Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

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Bunjers
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Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Bunjers »

I would like to learn more about this reflection, how it is practiced in modern times, in monasteries and by meditating lay people. If any one has had experience with this reflection, perhaps if you practice it regularly, it would be great to hear in what ways it might have effected you or deepened your understanding.

I am aware that in some monasteries they have a skeleton, and in one talk the Ven. Ajahn mentions that at Wat Pah Nanachat at one time there was a foetus in a preserving jar donated to the monastery for the purpose of this reflection. I would guess funeral ceremonies also are a chance for monastics to contemplate anicca in this manner...

Bhikkhu Bodhi recommended (in his commentarial talks on the Satipatthana Sutta) to try and arrange to see an anatomy class as an equivalent to the charnel ground. This is a show from a Channel 4 series with some fascinating but very macabre dissection.

I have never seen a recently deceased person up close (for example in an open coffin) nor have I attended an anatomical dissection. I can imagine though that to be actually present in the room, as apposed to just watching it on a computer screen, would be a lot more scary and intense for me!

Ok thanks everyone will appreciate any thoughts :smile:
Gāravo ca nivāto ca, Santutthi ca kataññutā, Kālena dhammasavanam, Etam mangalamuttamam :anjali:

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cooran
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by cooran »

Hello Bunjers,

Some of us are fortunate to have worked in hospitals and seen the bodies of dead people. I have been with strangers who have died in the Emergency Department from various causes, and colleagues and patients who have died as in-patients. It has a ‘different’ feel when it is someone you know.

The most instructive experience was with a young South Pacific Islander family where the full-term baby was born dead (stillbirth) in the Birth Suite. The mother and family did not want the babe taken away by a funeral director, or placed in the morgue full-time. She remained in hospital for a number of days, with the baby’s body brought to her each morning (staff refrigerated it at night). I obtained permission for an ambulance to take her and the baby to her home, where the baby remained for some further days until receiving a burial in the local cemetery, as per their traditional cullture. It was interesting to watch the reactions of myself and other staff as the baby turned a darker colour and as a faint odour emanated from him. The mother and relatives (including young children) were not fazed in the least, and the baby was held at all times and treated with affection. There was grief – but not the aversion/almost fear often seen with westerners.
Our culture here in Australia is that the body be whisked out of sight to funeral parlour, and often ‘touched up’ with make-up to look ‘normal and life-like’, before being buried or cremated within as short a time as possible .

These may be relevant:
AN 6.19 Maranassati Sutta: Mindfulness of Death (1)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
AN 6.20 Maranassati Sutta: Mindfulness of Death (2)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The Section on the Nine Cemetery Contemplations
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... l#cemetery" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

The Nine Cemetery Contemplations
This meditation from the Satipatthana Sutta aids in breaking one's attachment to one's body and to the bodies of others. As long as there is any attachment, there will be suffering. With these contemplations, one realizes that oneself and everyone else will come to the same end. After viewing the corpse, one applies that consideration to one's own body. It breaks or shatters that complacent thought: "I'm going to live forever." "This body will continue on for all eternity." When that happens, irritation or anxiety arises. Then, a sense of detachment arises -- a realization that the body is based on causes and conditions and it will be gone when those causes and conditions are no longer present. The end result of this meditation is sense of lightness or happiness; that one is not bound up forever with this body. See also, the Satipatthana Sutta Commentary and I Know, But I Don't Know: The Contemplation of Death.

The following pictures of a corpse in various stages of decomposition (one to twelve) may be used in applying The Nine Cemetery Contemplations:
WARNING: GRAPHIC PICTURES.
http://silentmindopenheart.org/docs/cemetery/Death.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Ben
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Ben »

Bunjers wrote:I would like to learn more about this reflection, how it is practiced in modern times, in monasteries and by meditating lay people.
I had the opportunity to practice this years ago when for a three-month period, I was working for a funeral director. It was something that I did when I was left alone with a body.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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tiltbillings
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by tiltbillings »

It is a practice that should be done with care and with a teacher. It is potentially dangerous.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Ben
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Ben »

tiltbillings wrote:It is a practice that should be done with care and with a teacher. It is potentially dangerous.
I couldn't agree more.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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cooran
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by cooran »

Hello Tilt and Ben,

Can you be more explicit on what dangers you have actually seen materialise in meditators doing this practise? BTW, I'm assuming the meditator to have no mental illness to begin with.

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

Freawaru
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Freawaru »

cooran wrote:Hello Tilt and Ben,

Can you be more explicit on what dangers you have actually seen materialise in meditators doing this practise? BTW, I'm assuming the meditator to have no mental illness to begin with.

with metta
Chris
Hi Chris,

I know no one who has done this practice but to my knowledge the minds of most humans do not react well when confronted with their own mortality.
It breaks or shatters that complacent thought: "I'm going to live forever." "This body will continue on for all eternity." When that happens, irritation or anxiety arises. Then, a sense of detachment arises --
The general response of human minds is only the first one you describe. I doubt that there are many who - when for example diagnosed with cancer - move on to the detachment. But without the arising of the detachment of sati the charnel ground reflection is too similar to autosuggesting oneself to be a zombie to be healthy. I think there is a reason why it is the last contemplation of the body in the satipatthana sutta.

So, personally, I agree with Tilt and Ben.

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Bunjers
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Bunjers »

I can see how this could be a very powerful contemplation. Just after watching that Channel. 4 anatomy dissection, it's lingered in my imagination. The thought that just underneath the skin there's this mass of muscles and things! Of course I always knew that but I hadn't actually seen the body in that condition. It hasn't psychologically damaged me or anything haha but it's quite an eye-opener in so many ways :shock: There's another episode of the that series where they stretch out the digestive system across the room. It's one thing reciting the 32 body parts and another seeing them splayed out in front of you :thinking:
So I reckon you guys are quite right to caution :)
Gāravo ca nivāto ca, Santutthi ca kataññutā, Kālena dhammasavanam, Etam mangalamuttamam :anjali:

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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Phra Chuntawongso »

I have heard that in Sri lanka there is a morgue somewhere where the monks are allowed to go and view the cadavers.
Not sure where I heard this but perhaps one of our Sri Lankan Bhantes can confirm this.
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rowyourboat
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by rowyourboat »

Hi,

I suspect you are referring to three different meditations:
1) the 9 stages of decomposition (navasivatika)- to see the foul nature as well as impermanent nature of the body
2) foulness of the body (asubha)- as an antidote to considering the body as good and wholesome because that leads to attachment and suffering.
3) death meditation (marananussati)- considers the immediacy of one's death, as an antidote to laziness, giving rise to motivation/effort (viriya).

1) & 2) are elements of the first foundation of mindfulness. You could argue that 3) belongs to the 4th foundation, under 'hindrances'.

These practices are done in my tradition (of Ven Amathagavesi, of Sri Lanka). He often used to say that enlightenment was impossible without these practices. There is a sutta which say enlightenment is not possible without 'kayagatasati' or the first foundation of mindfulness (bearing in mind that it contains anapanasati as well). We use skeletons and pictures as well as visually recreated images for this purpose. We stop just on this side of falling into aversion! But the craving for the body is so strong that it doesn't hurt to have a potent meditation to counteract it. It is important to be clear about why you are doing this meditation as well as the minds response to it, as one does this. Usually in this tradition asubha bhavana on it's own is considered adequate for stream entry, and is used for reducing craving in terms of reducing hindrances in preparation of developing jhanic samadhi. The elements of the body (dhathumanasikara) and the decomposition meditation is generally used for higher training.

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Stephen18
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Stephen18 »

cooran wrote:Hello Tilt and Ben,

Can you be more explicit on what dangers you have actually seen materialise in meditators doing this practise? BTW, I'm assuming the meditator to have no mental illness to begin with.

with metta
Chris
I too would like to know the reasons why it could be dangerous. I want to practice mindfulness of death, and I see it as a very powerful and beneficial practice.

SarathW
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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by SarathW »

Hi Sumana
With the very little knowledge I have with you I feel it is not suitable to your personality.
The way I understand this is suitable for a very greedy and hatred personality.
Unless you are a monk with a teacher.
It is better to talk to an experienced meditator.
I suggest you speak to Bikkhu Bodhi.
Metta

PS: By the way I practice mindfulness of death in a very mild way.
I do not have an human skeleton in my house.
When I see dead animal I think about it.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by dharmacorps »

This is an interesting post. My occupation involves working with dead bodies (pathology) so I have seen thousands of them at autopsy so I suppose I am coming at this discussion from a different place than most. I do believe all people should see a dead body at least a couple times in their lives, especially buddhists. When I saw my first dead body, I had a quick intuitive understanding of something I had never perceived-- that our bodies are vessels and when we die, there is nothing "ours" left. That is all gone from the body.

I have spent thousands of hours around dead bodies. Being in the same room, working, etc. They aren't going to hurt you. I think the only danger anyone would have is their own mind and lack of comfort with the fact we all die. If you practice the dhamma and have reflected on the foulness of our bodies, and death and impermanence, my guess is there isn't much to be concerned with. Contrary to the Buddha's time, and even the victorian era, we hide death in our society, and it is truly to our own detriment.

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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Dhammanando »

Upasaka Sumana wrote:I too would like to know the reasons why it could be dangerous. I want to practice mindfulness of death, and I see it as a very powerful and beneficial practice.
The practice of maraṇānussati doesn't entail any risk if it's practised for just a short period each day in order to prevent a slide into complacency (e.g. as a part of the five subjects for frequent recollection).

The potential for danger comes when a meditator decides to make it his main preparatory subject, so that his mind is adverting to it continually (and ideally uninterruptedly) throughout his waking hours. For a beginner this is something that can only be safely undertaken in retreat conditions and under the close supervision of a good meditation technician who's familiar with all the ways that a meditator can go astray with this practice. Four of these are mentioned in the Visuddhimagga:

• Soka: When recollecting the inevitable future death of some loved one he feels sorrow.
• Pāmojja: When recollecting the inevitable future death of an enemy or disagreeable person he feels gladness.
• Asaṃvega: When recollecting the death of neutral persons he feels the same indifference felt by corpse-disposers and so there is no sense of urgency.
• Santāsa: When recollecting the inevitability of his own death he experiences anxiety.

Besides these there are also the pitfalls involved in any kind of bhāvanā, of which the commonest is that of mistaking an akusala state for a kusala one. With maraṇānussati it's particularly common for a meditator to get into a very highly strung and emotionally volatile state which he imagines to be saṃvega (because he does feel great urgency) but actually is not (it's an aversive state — as evidenced by the meditator's liability to explode if anyone interrupts him or if he's required to perform some pedestrian task in the monastery).
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If ye thus walk in them, Māra will find no lodgement, Māra will find no foothold.”
— Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta

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Re: Maranasati (Mindfulness of Death/Charnel Ground Reflection)

Post by Kamran »

Ven Analayo recommends using the breath as if it were your last beath approach.

See his wonderful guided meditation. Includes all Satipatthana including charnel ground/death meditation.

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/439/talk/26718/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

He has also written extensively on death mefitation in his Perspectives on Satipatthana book.
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