Monthly Archives: January 2013

About Sanna (Perception) – not self


Of the five groups or aggregates, one is material and four are mind-related. These five comprise a human being.

The first one (called rupa in Pali) is approximately translated as ‘materiality’ and is most evident.

It is so evident that some persons think they are only their body.

Today we wish to talk about one of the five groups, the one that is called sanna in Pali.

In ordinary talk, the most elementary translation of sanna gives “perception” or, perhaps if we think of the past emotional state, we could call it “memory”. In English, we can hardly use “memory” if we think about what might happen tomorrow. For example, we could not say, “I have a memory of tomorrow”, rather we might say, ” I have a perception of tomorrow”.

Perception (sanna) is not-self.

The Buddha said: “If perception, bhikkhus, were self, then this perception would not become painful, and one would be able to say, ‘Let my perception be thus, let my perception not be thus,’ But since perception is not-self, so it becomes painful, and no one can say, ‘Let my perception be thus, let my perception not be thus.'”

By accessing the attainment state of stream enterer (Pali: sotapan) or better, each for himself or herself, most beings can agree with Chandrakirti’s Prasannapada (“Clear Words”) – that the “self” is not separate from the five aggregates of rupa, vedana, sanna, sankara and vinnanam.

The body and mind is a big institution consisting of body (rupa) and four types of mind stuff, namely feeling (vedana); perception (sanna); mental formations (sankhara); and consciousness (vinnana).

Whatever arises in these five aggregates passes away.

When one is entirely free from attachment to the body and mind, one is liberated. So we cultivate strong mindfulness to attain a peaceful state and find what Westerners call “enlightenment”.

There is a type of memory that misreads processes if it is untrained and coarse. This is sanna.

This error of view has to do with the way your present name and form developed through the coarse and fine, wellness or unwellness changes since this very human birth.

If you were wise, you would keep your minds empty of these errors of view by attending to the real – the present changes in wellness or unwellness events.

The foremost meanings of wellness and unwellness are simply stated if we say and know all human beings are subject to a common destiny defined by the process of birth, ageing, sickness and death.

The empty mind knows these facts; it only loses these facts when it becomes closed up with doubt.

The wrong view is to cling to or attach yourself to heavenly beings.

In the interests of our Dhamma practice, the correct view is that little benefit can arise by joining in such types of multifaith exercises where the intent is to get Buddhist practitioners to agree to an implicit atman (Creator God) basis as the correct view.

Dhamma Practitioners ought to avoid interfaith platforms using songs framed in terms of seeking to make a past time real by playing with sanna perception.

How do you train persons who feel guilty or worry about the past?

Our Students were taught the established yoga mental exercise of thinking backwards through the recollection of a particular worry.

By the time a worry has entered into a person’s mind at some intensity, several low intensity events have occurred.

Most persons do not pay enough attention to their present events so they cannot pick up the “precursors” of low intensity which are caused by clinging onto something.

When the Student recalls the events of the day in reverse order, this is contrary to the natural tendency to think forward.

By this backward thinking practice, using sanna perception, worry can be overcome by not grasping what was formerly grasped.

This practice was taught by Padma Sambhava.

So let us use repetition to remember the means of access to thoughts on sanna.

In Buddha Dhamma, you may be interested to know how sanna nestles in the list or framework of the forty meditation subjects:

A. Ten entirety (totalities) (kasina)

B. Ten kinds of foulness (asubha)

C. Ten kinds of recollections (anussati)

D. Four kinds of divine abidings (Brahmavihara)

E. Four kinds of immaterial states (arupa)

F. One perception (sanna)

G. One defining (avathana)

A. The ten kinds of entirety-methods are as follows:

(1) Earth kasina

(2) Water kasina

(3) Fire kasina

(4) Air kasina

(5) Blue kasina

(6) Yellow kasina

(7) Red kasina

(8) White kasina

(9) Light kasina

(10) Limited-space kasina

B. The ten kinds of foulness-methods are as follows:

(1) The bloated body

(2) The livid body

(3) The festered body

(4) The cut-up body

(5) The gnawed body

(6) The scattered body

(7) The hacked and scattered body

(8) The bleeding body

(9) The worm-infested body; and

(10) The skeleton

C. The ten kinds of recollection-methods are as follows:

(1) Recollection of the Buddha

(2) Recollection of Dhamma

(3) Recollection of the Sangha

(4) Recollection of virtue

(5) Recollection of generosity

(6) Recollection of deities

(7) Mindfulness of death

(8) Mindfulness occupied with the body

(9) Mindfulness of breathing; and

(10) Recollection of peace

D. The four kinds of divine abiding are these:

(1) Loving kindness

(2) Compassion

(3) Gladness; and

(4) Equanimity

E. The four kinds of immaterial states are these:

(1) The base consisting of boundless space

(2) The base consisting of boundless consciousness

(3) The base consisting of nothingness

(4) The base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception

F. The one perception is the perception of repulsiveness in nutriment.

G. Finally, the one defining is the defining (analysis) of the four great primary elements.

Next to be examined are the feelings (vedana), memories (sanna), “self” images (sankhara), and also the many types of consciousness (vinnanam) that arise.

We may now realise that passively listening to our Teacher is like vacantly viewing a map. The Teacher produces nothing to be learnt; his or her words only point at what we need to produce in our minds there and then.

The great Master Nagarjuna explained centuries ago that as long as a wrong view of our aggregates (rupam, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnanam) exists, one is bound to the karma of cyclic existence because “self” is the root of all trouble. So cutting the root amounts to realisation of selflessness (anatta).

Today people talk so much about physical exercise; good, but what of our hearts, our minds? We need mental discipline, mental exercise, mental training.

So now let us look at the five groups from a slightly different viewpoint.

The Buddha does not ignore or neglect the body, but he gives pride of place to the human mind. Here you have the five aggregates or groups.

Only one is material, the other four are something to do with the mind. This is matter – rupa, and this is mind – vinnanam consciousness; the other three are – vedana, sanna, and sankara, and these are the contents of the mind.

You say everywhere you see things material.

When you see matter your eyes come into contact with perceivable objects. All those objects that we see are things material. So the world means just the sense objects. Right? When you go deeper you see here there’s colour, and those colours give a shape.

And we get sounds. When two things come together, we get a sound.

So two materials come together and you get a sound.

Smell. Certain pollens come to your nostrils and you get it.

Then here again, your tongue.

You get something material.

And touch. So the entire world is the world of matter. Then we have the world within – this mind and its contents.

See the difference. Today, man with a brain weighing only 3 lbs. has done marvellous things. He has brought under control air, space, gone to the moon. Human beings are not gods, not Brahmas, but just this one fathom long body with a brain and consciousness.

Let us talk about control in fact and fiction.

The more a person tries to control the external world, the more difficult he or she finds it to control himself or herself – that is the problem today.

Please note when the Buddha talks about men he infers the same for women.

The Buddha says, “Man may conquer hundreds and thousands of people in the battlefield. What a waste to conquer thousands and thousands of people if you cannot conquer yourself.”

What a waste to bring about a change in the environment without a change inside us.

So bhavana (meditation) brings about a change inside us. That is the aim of meditation, to look within.

Things are not simple in the real world; they are simple only in fantasy worlds.

It is not easy to understand ourselves.

When two persons come together there are really six persons, although it sounds rather paradoxical.

Each person as he sees himself, each person as another person may see him, each person as he or she really is.

Each person thinking “I am so and so, I am so and so” depending on his or her ego, his or her so-called “I”. You may live together, eat together, work together, sleep together, do everything together, but still you may not understand the other person.

So, in meditation we are trying to find out the real person.

So when you sit down to meditation, am I a man or a woman?

These are only concepts. These disappear; the man/woman business.

You find there is a body in flux. It is not something stationary, something stable and fixed.

All the time it is changing. You cannot knock in the same place again, scientifically speaking, because the particles of matter there, the particles of matter here, the environment, all are changing in vibration.

If you learn physics, it is very easy to understand the Buddha’s flux theory.

So everywhere is changing.

When you sit down, all concept disappears.

We just see here a conflux of mind and body. A body flux and a mind flux.

So it’s a conflux flowing together. So what is this matter and mind?

Just this body is matter and mind.

Scientifically speaking, matter is something tangible or perceptible. But not mind.

Say a thought now comes, a thought of love. You cannot touch it. It is not something material. But there is a way of seeing the thought. Use the mind.

A thought sees a thought.

In meditation you see.

Now there comes a thought of love; pure love; loving-kindness (in Pali: metta).

Who sees it? A thought sees a thought. Now it disappears, now it reappears.

You become aware of all these things in meditation. All concept disappears.

When you are in meditation, you may entertain an ugly thought; an unpleasant and unwholesome thought.

You need not get upset, it is very natural.

So in meditation, when thoughts come you don’t struggle with them.

Just use bare awareness, bare attention.

Don’t be a judge, don’t praise or condemn the thought.

Just the thought, the thought, the thought – come back here. With bare awareness, use bare awareness.

People don’t know how to see a sunset.

The best way to see a sunset is just to be there, bare attention. That’s the best way to see the sunset.

So when you start thinking about the colours and all that, so you see you are distracted, you’re distracted, not seeing the sunset.

When we do the meditation – breathing meditation – then it’s not so easy, you know.

When you try to concentrate, your mind will wander and wander. We know of great meditators.

Sometimes they think that at times they find it difficult to keep their concentration.

Just for five minutes.

That is the nature of mind, but you get used to it. Then keep away the other thoughts and go on with meditation.

The meditation that the Buddha emphasised again and again, was mindfulness.

You know about this discourse on mindfulness.

Be mindful of everything. Be mindful.

Practice it, then you get used to it. Then you see the advantages.

Persons today, because they don’t have mindfulness, must create trouble for themselves unnecessarily.

Because of this lacking of mindfulness they get all sorts of troubles.

You can run mindfully without tension. You go driving your car. You come to traffic lights.

Most persons, you know, when they see green turning to amber, they get agitated. “Oh it is red.”

Impatient. It is red. So the best thing to do, the sensible thing to do when you see red is to not get agitated.

There’s a little rest for you. Leave the wheel, take a deep breath, you see, and patiently wait for the green. No tension. So there are little things that we have to cultivate mindfully.

Also, when we talk about meditation, there is what we call the “Brahma Viharas” – the four sublime states:
Loving kindness, compassion, appreciative or altruistic joy and equanimity.

These four sublime states we call the art of noble living.

This is some meditation that we all must cultivate.

Persons do not know how to love. Their love is so selfish, so that is not love.

“I” and the “My” and the “Mine”, that is selfish.

Let your good thoughts go to all.

May all beings be well and happy, may all beings be well and happy.

No bond, no attachment with others is the way to lighten and widen the mind.

Now parents love their children. There are hundreds and thousands of children.

But when her child is in trouble, she feels so much agony, mental agony. That is why when you are separated you feel sad.

The Buddha says to be separated from the loved is dukkha, meaning suffering.

This can be found out. It cannot be said exactly in words but it can be known.

Sanna is one of the mental factors and the jhana, it is staying with one object. The meditator can use one of the forty meditation objects mentioned earlier.

It is best if you ask a qualified Teacher what suits you best.

Some may use kasina, some may use loving-kindness, and at the highest level some objects cannot send the mind to the highest level.

For example, contemplation of the 32 body parts can give only first jhana, and loving-kindness can give only third jhana. These are general rules to guide you.

If you get too high, you may not understand sanna with ease.

For the fourth jhana, if you want to get it, you must change your object but if you start with kasina, the coloured disc, you don’t need to change it or, if you start with anapanna, you don’t need to change it.

The perception or sanna, the mental factor, is not significant in that consciousness.

But other mental factors are more powerful and it maybe also more powerful but in the original text no one can mention the importance of sanna.

For those more technically proficient in Pali terms we remind you that there is not only sanna, there are also phassa, vedana, sanna, ekaggata, jivitindriya, manasikara. These mental factors are also associated with any consciousness but they are not entitled to be called jhana.

In jhana paccayo, these five factors are entitled to be called jhana paccayo.

Much clarification is required for advanced Students from reading say, the Teacher Sayadaw Dipaloka’s texts when he explains in fine detail to students who ask the technical questions about mental states.

Although we are saying the same thing, they are arising and passing away at any moment.

For the more advanced listeners, we remind you that everything is not the same thing. They are new ones.

Although the name is the same, everything has changed at any moment.

Nimitta is pannatti, it cannot change, but the arammanika, any consciousness and all mental factors are replaced with new ones.

Sanna also is replaced.

Sanna is only one of the concomitant mental factors.

Looking to the imagined future, it is perhaps more likely than unlikely that a pessimistic thought array (sanna) appears: “I shall be content if I go to heaven birth next life”.

For most religious persons, the prospect of acquiring a heaven birth next life would not be termed a pessimistic outlook.

Our Teacher has no intention of disparaging the intellect or motives of other practitioners in using this method, because our Teacher’s polemic cannot accede to a Student’s view that most common persons would disagree with the use of the word “pessimistic” in referring to a next life heavenly situation.

It is because they lack a precise English nomenclature for this “common” view, because the “next-after-next” life expectations suggest that the process state be termed at least: “hidden pessimism”.

You need to overcome “pessimism”.

If this (sanna) perception is nourished and believed as a statement of (absolute) truth; it can be seen why persons may relinquish the perception that “contentment ” is possible to attain here and now in the present human life.

Students were invited to generate sufficient merit by practice to set aside, as a Dhamma obligation, to understand the error-in-view, and understand that holding such a view (even for those desirous of birth in the Pure Land) is not in accord with Buddha Dhamma Vajrayana. “Self generation” and/or “generation in front” is needed to vanquish such “pessimism”.

In some deva worlds, the devas do not care for all basic precepts.

Why would a clear-headed person wish to join a kingdom of beings who hold less than five precepts?

If a person’s former life before this human life was as such a deva or devata, by habit, he or she may practice “atman-adhesion” and hope to “return” to that state.

For complex subjects there are different solution sets generating ways of looking at things within the Buddha Sasene.

Depending on your disposition, you would be wise to think about the views of the two Indian Schools on “self generation”

There were two Indian schools maintaining the identity of “self generation” and “generation in front”.

The first Indian school held that without first separately contemplating “self generation” one convinces himself or herself that he or she (a “self”) is transported to the centre of the mandala of powdered colours, or of the painted one, that is “accomplished” in the “generation in front”.

Having been transported to the centre of the mandala, the person generates the “matrix of natures” and the four factors of becoming.

In the Tibetan Snags rim, this “matrix of natures” is the same as “realm of space” (in Pali: first arupa, meaning formless, jhana).

He or she generates further practices until he or she leaves through the east gate of the mandala.

He or she then presents offerings to the Guru or deity and sees himself or herself as identical to the Guru or deity and receives initiation.

The second Indian school held that if one were to do it that way there would be no method of contemplating the “spheres of purification”, namely birth, death, and the intermediate state, or of contemplating with direct comprehension their concordant natures.

The first method may encourage a person to reinforce their “self” rather than understand the Buddha Dhamma.

In the second Indian school, the Guru or deity is in the centre of the mandala and the practitioner makes offerings, praises, enjoyment of ambrosia (heavenly food) and, having understood anatta, abides in the centre of the mandala.

He or she then generates first arupa jhana (the “matrix of natures”) and the four factors of becoming.

Students were warned that the jeopardy of using these practices with conceit is, if persons visualise themselves and appear by siddhi to be as elevated yogis with multiple bodies, they may forget that their root ground “being as five groups” is still continuing in human birth.

There are cases when persons use a form of dreamtime practice to talk to or dance with heavenly beings.

It is important to remember that inexact forms of practice of dream yoga are still a “human” dreaming.

One Tasmanian native practice was to watch a soft, kindly looking eye.

With higher clarity of vision this turned out to be like a European horse. There were no European horses in Tasmania in ancient times.

Most forms of careless, inexact practice turns out to be like cheap calico – the dye fades quickly.

There is some safety in supposing and/or remembering that all events seen, even with celestial eye, or heard, even with celestial ear, are merely like “clouds” of iddhis sourced from our human birth.

These things are of such a nature that they happen outside this fathom-long body so, no matter how attractive they appear, they cannot provide a basis to bring us the present contentment we are looking for.

Persons must take care not be duped by these iddhi matters and turn away from playing with them.

When the significance of the practice of renunciation of playing with these things is known, each for himself or herself, then the process method that leads to the true experience of contentment becomes trustworthy.

We then come to the position where we get on with living the holy life as a reality as one who can be truly human.

Students who have not practised mindfulness of the body thoroughly and repeatedly may assert that since all conditioned things are transitory, why should they bother to try a method to “gain” contentment because their past experience showed whatever contentment they materialised in the past changed to “loss”.

So it is customary for most persons to have hesitancy arise which expresses itself as: “Is there any technique that will lead me to contentment in a form that can be relied upon?”

Our challenge is to invite Students to attend to learning at the Centre for the rest of their life and then apply what has been learnt within their own Temples or homes or workplaces.

It takes most persons time to understand why this transfer of teaching is of benefit.

Sometimes, if they have practised something similar in past lives a few persons may resolve such reservation speedily.

Such persons can do this because they have qualified by myriad generous actions in his or her past (Pali: kusala kamma) which means they belong to the “genius” student classification having powerful antecedents which can fruit to give the arising of the right contentment.

However, for most students, it is questionable if a firm resolution of this type of question could arise by serendipity.

The sought-after contentment is the outcome of a suitable process.

Supporting factors for this practice include verbal recitation of the Mangala Sutta.

Another supporting factor is a condition for the mental recitation and the mental recitation is for the penetration of the characteristics as in the texts.

Provided a person follows the Dhamma, he or she shall triumph by finding the process of obtaining right understanding of reality.

Mindfulness is a common element in all Dhamma processes.

The subject matters taught needs to be and must be based on our own experience using words in your internal dictionary.

If your internal dictionary lacks 2nd order and 3rd order thought, this must be attended to before analytical reflection upon the constituent parts of the body can gather the insight and reveal the fact that they are devoid of ANY permanent self.

These days, if you measure the appropriate height of your adult body you find it a metric measurement between, say, 1.4 to 1.7 metres or between 5 to 6 feet. The measure is about one fathom = six feet. A few persons may be taller than one fathom.

To understand why mindfulness of body is a basic practice that must be done, you must direct attention and locate the actual volume of your own body.

This is why Ajaans, such as Taungpulu Tawya Kake Aye Sayadaw, refer to the key discourse by the Buddha:

” Oh! Rohitatha. I do not preach that the cessation of the world of suffering can be done without attainment or nirvana.

Within this fathom-long body, with its thoughts and emotions, I declare is found the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world”.

Many Blessings appear from other options within that framework.

For more detail refer to The Minor Readings, Pali Text Society, Oxford 1991. ISBN 0 86013 023 1, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli.

May all beings develop mindfulness.

May all beings develop understanding about sanna.

May all beings be well and happy.

This radio script was written and edited by John D. Hughes and Leanne Eames.


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