I’m back in Boston, after a wonderful tour of Europe, and ready to bring you the next installment of reflections on the khandas(aggregates). For newcomers, the khandas are the elements of our experience from which we construct a sense of permanent I-am-ness; the building blocks or raw material of the ego, so to speak. Contemplating them individually and collectively loosens one’s attachment to them and creates internal space for freedom to be realized.
The first two khandas are bodily formations (kaya) and feeling tones (vedana). This week, we’ll consider perceptions (sanna).
Sanna is a Pali word that often gets translated as ‘perception’. And in the context of insight contemplation, reflecting on perception lays open the interesting ways in which the mind creates images about what is happening and then proceeds to view reality through the lens of those images. Some teachers refer to sanna as the labels or names that the mind tacks onto experience.
For example, consider this image:
If you’re like me, you will see a Stop Sign and not a red octagonal shape with patches of white. But how quickly the mind leaps to the former and skims over the latter. This is the speed at which we lose ourselves in sanna. The project of meditation becomes interested in observing the reflexive identification with perceptions and labels, to see their contingent nature and to realize that they are not a permanent self.
But the Buddha used a slightly different analogy for sanna. He likened sanna to a shimmering mirage.
“Suppose, bhikkhus, that in the last month of the hot season, at high noon, a shimmering mirage appears. A man with good sight would inspect it, ponder it, and carefully investigate it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in a mirage? So too, monks, whatever kind of perception there is, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near: a monk inspects it, ponders it, and carefully investigates it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in perception?” (SN 22:95; III 140-42) translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
To get a subjective feeling for how the mind manufactures mirages out of images, I HIGHLYrecommend clicking here and taking a few minutes to do these simple exercises. They are quite interesting. And let me know what you think!
Originally published on March 16, 2012