Advanced Meditation Practices on Perception
As the Sutra story goes, the Buddha instructed Ananda to visit the ailing venerable Girimananda, who was very, very ill. In an effort to help the ailing man, the Buddha told Ananda to guide him in the Ten Meditation on Perceptions (on sensory input and the objects of mind). According to the story, Girimananda improved after the meditations.
We begin with basic instructions on how to meditate. Be in a quiet place, both inside and outside. Sit in a stable and somewhat comfortable posture, while keeping your back straight. Bring your attention to the present moment directly in front of your eyes – here, now. Without controlling the breath, bring your full attention to it as you breathe in and out; notice the breath as it passes at the nostrils, the chest, and in the belly. Just notice your breath as it moves in and out, long and short, shallow and deep – just be with it as it is now. Be gentle with yourself, and remain in a positive and peaceful state. Do not judge or evaluate anything. Just be one with the breath!
The Ten Meditations on Perception deal with the five aggregates of attachment, desire and, clinging. These are of form, feeling, perception itself, volitional actions, and overall consciousness – all of which are impermanent in nature. These are difficult meditation to practice. Do your best without becoming discouraged or afraid of the deeper meanings of these meditations.
1) First meditate on the reality of impermanence and the five aggregates. Focus attention without evaluation on each aggregate – form, feeling, perception, volitional actions, and consciousness.
2) Now meditate on the realization of no-self (no authentically real ego, I, Me, Mine in the realities of atomic time and space). These are simply defensive ego-constructs to separate us from others and the world as a whole. Work on meditating on all sensory inputs and experiences as simply happening but without self-attachment to the experiences. This can be the most difficult meditation to practice.
3) Meditate on unattractiveness of the body and its self-consciousness of parts. All parts of the body, including mind, will decay and deteriorate over time; as they decay, they become more gruesome, even ugly. Decaying body and mind is not a pretty sight to behold. Notice your own defensiveness here, and how it relates to protecting your ego-self from dying off into impermanence of form.
4) Now meditate on the dangers of illness to both body and mind. This is the ultimate decaying and impermanence as it may lead to illness even the death of the living body.
5) Meditate on abandoning all thoughts and perceptions of you harming others – both things and sentient beings. Abandoning harmful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will lead to more compassion, caring, and kindness. As the next unhelpful, harmful thought arises, abandon it. Observe your reactions to people, places, and things you do not enjoy or like. When we abandon these unhelpful processes, we reduce the level of negativity in ourselves and in the world.
6) Meditate on dispassion – that is the energy placed in attachment, desire, and clinging. Be at peace inside as you work on letting go of cravings, especially cravings for material acquisitions. Let go, let go, let go! Practice being satisfied with what you have now, not waiting to be happy with some future acquisition of something concrete or emotional.
7) Meditate on cessation, or the absolute liberation of your mind-body from suffering. If there is no attached craving, there is no emotional disappointment. Wanting, desiring, attaching, craving, and clinging are all causes and effects of human suffering. Cessation brings freedom and liberation from suffering. It will also open you up more peace and happiness.
8) Do your best to meditate on letting go of your personal delight in being in experiences you find pleasurable. This does not mean you should not enjoy happiness when it exists. It does mean you should practice letting go of craving for happiness and sense-pleasures as a way of being, as a way to create happiness. All life experience, both pleasant and unpleasant, are impermanent experiences – they always change in one way of another. You cannot hold on to pleasant life experiences – just be with them fully when they occur.
9) Meditate on the actual impermanence of all conditioned experiences and phenomena. If you become effective here, you will notice that your suffering decreases dramatically. This, itself, is part of the path to liberation and realization. This is also a most difficult meditation to practice.
10) End your Ten Meditations on Perceptions with mindfulness on the breath. Just simple mindful awareness of your breath, in and out, short and long, shallow and deep, into and out of the body, the arising and falling away of the breath experience – as simply impermanent. Rest yourself in the reinforcing rapture and deep peace of pure awareness on the breath. Appreciate the breath for keeping you alive here now.
Hopefully you will have the self-discipline and motivation to practice these perception meditations. They will be most helpful to you on your own personal path to enlightenment.
For more information refer to Gunarantana, B. (2014). Meditation on Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness. Boston: Wisdom Publications. Also The Girimananda Sutta from Bhikku Bodhi (2012) in The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Arguttara Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp. 1411-15.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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