Meditation on Perception: Introduction/Overview

Meditation on Perception (pp. vii-7)

Foreword by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Theravada Buddhist monk, ordained in Sri Lanka. He has edited and authored many publications grounded in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

The second Noble Truth tells us that craving is the root of all suffering. We want life to be other than it is and the wanting is craving. We crave because we do not know and understand how life really works. This non-knowing and non-understanding is called ignorance.

In our ignorant state, we want to live life as a being (self) that lives a satisfying, comfortable life that is predictable (certain). Our goals are permanence, enjoyment, selfhood, and sensual beauty (from all of the senses).

In order to cease our suffering, we must not only resist craving but also transform our cognition. This cognitive breakthrough involves changing our perception so that we see things as they really are rather than bask in our ignorant goals of enjoyment, etc.

This means that we are changing from a distorted perception to a purified perception.

The most famous teaching on changing our perception is the Girimananda Sutta. By way of this sutta, the Buddha teaches ten perceptions and practices that lead to purified perception.

The Venerable Girimananda was a monk in the Buddha’s time who became “sick, afflicted, and gravely ill.” The Buddha’s manservant, Ananda, informed the Buddha about this and asked if the Buddha would “visit him out of compassion.” Instead of visiting, the Buddha asked if Ananda would speak to him about ten perceptions. The Buddha then gave Ananda the discourse on the ten perceptions and afterwards said, “If Ananda, you visit the bhikkhu Girimananda and speak to him about these ten perceptions, it is possible that on hearing about them he will immediately recover from his affliction.” 

“Then, when the Venerable Ananda had learned these ten perceptions from the Blessed One, he went to the Venerable Girimananda and spoke to him about them. When the Venerable Girimananda heard about these ten perceptions, his affliction immediately subsided. The Venerable Girimananda recovered from that affliction, and that is how we was cured of his affliction.”

As stated in the foreword, Bhante G. is well qualified to explain the Buddhist perspectives on perception “both in its negative role as an instrument of delusion and suffering and in its positive role as an aid on the path to emancipation….Whether or not these perceptions can heal bodily illness is of secondary importance. What is of prime importance is their ability to heal the most debilitating illness of all, the ignorance inherent in mental distortions and in toxic views about ourselves and the world in which we live.”

Introduction by Bhante G.

Where in the Eightfold Path is perception addressed? It is in the seventh step, Skillful Mindfulness in the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, Mental Objects. The five aggregates of clinging are how the mind experiences the world. The aggregates are labeled clinging because of our potential attachment to them. We can experience each one of these aggregates by observing the mind.

Perception is one of the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, thought, and consciousness). Perception includes information from many sources: all six senses (touch, seeing, hearing, taste, smell and mind (including thought and imagination). Purifying perceptions helps us to overcome unskillful thinking and acting as well as to further develop our spiritual growth.

Using the Girimananda teaching, we will gain a greater understanding of perception and be able to distinguish between distorted and purified perception. We will explore the ten perceptions, meditating on each one. “As we work through meditation on the ten perceptions, we train the mind to move beyond ordinary superficial perception into the enlightened perspective that leads to permanent liberation from confusion and unhappiness.” (p. 2)

The meditations that we will be using are concentration and insight (see Meditation Instructions under Resources).

What can we expect from this training?

On the mundane level, everyday level, we can overcome negative mental attitudes such as anger and greed and increase positive attitudes such as patience, loving-kindness, and peace of mind.

On the spiritual level, we can make progress on the path toward liberation from suffering and perhaps experience genuine mental as well as physical healing. 

Reflection

  • Reflect on this talk daily. What does perception mean to you at this point? Be prepared to share your views next week.

Meditation

  • Develop or continue a daily practice of concentration and insight meditation. This will prepare you for our meditation practice on the ten perceptions.

Next: What is Perception?