This quote is found everywhere, which isn’t surprising, since it reminds us of the importance of keeping the body in good health—something many of us neglect to do.
It’s from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, where it’s “Our body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” (Note the use of “our” rather than “your” in the original.)
“Precious” is not, to the best of my knowledge, a term the Buddha ever used to describe the body.
However, he did indeed stress the importance of keeping the body healthy:
Reflecting properly, he takes alms-food. He does so not for enjoyment, not for vanity, not for improvement of the body, not for a better complexion, but only to sustain the physical body, to have just enough nourishment for maintaining life, to appease hunger and to carry out the Noble Practice of Purity. [He reflects thus:] ‘By this alms-food, I shall remove the existing discomfort and shall prevent the arising of new discomfort. I shall have just enough nourishment to maintain life and to lead a blameless life with good health.’ (Sabbasava Sutta)
But as you can see, the attitude to the body here is rather neutral. It’s not regarded as “precious” but is simply to be sustained, without attachment.
Seeing the body as precious would, for the Buddha, be taking us too close to what he called “intoxication” with health:
There are beings who are intoxicated with a [typical] healthy person’s intoxication with health. Because of that intoxication with health, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body… in speech… and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that healthy person’s intoxication with health will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker… (Upajjhatthana Sutta)
To counter this intoxication, the Buddha offered perspectives on the body that are less than flattering:
Behold this body — a painted image, a mass of heaped up sores, infirm, full of hankering — of which nothing is lasting or stable!
Fully worn out is this body, a nest of disease, and fragile. This foul mass breaks up, for death is the end of life.
As for the body being a vehicle for awakening, it could be argued that the Buddha came close to saying that in stressing the need for bodily mindfulness. For example in Dhammapada 293, he says:
But those who always practice well
do never what should not be done
and ever do what should be done;
mindful, clearly comprehending,
their pollutions out of existence go.
And even more clearly,
There is one thing that when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body. (Anguttara Nikaya I 43)
The quote in question should probably be attributed to Jack Kornfield (along with many others that have been taken from Buddha’s Little Instruction Book and mis-attributed to the Buddha), but it may in turn be an adaptation of a verse from Tsongkhapa:
“The human body, at peace with itself, is more precious than the rarest gem. Cherish your body, it is yours this one time only. The human form is won with difficulty, it is easy to lose.”
The Buddha would certainly have agreed with Tsongkhapa about the rarity of human existence, but I doubt he would have used the word “precious” to describe the body.
7 thoughts on ““Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.””
Well, one bogus quote deserves another, I suppose. The quote given above as from Anguttara Nikaya 1.43 is also bogus, and it is all over the Internet. There are three quotes from the Anguttara Nikaya that begin with the words “There is one thing”. They are AN 1.196 – where that “one thing” is recollection of the Buddha – and AN 1.197 – where that “one thing” is recollection of the Buddha, Dharma. Sangha, virtuous behavior, generosity, the devas, breathing, death, the body, and peace. AN 1.43 is this:
“Here, bhikkhus, having encompassed a mentally corrupted person’s mind with my own mind, I understand that if this person were to die at this time, he would be deposited in hell as if brought there. For what reason? Because his mind is corrupted. It is because of mental corruption that with the breakup of the body, after death, some beings here are reborn in the plane of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell.”
The quote in question (AN I 43) is on page 129–130 of “The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha,” translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi. The quotation you offer is from AN I 9.
You’re using a different numbering system. Unfortunately I had mistakenly typed a numeral 1 rather than a Roman numeral I, which led to the confusion. Apologies! I’ve now corrected the reference.
Thank you so much for your clarification, Bodhipaksa. Some of the confusion is in the translation itself. I use the electronic versions (of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Wisdom Publications translations) to find quotes. It is a wonderful – although sometimes tedious way – to find quotes, fake or otherwise. The Kindle version of the quote, (which as you know) is in section XIX, “Mindfulness of the Body”, is slightly different than that above:
Also, for those who are interested, I always thought it interesting that an entire sutta is devoted to using body contemplation as a complete path to liberation (keeping in mind, as Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, that in the body are all of the other Foundations of Mindfulness as well). It is sutta 119, “Mindfulness of the Body”, in the Majjhima Nikaya.
What i find disturbing is that some Buddhists promote this mentality that they cant surround themselves with other people, they exclude, call people filthy and dirty. And generally, have that attitude to others. Its sounds like the Buddha had opinions. Its disturbing as the Buddha mentioned to take care of self, and have compassion. He mentioned this with the sink monk. I have met Buddhists who exclude others and can be quite nasty in damaging the self-esteem of others. To live compassionately is to live in the world. Not calling everyone else filthy dirty, and having that kind of mindset towards others.
In close to 40 years of Buddhist practice I’m quite sure that I’ve never once heard another Buddhist describe others as filthy or dirty (unless they were literally talking about people covered in dirt). I have of course come across Buddhists who have excluded others for various reasons or have damaged others’ self-esteem. I’m sure I’ve done those things myself. We’re all human, and working with deep-rooted habits of grasping, aversion, and delusion, and so we all behave badly at times.
thankyou bodhipaska. I am not Buddhist but incorporate many things of it into my own life, and have Buddhist friends! In a sense multi-faith. i don’t believe needs in themselves are the issue, an aversion to need has been proven to cause indirect expression of that need, and unconscious acting out. Also suffering. For instance, if not meeting the need of belonging or esteem one can be jealous or clingy. Which is really a compensation for that need and insecurity. Just like greed is a compensation for starvation. Both don’t work. And are expressions of an unmet need. What are your thoughts on this? We also know that there are healthy attachments, called secure attachments, which lead a person to have good relationships, explore their environment, be loving and trusting. While avoidant and ambivalent relationships can cause a person to be emotionally distant, aloof, cold, or clingy.
lots of love
Yes, I’d agree. If we don’t recognize and take care of important needs for love, connection, etc., we’ll end up unhappy and will probably not treat others well. The aim in Buddhist practice is not simply “mindfulness,” as a lot of people seem to assume, but to live with love, compassion, appreciation, and reverence. Unfortunately a lot of modern Buddhist practitioners do just mindfulness meditation, which isn’t enough, and it’s certainly not what the Buddha taught.