Courtesy of Body Worlds
Courtesy of Body Worlds

Body Worlds
The Museum for Science and Industry
Chicago, through September 5, 2005
Franklin Institute Science Museum
Philadelphia, October 7, 2005—April 23, 2006

Body Worlds 2
Great Lakes Science Center
Cleveland, through September 18, 2005
Ontario Science Center
Toronto, Spetember 30, 2005—February 26, 2006

The Universe Within
Nob Hill Masonic Center
San Francisco, through September 4, 2005

During my first visit to Thailand, I was invited into the small, sparse room of a young monk. On the wall above his cot hung a disturbing illustration. The left half showed a beautiful blonde woman, in a skimpy bathing suit. The right half of the illustration showed the same woman, in the same pose—but her skin was peeled away. All that remained was muscle, bone, and two grotesque eyeballs.

The grisly Thai image of the flayed but animate corpse—also seen in Tibetan thangkas, and Mexican Day of the Dead figurines—serves, in Buddhist practice, as a tool for ashubha bhavana: contemplation of “unfavorable, impure, and ugly” objects. Ashubha practice is essentially the Buddhists’ reminder that beauty is only skin deep. It’s based on the notion that, to embrace nonattachment and impermanence, we must first come to terms with the visceral reality of our slimy, mechanical bodies.

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