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Overcoming Attachment to the Body

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness
Only as supports for practicing virtue 

The Buddha said that the body is, by nature, unclean and arises from impure causes. Our bodies are appropriated, contaminated physical aggregates which have to experience the sufferings of old age and death. At the very end, they only become food for vultures and worms.

We foolishly see our bodies as pleasant, as objects of attachment and we accumulate so much negative karma in order to sustain them, using them for meaningless activities. But, when the time of death comes, the Lord of Death will take them away from us against our wishes. When the great practitioners examine the body, they see no reason to be attached to it.

How should we sustain our bodies then? Remember the analogies of giving the servants wages when the servants work, or seeing the body as a boat for coming and going? We should sustain our bodies with the motivation of using them to engage in virtue.

Guntang Rinpoche said the same thing in his collection of advice. He described the body as like an autumn flower which deteriorates a little with each passing day. Therefore, there is no point in being attached to it and it is a mistake to sustain it out of attachment, as we will only accumulate negative karma by doing so.

No one is saying we should not take care of or sustain our bodies but we should not do so out of attachment. We need to sustain the body and we should know how to sustain the body. We should ensure that our bodies become supporting conditions for us to engage in virtue. That is how we should care for our bodies.

Grasping at unclean phenomena as clean

An example of our attachment to unclean phenomena is sexual desire. Our strong desire for the bodies of others is due to our erroneous conception grasping at them as clean when, in reality, they are unclean. Once we understand the filthy nature of the body, there is no basis for the arising of attachment.

The Buddha mentions in the sutras that our bodies are filth-making machines. We know this is true when we analyse this further. Our whole body is filled with so many unclean, unpleasant substances that it seems to be no more than a filth-producing factory. Yet, we have strong attachment to our own bodies. We need to meditate on this and when done well, it can definitely reduce our attachment to our bodies.

The sutras mention that the childish, grasping at unclean things to be clean, will even eat snot and pus, just like maggots who consume pus produced by the body due to their attachment. The sutras also mention that, when we leave our bodies alone – if we didn’t wash our bodies – they would stink. Yet we remain attached to our bodies as bees to honey.

One of the commentaries says that it is one of the greatest signs of our confusion and ignorance that we are attached to the bodies of others. This attachment is like someone taking refuge at the foot of a tree at night. In the darkness, he cannot see that the tree is surrounded by piles of dirty things and he may even sleep on top of this filth. At sunrise, when he can see clearly what he had slept on, he will be disgusted at the sight. In the same way, when we reflect and meditate on and realise the unclean nature of our bodies and the bodies of others, we will also be repelled and disgusted. Our attachment will then be reduced.

Our bodies are like hotel rooms

Gungtang Rinpoche reminds us that our bodies are like hotel rooms which we stay in for a limited period of time. Yet, for the sake of this “borrowed” body, we do many things to protect, improve and make it happy. At the end of the day, what does this “I,” the guest of this hotel room that we cherish so much, get in return? How much real happiness has this guest experienced? What about the suffering and the problems encountered by this “I”? We need to think about this.

We grasp at the body as being the “self” or belonging to the “self.” Based on these conceptions, we engage in many activities to ensure its happiness and freedom from suffering. But the suffering and problems persist and we never experience any everlasting happiness. Therefore, by understanding that our bodies are like hotel rooms, we should overcome our attachment to them.