What meditation practice(s) are encompassed by 'asubha' (non-beautiful)? I've heard one teacher say that in the EBT (early buddhist texts), asubha practice only refers to 31 body parts, and later Theravada expanded it to include 9 cemetary corpse decay, and perhaps other practices as well?

Does anyone know for sure? In the pali suttas, most of the references to asubha do not specify a specific meditation practice(s).

Is AN 10.60 the only place where asubha is specifically assigned to 31 body parts?

I'd prefer to believe asubha meditation encompasses more practices than just the 31asb, unless there is conclusive evidence. Simply because in an oral tradition where memory of teachings is mandatory, it's helpful when a label, 'asubha' in this case, covers all the practices that could qualify for doing that job.

We know that the purpose of asubha (ugly or non-beautful), is to counter the effects of subha (beautiful) have in inducing lust/passion/desire for sensual pleasure, especially for sex.

Clearly the stages of decomposition of corpses, the discharge from the 9 orifices of the body, all qualify in accomplishing that goal.

AN 10.60 defines the practice of asubha as 31 body parts contemplation:

Katamā cānanda, asubhasaññā?
And what is the perception of ugliness?
Idhānanda, bhikkhu imameva kāyaṃ uddhaṃ pādatalā adho kesamatthakā tacapariyantaṃ pūraṃ nānāppakārassa asucino paccavekkhati:
It’s when a monk examines their own body up from the soles of the feet and down from the tips of the hairs, wrapped in skin and full of many kinds of filth.
‘atthi imasmiṃ kāye kesā lomā nakhā dantā taco, maṃsaṃ nhāru aṭṭhi aṭṭhimiñjaṃ vakkaṃ, hadayaṃ yakanaṃ kilomakaṃ pihakaṃ papphāsaṃ, antaṃ antaguṇaṃ udariyaṃ karīsaṃ, pittaṃ semhaṃ pubbo lohitaṃ sedo medo, assu vasā kheḷo siṅghāṇikā lasikā muttan’ti.
‘In this body there is head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, synovial fluid, urine.’
Iti imasmiṃ kāye asubhānupassī viharati.
And so they meditate observing ugliness in this body.
Ayaṃ vuccatānanda, asubhasaññā.
This is called the perception of ugliness.

summary of my research on this so far: (lots of hyperlinks embedded within source link) http://lucid24.org/tped/a/asubha/index.html

a-subha 🧟‍ = un-attractive ✅in EBT meditation, it refers to 31asb🧟‍ body parts contemplation. See AN 10.60, AN 6.29. ⚠️300+ years after EBT, in Vimt. and Vism., Theravada re-defines asubha meditation to refer to 10 stages of corpse decay, and they reclassify 31asb🧟‍ under kāya-gatā-sati 🏃‍. It's important to know this, because in EBT suttas, an instruction to "develop asubha" is frequently mentioned, but without detail (examples: SN 8.4, SN 54.9). 31asb is immediately accessible, corpse contemplation considerably more complex. • What's the purpose of asubha meditation? To counter perversions of our inverted perception AN 4.49, SN 8.4. • But be careful, this is an advanced practice. Best to first have foundation in breath meditation SN 54.9. • SN 12.61 and SN 12.62 is the more general case of seeing 4 elements via dependent origination 12ps as not being worth clinging to.

3 Answers 3


The core buddhism's meditation is not about body parts or anything related to outer world. It's always about the dependent co-arising.

Below is about the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person from Assutava Sutta

"Monks, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person might grow disenchanted with this body composed of the four great elements, might grow dispassionate toward it, might gain release from it. Why is that? Because the growth & decline, the taking up & putting down of this body composed of the four great elements are apparent. Thus the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person might grow disenchanted, might grow dispassionate, might gain release there.

And below is about instructed disciple of the noble ones from same Assutava Sutta

"The instructed disciple of the noble ones, [however,] attends carefully & appropriately right there at the dependent co-arising:

Therefore based on above, the famous asubha meditation conflicts with that sutta. So the reason should be asubha is misinterpreted. Explained detailed on Asubha meditation is in Kuddaka Nikaya-1 -> Asubhanupassi Sutta (If anyone found an english reference please add). This says that sabba sankharesu aniccanupassino viharathi That's the abstracted meaning of asubha meditation. (I'm referring to sinhala - pali cannon, sorry I can't translate this to english)

There's another sutta which clearly says that, Noble meditation should not be based on air, fire, water etc. I'll try to find the reference to that as well.

With this you might be confused by now. Yes, most of the meanings are mis-interpreted. The real dhamma is out there now, It will come famous but will take sometime to accept by people.

With Metta...!

  • Perhaps this -- suttacentral.net/iti85 -- I think that suttacentral has English translations of all the suttas.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 23:44

There's a chapter (about 13 pages) about foulness meditation in the Visuddhimagga -- if that's what you're asking -- with includes corpses cut up and worm infested etc.

Visuddhimagga (Wikipedia)

The Visuddhimagga (Pali; English: The Path of Purification), is the 'great treatise' on Theravada Buddhist doctrine written by Buddhaghosa approximately in the 5th Century in Sri Lanka. It is a manual condensing and systematizing the 5th century understanding and interpretation of the Buddhist path as maintained by the elders of the Mahavihara Monastery in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

It is considered the most important Theravada text outside of the Tipitaka canon of scriptures, and is described as "the hub of a complete and coherent method of exegesis of the Tipitaka," but it has also been criticised for its non-canonical departures, and its interpretation of dhyana as concentration-meditation.

That references English translations if you'd like to read one, I think it's Chapter 6.

Some people prefer the suttas and not the Visuddhimagga (maybe more "EBT" than "Theravada").

  • I read through that chapter just now, and it's basically got an out of order version of the corpse stages in satipatthana sutta. Vism. calls corpse contemplation asubha, can classifies 32 body parts under kayagata of the 40 meditation topics. I'll take a look at Vimuttimagga, their 38 meditation subjects are slightly different, I seem to recall they have contemplation of worms and parasites (in a living body, not a corpse)
    – frankk
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 17:47

Some people are engrossed with the beauty of oneself or that of others. This is a perversion (vipallasa) of seeing what is impure as pure. For more see Vipallasa Sutta.

Asuba contracts the perception of beauty by:

  1. seeing the constituent part o organs which bake the whole which one considers beautiful
  2. seeing the decaying nature of the body which one considers beautiful
  3. seeing the arising, transient existence and passing away nature of the body

This practice neutralises the minds tendency to obsess with beauty. But one must be careful that one does not start loathing the body as impure as this leads to the other end of the spectrum. There are cases where monks and people have committed suicide due to this.

This is mentioned in: Kaya,gatā,sati Sutta, Mahā Sati’patthāna Sutta, Sati’patthāna Sutta

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