Autopsy as Meditation and Insight

Yesterday I went on my first autopsy. I hope that all of you can figure out a way to do this. The police morgues might be the most flexible. As monks in Sri Lanka, we are privileged with such biased opportunities.


Hello Venerable,

Thank you very much for this inspiring article. By the way, you have a lovely literary streak.

After reading it, I read this other article: Why Do Monasteries Have Skeletons? - American Buddhist Monk: Bhante Subhūti .
And I looked at the anatomy book you shared in the article.

I’d like to ask you an important question about it.
In general, when I look at “gory” things about anatomy, a particular mental state arises in me. This mental state is made up of several feelings: a feeling of awareness of the purely material and organic reality of my human body (the body is only matter, you can see that there is no soul when you dissect the body); a feeling of extreme disgust/aversion towards my body (I see it as absolute filth), with the very unpleasant feeling of being imprisoned in this filthy thing (it makes me want to escape from the body by destroying it, through suicide) ; a feeling of strong fear and anxiety; and finally a feeling of awareness that the body is extremely fragile (the matter of the body can extremely easily be corrupted and deteriorated by illness, accidents, etc.), with a sense of worry and sadness at suffering because of the corruption allowed by fragility.

Some of these feelings are very useful for realizing nibbana: the realization that the body is purely material without soul, and the realization that the body is fragile.
Many of these feelings seem to me to be very bad or even dangerous for achieving nibbana. I don’t believe that extreme disgust, the desire to commit suicide, strong fear and sadness are good things. I think they’re even poisons.
My question is this: do you agree that many of these feelings are bad, and what do you advise me to do to continue to see these images without the bad feelings arising? Of course, I’m asking very difficult questions, since you don’t know me personally; I need to find a teacher in real life. But I’m asking anyway, because you may have some good general advice.

However, I’ve noticed that if I look at these images and decide to concentrate my mind on them, making sure that all my attention is focused on the thought that “my body has the same nature as a butchered corpse”, this means that I hardly have any unpleasant feelings, because I’m preventing these unpleasant feelings from feeding on my mind’s attention. In other words, by forcing all my mind’s attention on this thought, I manage to keep the awareness of the body’s materiality and fragility, without the negative feelings.

Thanks again Venerable.


Kusala cittas can only arise with pleasant or neutral feeling. Hence what you are describing is simply aversion, dosa mula citta- akusala.
That is never the right way.


Thank you very much, what you’ve said is very enlightening and helps me a lot.
I had a doubt because these meditations are called “meditations on the impure/repulsive”, and I also remember once when the Buddha had told someone to stop attaching himself to the Buddha’s body because his body is “filfthy/impure”.
Now it’s clear: you have to contemplate corpses without aversion. Thank you, I’m going to do that now!!! You don’t know how much this helps me, because aversion was a big problem.

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It is possible that wholesome fear can arise… purely speaking @RobertK is right on the technical level but also a general level. but that does not mean that it can be surrounded by wholesome. It depends… You can see hell and get fear. But it can also be a cause for a dhamma urgency to ordain and practice and ordain.

32 parts is a tricky topic. It is mostly used for grasping the color kasinas at paauk. However, it is an object within itself (usually seeing the bones as repulsive). I strongly do not recommend looking at gory pictures other than one or two vids (watching only once) of an autopsy. I think people get the wrong message, including monks. One monk I know was addicted (is still addicted?) to looking at gigabytes of gory pics. It is abnormal in my eyes. Use it for understanding that we are made up of parts. Use it to recall your own parts. Afterwards, just use your own memory combined with meditation on your own parts. That is enough. If you want to do more than that, (it does not sound like you want to), then you need a proper teacher who can do much much more than this practice of looking at computer files and videos, or the real thing.

Nevertheless, a trip to the morgue was very valuable. I didn’t feel any strong disgust besides worrying that something would splash or touch me. Just a few uncomfortable moments. I was more in awe of the whole thing.


Thank you very much Venerable for this message! I hope the autopsy you attended will bring great benefits to your practice!

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So, you don’t accept revulsion or discust for “nibbida?”


Nibbida is really a wholesome disenchantment in the case of developing this object of samatha.
And the same when it is used to describe the stages of vipassana.
To add some more . The stages of vipassana include these:
Knowledge of Terror (bhaya nana)
Knowledge of Danger (adinava nana)
Knowledge of Dispassion (nibbida nana

They are all extraordinarily high levels of kusala (mahakusala) and come with only pleasant feeling or neutral feeling. Yet the words terror, danger and nibbida may make people think that they are states with a great degree of dosa. In fact they are just describing the understanding that sees the true nature of samsara.
Of course as ven. Subhuti noted there may be actual dosa and then kusala after that or vv- this is the nature of conditioned realities.

Here are some passages from the Vis. XXI about the stages of insight+

  1. When he constantly sees that all formations thus break up all the time, then
    contemplation of dissolution grows strong in him, bringing eight advantages,
    which are these: abandoning of [false] view of becoming, giving up attachment
    to life, constant application, a purified livelihood, no more anxiety, absence of
    fear, acquisition of patience and gentleness, and conquest of aversion (boredom)
    and sensual delight. [645]

  2. When he sees how past formations have
    ceased, present ones are ceasing, and those to be generated in the future will
    cease in just the same way, then what is called knowledge of appearance as
    terror arises in him at that stage.

  3. But does the knowledge of appearance as terror [itself] fear or does it not
    > fear? It does not fear. For it is simply the mere judgment that past formations have
    > ceased, present ones are ceasing, and future ones will cease. Just as a man with
    eyes looking at three charcoal pits at a city gate is not himself afraid, since he
    only forms the mere judgment that all who fall into them will suffer no little
    pain;—or just as when a man with eyes looks at three spikes set in a row, an
    acacia spike, an iron spike, and a gold spike, he is not himself afraid, since he
    only forms the mere judgment that all who fall on these spikes will suffer no
    little pain;—so too the knowledge of appearance as terror does not itself fear; it
    only forms the mere judgment that in the three kinds of becoming, which resemble
    the three charcoal pits and the three spikes, past formations have ceased, present
    ones are ceasing, and future ones will cease


Thank you for the references, very helpful. But I am still wondering about the perception of asubha and the instructions for body witnessing that involve internal impurities and then of course there is the contemplation of a woman’s body as impure in order to overcome lust. It would seem that unpleasant feelings would be a helpful and kusala aspect of these perceptions. That is why, I previously thought, that nibbida precedes niraga which is calm detachment. The repulsiveness is helpful in these instances and combines with a shame of past wrong perception of the body as pleasant or interesting. That shame is also helpful, I thought, in counteracting the Attraction which is based on pleasant feeling, delight, infatuation, affection, etc. These are unpleasant feelings that conduce to the arising of the wholesome and the disappearance of the unwholesome, eventually leading to equanimity when the attachment and underlying tendencies are completely uprooted.

Am I misunderstanding something here?
Thanks for your help.


Hi Kilaya
The real development, bhavana, is always kusala and by definition comes with paññā, wisdom, and either pleasant or neutral feeling.
Yet, as noted by Ven. Subhuti in this thread, it is quite natural that aversion i.e. citta rooted in dosa, akusala, will arise when viewing the object. And that can be understood. Indeed in the Patthana, 7th book of the Abhidhamma, it explains in enormous detail the way at times kusala conditions akusala and vv. For example, one develops a little insight and because of that has wrong view (“my insight”) or attachment.

What is critical though, is that it is known that aversion is akusala and is not something to be encouraged in any way. The right way is detachment - in the kusala sense. So one can know that whenever there is aversion one is on the wrong way - it is a good check.

Lobha, attachment, is harder to see because, as with kusala, cittas rooted in lobha come with pleasant feeling or neutral feeling. It is easy to be barreling along with subtle lobha, all the while believing one is developing correctly.


Please, I have a question.

For asubha, I think the Buddha is talking about seeing the body in a repulsive way. But for me, having the feeling that something is repulsive is unpleasant. And AN 4.163 says it’s a painful practice. So if you’re right, how can kusala cittas emerge from this practice, since this practice is unpleasant?

Thanks in advance.

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