Perception: Seeing The Not-Self Nature of the Aggregate

Apr 16, 2021

This week we continue with our exploration of the Five Aggregates of clinging which lead to suffering. The five aggregates that constitute what we call an individual or personality are themselves conditioned phenomena in a state of continuous flux arising and ceasing from moment to moment with no persisting or permanent nature in them. One has no ownership or control over them and when one identifies with them as “I” or “me”, it can only lead to suffering (dukkha) due to their very transient nature. This week we will take a detailed look at the factor of perception and how clinging to the belief that perception is a self leads to suffering. Perception can be described as the mental process that registers, recognizes and labels a sensory object received through one of the six sense organs by noting the distinctive qualities of that object. For example, if a colour, shape or a form is seen through the eye and is cognized by the visual consciousness, it is the aggregate of perception that recognizes and labels it as a colour, shape or a form. Through meditation and contemplation we can see the not-self nature of perception. In our ordinary lives, perception seems solid and true, but when we examine it closely, it turns out to be fragile, coreless, and hollow: “Form is like a lump of foam, feeling like bubbles in water, perception like a mirage, volitional activities like a pithless banana tree, and consciousness like a magical illusion” (Samyutta Nikaya 22:95). One way to see this is by observing how often people disagree about the beauty or ugliness, deliciousness or distastefulness, pleasantness or unpleasantness, of a particular work of art, item of clothing, type of food, or music. We can see how perceptions change over time or how they vary by country or change according to circumstances. With observation we can see that perceptions are not true or reliable.