What is Perception?

Meditation on Perception (pp. 11-20)

Pure Perception

The Buddha defined pure perception as what the senses sense without embellishment. The type of perception depends on which sense base is involved.

The senses bases are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. What the senses sense are sense objects:

  • Eye/Visible objects
  • Ear/Sounds
  • Nose/Smells
  • Tongue/Tastes
  • Body/Tangible Objects
  • Mind/Mental Objects

The process works as follows. The five factors of mentality (also called the five aggregates) are form, feeling, perception, mental objects (ideas, fantasies, memories, fears, emotional responses), and consciousness. These factors become involved as follows: The sense base makes contact with the sense object, the first factor (form). We become aware of the sense object when we pay attention through the fifth factor, consciousness. Then the second factor, feeling, about the object arises (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). Then the third factor, perception, arises which is followed by the fourth factor, mental objects (ideas, fantasies, memories, fears, emotional responses). This thoughts can lead to more thoughts (mental proliferation) depending on the amount of attachment or clinging we have about that object.

As an example, you are walking down a street and the eye sense base makes contact with a person coming toward you, the sense object (form). You become aware of this person through consciousness. Then a feeling arises about this person (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). Perception then arises followed by the arising of thoughts. Thinking can lead to mental proliferation (many thoughts). If the perception was originally negative, proliferation can lead to unskillful speech and action which causes suffering.

Why is it important to understand this process? Because this understanding will lead to less unskillful thinking and behavior. The function of perception is to recognize an object. What happens when we initially recognize an object is that perception continuously changes as our mind embellishes the initial contact. When we are mindful of how the embellishments of what we initially experience can affect our behavior, we will not act out of ignorance.


  • Reflect on the talk daily. Practice the meditation below.


  • Meditate on perception and the Aggregates by using the breath
  • Start with a concentration meditation focusing on the breath.
  • During meditation, be mindful of each aggregate
    • Form – notice the sensation of the breath and any other sensations that might arise
    • Feeling – notice the discomfort that arises just after exhalation and the pleasure that arises when starting to inhale.
    • Perception – notice if the sensation of the breath is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
    • Mental objects – notice the thoughts that arise (emotions, memories fears, etc.)
    • Consciousness – notice how consciousness is always changing such as going from one aggregate to another
  • The purpose of this meditation is to try to perceive whatever arises and passes away with an impartial attitude. If embellishments arise, we cannot truly see what we are perceiving.
  • Be mindful of the impermanence of perception with each moment.
  • Be mindful that the aggregates that arise are not you. For example, you are not your feelings. Feelings just arise.

Next: Distorted Perception I
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