Although early Buddhism is widely believed to take a negative attitude toward the body, the texts of the Pali Canon do not support this belief. They approach the body both in its positive role, as an object of meditation to develop mindfulness, concentration, and the mental powers based on concentration; and in its negative role as a object for unskillful states of mind. Even in its negative role, the body is not the culprit: the problem is the mind’s attachment to the body. Once the body can be used in its positive role to develop mindfulness and concentration, those mental qualities can be used to free the mind of its attachments to the body. Then, as many a modern meditation master has noted, the mind and body can live in peace.

This study guide focuses on the primary sutta in the Pali Canon dealing with the contemplation of the body: The Discourse on Mindfulness Immersed in the Body (MN 119). The first section, The Context, establishes the general principles underlying the practice of mindfulness immersed in the body, showing why attachment to the body is considered problematic in the first place. The second section presents the sutta itself. The remaining sections expand on points raised in the sutta: Section Three dealing with the advantages of practicing mindfulness immersed in the body, and Section Four expanding on the drawbacks of attachment to the body.

Because the sutta treats the body both as an object of mindfulness and as an object of jhāna, or mental absorption, it raises questions concerning the relationship between these two mental qualities in the practice of meditation. There is a widespread belief that they represent two sides of a great divide in Buddhist meditation practice, with mindfulness on one side, joined with vipassanā (insight) and discernment; and jhāna on the other side joined with samatha (tranquility). The Pali Canon, however, presents a much more complex picture of the interrelated roles these mental qualities in the pursuit of awakening. And in fact, the “Great Divide” picture of Buddhist meditation practice conflates what the Pali Canon treats as three separate, albeit related issues: the relationship between samatha and vipassanā, the relationship between mindfulness and jhāna, and the relationship between jhāna and discernment. To convey the original parameters of these issues, this study guide ends with three sections focused on precisely these relationships.

For supplemental reading on the issues of jhāna, mindfulness, and insight, see the articles, “The Path of Mindfulness and Concentration” and “One Tool Among Many,” and the book, Right Mindfulness.

For further reading on contemplation of the body, see the following books and dhamma talks available on and

Ajaan Mun Bhūridatto: A Heart Released

Ajaan Mun Bhūridatto: The Ever-present Truth

Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo: The Craft of the Heart

Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo: Frames of Reference

Ajaan Mahā Boowa Ñāṇasampanno: “The Work of a Contemplative”

Ajaan Mahā Boowa Ñāṇasampanno: “An Heir to the Dhamma”

Ajaan Suwat Suvaco: “This Body of Mine”

Ajaan Suwat Suvaco: “Disenchantment”