Though separated by two Suttas, the Vijayasutta ([snp1.11]) might be considered as a pair with the Mettasutta, as the former teaches the meditation on love that overcomes hate, while this teaches the meditation on the parts of the body that overcomes desire (verse 11, kāye chandaṁ virājaye). I have observed that the Mettasutta appears to be meditation instructions for one who has already studied the texts, and the Vijayasutta makes this explicit, saying that the practice is for a wise mendicant who has “learned the Buddha’s words” (sutvāna buddhavacanaṁ).
Rather curiously, there is no explanation of the title vijaya (“victory”) in the Sutta or its commentary. The commentary gives an alternate title, kāyavicchandanikasutta, and I have incorporated this in my translation as it makes the sense plain.
The meditation on the body is found commonly in the Suttas, and here is expressed in poetic form. Indeed, it seems as if the poem was constructed to provide a poetic source for body contemplation that summarizes the relevant teachings of the Satipaṭṭhānasutta ([mn10]).
The Satipaṭṭhānasutta begins its list of body contemplations with mindfulness of breathing, then continues with a series of meditations. The poem falls naturally into four portions, each of which corresponds with a section on body contemplation, leaving aside the sections on mindfulness of breathing and the elements.
- Verse 1 is the contemplation of postures, which corresponds with the second and third sections on body contemplation.
- Verses 2–7 lay out the various parts of the body for contemplation, corresponding with the fourth section on body contemplation. There is the notable addition of the “hollow head filled with brains” which is lacking from [mn10] but found in later texts ([kp3:1.1], [mil3.1.1:3.40], [ps1.1:34.30], [ne17:11.2]).
- Verses 8–9 describe the rotting body in the charnel ground, as per the sixth section on body contemplation.
- Verses 10–14 describe the nature of the meditation itself and its benefits, corresponding to the refrains in the Satipaṭṭhānasutta that speak of comparing one’s own body with the corpse, contemplating internally and externally, and seeing it clearly for the sake of wisdom.
These parallels are too consistent to be a coincidence. The sections on body contemplation in the Satipaṭṭhānasutta are, however, widely variable in different versions of that text. The exact details seem to have been open for interpretation until quite a late date, which is why I consider it one of the latest prose texts in the canon. It is possible that the Vijayasutta was based on the Satipaṭṭhānasutta more-or-less as we have it today, with the addition of the “brain”. If this were the case, the text must be one of the latest additions to the Suttanipāta. Jayawickrama, in fact, regards it as one of the latest texts in the Suttanipāta, although he does not go into the reasons why.
It would seem likely that this poem was composed to ensure that students of the Suttanipāta had appropriate instructions on this important form of meditation. This thesis is supported, albeit obliquely, by the fact that in the final verse we find an emphasis on overcoming conceit, which is not mentioned in the Satipaṭṭhānasutta, but which is a major theme of the old portions of the Suttanipāta.
The text refers to the “nine streams” of liquid that flow from the body. This idea is found a few times in the Theragāthā ([thag4.4:1.3], [thag19.1:44.4], [thag20.1:6.3]). There, the meditation on the body is presented in a reflective way, as a personal response to the meditation. They do not list the parts of the body and hence, unlike the Vijayasutta, they do not sound like a meditation manual.
Verses 2–7, the second of the sections mentioned above, is found in the Nigrodhamigajātaka (Ja 12), not in the canonical verse portion, but in the commentary. There it is quoted as part of a series of verses spoken by the deeply spiritual wife of a merchant, who scorns her husband’s expectation that she get dressed up for a festival. This shows that this set of verses must have circulated with a degree of independence. Perhaps it was the kernel around which the whole sutta was formed.
Notably in this story, the woman herself is the agent of the telling, unlike the commentary to the Vijayasutta, where women’s bodies are the locus of desire for both the women themselves and the men who see them. The Sutta, as is normal in the early texts, specifically avoids any gendered description of the body. The contemplation does not objectify the bodies of women, or of anyone at all, but rather focusses inwards, on one’s own body, erasing the distinction between inner and outer, between “mine” and “theirs”.