The Pali term "susānika" means "the one who has the habit to dwell within charnels".
"susāna" = "charnel"; "susānika" = "an individual who dwells in a charnel"
When this practice is conveniently done, with constancy and diligence, with the determination of not breaking it, we say that there is "susānikaṅga" (state of mind arising out of dwelling among charnels).
According to the texts of the "visuddhi magga", we may consider to be a "charnel" any spot where human corpses are buried or burnt since at least twelve years.
In order to adopt this dhutaṅga, it is convenient to pronounce the following phrase whether in Pali, whether in the language of one's choice...
«na susānaṃ paṭikkhipāmi, sosānikaṅgaṃ samādhiyāmi.»
«I renounce to spots where there are no corpses, I will train into dwelling among charnels.»
According to restrictions, there do exist three kinds of practitioners of the susānika dhutaṅga:
The bhikkhu who is a noble practitioner of the dhutaṅga susānika dwells in a charnel that has the the three following characteristics: 1) daily, some corpses are cremated in it; 2) in it, there is constantly a smell of corpse entering a stage of decomposition; 3) some funerals are being daily held in it, with (the sound produced by) the weeping and wailing of the relatives of the dead person whom they are accompanying.
The bhikkhu who is an intermediate practitioner of the susānika dhutaṅga dwells in a charnel that has the the three aforesaid characteristics.
The bhikkhu who is an ordinary practitioner of the susānika dhutaṅga dwells on a spot where a dead person has already been buried or cremated.
By practising the susānika dhutaṅga, we can benefit with the following advantages...
Remark: the practice of a dhutaṅga alone enables one to understand its advantages.
As soon as a practitioner of the susānika dhutaṅga settles down on a spot (with the intention to remain on it), even for a short moment, he breaks his dhutaṅga.
According to the texts of the "aṅguttaranikaya", it is taught that the practitioner of the susānika dhutaṅga can go out of his charnel soon before dawn without breaking his dhutaṅga. Nevertheless, he breaks it from the very day when he doesn't proceed to a charnel. In the same manner, if he comes out of the charnel before dawn, he breaks his dhutaṅga.
According to the «visuddhi magga», the bhikkhu who practises the susānika dhutaṅga «must have a few activities and light means of livelihood (a few belongings) only». Thus, it is not proper that such a bhikkhu dwells on such a spot while doing very visible things, such as: building up a footpath, a shelter, utilising a bed, a large carpet, installing a large water store (for drinking or providing for various needs), teaching the dhamma, giving meditation instructions, giving a teaching, etc.
It is very good, on the other hand, to dwell in a charnel, like the mahāthera Mahāsu, who dwelt sixty years non-stop in a charnel, and nobody ever came to know about it.
This dhutaṅga is very difficult to put into practice. Most of individuals are not eligible for adopting such a practice.
For practising this dhutaṅga, it is indispensable not to fear feelings of disgust and fright, it is necessary to be very courageous, fearless and tenacious. For this reason, before starting the practice of such a dhutaṅga, it is convenient to proceed to a charnel during the day time and to minutely observe all the characteristics that such a spot is made of. Then, it is convenient to proceed back to it again, but at night-time, in order to observe in it the aforesaid characteristics. In a charnel, the daytime strongly contrasts with the night-time. Indeed, even though the spot remains the same, it becomes, to most of individuals, far more frightening during the night time as compared with the daytime. Some scaring thoughts can easily appear owing to the distorted sights arising out of the night. By watching a man or a dog, for instance, we do not know what it is about and we can easily imagine having seen dangerous things or beings. A minute study of a charnel during the daytime yields the advantages to know all its elements; owing to this fact, once the night has fallen, these elements have no more reasons to be frightening.
Thus, it is convenient for a bhikkhu to adopt the susānika dhutaṅga only once he has made sure he got entirely rid of any fright likely to manifest, should he dwell in a charnel at night-time.
Given that we are constantly coming across dead people, in the course of practice of this dhutaṅga, we are no longer scared of death. Buddha told:
«appamādo amataṃ padaṃ pamādo maccunopadaṃ»
«those who are inattentive constantly die; those who are heedful never die.»
Those who know how to take benefit from this word can rapidly attain the realisation of nibbāna.
By dwelling in a charnel, we are put into the position of frequently watching corpses. By seeing that, we can easily do away with the attachment to sensuous pleasures.
A burmese proverb is telling us: «If you don't want to die, always go to the cemetery! Don't forget that you will also ultimately die!»
Origin: Book in Burmese language
Author: Monk Devinda
Translator: Monk Dhamma Sāmi
Date of translation: 2004, January
Update: 2005, June the 18th