Contemplation of the corpse. In Theravadan Buddhism, sometimes it is understood that one of the best practices, at the time of dying, is the four foundations for awareness, for attention. It is the one most conducive towards liberation, freedom. The time of dying is one of the best times, better late than never, to become free.
Sometimes this text we are studying is read at people's bedside when they are dying. Sometimes in Pali – they do not understand it – but somehow it is meant to be beneficial. Sometimes it is read after people die. So this text has a connection to death and dying. Here at the center of it is the contemplation of a corpse.
There was offered a small guided meditation with this as a reference point. I do not know if I set it up well enough in the short amount of time we had. I would love to see some comments in the Chat. Brief comments – what it was like, if you were able to follow along with the dissolution of the body meditation. I'd like to know how this was received – what you learned from it – what benefit came from it. Take a couple of minutes here, and I will say a few words until they start appearing. I think here in the West, many people will emphasize the importance of the value of mindfulness of death and dying.
[Reads comments from the Chat] Here we go: "Daunting." "Freeing." "Got a sense of no-self." "Very powerful." "Got to the point of the big question, 'Who am I?'" "Made me smile." "Freeing." "Love preparing for my death." "Freeing." "We are not the body." "I found it profoundly freeing." "I noticed the dissolving of attachment." "Very beneficial but do it again." "Very powerful." "Tangible perspective." (They are going very fast now.) "The process helped with reducing fear of death." "Calming." "I pictured myself decaying in a field of flowers." "Felt like a deep knowing of our mortality." "The rising of deep compassion." "I thought I'd be afraid, but ended up in a puddle." "Beautiful." "Spacious." "Onward leading." "First revisiting then very peaceful." "Freeing." "An insight into true reality." "Very spacious." "Hard to come back into my thinking mind." "I felt like I was in outer space." "Reassuring." "Connection to nature and the universe is powerful and comforting." "Body is not myself." "Connected," "Was very light, nonattached, free." "Powerful." "Helpful." "New and different." "Dissolving into space." "Was able to follow." "Peaceful." "I want to go back and listen to the whole series – thank you." "Will have green burial." "Just following breath, pouring in teaching but I was not so ready to take this to my heart." "I wasn't into it." "My body was blown into the wind; identification with a self disappeared." "Spacious." "Really good work." "The sense of increasing space awareness was quite profound." "Each layer became more and more spacious." "Very calm." "Body just a vessel." "Experience of emptiness." "Relieving."
Great. Thank you for those who wrote that. I know that this was not going to work for everyone. For those of you who might have found it not so peaceful or nice, hopefully you can just put aside this part of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. We will leave this behind, when we move to the second foundation next week. Before I go on, I just want to mention that I will not be here Monday so we will not have the 7am sitting this coming Monday. We will start again on Tuesday.
That is when we start with the feeling tones, the second foundation for awareness, for mindfulness. This is often considered the pivotal part of the Satipaṭṭhāna. I will talk about how structurally, and in different ways, it is pivotal to a huge transition that is going to happen in the practice as we go from the body to the mind.
Many Western dharma teachers will talk about mindfulness of death, as a way of cherishing that we are alive – appreciating we are alive, enjoying it, and being with it more fully. That is certainly a wonderful thing to do. I think the tradition tends to focus on it more in the way that it helps us let go of attachment – attachment to self, attachment to the body, and particularly attachments to concepts and ideas. All attachments will keep us from sinking deeply into the Satipaṭṭhāna, into this awareness practice that we are cultivating and developing.
Some people find that the Satipaṭṭhāna contemplation of the corpse is a very engaging visualization practice. Some people, who visualize well, find that they get really concentrated by doing this. The contemplation has nine parts. With this structure of nine parts of dissolution, going through it over and over again, some people get very concentrated. And one thing that supports awareness practice is concentration.
The idea is to get the mind concentrated enough, so we can do the refrain. We do not have to worry about the mind wandering off anymore. We can just settle back and observe our experience in a deep way. We let go of the corpse meditation at that point. When we set back in this deep concentrated state, one of the things we observe is the arising and disappearing – the arising and dissolving of sensations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
This contemplation of the corpse prepares the ground for that. Sometimes it is disorienting for people to see everything dissolving, and then appearing, dissolving and disappearing. That can happen when the mind is very still and quiet, and not organized around ideas, concepts, and attachments. The corpse meditation also prepares the ground for the deeper dimensions of the refrain, deeper dimensions of the practice as it opens up. It makes it easier – more comfortable or easier to go through – when everything just appears to be arising and passing, arising and dissolving.
Satipaṭṭhāna helps us to appreciate this life – to live in the lived experience. The only place we can know we are alive is here and now. The sensations of our body, our thoughts, our feelings, are the manifestation of life, of being alive. To really appreciate that, so we show up for it and are present for it. Do not miss it, by being in thoughts and ideas, and being too busy. We begin being present in such a way that we feel more acutely. We feel more sensitively the arising and passing of things, so we can let go of the attachments we have.
As we let go of more and more attachments, Satipaṭṭhāna becomes better and better. It becomes richer and more wonderful. Occasionally it will be frightening. The corpse meditation prepares the ground – that it is okay to let go. It is safe to let go. We can let go of everything.
Thank you. Thank you for the comments that you wrote. I was not able to read all of them – they came so fast. But we are finished now. I will go and read them all, and see what you said. I look forward to being here on Tuesday to continue with Satipaṭṭhāna.
Given that what we did today was contemplation of a corpse and dying, maybe you should be a little bit careful with yourself for the next hour or two, or for the day. This can be very tender and touching, sometimes challenging, and even disturbing. So, care for yourself and err on the side of being slow, calm, loving, and caring. Do some nice things for yourself. Go walk around the block and get yourself a little bit more grounded if you need to.
If you feel spacious and wonderful, stay close to it. Stay close to the spaciousness and peace. One of the great things to do when you are peaceful is to practice. Live your life at the speed of peace – meaning, doing things, go at the speed of whatever you are doing so you do not dissipate the peace. Stay close to it. Thank you all.