Why contemplation of the body does not include certain body parts such as the brain,genitals,etc?

Hi Dhamma friends,

Firstly let me just say that I’m not an expert on anatomy at all since I’ve only done the “Anatomy I” class in College before I dropped out of Biomedical Science in order to fully pursue my Buddhist path :laughing:

But it seems that in ancient/classical India they had a really good understanding of anatomy, at least for that time, in order to know the existence of body parts/fluids such as the bile, synovial fluid, etc:

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.’

(passage is extracted from Bhante Sujato’s translation of MN10)

So I wonder why didn’t the Buddha include body parts such as the brain, the eyeballs, the genitals and even certain nerve bundles that can be seen with the naked eye?

Either the Buddha didn’t know them or didn’t include them for a specific reason.

In the case of the brain, maybe if one was exclusively observing the stages of decay of a corpse you would not see it since because the organ would already be completely decomposed before the skull started to fall part? BUT certainly someone would have seen the aftermath of a battle and on the fresh bodies there would be one with a fractured skull. Looking at it someone would have to wonder “What’s that inside it”??

And in the case of the genitals, maybe the Buddha didn’t include them because this contemplation would lead to lust. BUT there’s an opposite argument to be made: if you contemplate the genitals completely separated from the body it would look really disgusting and one would realize that it has no inherent attraction/beauty to it.

What do you think?

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I think it is probably explained firstly by the fact that if you named a thousand parts of the body it would be hard to remember and secondly by the fact that the intention of the meditation is to foster mindfulness, so the list moves from the surface of the body, which we have lots of nerve endings for, to progressively deeper layers, creating an effect of heightened whole body awareness that leverages our sensitivity to our skin to induce a full body state.

Basically the purpose of the text and the practice is not medical but meditative.

The brain is not included as at the time of writing of the Visuddhimagga they still didn’t know the correct function of it, and as described there attributed the material base of thought to the heart. In the canon however, no such base is ever localized. The most modern scientific view is that mind is an aspect of nature.

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Ahah, another biomed dropout. I dropped after anatomy II. We should start a club.

This list is an expansion of the four elements: in order, the earth element, then the water element. As already noted, the first ones are the ones you can see, the taca-pancaka.

You can expand it any way you want. Eyeballs are included under the earth element and eyeball juice is under the water element. You could even keep going to include the air element etc, but air is not normally considered to invoke the feeling of asubha.

Fairly sure this list was not meant to be exclusive. It might have been based on an earlier list or designed that way for easy memorisation.

EBTs know about the existence of the brain :brain:, which is a bit hard to avoid noticing when there are monks visiting charnel grounds where they see oozing brains etc.


Yeah, eyes always puzzled me too as they’re quite … erm… visible. The explanation I heard for “brain” was that it was considered “bone marrow” at the time… But yes, I think the list is supposed to gesture towards the material complexity of the body, not exhaust it. :man_shrugging:


Ok so I’m dumb because I forgot the parallels in Chinese:

Within this body of mine there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, rough and smooth
epidermis, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, large intestine, small
intestine, spleen, stomach, lumps of faeces, brain and brain stem, tears, sweat, saliva, pus,
blood, fat, marrow, mucus, phlegm, and urine.
(MĀ 98: 我此身中有髮, 髦, 爪, 齒, 麁細薄膚, 皮, 肉, 筋, 骨, 心, 腎, 肝, 肺, 大腸, 小腸, 脾,
胃, 摶糞, 腦及腦根, 淚, 汗, 涕唾, 膿, 血, 肪, 髓, 涎, 痰, 小便; adopting the variant 痰 instead
of 膽).

One contemplates that in this body there are body hairs, head hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh,
tendons, bones, bone marrow, brain, fat, intestines, stomach, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys; one
contemplates and knows them all. [There are also] faeces, urine, [whatever else] is produced
by digestion in the two receptacles, tears in the eyes, spittle, mucus, blood in the veins, fat,
and gall.
(EĀ 12.1: 觀此身有毛, 髮, 爪, 齒, 皮, 肉, 筋, 骨, 髓, 腦, 脂膏, 腸, 胃, 心, 肝, 脾, 腎之屬, 皆
悉觀知. 屎, 尿, 生熟二藏, 目淚, 唾, 涕, 血脈, 肪, 膽).

This is Venerable Analayo’s translation and I read it from an article of his entitled “Open Monitoring and mindfulness”.

So both the Madhyama Agama / Ekottara Agama mention the brain (the former also mentions the brain stem).

The MA parallel also mentions rough and smooth epidermis.
The EA parallel mentions tears in the eye but no the eye :joy:

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I think you are free to observe any part. A friend of mine asked at a Vipassana course why the groin is always skipped and was told that it’s just to avoid students getting focused on related thoughts or just making them feel nervous in general.

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Hi Sila-Samadhi,

The Buddha teach meditation and of course he would not be able to mention each part of the whole body. And if he did so it will be a very very long discourse that not even one man would bother to read.

Please see also MN.118. In it we have The 4 Tetrad and 16 Steps. In the 3rd Steps it says the ‘Whole Body’ and the whole means the whole. We could not say if the organ were not mention by The Buddha in MN.119 that it is not belong to our. The Buddha means the whole body not just those organs. Please take a look the External Parts, The Internal Parts, The External parts of The Internal parts & The Internal parts of The External parts. It is the whole body and it is millions of it.

In the end, each sutta correlated to one another. A Sutta explains another Sutta. On the other it also explained by another Sutta.

With metta, HSS

The brain and nerves are mostly fat, so probably comes under consideration of grease in the body.

The genitals and eyes are just flesh and blood and water - nothing special about them.