Kāye in 'kāye kāyānupassī viharati' not spacial locative - no such thing as 'body in the body'

Regarding the phrase ‘kāye kāyānupassī viharati’, I have been made aware that Bhikkhu Bodhi considers a literal translation to be “He dwells as a body-contemplator in relation to the body.” But that he does not choose that because it is awkward in English. However, does this not give a very different meaning?

The reasoning I have heard is that ‘kāye’ is not a spacial locative, and ‘anupassī’ of ‘kāyānupassī’ is not a verb - anupassī being the nominative singular of anupassin. The only verb here is ‘viharati’.

So basically, put in normal English, does this not just mean that the person is ‘contemplating the body’? As a ‘body-contemplator’ would?

Is this whole idea of “contemplating the body in the body” not just an invented confusion caused by English mistranslation?

I would be keen to hear people’s thoughts on this.

James I can’t quite understand what your two comments mean. In case you are wanting clarification, I am interested in the interpretation of the grammar as I detailed above, on whether any experts of Pāli here either agree or disagree on the point of view which I have shared.

James out of interest, why do you write in verse?
To answer your question, I do not define either of those. And if that is not what the Pāli means, I would find no need to define them. My interest here was in translating the Pāli which I quoted above.

Did you have some insight into the Pāli’s grammar?

Sorry , just wondering if you
understand the meaning of it
you probably could find
out a correct translation

I am interested in the meaning of the Pāli.

Hi Senryu,

Yes, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi explains this in the footnote 197 to his translation of AN 1.403.

It does give a different meaning.

Yes, it’s a confusion.

As Ole Holten Pind (one of the authors of Critical Pali Dictionary) wrote:

The monk contemplates the body as body, not in the body, which would lead to
absurd conclusions. The locative has this particular function in this and
many other cases.

The practice is explained in Atthakatha:

Why is the word “body” used twice in the phrase: “Contemplating the body in the body?” For determining the object and isolating it, and for the sifting out thoroughly [vinibbhoga] of the apparently compact [ghana] nature of things like continuity [santati].

Because there is no contemplating of feeling, consciousness nor mental objects in the body, but just the contemplating of the body only, determination through isolation is set forth by the pointing out of the way of contemplating the body only in the property called the body.


Is this explanation still not problematic? Because it takes ‘contemplate’ as the verb, whereas the only verb in the Pāli there is ‘abide’, not ‘contemplate’ as Ole is implying.

So is this still not a problem? If we change ‘contemplator’ to a verb and yet keep the two mentions of ‘body’, we still retain the same problem, merely in a different form, no? He’s just changed ‘body in body’ to ‘body as body’. But are both not alien to the Pāli?

If we keep to the Pāli and translate it literally, do we not have “He dwells as a body-contemplator in relation to the body.” as Bodhi wrote, and as you have agreed @Nibbanka, and so then to communicate that meaning into better (or more ‘suitable’ or ‘natural’) English, is not ‘body as body’ wrong? Would not “He dwells contemplating his/the body” be more accurate to represent the Pāli meaning? Because a) on the one side we have someone dwelling as a body-contemplator, and b) on the other we have the object of contemplation, which is the body. So we have a) someone contemplating b) the body.

@Sujato I wonder what you feel about this? Forgive me if you have already stated your view somewhere.

Ole Holten Pind is a foremost expert in Pāli and he knows what he is talking about. Naturally, he renders explains Pāli “anupassī” with English verb, since English doesn’t have directly equivalent grammatical form.


Ven. Thanissaro puts it well:

This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself.

In more detail this is explained in the quote from the Commentary given above.

Sorry, guys, but none of these explanations are really reliable. What it really means is “observing an aspect of the body”. The traditional explanations are driven by the false assumption that the phrase refers to a process of vipassanā, and this has influenced modern translators. I discussed this in some detail in A History of Mindfulness.

As to the use of viharati, this kind of periphrastic construction is extremely common in Pali, and no-one would insist on trying to transpose it literally into English. Compare English constructions like “get out”, “make up”, and so on.


Would it not be ‘as a contemplator’? Of course this question concerns literalness. But I think literalness can be important as a step before putting it into real English.

Going back to what you said about Ole:

That implies that it is possible to contemplate the body not as body. So what are the other options? To contemplate the body as s feelings? Or a mind? That would not seem logical. So how does ‘body as body’ add any meaningful meaning to the English? I can’t see how it can. And I can’t see it in the Pāli either.

You said:
You [quote=“Nibbanka, post:9, topic:5605”]
The practice is explained in Atthakatha:

Why is the word “body” used twice in the phrase: “Contemplating the body in the body?” For determining the object and isolating it,

I can see logic in this, and would be interested if it is a correct analysis or not. If it is, then I would have thought a more reasonable way of expressing that would not be to implicate that it is possible to contemplate the body as something other than the body, which the above English does as I pointed out; but rather something like “he dwells contemplating only the body”, or “he dwells observing the body [and no other object]”, or something like that.

@Sujato you said:[quote=“sujato, post:12, topic:5605”]
Sorry, guys, but none of these explanations are really reliable. What it really means is “observing an aspect of the body”.

That sounds interesting. I just searched your wonderful book and found on page 86 that you translate it as “one dwells contemplating a body in the body…” Can you explain why the above analysis I have mentioned is wrong?

Also you explain anupassanā as a verbal noun, ‘contemplation’. But in this phrase, can you explain why it should not be regarded as being formed from the compound kāyānupassin, ‘body contemplator’? Your presentation is certainly interesting, but I would love to know a good reason to abandon this proposal about the meaning being, even if awkwardly expressed as ‘He dwells as a body-contemplator in relation to the body,’ or any more natural English which we might derive from that meaning.

Also you say in that text,

There has in recent years been doubt thrown on the accepted wisdom that the early Upanisads were pre-Buddhist. The standard list of Brahmanical texts in the Suttas does not mention the Upanisads. But one passage in the Tevijja Sutta, discussing contemporary controversies among the Brahmans, refers to Brahmanical schools teaching different paths.

Hasn’t Gombrich established that the Buddha knew certain Upanishads, and even quoted them or satirically referenced them? For example the Bṛhadāranyaka Upanisad. He has written for example: [There may be some problems with OCR in this copy and paste]

Some of the great modem scholars of Buddhism have said that the Buddha had no direct knowledge of Vedic texts,1s but that is certainly wrong. The joke about how brahmins are bom satirizes the Puruçasükta, the text in which brahmins are said to originate from the mouth of the cosmic Man.,g There are similarly satirical allusions to the Brhadāranvaka Upaniçad. One example is the anecdote about Brahmā’s delusion that he created other beings. It occurs in the Brahmajdla-sutta2i) of the Dīgha-nikāva to explain why some people think that the world and the soul are partly eternal and partly not; but, as Rhys Davids points out in the footnote to his translation,21 it also occurs in the Majjhima- and Samyutta-nikayas and in the Jātākā - just what one would expect if my view of the preservation of the Buddhavacana is anywhere near the truth. Brahmā is reborn (in Rhys Davids’ words) “either because his span of years has passed or his merit is exhausted": he then gets lonely and upset and longs for company. Then, “either because their span of years had passed or their merit was exhausted", other beings are reborn alongside him. Post hoc. propter hoc, thinks silly old Brahma, and gets the idea that the other beings are his creation. 1 suppose that many who have read and even taught this passage (since it is in Warder’s Introduction to Pali)22 have noticed that this is just a satirical retelling of the creation myth in the Brhadàranyaka Upani$ad2i in which Brahma is lonely and afraid and so begets for company; but I am not aware that anyone has pointed it out in print.

However, it was not just to joke on peripheral topics that the Buddha referred to brahmin doctrines, notably as expressed in the Brhadàranyaka Upanisad. For many years 1 have tried to show in my teaching and lecturing that the Buddha presented central parts of his message, concerning kantma and the tilakkha a,24 as a set of antitheses to brahminical doctrine.25 1 shall need much more time to read and think about the texts before I can hope to expound this interpretation at full length, but in this paper 1 can at least indicate with a couple of illustrations the general argument.

I am by no means the first to have pointed out the importance of the Alagaddūpama-sutta.26 It was Mr. Norman, my teacher and fellow-contributor to the panel, who first demonstrated27 that it contains a deliberate refutation of Yâjnavalkya’s teaching in the Brhadàranyaka Upaniçad.

[I will skip some of his explanation… then…]
Mr. Norman has shown that passage B, in the light of passage A, must be understood as a satirical allusion to the identification of the world and the self - the identification which constitutes the most famous doctrine propounded in the Brhadāra vaka and Chândogya Upaniçads. That identification was the culmina tion of a theory of the equivalence between macrocosm and microcosm; the need for multiple, partial equivalences was short-circuited by identifying the soul/essence of the invidual and of the world. The Buddha in a sense kept the equivalence, or at least parallelism, for he argued against a single essence at either level and so made macrocosm and microcosm equally devoid of soul/essence.

There seem to be verbal echoes of Yâjnavalkya. The sixth wrong view in passage A is that after death 1 shall be nicco, dhuvo etc. Compare Brhadāra vaka Upani$ad 4.4,23: esa nitvo mahimā brāhma asva (the brāhma a here being one who has realized his identity with brahman); 4,4,20: aja ātmā mahān dhruvah. The third point of the tilakkha as, dukkha%is not men tioned here, but is of course opposed to ānanda, as at Brhadāra vaka Upaniçad 3,9,28: vijhānam ānandam brahma and 4,3,33: athaiça eva parama ānandah, e$a brahmalokah. It remains only to remind readers of the most important and closest parallel of all. The fifth wrong view is to identify with what has been di ham sutām matam vihhātam. What exactly is that? The answer is at Brhadāra vaka 4,5,6: ātmani khalv are dptfe srute mate vijhāte idam sarvam viditam. So here is the form of the microcosm-macrocosm equivalence to which the Buddha is alluding; and we can further see that his fifth wrong view is Yâjnavalkya’s realization of that identity in life, and his sixth the making real that identity at death. But, says the Buddha, this is something that does not exist (asat).

Doesn’t that show that he was in fact familiar with some of the Upanishads in a form that are at least recognisable to us today, even if they may have been earlier versions of the ones we have, not merely ‘Upanishadic ideas’ as you put it?

Do I? No-one’s perfect! These days I translate it as above.

You can, it just doesn’t make for a very good translation. You could say:

One dwells as a body-contemplator observing an aspect of the body

Incidentally, in such contexts I translate viharati as “meditates” rather than “dwells”.

Oh, I agree. I was probably being overly deferential to what were, at the time, some recent articles. For the record, I think large parts of the suttas are best understood as a direct response to the Upanishadic doctrines, and there are several passages that show a direct awareness of the early Upanishadic texts, especially the Brihadarannyaka.



Bhante ,

Does the double body ( bodies ) ,
was referring to , breathe ,
32 parts of the body , postures etc. ?

What about the feeling , mind and dhamma , the double here refer to ?

Yes, exactly. It’s a simple, concrete meaning. Each of these is an aspect of the body, or a part of the body, which one may choose to focus on at various times for meditation.

These would have a similar meaning. At any one time, one is focussing on a certain aspect of these various things.


Thank you

This has nothing to do with DO, and there is no evidence of sectarian interpolation in this passage: in fact it is completely consistent among all versions.


Isn’t that after some of
the Buddha disciples whom
practicing asubhas
committed suicide that
the Buddha later on discouraged
people from practicing it!
whereby encouraged the other to
practice mindfulness of breathing ?!

If so , will Buddha still include
the practice of asubhas in the
4 foundation of mindfulness ?

Yes, there is such a story, but I don’t see how it is relevant.

As a general rule, we shouldn’t argue from obscure or dubious passages to change the meaning of central and well-understand passages. Stories are there to illustrate certain aspects of the teaching as they play out in a particular situation. They are not meant to change what those teachings are.



Isn’t illogical for the Buddha to
include the practice of asubhas
in the 4 Foundation of mindfulness
after the suicidal incidents ?

Why should it be? Just because a practice was abused at one time does not mean that he rejected it entirely. Even in that story, he merely recommended that the monks do breath meditation. He never told anyone to stop contemplating the parts of the body altogether. Indeed, that practice is found in many, many places throughout the early texts of all traditions.

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Several of these practices are, in the suttas, described explicitly as applying to other persons, or physically outside oneself. These include the charnel ground contemplations, the elements, the contemplation of mind (= the knowledge of others’ minds), etc. Since no other explanation is found in the early texts, it seems reasonable to infer that this explanation was meant to be applied generally.

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