Question about examining the body in MN119

Furthermore, a mendicant examines their own body, up from the soles of the feet and down from the tips of the hairs, wrapped in skin and full of many kinds of filth. ‘In this body there is head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, synovial fluid, urine.’

It’s as if there were a bag with openings at both ends, filled with various kinds of grains, such as fine rice, wheat, mung beans, peas, sesame, and ordinary rice. And someone with good eyesight were to open it and examine the contents: ‘These grains are fine rice, these are wheat, these are mung beans, these are peas, these are sesame, and these are ordinary rice.’ In the same way, a mendicant examines their own body, up from the soles of the feet and down from the tips of the hairs, wrapped in skin and full of many kinds of filth. … 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 too is how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.

I think the bhikkhu does not use his eyes to observe, but uses some special power. Does anyone have any ideas on this to share?

So body is like “a bag with openings at both ends”, but as far as I know, the only openings at feet and hair are pores. Does it mean that the bhikkhu look through these pores to see internal organs?

No, it means to use your imagination and tactile senses to methodically visualize each part of the body. The two openings are the beginning and ending of the digestive system.


It’s a visualisation exercise.


Yes, there is the nose/ mouth at one end and the anus at the other. The rest of the flesh and bones is simply wrapped around this central space.

(I’m a surgeon, so this is easy for me :grin: )

Potentially Disturbing information and link

At the age of 18, I went to medical school where eight of us were assigned a complete human cadaver which we methodically dissected down to the bare bones. Five days a week, 8 am - 12 pm for an entire year and a half…

If you have the stomach for it, you can get a taste of the experience by doing a Virtual autopsy.)


The purpose is to depersonalize the body, so one does not see it as “mine”, and therefore give up ownership to one of the most attached objects in our experience: our body.

By seeing that the body is its own system, that does things on its own without your permission, one can start depersonalizing.

Think about it, the only thing you really “control” with your body is put food in the mouth. If you don’t, the body will eventually die, if you do, it can maintain itself. You don’t control how much bile comes out, hair and nail growth, how the immune system responds, the heart muscle expands and contracts, skin oil production, etc… these are all autonomous systems, which work without your permission, so no self is required in the process.


I don’t think so. The reason you can’t control these things is because you haven’t really mastered them, the same way you control eating. Although we know that no-self is the nature of all things, the Buddha still teaches us to master ourselves.

Tell that to my bald brother in law, he would love to master hair growth


Yes, a great deal of suffering stems from identifying with the body as “me” and “mine”.

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It is done by visualization, which can be developed by first familiarizing oneself with the internal structure of the body from anatomy, beginning with the skeleton. Then with the help of tactile input the mind is immediately able to pinpoint and call up relevant parts. It’s a concentration exercise which begins with the third step of the Anapanasati sutta (MN 118).


Is it necessary to make an effort to visualize or is it enough to bring the “concept” to mind?

This meditation is taught as 32 Parts Meditation. You are meant to visualize each body part listed and, ultimately, allow the sign of repulsiveness to arise.

If you are interested:


As Philip Laibacher put it in “Immune”: