Book Review & Giveaway: Meditation on Perception by Bhante Gunaratana

Book Giveaway: I won a softcover version of this book and much as I crave keeping it I will practice the essence of Meditation on Perception by offering it to a randomly chosen reader who leaves a comment on this post, Twitter, or Facebook. Giveaway closes October 17, 2014.

Meditation on Perception (Wisdom Publications) by Bhante Gunaratana is a gem of wisdom delivered in Bhante G.’s simple, clear style. Those of us who study the teachings of the Buddha have an almost facile response to the cause of suffering. It is craving, which is fed by perception; dukkha arises from the way in which we perceive the world and its events. True enough and this book unravels our misperceptions about perception.

(I)n its own nature perception is pure and clean. Yet it is also quite delicate and vulnerable to being distorted by the virus of concepts.

In my own practice, I’ve come to have an ambivalent relationship with my perceptions. A necessary evil in my mind, I engage them with narrow trust and a wide berth. Yet Bhante G.’s unwrapping of the process and mechanisms of perception reveal a subtle working of perception as the language between body and mind. This means a wider trust and more intimate relationship is called for if we are to be guided well by it.

As our mindfulness becomes more stable, we discover that the entire Dhamma is inscribed in our body and mind.

Meditation on Perception is exactly what it says: perception is the object of our meditation with the intention of fully understanding how the six senses (thoughts are one of them) feed us information from inner and outer sources. While the Girimananda Sutta, Buddha’s teachings on perception, forms the primary framework many other relevant suttas are tucked quietly into the chapters exposing us to a wide range of the Buddha’s teachings. Bhante points out that despite the initial purity of perception “concepts, ideas, opinions, beliefs, and many other categories of conditioning, have influenced our perception. In essence, our perception has become distorted. (ebook location 444)” We fall into the mirage of believing there is a fixed self, knotted by desire for permanence and suffering, and living through a preferential mind that leans into pleasurable experiences.

The good news is that perceptions can arise and cease because the causes and conditions that give rise to them also arise and cease. The tough news is that other perceptions take effort to bring into line. To borrow a phrase from neuropsychology, concepts that arise together, wire together. This unwiring takes effort, practice, and unrelenting diligence. Bhante offers several paths of healing distorted perceptions, all of which are applications of teachings from the Ānāpānasati and Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas. By cultivating awareness of breath and mindfulness, we begin to see how the distorted perception self-generate. When we understand that that tainted mind seeks validation from from inner and outer experiences to reinforce its perception, we can also understand the necessity for guarding the sense doors, developing presence to what is arising, and developing patience and loving-friendliness (metta) for our experience.

The ten healing perceptions, impermanence, nonself, unattractiveness, danger, abandoning, dispassion, cessation, nondelight in the entire world, impermanence in all conditioned phenomena, and mindfulness of breathing, are the path through this tangle of distorted perceptions. Meditations on these healing factors disentangle us from our preferences that world meet our needs in a precise, self-centered way. This profound attachment is the fundamental cause of our suffering and the Girimananda Sutta offers hope of release.

What I truly treasured in Bhante’s writings is the use of language that is natural and therefore accessible. Terms that tend to trigger argumentation in my head are rendered in ways that reveal their meaning without any esotericism. “Aimlessness,” one of the three gateways to liberation, is simply “wishlessness.” Disenchantment does not mean disappointed rejection; it is a stance of mature realization of what truly is. The five aggregates each “consists of three minor moments: the rising moment, the living moment, and the passing away moment.”

The living moment.

The delight in the book is also the opportunity to re-engage with the four foundations of mindfulness as well as a number of meditation instructions which place attention on perception, mind, impermanence, and liberation.

This is a welcome addition to Bhante’s prolific series of books that have brought the wisdom of the Buddha to our hearts.

when the body does what the body does


unicorn-lights

“In this fathom-long body with its perceptions and thoughts there is the world, the origin of the world, the ending of the world and the path leading to the ending of the world.”  -AN 4.45

It always amazes me when I catch myself trying to run before I can walk.  It shouldn’t surprise me but it does.  With all this cushion time, retreats, sesshins, workshops, and gosh-knows-what that I take on in the pursuit of that one ineffable experience of BAM! YOU’RE ENLIGHTENED! one would think that I could jog a few steps on this path of purification.  Apparently not and the road rash on my mentally constructed nose is strong evidence of this.

In sangha, we are exploring the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  Yet again!  I can’t get enough of it so each year I subject my sangha mates to another round of the body-et al.-in-the-body-et al.  This Sunday, I pointed out that this fathom-long body is all we need to know in order to lift each foot out of the mud.  “Don’t leave home without it!” I warned.  Yet, each day, we do.  In the hub-bub and brou-hah-ha of the drama of our moments, it fades into the background and is barely perceptible.  Safe to say, even my preaching the Good Word about being in the body as the body had little impact on my monkey mind as I was setting up chairs on yoga mats and placed my little finger between the chair leg and mat.

This time the body is quite forgiving, leaving me with a little blood blister. Other times it hasn’t been though I hesitate to place malicious or punitive intent in its lap. The body does just what the body does. It’s only when that monkey mind grabs the sensations that arise from contact – in this case between form and touch organ – that the show begins.

Well, it won’t hurt any of us to relearn the fundamentals of this walking practice again and again.  Even if it isn’t Zen-sounding.  This, I think is where the running before walking happens too.  In all the glam of Zen practice, we forget to master the basic stuff, the Suttas that came before the Sutras.  After all, how else to understand the Prajnaparamita without understanding the skandhas and the container in which they manifest.  But I’ll be the first to say how I love a good treatise on the interconnection of quantum physics and the Prajnaparamita.  For that, by the way, dig into Mu Soeng’s The Heart of the Universe which has one of the most articulate interweavings of the two threads of unknowing.

Still and all, for all that unknowing is the fruit of our practice, it doesn’t hurt to return over and over to the framework of knowing.  Body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind.  Even so, we have a tendency to rush into the conceptual tangles, the objects of mind, by wanting to know how, why this mind responds to the body the way it does.

The body does just what the body does.

So hard to accept.

This is a lovely presentation on the body/mind connection and the base of practice as mindfulness of the body as the body, in the body:  Mindfulness, visualized.

Also check out Bhante Gunaratana’s new book, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English.

love

The heart is made up of four chambers and the kanji for “heart” is a schematic for it.  What I love about the script is the openness, the way it rolls off the brush to sit on the paper, an upright bowl ready to hold anything.  In our mindfulness courses, I describe a 3-stage breathing meditation that begins with allowing everything in the sense perceptions to fall into awareness, into a bowl.  Let it all drop into the well of awareness without judgment of or preferences for it.  A spacious containing of all that is present in that in- and out-breath.

When we let the entirety of our experience sit in the bowl of awareness, we begin to develop an understanding of what these perceptions, experiences are.  Usually though, we tend to push it away at first twinge or consume it ravenously at first delight with barely a sense of what it was.  Letting all the elements of our experience show themselves, their true nature, is an invitation to intimacy.

This is love.

Simple, bare awareness that is already open, accepting, and encompassing.

Love is the first of the Four Divine Abodes or the Four Immeasurable Minds.  It is known as maitri or metta.  It is not sentimental or cloying.  It is an honest, courageous willingness to be open (vulnerable) to the whole tidal cycle of our life – moment by moment.

Favourite books on metta:

Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

Eight Mindfulness Steps to Happiness by Bhante Gunaratana

Happiness by Mathieu Ricard