Meditation on Perception (pp. 103-111)
Meditation: Impermanence and the Six Sensory Objects
In Part 3: Meditation on Perception, Bhante G. mentions several meditation practices to fully experience some of the perceptions. Three of the practices are focused on Impermanence, the first perception. The meditation practice, Seeing Impermanence with Insight Awareness (Chapter 18) , was mentioned in conjunction with Perception of Impermanence (Chapter 4).
Bhante G. notes, “We need to see impermanence deeply in our own experiences. In our meditation, we pay total mindful attention to the processes of our own body and mind without assumptions or preconceived notions. The impartial attention allow the mind to see impermanence from its roots. Direct, preconceptional knowledge of impermanence opens the door to seeing the truth about all conditioned things.” (p. 103)
What is preconceptual knowledge? This is knowledge that we experience before the mind puts an interpretation or assumption on it. This is pure perception which the Buddha defined as what the senses sense without embellishment. See the talk on Distorted Perception I.
Above is a diagram showing the Flow of Impermanence. Preconceptual knowledge occurs with form and contact before conditioning. What we can experience is that everything is constantly changing: the sense bases, the sense objects and consciousness. The Flow of Impermanence is a cycle constantly changing over and over again.
Here is a meditation practice to experience the impermanence of all things:
Meditation Instructions on Impermanence
- We begin every day with meditation, using the breath as the primary point of focus. As the breath becomes calm, subtle, and relaxed, the mind becomes calm and relaxed.
- Once the body is relaxed and the mind is peaceful, we turn our attention to the perceptions of the six kinds of sensory objects: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and mental objects.
- For instance, we listen to the sounds of birds-pigeons, sparrows, nightingales, blue jays, parrots, or other birds. We notice that some make loud and annoying sounds, and others make sweet and attractive sounds. We listen as well to sounds made by humans. Just like the birds, some make loud and annoying sounds. Others make soft and agreeable sounds. As we listen, we notice that whatever sound we hear is always changing. When we listen to sounds mindfully-without anger, greed, or delusion- all we hear is change and impermanence.
- Next, we may turn our attention to the sense of smell. We breathe in the scent of fresh flowers or the smell of soap, cow dung, or bread baking and pay total mindful attention. Whatever smell we notice is changing all the time.
- Next, we pay attention to the touch of our clothes against the skin-loose or tight, soft or rough, soothing or scratchy, changing all the time. We experience the touch of the cushion we are sitting on, and how this perception changes from soft and comfortable to hard and unyielding. We experience these changing sensations with awareness.
- If we open our eyes, we see leaves, trees, and clouds that are moving. Everything the eyes can see is moving and changing in obvious and subtle ways.
- Now we notice that everything we perceive is changing. There is no particular order for things to arise. While being aware of a sound, we suddenly become aware of the impermanence of a feeling, or a thought, or of consciousness itself. We allow the mind to experience these changes in whatever order they arise. No matter what object the mind becomes aware of, we notice impermanence in that object. We don’t have to force ourselves to see it. Impermanence is right there, very clearly marked. Everything we perceive is clearly marked with impermanence.
- Similarly, all kinds of feelings-pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral- that arise from the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body are changing all the time.
- When thoughts arise-wholesome, unwholesome, or neutral we pay total mindful attention to them. All we notice in them is change.
- Any perception that arises depending on sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought always changes. Any state of consciousness that arises depending on sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought also changes. While we are paying attention to any of them, it changes.
- Underneath all changes is the breath, and it is also changing. ‘The feeling of the breath, the perception of breath, the attention to breath, the intention to pay attention to breath, and the awareness of breath-they are all changing, without any power that can stop the change. Nothing can prevent the change of anything.
- When we breathe in, even the breath does not remain static. It changes by itself It goes to our lungs, exchanges oxygen with carbon dioxide, and then leaves the lungs. We don’t do anything to cause this changing process. It happens by itself
- Our heartbeat, the blood circulating through the capillaries and arteries-these movements take place naturally through the very same process of impermanence. Radiating body heat and absorbing environmental heat to balance the body’s temperature take place due to impermanence. Heat in the body must move, air in the body must move, liquid in the body must move, other elements in the body must move naturally in order to keep the body going. All bodily functions take place naturally due to impermanence. We use mindfulness to become aware of this process while breathing. If we cannot be fully aware of all of these simultaneous changes, we strive to be aware of whatever we can notice while breathing in and out.
- Then we realize that change is the nature of all the forms, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness of everyone and everything in the universe. They all change constantly. With this understanding we breathe. We feel that we are breathing with the rest of the world, which experiences the changes the same way that we do.
- Although we may wish to stop change in its tracks and grip the present moment tightly, doing so is impossible. The processes of life don’t stop, not for a split second. Our attempt to freeze the present moment in place is like trying to catch air in our fist. Instead, the mindful mind lets it all happen without longing for things to be different or bemoaning our fate. This attitude is known as abandonment. While noticing impermanence, nonfixity, cessation, and abandonment, we breathe in and breathe out.
- Noticing these changes without greed, hatred, and delusion is our practice of mindfulness. We realize that the breath, feeling, perception, attention, intention, all kinds of thoughts, and consciousness are there to help us to gain insight into the reality of impermanence. Anyone paying total undivided attention to the breath, feeling, perception, thought, attention, intention, and consciousness can experience the same changes that we experience.
from Meditation on Perception by Bhante G. (pp 104-107)
Meditation: The Mind is Also Changing
The mind also changes becoming aware of new objects as well as the changes in the object that it was previously focusing on. So our awareness of impermanence is also impermanent. As Bhante G. notes: To experience the mind’s changes experientially, practice the meditation exercise as noted above and focus not on the changes in the objects of perception, but on the changes in the mind that is perceiving these objects. Notice clearly how often the mind alters its perceptual focus, switching from external to internal objects. Notice that the mind, along with everything else that exists, is engaged in constant and unstoppable change. (p. 111)
- Reread this talk and reflect on it. Can you experience through reflection or meditation that everything is impermanent?
- Practice the meditations noted above. Look for impermanence in all of the senses bases, all of the sense objects, and in consciousness. Note that once you experience impermanence, that too is impermanent!