The Wheel of Analytical Meditation: The 5 Aggregates (Ch 1)
This text is a method of investigating the
characteristics of existence, based on what we call the five
aggregates. According to Buddhism, the five aggregates are the way to
classify all phenomena. The subject of the five aggregates is a very
complex and extensive one, with lots of nomenclature, classifications
and lists; so it can be a very elaborate teaching. But this text is a
text of instructions for practice and not a theoretical teaching, and
the best way of using these instructions is to practise them and not to
theorize about them. You can talk a lot about this teaching and spend a
long time studying, but this may not really change your life and it can
even be quite boring. So we are going to treat the subject following
the intention of Mipham Rinpoche, the author of this text, which is to
try to realize the meaning of this teaching of the five skandhas.
the whole of Buddhism is intended for practice. The totality of the
teachings given by the Buddha and all the great teachers after him are
there to be practised in order to experience something. Experience is
the purpose, and it is very important to know this. Buddhism is
something that has to be experienced, not something just to be studied.
We have to study it in order to know how to apply it and to gain the
experience of it. If there is no experience, there is no Buddhism.
can say that Buddhism is a religion, a philosophy, a way of life or any
other name. And we can compare it with other religions and philosophies
and say many things about it. But in any case, the main purpose of
Buddhism is to experience something. When you experience what Buddhism
tries to communicate, then no matter what people can say about Buddhism
and how much they can theorize, it doesn't change your experience. You
are the one who knows what Buddhism really is, because you are
experiencing it. That is the essence of Buddhism, and that essence
doesn't have any name or any title; you cannot call it anything. It is
just something that is true, because you are experiencing it. All the
teachings and schools of Buddhism have the purpose of leading to this
experience and to its full realization.
What is this that we are
supposed to experience? It is the same that the Buddha experienced.
Buddhism started when Prince Gautama reached a level of experience and
realization - which we can call enlightenment or the true nature of
reality - and understood that it was the solution to all the problems,
conflicts and sufferings; and he understood that everybody could
experience it. Therefore, he started teaching the way to reach that
realization so that everybody could attain the same.
This is the
proper way of understanding what Buddhism really is. We don't need to
play around with words too much nor have any doubts of whether these
teachings are valid or not, are adequate to our times or are old
fashioned, and things like that. Of course the way to talk about them
can change according to different places and times, and can be
modified. But in any case, their only purpose is to lead to that
experience, which is a true experience that anybody can reach.
the two main types of Buddhist meditation - shamata and vipashyana, or
shinay and lhaktong in Tibetan, this particular text belongs to the
second type, vipashyana meditation. Shamata means to be in peace, and
all the methods of shamata meditation help to pacify our minds and
bodies and to reach a state of complete calm and peace. Vipashyana
means insight or clear seeing. It means to have a clear vision of the
nature of the universe and of the beings in it. To have a clear and
correct perception of who we are, and of the true nature of things.
the first type of meditation comes first, because it is considered that
in order to be able to develop that clear vision of things, one needs
to have a stable and tranquil state of mind. This implies that shamata
meditation is just a means to lead the mind to the experience of
vipashyana. A calm mind is not the goal in itself; the goal is
vipashyana. Just to practise shamata, no matter how fantastic the
experience of shamata may be, is not the final solution, because it is
If one practises shamata properly, one can reach a
deeply peaceful and joyful state of mind, and have a gratifying
experience of ease and lightness, as if one was made of thistledown.
Then, after the meditation session, one starts moving around, slowly,
and tries to maintain that experience, but the world around functions
at another pace, in a much faster and rougher way. People are running
and shouting, and we think, "What are they doing? Why are they so busy?
Why do they behave so carelessly? Don't they realize I am in this
state? People should be more peaceful!" Then you have a problem,
because there is so much contrast. You may think that Buddhism, or the
path to enlightenment, consists in floating around like a cloud and you
make a very strict distinction between what is spiritual and not
spiritual. You think that the world is a 'non-spiritual' place and you
feel you need to isolate yourself from the world in order to maintain
your 'spirituality', that trance of peace.
Another problem with
this idea is that if you think that shamata is the main thing and don't
understand vipashyana, you may think that to be in a state of real
meditation or correct practice means necessarily to be completely calm.
Then, when the mind is not calm, you feel you are not practising
correctly or that something is not going well. So, again you make a
radical distinction between a peaceful and agitated state of mind,
thinking that the first is good and the second is bad. You think you
have to achieve the first and avoid the second. This way, you are
fighting yourself. Practising meditation becomes a conflict. What tends
to happen is that you can meditate only when you are alone in a quiet
place; but when you interact with the world, you are not able to
maintain the practice of meditation.
consists of investigating reality in order to gain that clarity of
vision and understanding we were talking about. After the Buddha was
enlightened, he was enlightened all the time. The experience he gained
was a continuous experience. This is the kind of experience that we
have to try to achieve through the practice of vipashyana. We can call
that clear understanding 'wisdom'. Wisdom is the experience we are
talking about and is the only purpose of all the Buddhist teachings.
wisdom receives many different names, but its main characteristic is
that it is indescribable, inconceivable. This means that even though we
can say many things about it, they are not it, because it cannot be
described. It is something that can only be experienced. Not even the
Buddha could explain it, so that one could listen to him and understand
it. No matter how enlightened a person may be, there is no way he or
she could communicate to anybody what it is to be enlightened. All the
different methods, practices and teachings are oriented to realize this
one thing; and this thing is unspeakable!
It is important to
reflect on this; it can be revealing and help us understand what it
means to be a Buddhist. Buddhism is such a complex collection of
methods, and sometimes people may have doubts about those methods
because they may seem to be contradictory, and because there are so
many and so varied. They may seem strange, alien to our normal daily
lives, and one may feel confused or disoriented about the meaning of
all this. But if we know this essential purpose of all Buddhist
practices - that is, this one experience that is there, waiting for us
- then we know where the path is; and when we experience that, we will
understand all those different teachings and methods. That gives us a
lot of confidence and reassurance about Buddhism, because it is
something we experience; we know it is a truth. And a truth is just a
truth; it is not even a 'Buddhist' truth.
An example of this
could be being in love. Being in love is a very personal and real
experience, but there is no way one can explain it to others. We cannot
experience being in love just because another person tells us what it
is like. It is an indescribable experience. But it is a very real one;
and when one is in love, one experiences the world in a very different
way than usual. It is a very powerful experience. There may be lots of
books about that experience; there may be debates about it; people can
write novels and poems and songs to try to express it; and there may be
philosophers trying to discover what love is. But none of these words
and ideas is being in love. However, when one has the real experience,
it is there, even though one can't communicate it to others. You know
what it is, you don't need to go to the library and read books to find
out whether what you experience is being in love or not. In fact, you
will probably find all these speculations boring and meaningless. The
experience that is the goal of the Buddhist path is similar to this.
this is a good example, because being in love is a way of seeing the
world, and it also affects very much your way of acting. People notice
that something has changed in you. The same will happen when one
experiences the essence of Buddhism.
In Mahayana it is said that
the Buddhist path can be summed up in two ways: wisdom and compassion.
Wisdom we explained before. Compassion is the way of relating to the
world that comes automatically from wisdom. It doesn't exactly come
from it; it is inseparable from it. When one has wisdom, one can't
avoid having compassion too. You don't need to practise bodhicitta,
because that is bodhicitta, "the enlightened mind which has compassion
as its essence", as it is said in the teachings. Before we have that
wisdom, we have to develop it, and we do it in two ways: through
practising vipashyana meditation and through cultivating compassion. We
cultivate compassion practising the six paramitas and so on: the path
of bodhicitta. Compassion is something we can understand, somehow; but
we still don't have wisdom, which comes at the end. Practising
compassion is like behaving as if we were already enlightened. It is
like trying to behave as if you were in love when you are still not in
love. And when we have accustomed ourselves to be like this, finally
the real experience can happen.
Another way of introducing
shamata and vipashyana is saying that shamata develops from vipashyana.
If one practises vipashyana, out of it shamata will appear. This is
another approach to meditation. Therefore, we can consider that this
text, which is basically a method of analysis, is also a way to develop
shamata. For example, when we analyse the impermanence of the body as
the object of meditation, we have to maintain the mind focused on it,
attentively, and we have to develop stability in order not to forget
our object of investigation. For some people this can be a more
inspiring and effective way to develop shinay than, let's say, watching
a pebble, because one needs to be fully awake in order to analyse
things, and this prevents from the possibility of becoming too passive
In any case, it is important to practise some form of
vipashyana and not just to sit still for a long time, like a statue. It
is important to investigate the nature of reality, to question things.
You are not a real Buddhist if you don't question everything. Buddhism
is not a way to reach special states of mind or pleasant experiences.
It is a way to discover the truth; and for that you have to analyse. In
order to practise any method of vipashyana, one has to have this
attitude of questioning things. In fact, this is often what brings
people to Buddhism: when at a certain point in their lives they ask
themselves "Who am I?" "What is the purpose of my life?"
questioning attitude is very necessary. When you have this attitude,
you are awake. And the whole idea of Buddhism is to wake up. To reach
enlightenment means to fully wake up from the sleep of samsara. In
order to wake up we have to want to wake up. And this is what
bodhicitta means: a mind that aspires to be awake. But we need to know
the right way to awakening, which is the practice of vipashyana.
Vipashyana is the method to analyse things correctly and thoroughly in
order to wake up. This is what this text is about. This is also what
the first paragraph of the text talks about: "All the faults of
existence are created by the power of the conflictive emotions in our
mind. The cause of these conflictive emotions is an improper mental
attitude. We have to replace it by a proper mental attitude". This
proper mental attitude is wisdom, the right way of seeing things as
they really are. When we don't have this, our way of perceiving reality
and behaving is inadequate which gives rise to all the negative mental
states of mind, which are the cause of all sufferings. Until we have
that right perception of things, everything is wrong, because we don't
see things as they are but in a confused, mistaken way.
inadequate frame of mind mentioned in the first paragraph of the text
is what in Buddhism we usually call 'ignorance' or 'confusion'. It
means not seeing things as they are, but mistaking them for what they
are not. As we have seen, the final purpose of all the Buddhist
investigation is to see the true nature of everything, which can be
called mahamudra, dzogchen, emptiness, buddha nature or many other
names. But in order to understand this, it is absolutely necessary to
train our mind for a very long time, because this confused way of
seeing things is a deeply ingrained mental habit and it is not changed
by just a momentary recognition of the nature of things. For that
recognition to become a permanent experience in our minds that really
takes the place of our wrong perception, it is necessary to dismantle
very thoroughly and systematically all the previous confused ways of
seeing. Otherwise, even if we have a glimpse of the true nature of mind
through the practice of mahamudra, for example, we will still have a
very strong tendency to see things in a confused way. Because of that,
we may have lots of doubts about that glimpse. We will wonder again and
again, "Is this really what I am supposed to meditate upon?" "Am I
practising correctly?" "Shouldn't I practise something else?"
great teachers say that the more you do systematic study and
investigation, the easier will be later to stabilize the proper
recognition of the nature of things. Doing a thorough study of
madhyamaka philosophy, for example, will be of great help to overcome
doubts when you practise meditation, and to have certainty easily. It
is important to start from the beginning and walk slowly, step by step.
Like this, one will progress. In that sense, this text is very useful
because it starts from the very beginning, and if you practise it, it
will be very helpful as a preparation for mahamudra practice; it leads
to a correct understanding of mahamudra.
The text itself
This text has three main parts:
The method of meditation.
The signs of progress in our minds.
The significance of this understanding.
Of these, we are going to examine only the first two.
the commentary, Mipham Rinpoche says that, before starting a session of
practice, one should reflect upon the preciousness of having a human
existence and generate enthusiasm for the practice of meditation.
one should visualise our Teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni, above one's head,
surrounded by the hinayana and mahayana sangha and offer the 'seven
branch prayer' and other prayers with deep devotion and longing,
thinking: "Please, give me your blessing so that the stages of practice
of this complete exercise of investigation arise in my mind and in the
minds of all beings".
After that, generate the bodhicitta thinking:
"For the benefit of all beings I have to reach complete enlightenment;
for that, I am going to meditate on the different stages of the
complete exercise of investigation".
After that, one starts applying the instructions.
first part, the method of meditation, talks about the ignorant way of
seeing reality, which according to this text, consists of four mistakes.
i) To take what is composite as non-composite
take the phenomena that are made of many different parts as objects
that are unitary or complete in themselves. For example, our body is
composed of many elements and substances, but we don't see it like
that; we consider it as one thing. Because of this, we have a
superficial view of it; we don't see the totality of it, but just its
outer appearance, and we believe that it is intrinsically desirable.
also consider our mind as one thing; but actually it is composed of
many factors: different ideas, ways of reacting, feelings, etc. And
these are all the time changing. Yet we consider our mind, our
personality, to be one. We are not fully aware of the multiplicity of
our mind. In this way, we have a superficial and simplistic view of
what we and other people are. Then, we become attached to this
superficial view, and the notion we have of things is based on this
superficial appearance that we take as the totality. We have a whole
system of valuing things as desirable or undesirable according to that
superficial understanding. This emotional involvement with things can
lead to many mistakes, because it is based on an error. For example, we
may defend very passionately some things and reject other things
without seeing the totality of what they are; and we might be
'Composite' means not only that things are
made of different elements, but also that they are a result of
different causes and conditions: they are not always just one thing but
depend on many previous and present causes and conditions. They are
interconnected with many other things. An example of this mistake is
that we consider the notions we have about things complete in
themselves, and we are not aware that these notions are conditioned,
dependent upon many different circumstances. That is why we get very
attached to some ideas and reject others, because we take them very
seriously, as if they existed independently from us, their creators,
and from all the conditioning that led us to create them.
attachment leads to tremendous mistakes. Just think, for example, of
the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. It was based on attachment to
ideas: whoever had a very different idea from the one that was
considered acceptable was burned alive! This kind of grasping leads to
fanaticism, to wars and to great sufferings.
ii) To take as permanent what is impermanent
is the belief in the stability and durability of things. One aspect of
impermanence is that we all have to die. Here, when we say that
ignorance is taking as permanent what is impermanent, we don't mean
that people don't know that they will die. Of course everybody knows
that. But people don't live according to this truth. We expect not to
die for a long time, and meanwhile we live as if death didn't exist. We
plan our lives as if we were going to stay forever. So again, the way
we lead our lives is based on a superficial appearance and not on a
Another mistake related to this type of
ignorance is not being aware of the impermanence of our ideas. Ideas
are always changing, according to different people, cultures and
circumstances. Ideas don't last forever. Our feelings are also very
impermanent. Often we consider that our happiness and suffering are
very real and we become obsessed by them and by their sources, as if
they were going to last for a long time. This way, we think, for
example, that some things are really worth getting, because they are
really going to make us feel happy always. We develop rigid ideas about
what is good and what is bad, and because of this, we become very
attached to some things and reject others. Like this, we have a very
strong emotional relationship with things because of not being fully
aware of their impermanence.
If we are more aware of
impermanence, we don't have such a strong involvement, because we know
that things are not always the same; they change, they are not always
good or always bad. It does not matter so much whether we get and
achieve things or not. We become more flexible and adaptable.
iii) To take suffering as happiness
means that basically we consider life, naturally, as something
enjoyable, as a happy experience. Or we believe there must be a
particular place or type of existence that is really enjoyable, without
any faults. Of course we are aware of the existence of suffering, but
still we thing that these sufferings, somehow, are temporary mistakes,
and we can fix them up. We think that they are just annoying little
obstacles that have slipped in but that are not part of the real nature
of life. Life should be happy - we think - but from time to time these
insidious setbacks happen. We spend so much energy trying to 'repair'
life, fix everything up, trying to make everything go smoothly, as it
should be. And we make so many efforts and use so many resources trying
to remove these 'imperfections' that spoil our existence.
we have a rigid view of happiness and suffering. We see good and bad as
very real, and consider that what is good has to be protected and what
is bad has to be eliminated. This leads to attachment and aversion, and
that is the problem.
iv) To take as existent what is non-existent
the context of these teachings, 'to exist' means to have inherent
existence, which is to exist independently, unconditionally. The most
important mistake in relation to this is that we take our own person as
really existent: "I am". When we say "I am", we have a sort of
instinctive and vague idea of what we mean. But it is really a very
superficial notion. We have just an idea of who we are, or who other
people are. We relate that sense of 'I' to a name, a profession, a
nationality, a culture, a family, a set of believes -political,
religious and so forth - a particular way of thinking and some likes
and dislikes, and we take all these credentials together as one single
thing that we call 'I'. In other words, our mind identifies itself with
all those things as one single entity. Again, since we believe that
this 'I' is real, we become attached to it and to its possessions,
whether material or mental.
According to Buddhism these are only
appearances; they are not the truth. Things are not unitary,
independent phenomena; they are not permanent; they are not happy by
nature and they don't have inherent existence by themselves. This is
how things appear to be; but not the way things really are. This
distinction between what really is and what seems to be is the
fundamental principle upon which the Buddhist path rests. The purpose
of vipashyana is to discriminate between these two, to see things as
they are, so that our reactions to the world are healthy and not based
upon a wrong assumption. When we see things as they really are, there
is no ground for the negative emotions to root, and we find peace.
more obsessed we are with these four views, the stronger is our madness
and the more intense our suffering. When we have a wrong perception of
things, life becomes very complicated, like a farce. We live as if we
were actors who are supposed to play particular roles; we take these as
true and try to live accordingly. But this is almost impossible,
because it is not what we really are. It is just our idea of what we
are. We have a concept of who we and other people are, as if we had
attributed roles to people in a theatre play, and the problem is that
we take these roles as if they were true. The result is as if we are
This is what we usually call 'relative' or 'conventional'
truth. Conventional means that we all agree about the way things are,
and agree to relate to things according to that particular view of the
world. That is, we agree about the play and about the roles we
represent in it. This has its useful side, of course, which is that we
can function in co-ordination. But if we take it as the ultimate truth
and get involved with it as such, then we are as if insane, always in a
state of anxiety, because we are all the time trying to live according
to a false idea of ourselves and the world. It is impossible for us to
be what we think we are; we can never fulfil our expectations about
ourselves, about others or about the world. Things never fit completely
with our ideas, because they are not as we think they are.
practising vipashyana we are not trying to create a philosophy or a
theory of the universe. We are not trying to fabricate anything, nor
are we trying to destroy anything. For example, if we say that the self
does not exist, we are not trying to eliminate our personality or
anything like that. We are just trying to see things as they are,
without mistake, and to be what we are. And we are trying to live
according to this truth and not according to concepts that we or others
may have about us. In other words, we are not forcing ourselves to be
what we are not. It is important to keep this in mind.
this is explained through the example of mistaking a rope, in
semi-darkness, for a snake. If that happened, we would react with fear
and behave in a particular way, based on a wrong assumption. The
practice of vipashyana is the method to see the rope clearly; seeing
that, the perception of a snake automatically vanishes, together with
the need of a wrong reaction.
The way of practising
We can distinguish three stages in the Buddhist meditation of vipashyana:
· Understanding the emptiness of the individual self
· Understanding the emptiness of phenomena
· Understanding the great emptiness, which means realizing the buddha nature or the real nature of one's mind
meditations that are explained here are directly related to the first
stage: they are meant to help us realize egolessness or the absence of
a self. However, I will try to relate them also to the other two types
of emptiness and present them from a Vajrayana perspective, so that you
see where they lead to, within a broader context.
meditation is supposed to be practised at least for one week. The whole
lot should cover three or four months of regular practice and the
meaning of the totality should appear more clearly at the end.
each of the four chapters you should examine reality according to the
instructions. Once you have gained some understanding, stop examining;
just rest your mind in that understanding, try to maintain it and gain
stability. When you loose this stability, start again examining until
you reach some understanding, and then rest your mind in it. The
combination of these two approaches is the essence of this practice.
you already have some experience of Shamatha, you probably have some
stability, and that will help you. It is very good to have practised
Shamatha before, but if you have not, this meditation in itself is
Shamatha meditation: instead of looking at a statue of the Buddha or
following the breath, you focus and concentrate on this mental
I. The composite nature of phenomena
way of analysing the composite nature of all phenomena is considering
five groups of elements which compose the totality of our being and the
whole of reality, according to Buddhism, and which we call the five
aggregates (skandhas). These five can actually be reduced to two
What we consider external phenomena, the material world including our own body; this is called Form in Buddhism; and
inner phenomena, which are of a mental nature. According to the
Buddhist teachings, these consist of four main groups of factors:
Feelings, Recognition, Mental formations and Consciousness.
simplify, altogether these five are body and mind. We have a body and a
mind that inhabits and governs the body. At the present, these two are
together and that is why we are alive. When the mind and the body
separate, what we call death takes place.
The First Aggregate: Form
A. Analysis of the composition of the body
in front of you the greatest object of attachment. Usually it is
assumed in the texts that this object is the body of another person,
probably of the opposite sex. It is considered that there is nothing in
the world to which we are more attached. Sexual attachment is the
prototype of attachment, because in it all five senses are fully
involved and because through it people feel they can find the greatest
possible pleasure in life.
I think it is interesting to reflect
about this. It tells us that our main problem in life is the experience
of separateness, what we call duality. Duality means living in a state
of separation, and through different means we try to recover a state of
union in which we don't experience this separation and loneliness. The
highest form of an experience of union would be to feel one with the
whole universe: there would be no fear, no conflicts, and no
unhappiness. Unconsciously we all recognise that our main problem is
duality, the fact of being separate from the rest of the world, and one
way we try to remedy this is through sexual union.
But we need
to examine whether this is really the way to reach a state of union,
because all beings have been trying, since beginningless time, to
achieve that state through the urge of sexual attraction, and they
don't seem to have reached enlightenment yet. We have to analyse and
see if it is worth putting so many expectations in that, and whether
our behaviour is wise and beneficial or not. Nevertheless, I think we
are even more attached to our own bodies. Attachment is in the mind,
and there is nothing to which the mind is more attached than the body
where it resides. So here we will start examining our own bodies first.
usually consider the existence of our body as the first proof of
existence of the 'I'. The mind identifies with the body to ascertain
the evidence of being a self-entity. The body then becomes the main
object of attachment. In fact, we have a distorted perception of our
body: we either over or underestimate it. We have ideas of what our
body should look like. The meditation we are going to practise is
supposed to bring the body into the right perspective, and to show us
what it really is.
The body corresponds partly to the aggregate
of form. We start analysing the body by examining the different parts
and substances that make it up: flesh, blood, bones, marrow, fat,
organs and cavities; limbs and sense organs; faeces, urine,
micro-organisms, hair, nails and so on. In that way, we try to be aware
of the totality of our bodies, not only of the superficial appearance.
In traditional texts there is a list of 36 different substances
composing the body, some of which are mentioned in our text.
is the first meditation exercise, and it can be done just like this,
examining all these substances one after another. But if we like, we
can also do it in a more systematic way that I am going to suggest.
examine the surface of your body: the skin. For a few minutes, try to
be aware of the skin all over the body, as if it were a wrapping
material; something like a bag or a balloon.
Secondly, peel the
skin off the body and examine the flesh. Forget about the skin, and
concentrate watching the flesh and muscles. It's like in anatomy
manuals: the first page gives us a view of the body from the outside;
the following page shows us the body without the skin; in the next one
we see the body without the muscles, and so on.
remove the flesh and examine the circulation of the blood. At each
stage, focus on a particular system, forgetting all the previous
elements. Visualise the heart beating, all the veins and arteries, and
the blood constantly flowing through them. This is what is happening in
our bodies right now.
The next step is to meditate on the
nervous system, with the brain and the spine branching into all the
nerves throughout the body, like a tree. Through these nerves all kinds
of messages are constantly transmitted; it is very active.
be aware of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus, with all
the different organs in between - oesophagus, stomach, kidneys, liver,
intestines, etc.- and the substances in them. You can also think of the
food you have eaten; analyse what happens to a piece of cake from the
moment you put it in the mouth all the way through until it comes out
at the other end.
Then, concentrate on the breathing system:
trachea, lungs and the air going in and out and being transformed into
energy that is distributed all over the body. You can also examine the
The last stage is to concentrate on the
skeleton. Feel your skeleton from the skull to the tip of your toes.
Think of yourself as no more than a skeleton. Meditation on the
skeleton is an important method of meditation in some Buddhist texts.
every stage you can imagine that you take each part off the body and
put it aside, so that at the end, after seeing the skeleton as a pile
of bones, you have a big heap of substances. That is your body!
this, you can go back to the beginning in reverse order and go again
through all the stages, but in a much quicker sequence, in order to get
a general view of the body.
The idea is to examine the body
thoroughly, from top to bottom, from outside to inside, not leaving
anything out. It is not a matter of thinking too much, or remembering
the names and the functions of the organs as if you were studying
anatomy; rather try to visualise, to place your attention on them
without discursive thinking; try to watch it and feel it.
each of these stages, watch your reactions. See whether you feel any
sort of attachment or aversion to each particular aspect of your body
or not. For example, examine the heart. Imagine it on its own, look at
it and see if you feel attachment or aversion. I think we are all
attached to our heart, because we need it to stay alive. But at the
same time, if we could see it directly we would probably feel
frightened. Some of us would probably faint! I thing we would feel
frightened not only due to its unpleasant aspect, but because we depend
so much on it and we don't control it. In fact, it is the heart that
has the control over us! And it can stop any time… Anyway, I don't want
to frighten you! But even though we cannot see it, it is there all the
If we were standing in front of a mirror and saw ourselves
reflected as skeletons, wouldn't we probably be quite frightened too?
However, we should be aware that the skeleton is there, within us, all
the time, although we do not wish to identify with it. Our idea of what
we are only matches a part of what we are, not the totality; but all
these other things are there too. We have to be aware of their
presence, so that we may no longer feel so much attracted to the body,
with which we tend to identify as a whole.
Usually we are very
attached to our body -and other people's bodies- and take so much care
of it and worry so much about its outer appearance. But all these
attachments are based on a superficial perception of the body. Now we
are examining our feelings in relation to the body when we see it
thoroughly. Our perception of our body and other people's bodies would
already be quite different if we all went around naked, without all the
coverings with which we manipulate our image. And it would be radically
different if we walked around skinless!
Consider also all your
activities related to accumulating for, and feeding your body, under
the light of this new way of perceiving it. Through this practice, you
gain a deeper understanding of the body; you feel that it is just a
skeleton, wrapped with skin and filled with flesh and organs that have
Practise alternating between focusing on the
respective organ at each stage and resting the mind, until you gain a
clear understanding. When that happens, rest your mind on that
certainty, on that new perception of what the body is, and maintain
that understanding while it lasts. The key point is to rest in the
recognition of the nature of our body and to realize that you have no
attachment to any of the parts, substances and organs that constitute
After you have practised this exercise with your own body,
you can meditate on the body of another person, especially one whom you
find very attractive. Visualise it in front of you and start peeling
layer after layer, to see what it really is, and to determine whether
you feel any attachment to any particular part of it, separately.
you can apply this method of examination to any person who is an object
of attachment, or to any object that triggers a very emotional reaction
in you. For example, an object of jealousy or aversion: someone you
hate or towards whom you have a very negative feeling, and so on. If
you see that person in the way we have explained, you will come to
realize that he or she is not something so 'definite'.
from doing this practice regularly in meditation sessions, you should
refresh and cultivate this understanding as often as possible. For
instance, when you are walking in the street, you can try to see
yourself and other people as skeletons filled with flesh and different
organs. Not only people, but also the objects around us are made of
various parts. Train in breaking up everything you see, the whole world.
analyse how the parts and organs of the body are all interrelated and
dependent on each other, altogether making this 'universe' that is the
body. At the same time, the body as a whole depends on the outer world:
the parents, care from other people, food, water, air, a particular
atmosphere, temperature and so forth, as well as clothes, shelter,
different kinds of objects and so on. We don't really own our body; it
is a product of the world, resultant from many factors. We just use it
as a temporary home.
Analyse too how everything that makes up
the human civilisation is a result of many past and present aspects,
all interrelated. Everything we know, our education and culture, is the
result of thousands of years of efforts and experiences of many people.
Cultivate a feeling of appreciation and gratitude.
examine in the same way the totality of the outer world: the earth, the
mountains, forests, trees and fruits, everything in nature and in the
cosmic universe is interconnected and interdependent. Everything is
part of everything, and so are we.
C. Finer Composition of the Body
we are going to disintegrate the body into its basic elements.
According to Buddhism, all material phenomena are made up of four
elements: earth, water, fire and air. Sometimes it is also considered
that space is a fifth element. These are the fundamental qualities or
functions of matter, rather than different types of matter. The body is
made of solid substances, like flesh and bones (Earth); fluids and
liquids, like blood and phlegm (Water); air and gas (Air); warmth
(Fire); and holes and cavities (Space).
Earth also means the
degree of hardness of material things, and is what provides the support
upon which everything else can rest. Water means cohesion, the quality
of matter to coalesce as a coherent mass; it also allows fluidity and
flexibility. Fire means temperature, be it higher or lower. There is
the natural warmth of the body and the warmth of digestion. It is what
makes the body grow, mature, develop and age, and what softens it. Air
means movement, or mobility, as well as expansion; it allows the body
to stand up without falling. There is the out-going air and the
in-going, and the movement of the blood and of the nervous impulses, as
well as the breathing. Finally, space is also the volume that the body
Analyse your body and the bodies of others realising
that they are nothing more than a combination of these five elements or
functions, and watch whether you feel any attachment to these.
too how the outer world is also composed of these four basic elements:
solid matter, liquids, air and fire, besides space. Try to gain some
certainty that your body is nothing more than the prolongation of the
outer world and that we are part of the elements that make up the whole
world. As before, rest your mind in this understanding.
stage is to realize that those elements are ultimately made of
particles or atoms. Try to feel your own body as just a combination of
particles and nothing else. It is like a sandcastle: it has the shape
of a castle, but is actually made of grains of sand put together.
Observe the outer world and realize that it is also made of particles.
There is no essence anywhere in the material world. Like waves on the
sea, physical phenomena appear to have different shapes, but
ultimately, they are all part of a flowing ocean of elementary
particles. They arise from the ocean, last for some time and dissolve
back into the ocean at the end.
Actually, according to modern
physics, the distance between the nucleus and the electrons of an atom
is equivalent to the one between the planets and the sun, so that
matter is really almost just space. At the same time, the 'solid'
particles that make up the atom are made of smaller particles, which in
the end seem to be just energy.
That is the way things are,
according to modern science. Many millions of years ago what is now our
planet and the solar system were just a cloud of gas and dust. The sun
and the planets, the mountains and the oceans, the plants and the
animals and our bodies have all taken shape from that original cloud.
We all come from that gas and dust, and the whole solar system will,
one day, return to a state of gas and dust. There are no physical
phenomena that is not multiple and hollow. This exercise just makes us
aware of what things really are. When you reach this understanding,
rest your mind in it and feel the non-separateness of all physical
phenomena including our bodies. Cultivate equanimity and non-attachment.
before, in both stages, after analysing your own body you can analyse
the bodies of other people in the same way, and all the material
phenomena in the world. These two stages, elements and particles,
constitute one session. Once again, try to maintain this understanding
as often as you can. In any occasion, try to be aware of it and
continuously break apart the solidity of what appears around you. It is
just a matter of training the mind to see what is. It is not
fabricating anything, but being aware of the true nature of things. It
is a very simple, yet very effective and practical method. It is not
only effective and useful during our lifetime, but it will also help us
to be tolerant when we experience physical pain or sickness, and will
help us at the time of death.
To conclude, consider, as the root
text says that "that which we call 'the body' is nothing more than a
collection of impure fragments; see it as a dirty machine, a heap of
entrails, a pile of dirt or bubbling froth and keep in mind this
Some people might think we are denigrating the body
but in fact we are just looking at things as they are. Before being
able to perceive the purity of the body and see it as a deity, as it is
taught in Vajrayana, we have to proceed from the ground level. This
does not mean that we have to generate a feeling of revulsion. (Some
people may even think that this examination can lead to a depressive or
self-denigrating attitude!) The main point is to realize that there is
nothing intrinsically attractive or desirable in the body. We are just
trying to see the body in a more balanced way, without exaggerating
some parts and ignoring others. There is no need to be so attached to
our body and the bodies of other people. In fact, we can feel
compassion as a result of this exercise. We can also gain an
appreciation of our body and feel gratitude for the fact that each
organ is functioning faithfully of its own accord and that the whole
system is doing its work to keep us alive. In a way, we don't own the
body. It is something that has been given to us, temporarily, and that
is working for us. So, here we relate to our body more intimately, with
more humility and respect, as well as with less emotional involvement.
The Second Aggregate: Feeling
are going to see now what the mind is. According to Buddhism, what we
call mind is not a permanent subject of thoughts and emotions, but a
continuous stream of mental events. Each momentary mental event has two
inseparable aspects: consciousness, which is one of the aggregates, and
mental factors, which are the other three aggregates. 'Consciousness'
means the bare cognition of an object; it cannot be differentiated by
its own nature, but by the mental factors associated with it, which
give it a particular character or colour.
Feelings are like a
radar that evaluates our perceptions as pleasurable, painful or
neutral. It is an automatic and instinctive reaction that gives us a
first subjective assessment of the cognised information. Whatever we
perceive through any of our five senses gives rise either to
attraction, to repulsion or to indifference. It also applies to the
mind: everything that happens in our mind, all our mental activities,
gives us either a feeling of happiness, unhappiness, or neutrality.
Therefore, we can have eighteen different types of feelings, three for
each of our six faculties.
This is based on past conditionings
and experiences, either from this life or from previous ones.
Sometimes, obviously, it is useful: if we touch fire, the feeling of
heat is automatically judged as painful, which lead us to the reaction
of withdrawing the hand immediately. Thanks to this instinctive
reaction, we are not burnt. If we have a feeling of hunger, we will
automatically look for food, and that will keep us alive. These
assessments are useful to maintain normal life.
But feelings can
also be very mistaken. Most of the time, ignorance is at the root of
the conditioning of feelings. We often judge things as good or bad in a
wrong way. We may feel attracted to drugs because of the pleasurable
feeling they first produce, but they are a cause of sufferings
afterwards. Some people may think that hunting is pleasurable: one is
close to nature, it is a healthy activity and one may experience what
considers pleasant feelings; but one is actually creating a very bad
karma that will be the cause of much suffering.
What is very
important to notice is that these feelings of pleasure or pain tend to
solidify our perception of reality. Things become more real when we
experience particular feelings in connection with them. As long as we
see something far away and it does not generate any particular kind of
feeling in our mind, it is not very important for us. On the contrary,
when something causes us to suffer or becomes an object of desire, it
becomes very serious, very important, and very real for us. We have to
realize that our feelings are not reliable; that they are multiple,
very relative and changing all the time, and that, therefore, there is
nothing real in them. This is the point we have to understand clearly.
Feelings are very important part of our makeup because they are the
first step of a complex chain reaction: they trigger the three poisons
- attachment, aversion and stupidity - and are the starting point of
karma production. Only watchful mindfulness deactivates them so that
they cannot give rise to unhealthy responses. Therefore, it is very
important to understand them and be aware of their nature.
that we go to a party. There are many people, music, food, and so
forth. In such a situation, our five sense faculties are all
functioning and we collect information through them. Through the eyes,
we can see the place. The decoration may be very nice and give us a
pleasant feeling. Or maybe it is too dark and makes us feel uneasy. At
the same time, we have sensations through the ears. Soft, pleasant
music can make us feel happy. Or maybe it is the kind of music we do
not like, or it is playing too loud, and it gives us a headache. Maybe
the music is pleasant but some people are talking too loud, preventing
us from listening to the music, and we are annoyed. So we can see how
we can experience different feelings even through the same sense
faculty. Through the smell faculty, we may perceive pleasant smells,
perfumes, incense or maybe there are too many people smoking and we
feel uncomfortable. We can taste different kinds of food and drinks.
Some may be delicious, giving us a good feeling, some absolutely
disastrous giving us stomach ache. Through touch we may have a pleasant
feeling of warmth; but after a while, it can become too hot, becoming
unpleasant. Or maybe this pleasant food we ate in the beginning is now
making us feel sick.
At the same time, we have feelings related
to our mental activity too. We may have expectations or fears as to how
the party is going to be. We may feel happy at the prospect of meeting
someone. Or we may remember in the middle of the party that we will
have to get up early the next day and work very hard, and this suddenly
worries us. May be a person whom we consider a rival or very
undesirable comes in, making us feel tense and angry. We continuously
have all kinds of moods in our minds, changing as the day goes on. Now
we feel happy for some reason; a second later some memory may trigger
sudden sadness; a few moments afterwards another little experience
makes us feel jealous. The mind is particularly volatile.
conclusion is that our judgement of things as good or bad, pleasant or
unpleasant, is composed of various, very relative, impermanent and
completely subjective impressions. These judgements have no intrinsic
reality; they are not independent factors. Pleasure and pain, happiness
and suffering, are not stable fixed realities. They are a changing
mixture of different feelings, and they are dependent on different
circumstances of the present moment and conditionings from the past.
Besides, the same circumstances or objects don't produce always the
Through this meditation we should realize that
there is no need to let our lives be directed by feelings, as it often
is. In a way, the entire world is moved by feelings. We tend to be
fascinated by feelings, and our lives are fully conditioned by our
likes and dislikes, always fighting between the good and the bad. This
makes us unstable and vulnerable, unable to find deep peace. If we
realize that they are not so consistent and 'real', we can learn not to
be their slaves, not to depend so much on our feelings and moods. We
can control our lives and find peace and freedom. Non-attachment is
freedom. People are always talking about peace and do things "for world
peace". But if we really want to have peace, inside us and outside, we
need to gain this kind of control.
The practice consists in
being mindfully aware of all the different feelings as they arise in
your mind, recognising their composite nature and not identifying with
them. Let every feeling go and let the next one come without
attachment. In this way, do not let feelings lead to inadequate
The Third Aggregate: Recognition
next step in the 'chain reaction' is what we can call recognition,
discernment or perception. This is also something that happens in a
flash. After contacting a sensory object, we automatically recognise
the object at the origin of the perception. It is the act of
interpreting what consciousness recognises, which also means labelling
what we perceive, giving names. We do this interpretation according to
the signs we recognise; and that recognition is based on karma,
previous experiences, memory and acquired knowledge, through which we
identify what we perceive. Another function of this aggregate is to
'mark' things mentally in order to identify them in the future. In this
way, we accumulate data about things stored in the mind, and this
enables us to recognise things later. Every time our consciousness
cognises anything, this function of the mind checks all the information
stored underground, let's say, and identifies what is cognised, what
its characteristics are, what it is for, and so on. Often, this
recognition is what gives rise to a particular type of feeling;
depending on what kind of interpretation we do of the object, we will
feel it as pleasant or unpleasant.
We can see that this process
of identification is very arbitrary, because it is based on
conventions. It is based on our personal experience, as well as on our
particular culture and education, and on the fact of being human
beings. It is an interpretation of the world, dependent on causes and
conditions. Like feelings, it is also a very important function,
because the way we relate to the world depends very much on the notions
we have about things, about what they are and what they are for. It is
an interpretation of reality that is constantly going on in our minds,
and on the basis of this interpretation we behave in one way or another
and relate to the world. Therefore, this aggregate is a key factor in
Here, to perceive its composite nature is to be aware
of the dependence of this aggregate of recognition on so many other
factors. If we are aware of this, we know that we can't assume our
particular interpretation to be the correct and only valid one. We
can't take this as the way things really are. It is just an
interpretation. If we are not aware of this, we get attached to our
perceptions thinking that they really exist the way we perceive them.
course recognition is useful, in general, because we live in a society
that is based on conventions, about which we all agree; and this helps
us to share the same environment and to communicate. But sometimes this
recognition is a problem, because we mistake things; we interpret them
wrongly. Due to these wrong assumptions and misinterpretations there
are conflicts. It is like misinterpreting a scarecrow for a human
being. When we automatically classify things, we do not have a fresh
perception of them. Ignorance blocks the wisdom of our mind. This
labelling of things is a source of prejudices. We classify people and
things, and link them to particular feelings and reactions. And we
cannot be natural and open because of our prejudices.
preconceptions we have about things and about people are part of this
aggregate. Not being aware that our preconceived ideas are a composite
aggregate, we take them as valid or real. In other words, we think they
are the truth, we have fixed ideas and often this makes us rigid,
unable to be open and flexible, and to relate afresh to situations. The
process of classifying generates hopes and fears. We either recognise
things as liable to give us some kind of pleasure (which triggers
hope), or as threatening (which triggers fear).
It is amazing
how much we depend on this aggregate and how much it affects our lives.
The way we humans live is so much conditioned by ideas! And yet, they
are just ideas! Consider, for example, the idea of beauty: how much it
has changed along history. But we judge people, amongst other things,
according to our idea of beauty, and our relationship with them depends
very much on this judgement. We may have different attitudes toward
'handsome' or 'ugly' people. We also have strong attachment to some
ideas - may be we could call them 'theories' -, and we defend them
passionately, we make friends and enemies due to them, and we even
fight and kill for them.
Recognition functions like
advertisements: we believe in them and run after them. Samsara as a
whole is like a massive advertisement. We let ourselves be fooled by
it, and that is why we are in samsara. Samsara is just a concept, just
an interpretation of reality; and it is like an advert because it is
very beguiling by nature. We have faith in samsara.
important to be aware of this aggregate and its composite nature so
that we can remain detached and open and we can perceive things in a
fresh and pure way. If we remain ignorant and let our mind classify
things automatically, putting labels on them, we will remain trapped in
an illusory view of the world, based on our preconceived ideas. On the
other hand, if we let our perceptions flow without attachment, the
world can be bright and surprising: like children, with a more open
attitude we may discover qualities in people and in things that we had
not recognised before.
The Fourth Aggregate: Mental formations
aggregate consists of all the mental functions and activities,
including feelings and recognition, which are about fifty-one,
according to some classifications. But those two are so important that
they are treated separately. So in this aggregate are included all the
rest. They are the basic functions of focusing on an object, paying
attention to it, retaining or remembering it and so on, which lead to
recognition of that object and to feelings; and they are also the
different reactions of the mind developed from feelings and concepts,
as well as thoughts and emotions, both virtuous and non-virtuous. These
are the source of karma.
The most fundamental conflictive
reactions are basic attraction, basic aversion, and some kind of
uncertainty, of hesitation. From these, all kinds of other reactions
evolve, like irritation, anger, covetousness, pride or jealousy; and
from their absence derive detachment, openness, love, kindness,
generosity and so forth. Finally there are other mental factors that
are not necessarily positive or negative, like thinking or sleeping.
formations are what colour our consciousness and are inseparable from
it. Together they are the mental events or states of mind that take
place moment after moment. All these states of mind are also
conditioned by the past - previous habits, thoughts, memories - and
they condition the future. T here is a multiplicity of activities in
the mind. The mind is all the time busy, bubbling with all kinds of
reactions: anger against one thing, desire for another, thoughts about
this and that... As they are dependent and always changing we cannot
consider them together as a unitary phenomenon. Our 'personality' is a
multiplicity of fragments. This aggregate is what we generally talk
about when we speak of meditation: thoughts and emotions, and the way
to relate to them wisely, not letting our minds be carried away by them.
practice here consists of mindfully noting the presence of any mental
factors and, being aware of their multiple character, letting them come
and go without attachment or discouragement, whether they are pure or
impure. In this way, mental events gradually dissolve and the mind
becomes more clear and alert.
The Fifth Aggregate: Consciousness
fifth factor is consciousness. As we saw at the beginning, according to
Buddhism what we call consciousness is not an independent entity, but
an experience. If we are conscious of something, there is
'consciousness'. If we are not conscious of anything, there is no
'consciousness'. When we talk about visual consciousness, for example,
it is a visual experience. And there are six different types of
consciousness: we can be conscious of visual objects and also of
hearing perceptions, odours, flavours, tactile perceptions and mental
Visual consciousness is the bare cognition of visible
objects. Hearing consciousness is the bare cognition of audible
objects. Olfactory consciousness is the bare cognition of smells. Taste
consciousness is the bare cognition of flavours. And mental
consciousness is the bare cognition of mental formations.
one of these types is a completely different experience. Consider, for
example, the visual and the hearing consciousnesses: the first is a
universe of colours, shapes and shades of light; the second is a
universe of sounds and vibrations. They are totally different. Imagine
you could only perceive things through the visual faculty: your
perception would be one-sided. If you could only smell them, your
perception would be completely different. Some animals have their smell
faculty more developed than vision. For an elephant, the world is a
world of smells. They have another picture of reality. How must the
world look like in the mind of a bat? However, bats and humans share
the same world. Consciousness, therefore, is a composite phenomenon,
but this does not mean that we have six different 'things' in our
brain. It is one moment of awareness that has six different
interrelated functions. Consciousness is something composite and
multiple, and changing all the time. Even the intensity of a particular
sense consciousness can vary from moment to moment.
The mind is
not one thing because it is multiple, but it is not several things
either. What mind actually is, is a little mysterious. We may find out
through further practice. The five sensory consciousnesses are five
very different types of experience and the sixth, mental consciousness,
is also a different world. But somehow, that sixth consciousness
processes and combines them all together and perceives this sextuple
mosaic as a unitary reality. So the sixth consciousness is the one that
co-ordinates everything and gives the sense that the five aggregates
are a single entity.
To give an
example of one way to understand the workings of the five aggregates,
form can be compared to a room and consciousness to an ill person in
it. Mental formations could be like someone giving us some bad food, as
well as our attachment to food. Recognition is like the attractive
appearance of the sauce covering the food, and feelings are the
poisoned food itself that causes the illness.
previous analyses we have realized that each one of us, and the whole
of reality, is made of five different facets, and that each one of
these five is at the same time a collection of many different
fragments. We have deconstructed reality into its parts. The Buddha
says that form is like froth: for example, like a mass of soap bubbles,
it occupies a big volume but is hollow. Feelings are like water
bubbles: they last only a moment. Recognition is like a mirage: it is a
mistaken perception. Mental formations are like a plantain tree: they
have no core. And consciousness is like an illusion: it is deceiving.
Through the previous exercises we should try to generate a perception
of things in this way, with full conviction that this is their true
nature, and cultivate that understanding as much as we can. When we see
things like this, we know that there is nothing particularly desirable
in them, and we cultivate non-attachment. And we also know that, apart
from the fragments, there is no essence in any of the five aggregates.
from that, the five aggregates are all completely interdependent. In
brief, body and mind, matter and mentality, depend on each other, like
two sheaves of straw leaning on each other. They function together,
like a puppet and the person moving the strings. They are completely
different from each other like a drum and its sound; but mental
processes occur due to the body and the body occurs due to the mind.
the meditation we can train imagining one or many different objects and
situations; but we have to carry this understanding into our daily
activities. We can practise this understanding anywhere, at any time,
in any circumstance. Perceptions through the five senses are always
present; our mind is constantly the theatre of a multiplicity of
reactions. Therefore, we have a constant opportunity to practise and
maintain the awareness of the composite nature of things and their lack
of essence. Try to keep the mind open and uninvolved: let things flow.
The Subjective Perception of Reality
will deepen our analysis of the composite nature of things by
approaching it from a different angle. Through the practice of the
previous methods we have achieved some understanding of the fact that
all objects we perceive are nothing more than an aggregation of various
parts. Apart from the labels and names we put on them, they do not have
any independent existence of their own. The same applies to our own
Now we will see how everything we experience is in fact
a fabrication that we create through our own senses, perceptions and
consciousnesses. The outer world cannot exist independently either;
rather, it is a subjective experience. We might compare our body to a
spacecraft equipped with five artefacts to measure what is outside: a
video camera, a tape recorder, a 'smell recorder', a touching machine
and a tasting machine. These five sensors function only when there is
input, and store the different data in respective supports (our five
sense consciousnesses). These are connected to a computer (our mental
consciousness) that processes all these different data to give us a
global picture of what is out there. We have a general picture of
reality, but in fact, this picture is composed of different images and
pieces of information. If any one of them were missing, then the
general picture would be different.
For example, examine taste.
If, due to a bad flu, the taste faculty is blocked, we cannot taste
anything when we eat. Food and the organ of taste are present, but the
taste faculty is not functioning; therefore, there is no taste
consciousness. If one element is missing, the perception cannot take
place. On the other hand, if our taste faculty is unimpaired but our
mind is concentrating on something else (as when we eat while reading a
newspaper), we may be chewing the most delicious food without being
conscious of its taste.
For an experience to take place, three
things are required: an object, a sense faculty and a sense
consciousness. If one of these is missing, the experience does not
happen. This is true for all the senses. Consider, for example, the
visual faculty. If we are blind, no matter how beautiful or ugly the
outer world may be, it makes no difference to us. We are not
considering whether things exist or not. This is not the point here.
The point is that nothing exists that can be called attractive, beautiful or ugly if we
do not have the faculty to perceive it in the first place. Again, if we
have the faculty to see, but we are thinking very much of something
else, we do not notice what is in the scope of our vision, because our
mental consciousness is occupied. It is the same for sounds. If we are
deaf, there is no sound that is pleasant or irritating, and no word
that is an insult or praise, because we do not perceive sound. Or we
might be distracted and not notice a sound; therefore, it does not
affect us. The same applies to odours or tactile perceptions.
a volcano erupts in one of the moons of Jupiter and there is nobody
present, does the volcano produce a sound or not? If there is a flower
with a wonderful smell in the middle of the desert with nobody around,
does the smell exist or not? The sound and the smell are experiences
that happen in the hearing and smell faculties of a sentient being, and
that are perceived by a consciousness. If these are not present, there
might be waves and particles of pollen in the air, but no sound and no
smell. In order for an experience to be an experience, there has to be
someone who experiences it.
If reality is composite, then our
experience is subjective. The whole universe we perceive is a
subjective universe. It is something 'we' perceive, and we cannot say
that because we perceive it in a particular way, it really is that way.
If our 'spacecraft' were equipped with ten artefacts instead of five,
if we could see X-rays or had a spectrograph, if we had clairvoyance,
the faculty to hear very distant sounds or to see the past and the
future, our picture of reality would be completely different. We cannot
say that one vision is more real than the other. Every perception is a
real experience, but that doesn't imply that the objects of those
perceptions are also independently real.
Different types of
animals have different degrees of sensitivity related to the different
sensory consciousnesses, so that they have different ways of perceiving
the world. That is why we cannot say that things are really,
objectively, the way we perceive them.
When we say that
everything is composite, we mean not only that everything is made of
parts and particles, but also that all things depend on other things.
In the case of the six consciousnesses, they depend on the six senses
and the six objects for them to happen. Therefore, whatever is
dependent on causes and conditions has no independent existence. At
every given moment of experience there are eighteen different elements
functioning in interdependence: six objects, six sense faculties and
Apart from this, the same object can
produce simultaneously pleasurable impressions through one of the
senses, and unpleasant impressions through another. A very attractive
person may have an unpleasant high-pitched voice, or a very bad smell!
Whether an object is desirable or not, does not depend on what it is in
itself, but on how we perceive it.
To gain awareness of this, we
can do the following meditation exercise. Put some desirable or
attractive object in front of you. It may be a person, food, a
landscape or any object. First concentrate on the visual perception of
it: just look at it and be aware of its visible appearance. Then, try
to be aware of the impressions that this object produces in your eyes:
keep on looking but relax your sight a little and pay more attention to
the impressions in the eye itself. After that, relax even more, turning
your attention to the mental perception of the object, to the visual
consciousness itself. Through this practice, you become aware of the
three elements that function in correlation.
After this, focus
on another faculty, like hearing. Listen to some music or any sound and
concentrate on the sound itself. After that, relax, concentrating more
on the impression in your ears; the sound is actually in your ears, not
outside. After a few minutes, meditate on the consciousness of that
Do the same with the three other senses. The first part
of this meditation thus has fifteen stages, which can also be applied
to one and the same object if it is able to produce sound, flavour and
odour, apart from being visible and touchable. This is the first part
of the exercise.
The second part is to observe and feel this
multiplicity of aspects; to realize that every perception of an object
or a situation is made of eighteen different elements, some of which
may be pleasant, some unpleasant, some strong, and some weak. Also
realize that your perception of the same object can be very different
at different moments. Realize the relativity of your perceptions.
third stage is to try to see the object as if it was a mirage or a
reflection in a mirror. The visual image you perceive, is it an object
'out there', is it in your eye or is it in your mind? When you hear a
sound, where is the sound exactly? Realize that whatever you perceive
is actually a mental experience, composed of different elements. The
mind processes all these and produces the impression of unity; yet,
they are a multiplicity of factors at play. Rest your mind in that
The six types of phenomena appear to exist. But
if we examine them carefully, we see that everything is composite and
interdependent. None of the eighteen elements (objects, faculties and
consciousnesses) has an inherent, independent existence. However, we
cannot say that they are non-existent either. Rather, they are like
mirages, echoes or reflections in the mind. Let them flow without
grasping, without involvement: there is nothing to be attached to and
nothing to be afraid of. Realize that they are not as real as they seem
If we dream of a tiger and, in the dream, we are able to
examine that appearance and see that it does not have inherent
existence, there is no fear; it can't hurt us. But if we believe it is
real, we will experience fear and pain. So the purpose of this exercise
is to see things more like a dream and be less involved. Let the
perceptions flow and rest in this perception of things as they are,
completely relaxed. Remain equable (in relation to feelings), not
conceptualising or labelling too much (in relation to recognition),
peaceful and relaxed (in relation to mental formations) and without
involvement (in relation to consciousness), like a small baby.
state is the result of your previous examination; it is not a concept.
You do not have to think "It is a mirage, it is a reflection"; just
leave your mind relaxed and wide awake, and all you perceive through
the senses is naturally seen as reflections, free from any grasping or
concepts. When thoughts appear and you get distracted, analyse again
until you develop that understanding and can let things flow. You can
analyse one object after another, or you can also examine the whole of
existence in this way.
It is also important to be aware, in
relation to this aspect of interdependence or conditioning, of how from
the contact produced by these three factors all the conflictive
emotions arise. This helps us understand how to eliminate and prevent
them from arising.
This exercise may seem a little difficult,
but it is a way of training our mind to be aware of what is actually
happening. Normally, we are unaware of this. Through this exercise, we
train ourselves to perceive with more clarity. If you practise this for
one or two weeks, it will become easier. These steps are necessary. If
we do not train in this way, it is very difficult to realize that
things are interdependent phenomena without self-essence.
aim of these exercises is to understand the interdependence of all
things, to see that they happen due to a multiplicity of factors. This
means that the world we perceive is actually part of us. We carry our
reality with us, all the time. This is what is meant by the concept of
mandala. As you may know, in the Vajrayana one considers one's body as
the body of the deity, and the environment, all outer phenomena, as the
mandala of the deity. The deity is in the centre of the mandala, and
the surrounding world is part of the deity. Centre and surroundings
make a totality, and this is called a mandala.
methods we will also gain some understanding of how we solidify reality
and turn it into such a serious thing, whereas in the beginning, there
is just a neutral perception of something. We touch something. Feelings
make it a little more serious: "Oh, it is painful!" Then, we start
thinking about it, and we get frightened; the picture becomes even more
solid. We keep thinking about it: "Oh, how can I get rid of that pain?
What if it gets worse? Why does all this happen?" By now it has become
a real problem that can disturb us for many days. We just solidified
Persistent meditation on the composite, hollow nature of
everything is like breaking things apart; like breaking the window
glass into pieces. When we do that, then the window is open and we are
free. That is what we should realize: that the window is open, already.
If through this practice we learn how to remain detached from things as
soon as they appear, then things will flow by and our mind will be free!