“This, which is my body, from the soles of the feet up, and down from the crown of the head, is a sealed bag of skin filled with unattractive things. In this body there are:
Hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, bowels, entrails, undigested food, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, mucus, oil of the joints, urine, and the brain.
This, then, which is my body, from the soles of the feet up, and down from the crown of the head, is a sealed bag of skin filled with unattractive things.”
“The Reflection on the Thirty-Two Parts” is a commonly recited chant used in the forest tradition of Thai Buddhism. It is one of the asubha-kammatthana (‘unbeautiful practices’), used to reflect on the nature of the body, realizing that it is more than meets the eye. Now, looking at a photo, or someone else’s form, the thirty-two parts can be easily observed, but to realize that one’s own body is made up of these various unattractive elements is quite a step. Most of us spend a lot of time on pruning ourselves, making our bodies look more attractive by hiding its unpleasant aspects – but they are there, lurking beneath the façade of beauty that we carefully cultivate.
This reflection is also useful if we have the tendency to indulge in sexual fantasies or obsessions, as seeing the truth that the person one desires is made up of these less than appealing things can release one from the grip of an overbearing sexuality. For, when carefully contemplated and absorbed, the thirty-two parts confirm the old adage that beauty is only skin deep.