My misunderstanding of the practice of repugnance


Please, I would like to clear up some misunderstandings I have about AN 4.163.

AN 4:163 talks about a practice where the monk perceives the repugnance of certain things.
However, I find this practice strange because I don’t feel that it’s based on an objective perception of things as they are, but rather consists of superimposing the label of “repugnance” on things, when in truth, things are in themselves neither repugnant nor non-repugnant, they simply are what they are, repugnance is just a state of mind that we project onto things.
So why should we develop this? Wouldn’t it be better to develop a simple, objective understanding of things, ridding ourselves of the labels we attach to things?

I suppose some people would say that repugnance can help to reduce attachment to sensual objects, and is therefore useful.
This is true, but it also seems that if the aversion is too strong, repugnance to the body can make you want to commit suicide when you see what a disgusting organic mess our bodies are.

Also, this sutta explains that the practice of repugnance is a painful one. So, if I understand correctly, the fact that this practice produces a painful feeling is not an obstacle to awakening?

Thanks in advance

May all beings perfect sila

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The standard answer I’ve seen repeated over the years is that the practice is an advanced practice for some advanced monastics only.


I found this in my notes:

SN 54.9: Vesālīsutta : At Vesali

A bunch of monastics independently decided to practice the repugnance meditation. They got so down and out from it that they committed suicide. When the Buddha heard about it he switched the survivors to anapanasati meditation.


Perhaps your issue is in the translation “repugnance” for paṭikūla. I prefer to translate it as “repulsiveness”, which is also how Aj Sujato translates it (now).

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But this is what the Buddha is actually teaching. When we see deeply into the three characteristics, we directly know the inherent dukkha of all conditional things/experiences.
SN12.125: “Whatever arises and ceases is only dukkha arising and ceasing. This is how right view is defined.”
SN 22.15: “What’s impermanent is suffering.”
Snp 3.12: “All the suffering that originates is caused by consciousness.; With the cessation of consciousness, there is no origination of suffering.

Due to this, the mind naturally develops nibbidā (often translated as disenchantment or disappointment with the conditional) → virāga (dispassion, fading away) → vimutti, (liberation from dukkha).
MN 128: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives.’”

In other words, if one deeply wishes to be free from all dukkha, one has to gradually practice to give up the habits of craving and grasping for anything, including sensual experiences.

As usual, habits can die hard, so there’s psychological resistance: “But why do I have to let go and give up attachments to things?” The Buddha said when he began to seek a way out of dukkha that his heart didn’t leap at this, (sorry, can’t recall the exact sutta citation now).

Without releasing the grip of “things” and experiences on the mind via clinging and craving, there’s no way out of the cycle of rebirth and samsāra. Citation: hundreds of other suttas. :slightly_smiling_face:


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Interesting, thank you Bhante, but don’t you feel that qualifying things as repulsive is also a way of arbitrarily labeling them, since things are not in themselves repulsive, but it’s the passions and desires of our mind that make them repulsive?

Interesting, your post has already cleared up a lot of my misunderstanding.
But still, I’d say that when we perceive things to be dukkha, we’re merely noticing something we’re already experiencing (dukkha), whereas in the case of repugnance, we’re not already experiencing repugnance, but the practice is creating that repugnance from scratch.

AN4.162 also deals with this. The pain is related to having a make up with strong tendencies to greed, hate and delusion. Such people in practise (in life) often feel the pain of acute greed, hate, delusion, or otherwise the painful results (vipaka) of having acted with such strong emotions.

Especially for them which such strong tendencies and also a slow development of inner powers, practice of Dhamma is not easy, but one can also say that for them life is not easy. It is like they live with a great inner fire and although they have correct instructions, they still have hardly any means to extinguish the fire. Their wisdom is still weak, faith, concentration, mindfulness, energy.

Painful practise seems to relate especially to people with these strong tendencies.

I do not think the sutta really means that the practice itself is producing painful feelings, but ofcourse it will not be easy to handle strong tendencies to greed, hate and delusion and the vipaka.

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Suppose a taste is nasty, such as of spoiled food, is that an emotional judgement?

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Agree, but so what?
When, as you wrote, we’re experiencing dukkha, why wouldn’t the mind develop disenchantment and dispassion (or, repugnance as you label it)?

Don’t we naturally develop this quality after touching a hot iron or flame? Maybe the flame was enticing and attractive. Then we stuck a finger in it, experienced pain/dukkha, and learned with repugnance never to do that again.
Same with sensual “things” and experiences that entice the mind to clinging and craving.

When we learned “repugnance” with respect to touching a flame, we ended that form of dukkha. When we learn this regarding all conditional things, we end all dukkha.

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The unpleasant feeling does not require the simultaneous existence of poisons of the mind. So unpleasant feeling is not emotional.

However, I don’t have the impression that the Buddha was aiming solely at spoiled food. I get the impression that it’s food in general that’s being targeted, not specifically food that causes an unpleasant (non-emotional) feeling; I get the impression that, for the Buddha, even beautiful and delicious food should be seen as repulsive: to me, this means that food is arbitrarily labelled as “repulsive”, when in fact it’s just an illusory mental state.

What I mean is that I understand the idea of developing the understanding of dukkha (since dukkha already exists anyway), but I find it strange to create suffering from scratch (creating repugnance is suffering since repugnance is suffering), because in my mind, suffering is something negative and impure.

Hi again,

As in my prior post, if what we’re doing by developing and contemplating nibbidā and virāga is understood as a skillful way to reduce and eventually extinguish dukkha – how is that dukkha itself? It’s more like cutting the chains that fetter us.
One can view them as guides that lead the mind to freedom.

I mean, the whole Path is conditional so these aspects are fundamentally a kind of dukkha. At the same time, dwelling in samadhi/jhana and enjoying the cultivation of the Brahmavihāras are wonderful and can temporarily lead to the absence of the hindrances, offering a taste of nibbāna, cetovimutti.
The amazing thing is how using some conditional aspects of body, speech, and mind, including renunciation, lead out of the cycle of suffering – ultimately extinguishing themselves in the process.
Ramana Maharshi, a sage of Advaita, said it’s like using a stick to stir the fire until the stick itself is consumed.

So it can be a happy thing for the mind to embrace the renouncing and letting go of what keeps it anchored to greed, anger, and ignorance, i.e. dukkha. :slightly_smiling_face:

It depends how we understand and frame this aspect of the Path.


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The Tikaṇḍakī Sutta (AN 5.144) has:

For what reason should a mendicant meditate perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive? ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed.’
For what reason should a mendicant meditate perceiving the unrepulsive in the repulsive? ‘May hate not arise in me for things that provoke hate.’
For what reason should a mendicant meditate staying equanimous, mindful and aware, rejecting both the repulsive and the unrepulsive? ‘May no greed for things that arouse greed, hate for things that provoke hate, or delusion for things that promote delusion arise in me in any way at all.’

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As the Suttas themselves make clear, it’s perception.

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This practice is quite effective in bringing about recognition of perception itself, and of perception as just perception.

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Yes, it’s true, it’s very interesting and wise what you’re saying. It’s true that we can use dukkha to destroy dukkha. It even seems to me that we can momentarily “increase dukkha and decrease our happiness”, and then cause a decrease in dukkha and an increase in happiness.
I think in the back of my mind, what made me reluctant to see the practice this way was a bad and terrifying experience I had. But I can’t say any more because the description of the practice is forbidden on this site.

Thank you Venerable.

I’m very sorry about the terrifying experience you had and I hope your mind is more peaceful now.

It’s true that we can’t share practice experiences on the open forum, but such a discussion might be allowed by directly, privately messaging someone on the forum, if you wish.
The moderators could clarify this.

Sending Metta and all best wishes to you :pray:

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Thank you for your kindness

I tend to see the teachings more and more as just skillful means, a raft. They do not pretend to be absolutely true or the only way to see things, but to bring you somewhere.

This also means i interpret it this way that the Buddha did not mean that the body literally is disgusting, or that literally there is no delight to find in the entire world (in fact he teaches there is) or that food is really only disgusting.

These are only means to compensate for the strong passions we often have for the body, for the world, for food. If we start to understand that those passions are not helpful and cause suffering, we need a means to treat them and deal wisely with them.

In my opinion the same with anicca, dukkha and anatta. Those are meant to remedy the usual perception of seeing something as nicca, sukha and atta which instigate the passions. So it is a cure for the passions, i believe.

But i do not believe that a Buddha all the time sees or understands everything as anicca, dukkha and anatta, or as not me, not mine, not myself. That would be a constant involvement in conceiving.

When the passions calm down and the mind is less and less involved in conceiving it can enter into the domain of direct knowing: rupa as rupa, vedana as vedana, sankhara as sankhara, sanna as sanna, vinnana as vinnana, Nibbana as Nibbana. Knowing without conceiving it as me or not me, etc.

What do you think?

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