How to do Vipassana – Insight Meditation using the 3 characteristics

How to do Vipassana

Insight Meditation using the 3 Characteristics of our Everyday World

In Buddhism, basic insight meditation 101 uses the ti-lakkhana – which means the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha, anatta (impermanence, suffering, not self).

These 3 characteristics only apply to the conditioned world (i.e., conditioned existence – that which is born, created, formed).  They do not apply to the unconditioned.

The Buddha taught how to reflect using these 3 in the Anatta-lakkahana Sutta.

The purpose of teaching this was to teach you how to analyze whether something was worth regarding to be really you or not.  Hence why in this sutta, he compares and contrasts the characteristics of what is self and what is not self.

Here’s what you do:

Step 1

Take something that you take for granted as being you.  So the Buddha uses aspects of the psychophysical self which he called the 5 skandhas/khandhas:

– The body

– The ordinary mind – feelings, perceptions, habitual formations and intellectual consciousness

So for example, take the body (which is called rupa or form khandha).

So he goes:

1.  If the body were really you, you wouldn’t get afflicted or ill from it.  And you would be able to say, “Let my body be like this, let it not be like this” – and it would obey you.

But you body doesn’t totally obey you, e.g., when it gets sick, gets old and dies – you can’t tell the body not to get sick, not to get old and not to die – it won’t listen to you.

So because the body leads to affliction/illness and it isn’t under your total control – it is not you – not self (anatta).

Step 2

The 2nd part of the reflection is using impermanence

–  Is the body permanent or impermanent?  Impermanent

–  Is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?  Painful – cos it changes and becomes what we don’t want it to be – it decays and dies.

–  Is what is impermanent and painful (subject to change) – fit to be regarded as you?  No.

And the same process is repeated by the Buddha to the other aspects of what you take to be your self – your emotions and feelings, your personality, your thoughts/intellect.

The bottom line is – anything that you don’t have total control over, is impermanent, painful, subject to change and leads to affliction – this is not fit to be regarded as you.

This does NOT mean that there’s no real you but if you take anything impermanent and you lack full, absolute control over it (i.e., your ordinary mind and body) – that’s not the real you – it’s just something you’ve borrowed temporarily that you’ve mistaken to be you.

So that’s how the Buddha originally taught how to reflect using anicca, dukkha and anatta as he taught in the Anatta lakkhana Sutta.

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