Have you ever seen the inside of a corpse? Can you visualize the layers of muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones in your shoulder, back, and legs? Do you know how many feet of intestines are packed into your abdomen? These may not sound like spiritual concerns, but contemplation of the body is a fundamental Buddhist practice.
Yesterday I joined seventeen students and dhamma friends for a field trip to the San Jose Tech Museum to see the exhibition of plastinates of human corpses. The Body Worlds exhibit offered us an opportunity to observe and contemplate the human body as a collection of parts, and reflect on the body as a conditioned process that is inevitably subject to death.
Before going to the museum, we offered a meal to a local Bhikkhuni and chanted the Satipatthana Sutta together, setting the stage for a contemplative perspective on the body. Clearly our own bodies are not so different than the corpses that we were seeing. Our own bodies are equally vulnerable to illness, disease, injury, aging, and death. With body parts so carefully exposed and preserved for viewing, we could easily reflect on our own body as a delicately arranged collection of conditioned processes, parts, and elements.
I was particularly struck by a display of intestines—there is just a lot of gut there—can’t help but wonder where my lunch was now. And there was an amazing presentation of the blood vessels of the whole body. If you take a moment now to just think about blood coursing through every inch of your body, you may for a brief moment gain a different sense of yourself.
Although people may think of themselves as being a personality, just a brief look into the human body invites us to ponder: am I this body? is this body mine? is there a self to be found anywhere?