Perception of Impermanence Part I

Meditation on Perception (pp. 47-54)

The Buddha said in the Girimananda Sutta:

“And what, Ananda, is the perception of impermanence? Here, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree or to an empty hut, a bhikkhu reflects thus: ‘Form is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, volitional activities are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent.’ Thus he dwells contemplating impermanence in these five aggregates subject to clinging. This is called the perception of impermanence.”

Note that the Buddha is referring to the five aggregates of clinging. All of our experience comes through one or more of these aggregates. They are called the five aggregates of clinging because we attach (cling) to them.

Perception of Impermanence

Impermanence is constant change. Everything is constantly changing. It is necessary to know this by experience, not just have a theoretical knowledge.

What is everything that is changing? Our mind forms the world through concepts. For example, what is our body? It is made up of many parts such as the heart which is made up of many parts such as the muscles and the valves which are made up of many parts such as molecules and atoms. Each of these parts change or leave the body. So our concept of the body does not exist in the same form from moment to moment.

What do we do with this knowledge? How can we make this useful? It is useful because it is the key to understanding why we suffer.

The Buddha said from the Mahasunnata Sutta:

“I do not see even a single kind of form, Ananda, from the change and alteration of which there would not arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair in one who lusts for it and takes delight in it.”

It is not impermanence or change that causes suffering. It is our attachment to the impermanent object that we want to be permanent that is the problem. Our suffering will end when we give up this attachment.

We also need to realize that our body and mind are impermanent as well. This understanding is called “signlessness.”

As the Buddha said in the Khandavagga:

“Form is like a lump of foam,
Feeling is like a water bubble;
Perception is like a mirage,
Volitions like a plantain trunk,
And consciousness like an illusion”

A more complete explanation is provided hereexternal_link.

We need to be aware of “signlessness” at all times because it reminds us that nothing is permanent. This means that we have abandoned our “bucket list” and have entered the state of wishlessness. We then can see the arising of “selflessness” or “emptiness.”

Wishlessness, signlessness and emptiness are often called the three gateways to liberation.

As the Buddha noted:

“Seeing thus, the impermanence, suffering, and selflessness of all conditioned things, one becomes disillusioned with everything.”

from the Dhammapada

“Like the path of birds in the sky
It is hard to trace the path
Of those who do not hoard
Who are judicious with their food,
And whose field
Is the freedom of emptiness and signlessness”

Those who do not hoard (cling) to the aggregates and who lead skillful lives and who dwell in nonattachment, leave suffering behind.

Disenchantment (disillusion) is not negative. Out of disenchantment arises spiritual maturity and the joy of nonattachment.

In the next talk, we will discuss the healing process 


  • Reread this talk and reflect on the impermanence of the five aggregates. Can you experience that form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and conscious are all impermanent?


  • Using the Meditation Instructions on Impermanencepdf_icon in Chapter 18, use insight meditation to meditate on impermanence.
  • As you meditate, see the impermanence of all the phenomena that arise in the mind through the aggregates. How could these phenomena arise and fall away if they were not impermanent?

Next: Perception of Impermanence Part II
Previous: Introduction to the Ten Healing Perceptions