What does it mean "to dwell contemplating body in body... etc"?

Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. It is in this way, bhikkhus, that a bhikkhu is mindful.

This is a common phrase in the sutras . Why is there in need to say “body in body” etc .?


Hi Mevan, i’ve edited the title to make it easier on the eyes

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That’s fine. And Thanks.

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as far as your question is concerned, according to one reading i’m aware of, observing these phenomena a meditator sees them alone and not the ‘self’ or ‘him/herself’ or parts of the ‘self’ in them

grammatical features of the phrase may even be reminiscent of the Buddha’s advice to Bahiya (Ud 1.10) and Malunkyaputta (SN 35.95)

In what is seen there must be only what is seen, in what is heard there must be only what is heard, in what is thought there must be only what is thought, in what is cognized there must be only what is cognized.

diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissatī

compare MN 10

kāye kāyānupassī… vedanāsu vedanānupassī… citte cittānupassī… dhammesu dhammānupassī

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If you look at MN118, you have:

[The Buddha:] I say that this is a certain body among the bodies, namely, in-breathing and out-breathing.

If you look further at MN118, you see that there are four paragraphs for breath meditation that correspond to each foundation of mindfulness:

“Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’… -> body in the body

“He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing rapture’… -> feelings in feeling

“He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the mind’… -> mind in mind

“He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating impermanence’… -> dhammas in dhammas

So you can see that body in body, feeling in feeling, etc., means a certain aspect or collection of phenomena within the body, feelings, mind or dhammas.

The breath is a body [of phenomena] in the body. Rapture, pleasure etc, these are a certain subset of feelings among all feelings. Meditation and jhanas are a subset of all the types of possible mental experience. Impermanence and ‘fading away’ are certain Dhammas among all possible Dhammas :slight_smile:


In short this is how the term "kāye kāyānupassī " is translated. But supplementing what Erik_ODonnell has said above this refers to contemplating the breath in the three steps ie origination, continuation and ending or beginning, middle and end thus avoiding any break in mindfulness. I think the key here is to be very mindful in contemplating the four forms of reference ie Body, Feelings, Mind and Mind Objects.
With Metta

I am recalling (which can be dangerous) that I heard once that this use of language “body in the body” is only an anomaly in the Pali language, and that it can be read just as " “a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body.” I’ll try to find the source, but the suggestion was to not read anything into this repetitive use of the object in the Pali as meaning anything beyond the singular object itself.

I have heard Ajahn Brahm say this in one or two sutta readings.

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Raivo, thanks. Yes, you’re right, it was Ajahn Brahm, and it it must have come from one of the youtube Dhammaloka or BSWA Sutta Class videos. Good stuff.

I have always taken it to mean that all bodies are made up of constituent parts, from macroscopic, to microscopic, on down and past the molecular and subatomic levels. In this way it is made apparent that nothing exists inherently, that all things are just assemblages of various other things, which, when removed from the whole, bear little to no resemblance to the original body. For instance, a body (cells)in the body (literal human body). Since we are a conglomeration, no real self can be found.

With metta,



[quote=“LXNDR, post:4, topic:3255”]
as far as your question is concerned, according to one reading i’m aware of, observing these phenomena a meditator sees them alone and not the ‘self’ or ‘him/herself’ or parts of the ‘self’ in them…grammatical features of the phrase may even be reminiscent of the Buddha’s advice to Bahiya (Ud 1.10) and Malunkyaputta (SN 35.95)[/quote]
I find the above interpretation valuable, which I assume makes the phrase: “contemplating kaya as kaya” (rather than as ‘self’), which is also consistent with MN 10, which states:

Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance.


[quote=“Erik_ODonnell, post:5, topic:3255”]
If you look at MN118, you have:

[The Buddha:] I say that this is a certain body among the bodies, namely, in-breathing and out-breathing.[/quote]
To me, this is also a valid & valuable interpretation. However, a reason why this may not apply is this phrase with ‘aññatarāhaṃ’ (‘one of a certain number’) is not continued in each of the respective satipatthana, which respectively are:

Kāyesu kāyaññatarāhaṃ bhikkhave, evaṃ vadāmī: yadidaṃ assāsapassāsā.

I tell you that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body [group] among bodies [groups]…

Vedanāsu vedanaññatarāhaṃ bhikkhave, evaṃ vadāmi: yadidaṃ assāsapassāsānaṃ sādhukaṃ manasikāraṃ.

I tell you that this — [from] close attention to in-&-out breaths — is a certain feeling among feelings

Nāhaṃ bhikkhave, muṭṭhassatissa asampajānassa ānāpānasatibhāvanaṃ vadāmi

I don’t say that there is mindfulness of in-&-out breathing in one of confused mindfulness and no alertness…

So yaṃ taṃ abhijjhādomanassānaṃ pahānaṃ taṃ paññāya disvā sādhukaṃ ajjhupekkhitā hoti.

He who sees clearly with discernment the abandoning of greed & distress is one who oversees with equanimity…

For me, the phrase: “a certain body among the bodies, namely, in-breathing and out-breathing” applies to step 3, which I translate as experiencing “all bodies” (‘all bodies’ being the conditioning inter-relationship between nama-kaya, breath-kaya & rupa-kaya) rather than as experiencing the “whole body” (which in Pali I assume would be ‘kevala-kaya’ instead of ‘sabba-kaya’). The word ‘sabba’ is generally translated as ‘all’ rather than ‘whole’ (‘kevala’).

The above said, the Thai scholar monk Bhikkhu Budddhadasa translated ‘sabba kaya’ to mean ‘all bodies’ however, contrary to my personal preference, translated ‘kāye kāyānupassī’ as ‘contemplating body in bodies’.

I personally think the translation: ‘contemplating bodies as bodies’ is more aligned with the spirit of the (anatta-based) teachings, such as found in MN 1.


Having directly known air as air , he does not conceive himself as air , he does not conceive himself in air, he does not conceive himself apart from air, he does not conceive air to be ‘mine,’ he does not delight in air. Why is that? Because he has fully understood it, I say. MN 1


In the saṃyukta on the Four Bases of Mindfulness, contemplating the body as the body is never connected with the breath. The only sūtras that make this claim are those that are associated with ānāpāna. In the SA / SN, the saṃyukta for the Four Bases of Mindfulness describes the Four Bases of Mindfulness only as abstract contemplations, and never as ānāpāna, impurity contemplations, etc.

In my opinion, those are later additions that were basically “bolted on” to the Four Bases of Mindfulness, probably because the Four Bases of Mindfulness were considered the orthodox form of mindfulness that everyone agreed was definitely Buddhism. Mindfulness in the SA / SN is generally said to be summed up as the Four Bases of Mindfulness, and mindfulness is also repeated a number of times in the 37 dharmas conducive to Bodhi.

Also, the āgamas do not generally translate the phrase as “body in the body,” or anything like it. They translate it more like “body as the body,” or “body, body.” In this stock phrase, I don’t see any implication that there is a body inside another body, like a subtle body.

That is not to say that esoteric anatomy is irrelevant to early Buddhism, but just that it doesn’t take this form. As far as I can tell, the subtle body in early Buddhism is best represented in terms of the skandhas and the elements.


@Deeele, to me it seems that the best way to understand satipattahana is to use the suttas themselves. From MN118:

When mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness.

If mindfulness of breathing fulfills the FFoMs, it must be because through it one contemplates ‘body in body’, ‘feelings in feelings’, ‘mind in mind’ and ‘dhammas in dhammas’ (whatever this means).

If you look at the four paragraphs that describe the pracrice of mindfulness of breathing, the first is about the physical breath, the second about feelings, the third about the mind and the fourth about dhammas.

So, IMO, mindfulness of breathing goes through all the FFoMs when done properly. If the FFoMs are abstract, then mindfulness of breathing is an application - a practical example of how to apply the theory.

Bhante @Sujato also did a comparative study of the different satipatthana suttas, where he showed that a lot of the contemplations in the Pali Canon version of the sutta are missing in others.

I think the editors of the Pali suttas, over time, tacked onto MN 10 more things that they considered to be a body contemplation, feeling contemplation, mind contemplation and dhamma contemplation. (i.e. they tacked on the examples of how to apply the theory)

So IMO, abstract satipatthana is the theory, and then you have all the applications of that that theory; breath, postures, asubha, etc. these are all ways to practice satipatthana.

But IIRC, only asubha is in all the satipatthana suttas, and breath meditation is explicitly said to fulfill the FFoMs, so they are the best bets perhaps.

I can’t recall whether Bhante Sujato also made these points, so maybe I am just presenting his findings as my own opinon. You’ve been warned :slight_smile:

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Thank you Erik.

For me, the first paragraph is not only about the breath but also about how the state of mind influences the breath & the physical body and the mind itself in return (lesson 3). It is also about knowing the state of mind or method that calms the breath (lesson 4). I draw your attention to consider for yourself the meaning of the phrase: “She trains herself” used in every lesson starting from lesson 3. For me, this phrase: "He trains himself"means three trainings (sikkha) are present, namely, higher morality, higher concentration & higher wisdom. In other words, there must be more than mere concentration operating (as occurs in lessons 1 & 2). For me, the mind must see how the mind, breath & body are inter-related to the arising of & reduction of suffering.

Similarly, the 2nd paragraph appears to be not only about experiencing rapture (lesson 5) & happiness (lesson 6) but also about experiencing how rapture & happiness condition (sankhara) the mind (lesson 7; experiencing the citta sankhara). For example, rapture may cause the mind to be disturbed, attached, greedy or fearful towards the rapture; or to even lose concentration; or even believe oneself to be God or a Buddha;or to simply have delight or awe. Rapture (piti) can cause delusions to arise, where as happiness (sukha) makes the mind (citta) feel content. This is why vedana (feelings) are the ‘citta sankhara’ (MN 44 also). Knowing sankhara (conditioning) is part of these lessons; as well as knowing how to calm rapture (lesson 8).

Similarly, the 4th paragraph appears not only about continuously experiencing impermanence (lesson 13) but also about the effect this has on the mind, namely, resulting in dispassion (viraga; lesson 14); quenching of suffering (nirodha; lesson 15); & giving up (patinissaga; lesson 16).

I personally can’t see the value of merely knowing the breath, feelings or mental states. For me, practise must always relate to the mind & reducing/ending (mental) suffering.

Regards :slight_smile:


I am so sorry the explanation I gave above does not apply to “body in body”. But it applies to “sabbakaya patisamvedi”. Again I am sorry for the mistake.
With Metta

Perhaps it refers to the experience of “embodiment”? A lot of times we can live up in our heads, so to speak, kind of ignoring the body.

Also, do any of you think manomaya kāya has any relevance to the discussion here? While the mind-made body occurs in a totally different context, that is very clearly meant to be a body (even endowed with sense faculties) amongst the bodies.

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No worries !

With Metta

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 ‘body in the body’ not just an invented confusion caused by English mistranslation?

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


Thank you .

I didn’t get any response here about the grammar point I mentioned above, so I have made a new topic of it, to be found here: Kāye in ‘kāye kāyānupassī viharati’ not spacial locative - no such thing as ‘body in the body’