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The Forty Meditation Themes, Part 1

The Forty Meditation Themes, Part 1

Last week, we talked about conceptual, or contemplative, meditation. There are forty meditation themes that have become ‚Äúclassic,‚Äù and we’ll cover those today and tomorrow. There are ten ‚Äúrecollections,‚Äù ten ‚Äúfoul objects,‚Äù ten ‚Äúkasinas‚Äù, four ‚Äúdivine abidings‚Äù, four ‚Äúformless absorptions,‚Äù one ‚Äúresolution into elements,‚Äù and one ‚Äúperception of the filthiness of food.‚Äù Don’t worry about memorizing all that. You’ll get the picture soon enough.

These meditations are to be done thoughtfully and slowly, and you would go about them much like the ‚Äúmeditation on a corpse‚Äù that we looked at last Friday. You’ll soon see that there are many different versions of meditating on corpses. Keep in mind while reading the list that buddhists aren’t especially morbid, but death is probably the biggest fear that most of us have, and death, especially in the Buddha’s time period was often an ugly business. Contemplation on some of the foulest ideas can lead to fearlessness and peace.

Ten Recollections:
1. Recollection of the virtues of the Buddha.
2. Recollection of the virtues of the Dhamma.
3. Recollection of the virtues of the Sangha.
4. Recollection of one’s own moral virtue.
5. Recollection of one’s generosity.
6. Recollection of the qualities that lead to rebirth as a heavenly being.
7. Mindfulness immersed in the body.
8. Mindfulness of death.
9. Mindfulness of breathing.
10. Recollection of the virtues of Nirvana — ultimate pleasure; unexcelled ease, free from birth, aging, illness and death.

Ten Foul Objects:
1. A rotten, bloated corpse, its body all swollen and its features distended out of shape.
2. A livid corpse, with patchy discoloration — greenish, reddish, yellowish — from the decomposition of the blood.
3. A festering corpse, oozing lymph and pus from its various orifices.
4. A corpse falling apart, the pieces scattered about, radiating their stench.
5. A corpse that various animals, such as dogs, are gnawing, or that vultures are picking at, or that crows are fighting over, pulling it apart in different directions.
6. Corpses scattered about, i.e., unclaimed bodies that have been thrown together in a pile — face up, face down, old bones and new scattered all over the place.
7. The corpse of a person violently murdered, slashed and stabbed with various weapons, covered with wounds — short, long, shallow, deep — some parts hacked so that they’re almost detached.
8. Corpse covered with blood, like the hands of a butcher, all red and raw-smelling.
9. A corpse infested with worms: long worms, short worms, black, green, and yellow worms, squeezed into the ears, eyes, and mouth; squirming and squiggling about, filling the various parts of the body like a net full of fish that has fallen open.

10. A skeleton, some of the joints already separated, others not yet, the bones — whitish, yellowish, discolored — scattered near and far all over the place.


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2 comments to The Forty Meditation Themes, Part 1

  • Ron Towns

    I'm new to meditating… what is the significance of the foul objects that you mentioned above? What about the 10 recollections? These are types of meditation?

    The best resource I've used so far to help with mediation, visualization, and affirmation is John Assaraf's new book “The Complete Vision Board Kit.” I downloaded one of the free chapters here I use mediation every single to relax and prepare my subconscious mind to soak in my vision's of a better lifestyle. However, I feel like I only slip into the “trance” for a brief moment. How do I stay in this moment for longer?

    Another method I've been using lately is visualization with vision boards. Have you ever heard of them? They are images pasted on a board that represents your hopes, dreams, and goals. Studying these boards every days plants seeds of these goals within your subconscious mind.

    Your subconscious mind is where all of habits are formed. Combine these visualizations with mediation and affirmations, and the seed in your subconscious mind will begin to grow, sprouting a newly developed habit that is oriented towards your desired outcome, or goal.

    John Assaraf does a better job of explaining this and showing you how to do it in his new book “The Complete Vision Board Kit.” I downloaded the free chapter here: and it was very helpful.

  • The foul objects are meditations that make you more familiar with the things we fear most and find most repulsive. I'm oversimplifying, but basically by becoming closer to those ideas you gain more familiarity with them and learn to accept them. By “embracing death” we lessen our attachment to life. It sounds pretty morbid, but it actually has a very positive mental effect and has worked for millennia. The recollections are basically remembering the positive things about the objects in question and gaining peace from them.

    I was not familiar with the idea of vision boards, but it sounds like a good idea to me. From a classical Buddhist standpoint, you should try to train yourself not to need that sort of support mechanism, but my own opinion is that if it helps, it's a good thing.