Ati Marga header
Books Online
Reading List
Senge Bio
Contact Us

An Overview
The Practice of Virtue
The Development of Insight
The Development of Insight

Section 3: Removing Clinging to the External World

Now, before describing the next series of contemplations, it will be beneficial to have an overview in regards to the teachings of insight proclaimed by the Buddha. As Westerners we have a different context or way of understanding than those of ancient times. For instance, research into the fields of physiology and medicine has given us a window into mind and cognition. Some of the ancient teachings given by the Buddha have been misunderstood, the paramount of these being that ‘all things are a creation of the mind.’ At the time that this teaching was given it was a great mystery that could only be understood through deep meditational experience. Today, because of the scientific research that has been done, we may be able to have an intellectual grasp of this truth. This in no way diminishes the value of meditative insight because without this insight our lives will not be transformed, nor will we experience the profound bliss of understanding.

To return to the window of science and technology, it has been shown in brain surgery when the patient was conscious, that stimulation of certain areas of the brain with tiny electrodes spontaneously produced memories. These memories were complete with all of the physical sensations that arose at the time of the original experience. From these experiments we can understand that the mind as embodied in the brain, creates or determines the reality we perceive. Our perception of big and small, of hot and cold, are created by our mind. You might reason that if it is cold outside, no matter what our mind is experiencing, we would still freeze. However, yogis from the East have demonstrated that we can control the temperature of our body through our mind. In one practice, the yogis are given a test where sitting naked in the snow they must dry towels with their body heat. The towels have been dipped in freezing water and wrapped around them. The point that I am making here is that our experience of reality is determined by the mind that is perceiving outward stimuli. This is most obvious in our dream life where we can experience hot and cold, or pain and joy. For the dreamer it is real. In our ordinary waking day there appears to be continuity in the phenomenal world and we cling to the perception of this reality as “truth.” It is only when we have mental illness, or a malfunction on the chemical level, that we question it. In meditation and contemplation, of course, this is quite different. Here we wish to have a direct insight into the nature of what is. It is only when we understand the relationship between the mind that perceives the sense faculties and the objects of sense stimuli that we can say that we have a direct insight into reality. The contemplations put forward in the next section are designed to produce these insights. When our conceptual reality is stripped away and we are left with bare perceptions, we then can understand how the quality of our mind alters our perception. It also should be clear from the Buddha’s teaching that it is only the wholesome mind that is capable of understanding the nature of existence. If the wholesome mind well-founded in Dharma is not present, then stripping away the conceptual reality merely leads to mental illness.

One might ask a question at this stage of the practice: Is not enlightenment present in our body and the external world? The answer is, yes enlightenment is present. Totality, or suchness without beginning or end, is the continuum of enlightenment. In the practice of the following contemplations the purpose is not to negate the existence of the external world, but to remove our clinging to it as having a fixed or ultimate reality. I cannot emphasize this point enough.

31) Destruction
In this next contemplation we replace the perception of compactness and enduring with the perception of destruction. We, as human beings limited by our sense perceptions, have an inherent tendency to view certain phenomena such as a mountain as enduring. Because of our life span we do not see the mountain come into being, we do not see it pass away, and for all intents and purposes the mountain appears to be lasting or eternal. However, through the use of science and the study of geological formations, we have come to know that the mountain had an origin and it will have a cessation. Nonetheless, our physical perceptions prevail and in our conceptual reality we treat the mountain as though it were eternal because from our point of view and from our life span, it may as well be. There are times when this perception is abruptly and rudely interrupted. Those of us who have been in an earthquake or have witnessed an erupting volcano will know what I am talking about. During an earthquake what we thought was a stable and enduring phenomena - the earth beneath our feet - turns out to be very unstable. If we examine our mind during this occurrence or shortly thereafter, we see that there is a fundamental disturbance and we are shaken to our core on a systemic level. This is exactly what this contemplation is attempting to provoke. In other words, through contemplating the destruction of apparently permanent phenomena we are bringing our physiology and our conceptual knowledge together in a truth that is deeper than both of them. Our conceptual knowledge tells us that the earth is impermanent, that it is in the process of change; our senses and physiology tell us that it is solid, that the mountain is enduring and permanent. When we cling to this illusion it prevents us from participating in the reality of what is. We can know something intellectually, but this may not help us very much in our quest for awakening. However, if we know something mentally, physically and emotionally, it will really change the way in which we function.

As we develop this contemplation, we see that virtue is defined by abstaining from the perception of solidity, by making effort to refrain from the perception of solidity and by using our patience to combat the automatic and habitual tendency to perceive the endurance of phenomena. Exercising our mindfulness in this way and replacing the perception of solidity with that of destruction, leads to the wisdom of non-transgression and we directly perceive reality as it is without the veils of ignorance.
{ back to top }

32) Clinging to Karma
The function of the next contemplation is to dispel clinging to the production of good karma. When we engage in activities with the thought of accumulating good karma, most often we are unaware of how fragile and subject to loss this supposed good karma is. We could work for an entire lifetime accumulating good karma through wholesome activity and, in an instant of rage or anger, all that we had worked for can be lost. So, here in this contemplation, we focus on and become aware of the disintegration or fall of formations. Formations created by karma are fragile, impermanent and subject to loss. If we contemplate this process we do not become involved in trying to make them permanent or accumulate karmic results. There is one exception to this rule, and we find this in the Mahayana practice of the Bodhisattva. If we have taken the path of purification through the development of karma, then it is critical for there to be a prior realization of voidness. In this way we realize that there is no ‘one’ accumulating good karma and that the act or action in itself is void along with its result. In other practices we find the sharing of merit used as a remedy to the illusive and fragile nature of karma. In this practice, because the merit of the wholesome action is shared with all sentient beings, it is not lost in a single moment of unawareness. However, the critical realization that should occur in our contemplation at this stage is that we realize how fragile and ephemeral the accumulation of karma is.

As we develop this contemplation we abstain from the intention of accumulating good karma and we use our energy to dispel the view that this is possible. We use firm patience in the mind to let go of clinging to the results of good actions. By practicing mindfulness in this way we free ourselves from the delusion of separate accumulation, and the wisdom of non-transgression is present when there are no longer impulses in consciousness to accumulate anything.
{ back to top }

33) Overcoming the Perception of Enduring
In the next practice we contemplate change to overcome the perception of enduring or remaining the same. This is different from the contemplation of destruction in the case of the perception of compactness in the sense that we are contemplating change on all levels. For instance, if we were to look at a time lapse film of a rock that is being worn away by the flow of the river against it and if this were filmed over a period of 20 years, we would see the rock changing to accommodate the river. On the other hand if we were to perceive it only at one stage, we would experience it as enduring or lasting even though it is changing in very subtle ways. It is never static or the same for even two moments. Here we are not contemplating the rock’s destruction, but that it is in continual change. No object remains the same from one moment to the next. All states, objects and processes never remain the same. In order to help ourselves come to this realization we must contemplate change. If we train the mind to contemplate this immediately in all things we perceive, we will not merely intellectually understand this but we will have a direct realization of change.

In this contemplation, virtue is defined by abstaining from the perception that things endure or remain the same. We use our effort to abandon the perception that anything remains the same and by using our patience to become conscious of change. With our mindfulness we restrain the mind from the habitual tendency to perceive things as lasting or enduring. Finally the wisdom of non-transgression is the fulfillment of this contemplation in the sense that we no longer perceive phenomena as lasting or remaining the same from moment to moment.
{ back to top }

34) Clinging to the Sign
The next contemplation is to overcome clinging to the signs (nimitas) that arise in consciousness. Every object that arises in consciousness, whether coming from a sense perception or from the mind itself, has a sign. This sign is the conceptual experience of the object. For instance the sign of the female form is said to be its softness, its roundness or voluptuousness, Sometimes in the ancient texts, this is referred to as the nature of the object. Allowing the mind to function unguarded and unaware of the conceptual reality is our primal ignorance. When each of the three states - greed, hatred or delusion, - first arises at the mind door, it is set in motion due to a sign. The sign triggers off one of the six roots of consciousness in one who has not purified the mind.

When we take up the practice of meditation our first task is to concentrate the mind on a single object until we are aware of the sign produced by our effort. Each of the various kasinas or meditations on the foul have a sign that is usually visual, a nimita that arises when that meditation is being practiced. It is very important to have the realization of the sign, which (it should be remembered) is not merely a visual image. When the mind is focused one-pointedly in meditation, the sign or nimita that arises has a great impact and transformative power on consciousness. Each of the three characteristics - impermanence, suffering and not self - have corresponding signs associated with them.

So what do we mean by contemplating the signless? What we mean is that first we see the validity and importance of the sign, the realization that it is imparting to us and then we contemplate that which has no sign, that which goes beyond the sign. In some teachings this is called essence of mind. To reiterate, every object of mind has a sign. If we are practicing a meditation or contemplation which has recognizable qualities, a sign would arise as a fruition of that effort. This means that the signless does not come from whatever arises via the five senses or the mind door as an object of mind. Without comprehending the meaning of the signs that arise in consciousness it cannot be said that we have insight. The only thing that is signless is essence of mind, consciousness turning around in the seat of consciousness, the mind looking at itself without an object.

What is it that is aware? It is only the bare experience of the essence of mind that is signless and aware. When we name it we have missed it because as soon as we give it a quality it has a sign. We can only be aware of the essence of mind when we let go of and relinquish the signs of consciousness. When we see that they function according to the laws of association and karma we do not respond to them or cling to them as having an ultimate or inherent nature. Nibbana is said to be signless in the sense that it does not arise from a cause, nor does it cease. Because it does not arise, it has no beginning or end and cannot be defined as a quality except as an absence; the absence of the defilements, the absence of clinging, the absence of passion, desires etc.

Our contemplation here is to abstain from the perception of the sign as soon as it appears; this is virtue. Using our energy to abandon the sign and exercise our patience and mindfulness to restrain the mind from clinging to the sign leads to the wisdom of non-transgression, which is to give up all clinging to signs and enter the signless.
{ back to top }

35) Desire
The next contemplation’s purpose is to free us from all desire and so we contemplate the desireless. Every aspiration, even the aspiration for enlightenment, is driven by desire. Desire for more, desire for better, desire for the good, that is to say nothing of desire of the unwholesome. Ultimately even good desires prevent us from entering the state of blessedness or completeness. Desire is the main impulse that causes a person to become an identity. It is very important to give up the desire for becoming because the desire to become anything is an unnecessary limitation. The desire to become is a state that causes an imprisoned and fixed becoming and hence suffering. When we give up the desire to become we are letting go of suffering in the sense that we are no longer setting up a predetermined view of what we could be. If we don't give up the desire to become, we will not be open to a new experience of ourselves and there will always be a sense of imprisonment. The desire to become creates an entity who wants to be. All desire is based on delusion; if we are not free of desire we can't experience the ongoing enlightenment.

So in this contemplation, abstaining from all desire we contemplate the desireless: this is virtue. Using our effort to abandon any desire, however lofty, is virtue. Exercising our patience to train our mindfulness is virtue. Restraining the mind whenever desires appear leads to the wisdom of non-transgression and the desireless.
{ back to top }

36) Clinging to a Point of View
Our next contemplation is to free us from clinging to a point of view. When we have developed on the path and we have taken up a practice, we may have a way of life that brings about fulfillment within us. However, if we cling to this way or insist that this is the only path then we have gone astray. The remedy for this is to meditate on voidness. As we develop attainments of greater and greater realization, there is a certain sureness that arises, but this sureness is different from clinging to views. Even after the experience of beginning levels of awakening or purification, there is residual clinging that needs to be abandoned. By meditating on voidness we rid the mind of habitual tendencies to cling even to the wholesome. We may have had glimpses of freedom, but we are still subject to subtle forms of clinging. Here it is an insistence on a view that must be abandoned, so it is very important to practice the perception of voidness at this stage. What we are insisting on may even be correct, but ultimately in clinging to it, we prevent ourselves from seeing the greater truth. Looked at in another way, it is obviously better to cling to the wholesome than to fall into unwholesome ways, but we still must understand that clinging to the wholesome must be given up in order for there to be transcendence of all views and hence the attainment of Nibbana. Ultimately to hold to a view prevents us from experiencing a state beyond views. The state of blessedness comes from the realization of voidness, a direct knowing of the mind and its true nature. The mind and all phenomena are empty and without an inherent nature. Even the path we have taken to this realization is empty.

And so to abstain from all clinging is virtue. To use our effort to be free from clinging is virtue. To exercise our patience in restraining the mind leads to the clarity of true mindfulness. The wisdom of non-transgression is the realization of emptiness.
{ back to top }

37) Higher States of Understanding
Our next contemplation is a further development of the previous one. When we misinterpret the teaching by grasping a view and insist upon that view we must apply the antidote which is to develop insight into higher states of understanding.

The first glimpse of emptiness or voidness is the beginning of higher understanding, however, there are many permutations to this contemplation. For instance, although ultimately all phenomena and states of being or processes are devoid of an inherent nature, it would be wrong to think that there is no purpose in cultivating the wholesome. For it is only the wholesome mind that is capable of abiding in voidness without fear. Here again it would be wrong to cling to the experience of voidness for in doing so we make it an object and lose its true meaning. Very subtle clingings can still occur in one who has a true experience of voidness and these must be uprooted by the development of insight into higher states of understanding.

And so, to abstain from clinging to experiences of voidness is virtue. To use our effort to refrain from clinging to a view of voidness is virtue. To exercise our patience and restraint leads to the clarity of true mindfulness. The wisdom of non-transgression and the direct experience of voidness is ongoing and without a definable quality.
{ back to top }

38) Knowledge and Vision
Our next contemplation is correct knowledge and vision, which is the cure for misinterpretation or clinging to a point of view. The way to become free of confusion is through correct knowledge and vision. Without an overview and deep understanding of the nature of suffering, its causes and its cessation, there will always be - to some extent - confusion. We may have a partial attainment or a certain level of realization, but we may not necessarily be fully conscious of all of the defilements and stages we went through to attain freedom. In such cases we still have residual clinging and because of this we have to review it until we understand it completely. Knowledge and vision is a stage where one sees directly karma and its result through lifetimes of becoming. It is only in this way that we can correct the misconceptions in our overview and bring about full knowledge.

So, in the fulfillment of this contemplation we abstain from clinging to partial view and we use our energy to recognize and abandon partial views. We focus our patient mindfulness on this task because partial view is seen as an obstacle or hindrance to further development. We restrain the mind and no longer accept a partial view without discrimination and the wisdom of non-transgression leads to the realization of correct knowledge and vision.
{ back to top }

39) Danger in Formations
Our next contemplation is to reflect on the danger of relying on formations. This arises through misinterpretation and insistence on seeing certain formations as endless. Even the Bodhisattva must eventually give up clinging to any formation in order to realize the complete awakening. All formations are subject to change and have a proclivity towards suffering. If we cling to even wholesome formations we set in motion the laws of entropy. Because clinging is going against the very nature of the universe we have set ourself apart and see ourself as separate from the change. This has to do with all formations. All things and states are struggling to maintain their form; their attempt to hold their form is their suffering. This includes higher forms of becoming, such as devas or angelic beings. When this hindrance is recognized we can overcome it through the contemplation of formations as dangerous.

So in the development of this contemplation we abstain from clinging to all formations. We use our energy to abandon the perception of formations as desirable or lasting. With patience and mindfulness, when formations appear to be desirable, we contemplate their danger. Restraining the mind from the perception of the desirability of formations, we realize the wisdom of non-transgression in the sense that there is no longer interest in maintaining any formation.
{ back to top }

40) Reflection
Our next contemplation is to recognize when there is non-reflection present and to develop reflection. To reflect upon any given occurrence is to review it and to look at it over and over again from many different points of view. With this practice we develop a multifaceted view. Any occurrence, whether of body, speech or mind, has many ways in which it can be viewed. Karma is not two-dimensional and it is not three-dimensional - it is multidimensional. This is the hallmark of the Buddha's awakening: he was able to see the interconnecting threads of many lifetimes. This is not only seeing the cause and results of given actions in previous lives, but also how these affected others and the overall interdependent becoming of beings.

So, in this contemplation we first recognize the state of non-reflection, then we abandon this state and reflect on the multifaceted experiencing of any given occurrence. We abstain from simplistic interpretations arising due to non-reflection. We martial our energy to be in a state of reflection and aware of the multifaceted experiencing of all phenomena. We use a patient restraint in not allowing our mind to fall into non-reflection and this leads to the wisdom of non-transgression. Because of this we perceive in a multidimensional way as a continuum.
{ back to top }

41) Bondage
Our next contemplation is described as turning away from formations that have arisen due to bondage. The human being is trapped in a perceptual reality arising from the senses and the objects that are stimulus to these organs. Our minds cannot imagine or comprehend a reality outside of these perceptual modes. There arises a time in meditation when these modes of perception become a block to our development by predetermining our mental formations. There is almost an instinctual resistance to letting go of these formations because we have not imagined a way to survive outside of them. The interdependent and interpenetrating nature of all phenomena is obscured by our clinging and our insistence on confining our experience to only this narrow band of perception. Much of what we experience is conceptually determined by our karmic conditioning. In the bare perceptions of the senses there is actually an opening up of consciousness and we see directly the interpenetrating nature of all phenomena. What has not yet been dealt with in our meditation, and what this contemplation focuses on, is our insidious insistence on clinging to conditioned views born of bondage to karmic formations. These are the tenaciously clung to presumed realities that are so much the background of our sense of separateness. It is not possible for a person to experience this unless they have done the previous work we have spoken of. Turning away from formations that are holding us in bondage, this is like relinquishing all of the defense systems. We give up our defense systems because, essentially and fundamentally, they are the only things that prevent us from experiencing the total interconnectedness and the interpenetration of all phenomena. When these defense systems prevent us from experiencing life as it is, they are no longer defense systems but are actually prisons. As soon as we turn the corner and see their imprisoning nature, it is really easy to let go. But until then, it is so inherently present in the perception of ourselves, that we are completely overwhelmed by the fear of letting go.

So, in this contemplation, we abstain from the mental formations that produce the prison of identity and with our energy, abandon the creation of new formations. We exercise our patience to remain free from the bondage of formations. Using our mindfulness in this way we develop the wisdom of non-transgression and become free from the endless cycle of becoming a fixed identity.
{ back to top }
Terms of use: You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.