Body of a courtesan in nine stages
Dear friends around the world,
I found this to be interesting. Obviously people have had attachments to the body which causes us to take up actions that bind us for a lifetime pulling us away sometimes from higher spiritual attainments. We think we can do something for a while, but it just leads us deeper and deeper till we are stuck. The Buddhist practice of meditating on the body decomposing is not something to be morbid or fantasy or something that is whimsical. The decomposition of our body will happen one day. So when we fast forward and meditate on this eventual truth, it helps us to bring our lives into true perspectives immediately. A courtesan is a thing of beauty, refinement, art and pleasures. To meditate on a courtesan’s ‘truth’ body of eventuality is powerful to bring the eventuality home. The irony of this thing of extreme beauty ‘designed’ for sensory pleasure having the ability to decay into something putrid, horrid and unrecognizable is a reality of all our bodies. In fact everything in existence’s nature is this truth which is decay, decomposition and it’s final. So this makes it an object ‘perfect’ for meditation. Of course this can be substituted for anything we have attachments for. The female body is no worse than the male’s. But previous patriarchal societies tend to focus the female as more an object of pleasure be it right or wrong.
Actually if we think about it carefully, we have 9 actual obvious orifices on our bodies besides the thousands of pores. The substances that come out of these orifices are putrid, smelly, toxic, dirty and filled with germs. Whether it is ear wax, snots, eye mucus, saliva, urine, feces or just sweat from all of our pores, these are dirty and not clean in nature. If our body is left to its ‘natural’ state unmanaged, only impurities are produced from it. Why are we attracted to these foul discharges? Why are we attracted to the foul body that produces these discharges is the point of this illustration. This goes for male and female. So when a person meditates on these qualities of the body, it is to create a distance and space by using the truth of the nature of the body to focus on more higher purposes of the body than just eating, copulating, sleeping, dressing, indulgences of the senses. We get lost on the daily maintenance and pleasuring of the body. Our lives are spent in this way and just passes us by quickly. As a result of realizing this true nature of the body, one sees the body as an actual and perfect vehicle to pursue one’s spiritual aspirations and gain spiritual results that is related to the temporary body but not a permanent component of the body. The body is therefore used as a vehicle to house the mind to gain spiritual attainments. One’s pursuits and aims become spiritual and not maintenance based for the body. With all the maintenance we give the body, in the end it just abandons us and dies and decomposes. No amount of maintenance can prevent this truth. This meditation results in a person not being overly attached to the body and uses it for a higher purpose that goes beyond self indulgences.
The amount of work in exercise, medication, food, sustenance, sleep, cleaning, hygiene necessary to the body’s intact and well-being is already daily and time consuming. Never ending in fact. Why add to that? We end up spending all of our time to just maintaining the body and in the end we just discard it like we leave a hotel room. So the purpose of this meditation is to focus on the transitory nature of our bodies, and all the work we put into maintaining and pleasuring will end up just in a pile of bloating decomposition makes us think how we can spend our time better. We should use our temporary body for something more and better. Something that is useful in this life for ourselves, those around us and our future lives. We should maintain our bodies, keep it healthy and clean but for the express purpose of spiritual gains and not simply for the sake of maintenance and pleasure. We don’t over focus and get caught up with cleaning, fixing, decorating a hotel room which we are just borrowing. Why waste so much time on something temporary?
Body of a courtesan in nine stages: A 19th century study of decomposition
BY STRANGEREMAINS on JUNE 24, 2014
“Body of a Courtesan in Nine Stages” was painted on handscroll by Japanese artist Kobayashi Eitaku in the 1870’s. It’s not unusual for artists to study corpses and body parts because of their need to learn about the human form, and because of the historical connection between the science of anatomy and artistic illustration. What makes this style unique is that it’s part of a Japanese artistic tradition devoted specifically to the study of human postmortem changes that stretches back hundreds of years.
“Body of a Courtesan in Nine Stages” is an example of kusozu, the illustration of a decomposing corpse, that was popular in Japanese art from about the 13th to 19th centuries. Kusozu was inspired by Buddhist beliefs that urged followers to meditate on the temporary nature of life and the physical world by contemplating postmortem changes. The below panels illustrate nine stages of death that include: (1) dying; (2) newly deceased or fresh; (3) skin discoloration and bloat during early decomposition; (4) leakage of blood in early decomposition; (5) skin slippage, marbling, and leakage of purge fluid during early decomposition; (6) caving of abdominal cavity and exposure of internal organs during advanced decomposition; (7) animal scavenging during advanced decomposition; (8) skeletonization; and (9) extreme decomposition.
Though the painting maybe religious and/or scientific in nature, according to the British Museum it also has erotic themes. Because the subject matter is a courtesan, the curator notes for this piece at the British Museum say that this handscroll also falls into the genre of erotic art, or shunga. The word shunga means picture of spring in Japanese. The word “spring” is a common synonym for sex.
Below are all 9 panels. All images come from The British Museum.
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team