Inviting Presence

Category: body

Meditating with the Body

Kāyasakkhī Sutta (The ‘Realising Through the Body’ Sutta)
Anguttara Nikāya, 9.43

Translated from the Pāli by Christopher J. Ash.

Questioner: “‘Realising the truth through the body,’ it is said. As described by the flourishing one, how is one realising truth though the body?”

Respondent: “Where, Friend, there is a practitioner, unattached to sensuality, unattached to non-skilful mental processes, who enters and abides in the first jhāna – where there is bliss and pleasure arising from being unattached, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation – when she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible, in this way, one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body, though provisionally.

“And so, with the allaying of directed thoughts and evaluations, she enters and abides in the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna… the dimension of immeasurable space… the dimension of immeasurable consciousness… the dimension of no-thingness… and the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception – when she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible, in this way, one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body, though provisionally.

“And so, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, she enters and remains in the cessation of perception and feeling. Then, seeing with discernment, her mental fermentations go to their total end, and she abides thus, in touch with her body in whatever way is possible. It is to this extent that one is described by the flourishing one as one realising through the body definitively.”

(See accesstoinsight for another translation.)

Ways of Seeing the Body

Elsewhere I said, to a group I’m in, something like: “What is clear from the experience of mindfulness, from this practice of immediacy, is that the lived body is not the body of science, nor the medical body; that it has gradations from (what might be called) course experience to very subtle. And instead of being a mere ‘housing’ for an owner, it has level upon level of intelligence of its own. Perhaps if humanity listened more attentively to the body’s wisdom, we might find a way forward in a way that respects nature, and doesn’t dominate it. Anyhow, at the very least, you and I can contribute by finding our way into belonging on the earth, by attuning to our bodies.” (I thought I’d share. I’m organizing my sites and blogs, and there’ll be some cross-posting.

An Aspiration

Jacob Needleman, always a servant of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, posted these words on the body, on his blog, at

“And what we are seeking is a body, a life on earth, in which our actions and behavior serve the higher impulses and intentions, the higher feelings, that constitute the heart of true human virtue. We are not simply searching for an improved version of moralist automatism nor for childish self-assertion masquerading as freedom. In a breathtakingly real sense, we are searching for a new kind of body, a body that has a new aim, a new purpose: voluntarily to serve the Good. And, to compound the mystery, in the search for a new kind of body within ourselves, there exists the possibility of discovering a new heart, source of love within ourselves that we have perhaps glimpsed within our lives, as in the legends where the seeker or the hunter has but one fleeting glimpse of a serenely beautiful face or a great winged being – a glimpse which, when understood, has the power to change entirely the direction of one’s life.”

– Excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Good

Touching Enlightenment

The expression ‘touching enlightenment with the body’ (used by Reggie Ray in his excellent book) is not modern; it has its antecedents in the Pali canon. (If anyone wanted to track them down, I’d refer them to Ch.4 Richard Gombrich’s ‘How Buddhism Began’ for lots of examples.)

For example, in the Kītagiri Sutta (MN70) we hear of “a certain kind of person who touches with her body those tranquil , immaterial states of release, states transcending form, and dwells in them…” (My translation, not Gombrich’s.) Therewith, her “taints are destroyed by insight.”

Another example, elsewhere, from Gombrich: Maha Cunda speaks of those who “touch the deathless state with their bodies and stay there.”

My point here is that it is important and very valuable to invite the meditating body to receive the formless states when they arise; to have them both there, both form and formlessness. The formless states bring a corresponding feeling which permeates the body, transforming it. My oral instruction to students, at such a time, goes something (à la Gendlin) like: “Let yourself have the kind of body that goes with this experience.”


It’s been a difficult few weeks for this body – a lot of pain; yet, the mindfulness has never left me. I’m so grateful for those who have introduced me to the practice.

“If one thing, O [Bhikkhus], is developed and cultivated, the body is calmed, the mind is calmed, discursive thoughts are quietened, and all wholesome states that partake of supreme knowledge reach fullness of development. What is that one thing? It is mindfulness directed to the body…” AN.I.xxi

Lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain due to pressure on some nerves in my left lower neck and left shoulder – a combination of stress and osteo-arthritis, it seems – and I’ve noticed that no matter how intense the pain becomes, I can go inside it. There is nothing to inhibit me going inside the pain to investigate the nature of reality (here in the form of physical pain), except, naturally, my conditioned preferences – the usual “I want…” and “I don’t want…”

Yesterday lying belly down on my chiropractor’s apparatus, arms dangling down at the sides, the pain was particularly severe, and so I went into it and asked the question that I used to guide my child with, when, as a little girl, she had her ‘growing pains’ (or as she called them, “the hurty-bendies”). That is: “Is the awareness itself painful?”

There is the object of awareness – here, it is the pain in the arm – but, right there co-existent with that pain, is awareness-in-itself painful. I couldn’t say ‘yes.’ It was awareness of pain. On ‘its own side’ (so to speak) the awareness was simply open and accomodating of deeper and deeper layers of the pain, until the pain was energy, vibrating energy. I didn’t take the opportunity right then, because too much else was going on; with my body being manipulated by the chiropractor – but, such moments are a good opportunity to inquire into the nature of things. The matter of exactly what is the quality of ‘unpleasant’ prior to or independent of preferences, for example.

And on reflection, there is no doubt that while I was turned towards the pain, rather than wishing it away, the discursive chatter had ended, and some wholesome states bending toward awakening were present, such as: investigation of reality, compassion, concentration.

And, of course, in terms of immediate benefit, the suffering of resisting the pain was absent. Good stuff.


Through my years of Buddhist practice, I’ve come to a very different understanding of the place of the body in our practice than I had when I set out. I’m struck with how powerful this practice statement by the Buddha is:

Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will develop and cultivate mindfulness directed to the body, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus, bhikkhus, should you train yourselves.”

I’ll post regular comments on the subject, to share an inquiry into this. And I’ll slowly collect texts – mostly from the Pali Nikayas (early Buddhist texts), but not exclusively – which support embodied meditation and mindfulness practice.

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