Reflection on the Unattractive

Ajahn Vajiro

Reflection on the Unattractive

I would like to offer some thoughts on the cultivation of asubha kammaṭṭhāna or ‘Reflection on The Unattractive’. We have a standard practice in the monastery of regularly reciting the asubha chant. This is recommended particularly for all samanas, all renunciates, but I would encourage everyone to consider it…Like any practice, however, it requires repeated application of effort to be effective. Often people do not particularly want to do asubha meditation yet it is a powerful and effective tool. It is worth noting as we consider this subject that traditionally this practice is to be combined with the cultivation of mettā-bhāvanā or meditation on the heart of loving-kindness.

What do you usually notice when you look at somebody? We dwell on the whole, give it a name. And of course this body that I carry around all the time is like everybody else’s body. You can notice how it grows a little older from one year to the next, develops bags, no longer works or holds together so well. You can see it starting to sag a little here and there, to wrinkle a little more, to become a little less taut.

You can also give time to noticing how and when the body comes into contact with things, and when things drop off it. Pause for a moment to notice how, as it moves through life, the body makes things a little dirtier; because that is its nature. You might make a special effort to keep things clean, but even as you are cleaning, something is oozing and making something else dirty. Contemplation of the body in this way is peaceful. It may not be particularly exciting, but I have found it very interesting.

Remember that throughout the practice our intention should be grounded in a sense of well-wishing, of kindness, a sense of ease and happiness, independent of conditions. How much of the pain and stress in your life has come from the way you view your body; your self-image? Observe the tendency to identify with the body and your thoughts about it – too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, not toned enough. All of this is a mistake, an error of perception in some way.

The body can also be viewed in another way that is more peaceful. There is just this to it – hair of the body, hair of the head, nails, teeth, skin. When these parts are seen separately, the body’s personality evaporates, and that is peaceful – at least, it is for me. The body is just this much; it is not supposed to be any other way. This is the way it works, what it shares with all animal bodies. All other creatures, from dust mites through to elephants and whales, the smallest to the biggest, do the same sorts of things and have the same basic components; they all move and interact with the environment and leave traces.

If asubha kammaṭṭhāna is practised in the right way I trust that it will lead to a wholesome sense of disenchantment, nibbidā, which is liberating. Nibbidā can be translated as disgust, and for some this carries a sense that it is somehow bad. But consider, ‘gusto’ is to do with ‘flavoursome’. Disgust is what arises when things lose their flavour, lose their enchantment or attraction, or capacity to hook and pull. When things are no longer tasty there is a sense of easefulness. That ease, that easefulness, that peace is an indication the practice is working.

This reflection by Ajahn Vajiro is from the book, Seeing the Way, Volume 2, “Asubha Practice.