The Three Characteristics are so central to the teachings of the Buddha that it is almost inconceivable how little attention the vast majority of so-called insight meditators pay to them. They are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self. I cannot possibly stress enough the usefulness of trying again and again to really understand these three qualities of all experience. They are the stuff from which ultimate insight at all levels comes, pure and simple. They are the marks of ultimate reality. Every single time I say, “understand the true nature of things,” what I mean is, “understand the Three Characteristics.” To really understand them is to be enlightened.
Somehow this exceedingly important message just doesn't typically seem to get through to insight meditators, and thus they spend so much time doing anything but looking precisely moment to moment into the Three Characteristics. They may be thinking about something, lost in the stories and tape loops of the mind, trying to work on their stuff, philosophizing, trying to quiet the mind, or who knows what, and this can go on for year after year, retreat after retreat, and of course they wonder why they don't have more insight yet. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, but you do not have to be part of it! You can be one of those insight meditators that knows what to do, does it, and finally “gets it” in the grandest sense.
The big message here is: drop the stories, find a physical object like the breath or body or pain or pleasure or whatever, and look into the Three Characteristics precisely and consistently! Drop to the level of bare sensations! This is vipassana, insight meditation, or whatever you want to call it. It is the way of the Buddhas. All the “opening to it,” “just being with it,” “letting it go” and all of that are quite important, as we will see later, but insight meditators must, repeat, must, look into the following: