January 22, 2007

Meditations on a Corpse

"Which do you think is more: the flood of tears, which weeping and wailing you have shed upon this long way-hurrying and hastening through this round of rebirths, united with the undesired, separated from the desired-this, or the waters of the four oceans?

Long have you suffered the death of father and mother, of sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. And whilst you were thus suffering, you have indeed shed more tears upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans."

One of the most provocative images in Japanese art is the kusozu, a graphic depiction of a corpse in the process of decay and decomposition. The kusozu, "painting of the nine stages of a decaying corpse" (hereafter, painting of the nine stages), was executed in Japan from approximately the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries in various formats, including handscrolls, hanging scrolls, and printed books. The subject itself is derived from a traditional Buddhist doctrine that urges contemplation on the nine stages of a decaying corpse (kusokan, hereafter, contemplation on the nine stages). Thus they are named:

(1) distension (choso); (2) rupture (kaiso); (3) exudation of blood (ketsuzuso); (4) putrefaction (noranso); (5) discoloration and desiccation (seioso); (6) consumption by animals and birds (tanso); (7) dismemberment (sanso); (8) bones (kosso); and (9) parched to dust (shoso).

Source: Behind the Sensationalism - images of a decaying corpse in Japanese art

The Warning

Did you never see in the world the corpse of a man, or a woman, one or two or three days after death, swollen up, blue-black in color, and full of corruption? And did the thought never come to you that you also are subject to death, that you also cannot escape it?

Photo Credit: marcelmutter

The Anatta Doctrine

Individual existence, as well as the whole world, are in reality nothing but a process of ever-changing phenomena which are all comprised in the five Groups of Existence. This process has gone on from time immemorial, before one's birth, and also after one's death it will continue for endless periods of time, as long, and as far, as there are conditions for it.

Just as what we designate by the name of `chariot' has no existence apart from axle, wheels, shaft, body and so forth: or as the word `house' is merely a convenient designation for various materials put together after a certain fashion so as to enclose a portion of space, and there is no separate house-entity in existence: in exactly the same way, that which we call a `being' or an `individual' or a `person', or by the name `I', is nothing but a changing combination of physical and psychical phenomena, and has no real existence in itself.


Sa.msaara-the wheel of existence, lit, the `Perpetual Wandering' - is the name given in the Pali scriptures to the sea of life ever restlessly heaving up and down, the symbol of this continuous process of ever again and again being born, growing old, suffering, and dying. More precisely put: Sa.msaara is the unbroken sequence of the fivefold Khandha - combinations, which, constantly changing from moment to moment, follow continually one upon the other through inconceivable periods of time. Of this Sa.msaara a single life time constitutes only a tiny fraction. Hence, to be able to comprehend the first Noble Truth, one must let one's gaze rest upon the Sa.msaara, upon this frightful sequence of rebirths. and not merely upon one single life time, which, of course, may sometimes be not very painful.

The term `suffering' (dukkha), in the first Noble Truth refers therefore, not merely to painful bodily and mental sensations due to unpleasant impressions, but it comprises in addition everything productive of suffering or liable to it. The Truth of Suffering teaches that, owing to the universal law of impermanence, even high and sublime states of happiness are subject to change and destruction, and that all states of existence are therefore unsatisfactory, without exception carrying in themselves the seeds of suffering.

Source: The Noble Truth of Suffering

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