‘mindfulness’ (‘sati’) to refer to ‘observation’, ‘sensing’ or ‘feeling’ (touching), namely, ‘anupassi’. Where as others regard ‘mindfulness’ (‘sati’) to refer to ‘remembering’ or ‘recollection’.

For example, the practise in MN 119 appears to be one of ‘remembering’ or ‘recollecting’:

‘In this body there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine.’

This appears to mean to ‘remember’ or ‘keep in mind’ the right view that the body is composed of unattractive, fragmented & impersonal things (rather than to think the body is attractive, personal & a holistic unity).


And what, monks, is the Faculty of Mindfulness? Here, monks, a noble disciple is mindful, endowed with superior mindfulness and carefulness, remembering and recalling what was done a long time ago and what was said a long time ago. He dwells contemplating (the true nature of) the body in the body… SN 48.10

Mindfully one abandons wrong view, mindfully one enters upon and abides in right view: this is one’s right mindfulness. MN 117


I think it’s just an editorial term, but each tetrad essentially contains those same words in adverb form. For example: MN 10

  1. “kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati?

= kāya anupassi


Thanks @frankk, indeed I didn’t pay attention to kāyānupassī

There are a few interesting references here.

  • SN 47.8 again (like SN 35.247) brings the nimittas into play. This time the good meditator picks up the ‘signs of concentration’ while doing kāye kāyānupassī and the other satipatthanas
  • SN 47.10: While doing kāye kāyānupassī, “there arises in him, based on the body, either a fever in the body or sluggishness of mind, or the mind is distracted outwardly. That bhikkhu should then direct his mind towards some inspiring nimitta
  • SN 47.37: “As he dwells thus contemplating the body in the body, whatever desire he has for the body is abandoned. With the abandoning of desire, the Deathless is realized.”… unspecific because same formula for all satipatthanas
  • SN 47.38 “As he dwells thus contemplating the body in the body, the body is fully understood. Because the body has been fully understood, the Deathless is realized.”… parts of the body?" … unspecific because same formula for all satipatthanas
  • DN 18 “As he thus dwells contemplating his own body as body, he becomes perfectly concentrated and perfectly serene.” (sammā samādhiyati, sammā vippasīdati)… I assume four jhanas
  • MN 125: “abide contemplating the body as a body, but do not think thoughts of sensual desire.” (mā ca kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ vitakkaṃ vitakkesī)
  • AN 6.117 places kāyānupassī again close to sense restraint as it locates its requirements at that part of the gradual training: no delight in sleep, no delight in company, guarding the doors of the sense faculties, and being moderate in eating.

The other appearances in the suttas are mostly indistinct as they use the same formulas for all satipatthanas. Or it’s just mentioned without explanation


Thanks for the research @Gabriel! This topic’s been carrying my attention for the past couple days and it’s been riveting to read the cross-section of excerpts mentioned here in the context of the pointed issues @SCMatt has raised.

For whatever it’s worth, the ‘agreeable/disagreeable’ in SN 35.247 finds some resonance with the “overcoming of like and dislike” in MN 119’s first of ten advantages, corroborating the point here.

As regards bringing nimitta into this, I take it that you connect it to the topic via “not grasping at signs or features” in the gradual training’s sense restraint sections. I mention to point out that the signs in The Cook and The Bhikkhunis’ Quarter are to be pursued rather than avoided.

But the way you present SN 47.8 and SN 47.10 above makes me consider the meaning of “inspiring nimitta” as like “inspired cooking ingredient” which is kind of interesting I think. :curry: :hot_pepper:

But speaking of SN 47.10 here’s my take on some of @SCMatt’s pointed questions. It’s not particularly rigorous, but I hope it’s worth considering:

  • In SN 47.10 there’re the -ārammaṇa compounds.
  • It’s a word we also find in MN 119 “[For someone with strong kāyagatāsati,] Māra does not gain access, does not gain ārammaṇa.”
  • It’s also one of the ‘samādhi skills’ in the Samādhi/Jhāna Saṃyutta, eg SN 34.41.

I think the available translation for SN 47.10 in trying to take the compound as adnominal ends up treating it kind of like a preposition or verb ("based on the body") whereas I’d posit that it’s perfectly fine as the agent noun to the main action of the clause (cf. Olendzki @ accesstoinsight.org).

I landed on “spot” to satisfy all three usages, although if I recall correctly there are still some incompatible usages of the word elsewhere.

Notwithstanding, what I end up with is, roughly speaking:

  • SN 47.10: A spot in the body starts to burn
  • SN 34: One can be skilled in the spots they focus on
  • MN 119: Māra does not gain access to the body, does not gain a spot in the body.

What I like is that this melds well with the arguably spatial similes that follow the occurrence in MN 119:

[details=MN 119 Similes Abridged (exp. tr.)]## Includes Qualia Conducive to Discovery

For whomever bodily mindfulness is developed and strengthened,
he includes within the abiding the skillful qualia which are conducive to discovery.

Like one who has pervaded awareness over a great ocean
includes within the abiding the rivers which constitute the ocean.

Māra Gains Access

For whomever bodily mindfulness is not developed and not strengthened,
Māra gains access, Māra gains a spot.

[1: Stone ball gains access to wet clay]
Suppose a man were to throw a heavy stone ball into a mound of moist clay.
That heavy stone ball would gain access to that mound of moist clay.

[2: Drillstick makes heat rubbing dry timber]
Like dry sapless timber,
and a man were to come along wielding a drillstick, like: ‘I will light a fire, I will make heat.’
That man rubbing such dry sapless timber would light a fire and make heat wielding a drillstick.

[3: Man gains deposit of water from empty jug]
Like a water-jug standing on a support, devoid & empty,
and a man were to come along carrying a load of water.
That man would gain a deposit of water.

Māra Gains No Access

For whomever bodily mindfulness is developed and strengthened,
Māra does not gain access, Māra does not gain a spot.

[1: Thread ball gains no access to strong door]
Suppose a man were to throw a light ball of thread against a door made from heartwood.
That light ball of thread would not gain access to that door made from heartwood.

[2: Drillstick makes no heat rubbing wet timber]
Like wet sappy timber,
and a man were to come along wielding a drillstick, like: ‘I will light a fire, I will make heat.’
That man rubbing such wet sappy timber would not light a fire and make heat wielding a drillstick.

[3: Man gains no deposit of water from full jug]
Like a water-jug standing on a support, full of water, brimming, drinkable by a crow,
and a man were to come along carrying a load of water.
That man would not gain a deposit of water.[/details]

And so I like to think of it like this:

  • With senses unrestrained, I imagine we react to external stimuli by ennervating certain areas (ārammaṇā?) along the nervous system(s) of the body while co-opting neuropathways for exteroception.

  • Kāyagatāsati, I imagine, would be strengthening the neuropathways for interoception (via mindfulness of breathing and objectionables?), proprioception (via four postures?), and kinaesthesia (via clear comprehension in action?)

  • I wouldn’t rule out the marrows of our bones being considered ‘connected’ to the nervous system somehow, along with hair follicles, nail cuticles, and gums…and I imagine there are those that can modulate their heart rate along these lines…

Mind you I’ve taken one bio course in my life and I’m certainly no MD (:point_right:@Mat).

But I’d been trying to read some long-form science articles earlier today:
(Article on etymology of “interoception”)
(Study that tries to isolate whether MBSR causes interoception brain changes)

[details=and a weak tangent…]I’d also like to mention that there’s an enigmatic ‘cattupada’ at the end of Kīṭāgiri MN 70; a sutta that begins with the Buddha admonishing a group of bhikkhus for questioning his injunction to take one meal a day. The starting bits about skillful and unskillful pains, pleasures and feelings resonate somewhat with the first two padas where (I say) an oddly specific list of body parts are “willingly” to remain.

kāmaṃ taco ca nhāru ca aṭṭhi ca avasissatu
sarīre upassussatu maṃsalohitaṃ

Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain,
and let the flesh and blood dry up on my body

I highlight to suggest: perhaps nirāmisa might be taken to mean “down to the bone” in some sense. :hushed:[/details]


Thanks @chansik_park for those new perspectives!

  • Regarding SN 47.8 and SN 35.247 that’s indeed what I meant: The first has nimittas to pursue, the latter has nimittas that shouldn’t be grasped

ārammaṇa is an interesting word! and we can find it in pre-buddhist texts, as ārambhaṇa or ārambaṇa , the classic translation there is “support”:

  • Rigveda RV 1.116.5: Then you two acted as heroes upon the unsupporting sea, which has no place to stand and nothing to grasp / anārambhaṇe … samudre
  • RV 182.6: The son of Tugra, thrust down within the waters, thrust forth into darkness that offered nothing to grab onto / anārambhaṇe
  • RV 7.104.3: Indra and Soma, spear the evil-doers within their hole out into darkness that offers nothing to hold onto / anārambhaṇe
  • RV 10.81.2: What was the resting place (adhiṣṭhānam)? Which one was providing support (ārambhaṇaṃ)? How was it?
  • Atharvaveda 8.4.3 (same as RV 7.104.3)
  • Satapatha Brahmana Where they draw that cup then that is like having a hold / tadārambhaṇavat
  • Brhadaranyaka-Upanisad 3.1.6: …when this intermediate region provides no support (anārambaṇam) of any kind, how does the patron of a sacrifice climb up to heaven?

I think that from these contexts the meaning of support/hold is justified. ‘Spot’ is maybe not far off, but it seems that it should include the ‘spot-to-hold/support’…

I can’t feel most of the items - where is my kidney or liver? can I feel a little bit of urine in my bladder, or some random pus under the skin? I hope it doesn’t mean that I’m doomed to fail in meditation :slight_smile:
In short: It seems clear to me that the exercise is an intense exposure to the conceptual unpleasantness of my own and others’ bodies, followed by detachment and dispassion.


RE: ārammaṇa

Thank you for the Sanskrit!
Forgoing “spot”, “foothold” seems to fit quite well.

I would humbly add that only a few years ago, I found it hard to imagine being able to be sensitive to my ‘philtrum’(?). While the purpose of dispassion for body is undeniably salient, I can only imagine just how viscerally you’d begin to know the locations of the internals of the human body observing corpses for days on end. Which…is the picture of the very original practice I get from the texts at any rate.

[details=In this vein…]In this vein, there’s a quote from the introduction of a book by a Kenneth G. Zysk (Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India, 1998) that I found very novel:

Medicine in the Buddhist monastery received special attention because, like the Christian monasteries and nunneries of the European Middle Ages, communities of Buddhist monks and nuns played a significant role in the institutionalization of medicine. Indeed, an understanding of the social history of Buddhism is incomplete without a full elucidation of Buddhism’s involvement in the healing arts. The codification of medical practices within the monastic rules accomplished perhaps the first systematization of Indian medical knowledge and probably provided the model for later handbooks of medical practice; the monk-healers’ extension of medical care to the populace and the appearance of specialized monastic structures serving as hospices and infirmaries increased the popularity of Buddhism and ensured ongoing support of the monasteries by the laity; and the integration of medicine into the curricula of major monastic universities made it a scholastic discipline. In India and elsewhere in Asia, Buddhism throughout its history maintained a close relationship with the healing arts, held healers in high esteem, and perhaps best exemplified the efficacious blending of medicine and religion. Even today, monks in the Buddhist countries of South and Southeast Asia treat patients for a variety of illnesses, and monasteries often include infirmaries in their compounds. This long-lasting union of religion and medicine in Buddhism contrasts sharply with their separation in Western civilization.

I wouldn’t be able to comment on the extent to which the texts corroborate the author’s theses however.[/details]

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Yes, it fits. Another slightly different idea is “grip”. I’ll look up some more pali passages later on to see what the context provides…

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