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Paikkūlamanasikāra (variant: paikūlamanasikāra)[1] is a Pāli term that is generally translated as "reflections on repulsiveness." It refers to a traditional Buddhist meditation whereby thirty-one parts of the body are contemplated in a variety of ways. In addition to developing mindfulness and concentration, this form of meditation is considered conducive to overcoming lust. Along with cemetery contemplations, this type of meditation is one of the two Buddhist meditations on "the foul" (Pāli: asubha).[2]


Paikkūla (Pāli) literally means "against" (pai) "the slope" or "embankment" (kūla) and has been translated adjectivally as "averse, objectionable, contrary, disagreeable" and, in its nounal form, as "loathsomeness, impurity."[3]

Manasikāra (Pāli), derived from manasi (locative of mana thus, loosely, "in mind" or "in thought") and karoti ("to make" or "to bring into") and has been translated as "attention" or "pondering" or "fixed thought."[4]

In contemporary translations, the compound term paikkūla-manasikāra is generally translated as "reflections on repulsiveness" or, adding contextual clarity at the expense of literal accuracy, "reflections on repulsiveness of the body."[5] Alternate translations include "attention directed to repulsiveness"[6] and "realisation of the impurity of the body."[7]


This type of meditation is traditionally mentioned as an "antidote" to sensual passion.[8] This is also one of the "four protective meditations," along with recollection of the Buddha, metta practice and recollection of death.[9]

In individual canonical discourses, this type of contemplation is identified as a contributor to a variety of mundane and transcendental goals. For instance, in the Girimananda Sutta (AN 10.60), Ven. Ananda's recitation of this and other contemplations immediately cures an ailing monk.[10] In the Sampasadaniya Sutta (DN 28), Ven. Sariputta declares that meditating on these 31 body parts leads to "the attainment of vision, in four ways," and briefly outlines how this method can be used as a springboard by which one "comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness that is not established either in this world or in the next."[11] In addition, in the Iddhipāda-samyutta's Vibhanga Sutta (SN 51.20), this meditation subject is used to develop the four bases of power (iddhipāda) by which one is able to achieve liberation from suffering.[12]

While the Pali Canon invariably includes this form of contemplation in its various lists of "mindfulness" meditation techniques,[13] the compendious 5th c. CE Visuddhimagga identifies this type of contemplation (along with mindfulness of breathing) as one of the few body-directed meditations particularly suited to the development of concentration (Vism. VIII, 43).[14]



Internal organs viewed from front: lungs (grey), heart (white), liver (purple), stomach (yellow), large intestine (yellow) and small intestine (pink), from Gray's Anatomy.


Internal organs viewed from back: spleen (green), kidneys (purple), right lower lung (purple) and pleura (blue), from Gray's Anatomy.

In Buddhist scriptures, this practice involves mentally identifying 31 parts of the body, contemplated upon in various ways.

Objects of contemplation

This mediation involves meditating on 31 different body parts:

head hairs (Pali: kesā), body hairs (lomā), nails (nakhā), teeth (dantā), skin (taco),
flesh (masa), tendons (nahāru), bones (aṭṭhi), bone marrow (aṭṭhimiñja), kidneys (vakka),
heart (hadaya), liver (yakana), pleura (kilomaka), spleen (pihaka), lungs (papphāsa),
large intestines (anta), small intestines (antaguṇaṃ), undigested food (udariya), feces (karīsa),
bile (pitta), phlegm (semha), pus (pubbo), blood (lohita), sweat (sedo), fat (medo),
tears (assu), skin-oil (vasā), saliva (kheo), mucus (siṅghānikā), fluid in the joints (lasikā), urine (mutta).[15]

In a few discourses, these 31 body parts are contextualized within the framework of the Great Elements (see mahabhuta) so that the earth element is exemplified by the body parts from head hair to feces, and the water element is exemplified by bile through urine.[16]

A few other discourses preface contemplation of these 31 body parts in the following manner:

"Herein ... a monk contemplates this body upward from the soles of the feet, downward from the top of the hair, enclosed in skin, as being full of many impurities."[17]

The 31 identified body parts in pātikūlamanasikāra contemplation are the same as the first 31 body parts identified in the "Dvattimsakara" ("32 Parts [of the Body]") verse (Khp. 3) regularly recited by monks.[18] The thirty-second body part identified in the latter verse is the brain (matthaluga).[19] The Visuddhimagga suggests the enumeration of the 31 body parts implicitly includes the brain in aṭṭhimiñja, which is traditionally translated as "bone marrow."[20]

Methods of contemplation

A canonical formulation of how to meditate on these is:

"Just as if a sack with openings at both ends were full of various kinds of grain — wheat, rice, mung beans, kidney beans, sesame seeds, husked rice — and a man with good eyesight, pouring it out, were to reflect, 'This is wheat. This is rice. These are mung beans. These are kidney beans. These are sesame seeds. This is husked rice'; in the same way, the monk reflects on this very body from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin and full of various kinds of unclean things [as identified in the above enumeration of bodily organs and fluids]...."[21]

In regards to this and other body-centered meditation objects, the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22) provides the following additional context and expected results:

"In this way [a monk] remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body. Or his mindfulness that 'There is a body' is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world...."[22]

According to the post-canonical Pali commentary to the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, one can develop "seven kinds of skill in study" regarding these meditation objects through:

  1. repetition of the body parts verbally
  2. repetition of the body parts mentally
  3. discerning the body parts individually in terms of each one's color
  4. discerning the body parts individually in terms of each one's shape
  5. discerning if a body part is above or below the navel (or both)
  6. discerning the body part's spatial location
  7. spatially and functionally juxtaposing two body parts[23]

Traditional sources

The name for this type of meditation is found in the sectional titles used in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22) and the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), where the contemplation of the 31 body parts is entitled, Paikkūla-manasikāra-pabba (which, word-for-word, can be translated as "repulsiveness-reflection-section"). Subsequently, in the post-canonical Visuddhimagga and other commentarial works, paikkūlamanasikāra is explicitly used when referring to this technique.[24]

This form of meditation is mentioned in the following discourses (sutta) in the Pali Canon (listed in order of nikaya and then sutta number within nikaya):[25][26]

  • Mahasatipatthana Sutta ("The Great Frames of Reference," DN 22)[27]
  • Sampasadaniya Sutta ("Serene Faith," DN 28)[28]
  • Satipatthana Sutta ("Frames of References," MN 10).[29]
  • Mahahattipadopama Sutta ("The Great Elephant Footprint Simile," MN 28)[30][26]
  • Maharahulovada Sutta ("The Greater Exhortation to Rahula," MN 62)[31][26]
  • Kayagatasati Sutta ("Mindfulness Immersed in the Body," MN 119)[32]
  • Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta ("An Analysis of the Properties," MN 140)[33][26]
  • In the Samyutta Nikaya's collection regarding the four bases of power (iddhipada), in a sutta called Vibhanga ("Analysis," SN 51.20)[34]
  • Udayi Sutta ("To Udayi," AN 6.29)[35]
  • Girimananda Sutta ("To Girimananda," AN 10.60)[36]

Elsewhere in Pali literature, this type of meditation is discussed extensively in the post-canonical Visuddhimagga (Vism. VIII, 44-145).[37]

In several of these sources, this meditation is identified as one of a variety of meditations on the body along with, for instance, the mindfulness of breathing (see Anapanasati Sutta).[38]

See also


  1. The Sinhalese SLTP Tipitaka and Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-5), p. 393, spell this term paikkūlamanasikāra (with two k's) while the Burmese CSCD tipitaka and VRI (1996), p. 10, spell it paikūlamanasikāra (with one k).
  2. Nanamoli (1998), p. 110, n. 16, which references the Anapanasati Sutta and the Visuddhimagga, Ch. VI, VIII.
  3. See, e.g., Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-5), p. 393, entry for "Paikkūla" (retrieved 2008-02-02 at
  4. See, e.g., Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-5), p. 521, entry "Mano & Mana(s)" (retrieved 2008-02-02 at, and pp. 197-8, entry for "Karoti" (retrieved 2008-02-03 at Similarly, the core Buddhist notion of yoniso manasikāra has been translated as "careful attention."
  5. See, e.g., Nyanasatta (1994); Soma (2003), pp. 3, 100; VRI (1996), pp. 10, 11.
  6. Buddhaghosa (1999), pp. 235 (Vism. VIII, 42), 236 (Vism. VIII, 43). On p. 243 (Vism. VIII, 80), Nanmoli uses a variant translation: "giving attention to repulsivenes."
  7. Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-5), p. 393, entry for "Paikkūla" (retrieved 2008-02-02 at
  8. See, for instance, Udāyi Sutta (AN 6.39) (SLTP, n.d.) where contemplation of the the 31 body parts is said to "remove sensual passion" (kāmarāgassa pahānāya). In addition, in Thanissaro (1994), "Translator's Introduction," Thanissaro states: "[Khuddakapatha] Passage 3 [which enumerates 32 body parts] gives preliminary guidance [to monastic novices] in the contemplation of the body, a meditation exercise designed to overcome lust."
  9. Bodhi (2002), p.6.
  10. Piyadassi (1997a).
  11. Walshe (1995), pp. 419-20.
  12. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1736-40; Thanissaro (1997b).
  13. E.g., see DN 22, MN 10, MN 119.
  14. Buddhaghosa (1999), p. 235. That this form of meditation is particularly useful for what is known as "access concentration" is perhaps indirectly reflected in the comments of contemporary vipassana master S.N. Goenka who suggests that, unlike true vipassana, this type of contemplation deals with "imagination or intellectualisation." Goenka thus reserves its use for "some cases, when the mind is very dull or agitated" and thus the mind is unable to follow the breath or more refined sensations. He concludes: "Of course, when the actual practice of Vipassana starts, there should be no aversion towards this ugly body. It is just observed as it is – yathābhūta. It is observed as body, with sensations arising and passing. The meditator is now on the path." (Goenka, n.d.).
  15. English is from the Thanissaro (2000) translation of Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22). Note that, in Thanissaro (1994), some words are translated differently, e.g., "muscle" instead of "flesh," and "lymph" instead of "pus." Also, Thanissaro (1994) translates vakka as "spleen" and pihaka as "kidney"; thus, compared to Thanissaro (2000), effectively inverting these anatomical objects in the English translations. The Pali is from La Trobe University (n.d.)'s SLTP version of DN 22, BJT page 446, at These 31 body parts are grouped onto six lines consistent with their traditional representation in Pali as shown in MettaNet-Lanka (n.d.) Sinhala SLTP text at and VRI (n.d.) Burmese CSCD text at
  16. See MN 28, MN 62 and MN 140. See below for more information regarding these discourses.
  17. Piyadassi (1999a) translation of AN 10.60. This preface can also be found, e.g., in SN 51.20 (Thanissaro, 1997b).
  18. Piyadassi (1999b). This is consistent with on-line Sinhala SLTP texts. The on-line Burmese CSCD includes the brain after "feces" (karīsa).
  19. According to Hamilton (2001), pp. 23-4, in the Sutta Pitaka, the brain is added to the traditional list of 31 body parts only in the Khuddaka Nikaya and there only twice: in the aforementioned Khp. 3 and in Pais I.6. Hamilton also identifies a similar, abbreviated, differently ordered list that includes the brain in Sn 199 (see, e.g., Thanissaro, 1996); Hamilton attributes the differences between the traditional list of 31 or 32 body parts and the Sutta Nipata text to the latter being in verse.
  20. Buddhaghosa (1999), Vism. VIII, 44. Given Buddhaghosa's inclusion of the brain in aṭṭhimiñja could lead one to infer that this Pali term might refer to something other than bone marrow in some contexts (e.g., the nervous system).
  21. Thanissaro (1997c).
  22. Thanissaro (2000). (Parenthetical expression is in the original translation.)
  23. Soma (2003), pp. 101-2. The commentary mentioned here is the Papañcasudani, attributed to Buddhaghosa and thus presumably written in the 5th c. CE. This is similar to what is found in Vism. VIII, 48-60 (Buddhaghosa, 1999, pp. 237-9).
  24. Buddhaghosa (1999), pp. 235, 236, 243 (Vism. VIII, 42, 43 83).
  25. These suttas were found in part through a search of the SLTP canon using a search engine from La Trobe University at
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Three of these discourses — MN 28, MN 62 and MN 140 — mention the 31 bodily organs in the context of either four or five great elements (mahābhūta) which, strictly speaking, in the (Mahā)Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the basis for a separate meditation from paṭikkūla-manasikāra contemplation. For example, based on commentarial statements, paṭikkūla-manasikāra contemplation could entail spatial awareness of each of the bodily organs or fluids, and is traditionally used as an antidote to lust; on the other hand, contemplation on the elements emphasizes the tactile experiences of solidity, liquidity, heat and air, and serves as a basis for developing equanimity and insight into not-self (anatta) (e.g., see MN 28).
  27. Thanissaro (2000).
  28. Walshe (1995), pp. 417-25.
  29. Nyanasatta (1994). This discourse is virtually the same as the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Thanissaro, 2000) except that the latter's extended exposition on the Four Noble Truths is absent from the Satipatthana Sutta.
  30. Thanissaro (2003).
  31. Thanissaro (2006).
  32. Thanissaro (1997c).
  33. Thanissaro (1997a).
  34. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1736-40; Thanissaro (1997b).
  35. SLTP (n.d.).
  36. Piyadassi (1999a).
  37. Buddhaghosa (1999), pp. 236-59.
  38. E.g., DN 22, MN 10, MN 119, Vism. VIII, 42.


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