Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Taking an Honest Look at Disgusting Human Bodies

(8.57) If your main interest is in attractive forms,
Why do you not prefer to touch such things
As beautiful young flowers
Rather than desiring others’ bodies, which are just cages of filth?

We might object, we like to engage in sexual activities with others bodies because they are beautiful.  We are attracted to their beauty.  But flowers are also beautiful.  But they just don’t do it for us in the same that bodies do, do they?  We might like a pretty flower, but we don’t wish to engage in sexual intercourse with it. So it’s not the attractive form that pulls us in, is it? It cannot be just the attractive form because a young flower is an attractive form, it’s a beautiful form.

So what is it then? Again what is it about bodies? Compare that beautiful young flower with a cage of filth, we still go for the cage of filth. The cage of filth does it for us, flowers do not. Why? What is it that we’re actually interested in? Fascinating, isn’t it?  When we look and try find what exactly we are so attracted to, we find nothing.  When we try find what is worth copulating with, we find nothing.

(8.58) If you do not want to touch a place
Covered with impurities such as vomit,
Why do you want to touch the body
From which these impurities come?

(8.59) If you are not attached to what is unclean,
Why do you embrace others’ bodies,
Which come from impure blood and sperm
Within an unclean womb?

(8.60) You have no desire for the body of an insect, however small,
That emerges from a pile of dung;
So why do you desire a gross, impure body
That is produced from thirty-six impure substances?

(8.61) Not only do you not disparage
The impurity of your own body,
But, out of attachment to what is unclean,
You desire other bags of filth!

(8.62) Even pure medicinal herbs
And delicately cooked rice or vegetables
Will defile the ground on which they land
If they are spat out after having been in the mouth.

(8.63) Although the impurity of the body is obvious,
If you still have doubts, go to a burial ground
And reflect on the impurity of the corpses
That have been abandoned there.

(8.64) Once you have understood
That, when the skin is removed,
The body gives rise to great aversion,
How can you ever derive pleasure from it again?

We dislike anything, don’t we, that is filthy, unclean, contaminated, in some way. Such as the unpleasant things that come out of the body.  Yet the body is the very source of these things, the body is unclean, impure, contaminated. Again why do we like bodies that are by nature impure, unclean?   Why do we laugh when we hear these descriptions? Because we all do. … Why? Shantideva is just describing what our body is actually like. It’s filthy, it’s unclean. Why do we laugh?  We think perhaps the way Shantideva puts it seems absurd.  But is it?  Or is this not objective and our actual view is the one that is absurd.  I think reading descriptions like this make us nervous – we don’t want to take them on board because we don’t want to let go of our attachment, but we have to have some reaction, so we nervously laugh.  I think our self-cherishing feels cornered by Shatideva’s words.  I think we laugh because we don’t want to accept it, and we don’t want to look at it.  His words are true, and we try and spend our whole life pretending that they are not.

(8.65) The fragrance of another’s body comes from other sources,
Such as the sandalwood with which it is anointed;
So why are you attracted to a body
Because of scents that are not its own?

(8.66) Since in its natural state the body smells foul,
Would it not be better to have no attachment for it?
Why do those who crave the meaningless things of this world
Anoint this body with perfume?

(8.67) If the scent comes from perfume, such as sandalwood,
How can it come from the body?
Why be attached to others
Because of a scent that is not theirs?

(8.68) When left naked in its natural state,
The body is hideous, with long hair and nails,
Foul-smelling, yellowing teeth,
And a pervasive stench of dirt.

So perhaps it is the smell of the body that we’re attracted to?  No, that can’t be, bodies generally stink.  Perhaps it is the perfume on it. But if we like the perfume, then why are we attached to the body?  If we put perfume on a pillow, we wouldn’t be as attached. 

It is not the smell, so what is it, really?  We can see that Shantideva is engaging in a wisdom search for what, exactly, are we so attached to.  It is like trying to find an inherently existent object, when we search, we find nothing.  Here, Shantideva is using wisdom to search for what exactly it is we are attached to.  When we look with wisdom, we find nothing. 

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