Perception of Impermanence in Regard to All Mental Formations

Meditation on Perception (pp. 83-85)

“And what, Ananda, is the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena? Here, a bhikkhu is repelled, humiliated, and disgusted by all conditioned phenomena. This is called the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena.”
–(tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

The Perception

The perception of impermanence in regard to all mental formations is the total giving up or relinquishment of clinging to anything.

Meditating on the previous perceptions using the processes of the mind has helped us get to this point:

First we explored perception; understanding what perception is and the difference between distorted and purified perception.

With Perception of Impermanence, Perception of Selflessness, Perception of Impurities, and Perception of Danger, we have come to know that our body is impermanent, subject to decay and disease, and is not a “self.” With Perception of Abandoning and Perception of Dispassion we know the cause of suffering and through Perception of Cessation we can experience the state beyond suffering. With Perception of Nondelight in the Whole World we overcome the wish for rebirth of any kind.

The perception of impermanence in regard to all mental formations goes farther to give up clinging to everything including all conceptions, all mental formations, all conditioned and compounded things including the processes of our own mind whether they be unwholesome, wholesome or imperturbable. All are impermanent.

We do not even cling to perception.

In other words, using the processes of the mind to get to this point has been helpful and now we do not need them any more. It is like abandoning the raft once we cross the river because it has served its purpose.

The Final Stage

As the Buddha noted in the Vatthupama Sutta:

When he knows and sees thus, his mind is liberated from the taint of sensual desire, for the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When it is liberated, there comes the knowledge: “It is liberated.” He understands: “Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.” (tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Instructions from Huang Po

Huang Po was a Chinese Zen Master who died in 850 AD.

“Were you now to practice keeping your minds motionless at all times, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying, concentrating entirely upon the goal of no thought-creation, no duality, no reliance on others and no attachments; just allowing all things to take their course the whole day long, as though you were too ill to bother; unknown to the world; innocent of any urge to be known or unknown to others; with your minds like blocks of stone that mend no holes – then all the Dharmas would penetrate your understanding through and through. In a little while you would find yourselves firmly unattached.  Thus, for the first time in your lives, you would discover your reactions to phenomena decreasing and, ultimately, you would pass beyond the Triple World; and people would say that a Buddha had appeared in the world.”  (from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po Grove Press p. 90)

The Venerable Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rimpoche

The Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness as taught by Ven. Rimpoche is another way to explore the final stage.  This teaching has similar aspects to our study on Perception. The Obscurations are distorted perceptions and the Realizations are similar to the pure perceptions.  Note that both Meditation on Perception and the Five Stages to Emptiness lead to Being.

The Five Stages of Emptiness Obscuration Realization
Stage 1 Belief in a permanent self There is no one to suffer
Stage 2 Perceptions of objects are inherently real Nothing to suffer
Stage 3 Objects are real Concepts are empty
Stage 4 Non-duality can be understood by mind Transcendence of all concepts
Stage 5 There is awareness of awareness Being, abiding, wholeness



  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  As Huang Po notes, can you just allow all things to take their course the whole day long?  By not clinging to anything, can you experience being firmly unattached?


  • As you meditate, see if you experience motionless mind.  You cannot will it; that will only invite mental proliferation.  Just observe.

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