How do you see the 3 characteristics?

The Woofy Hermit, modified 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 2:31 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 2:31 PM

How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 30 Join Date: 8/16/21 Recent Posts
In vipassana meditation, you are supposed to see in each sensation the fact that it is impermanent, does not satisfy, and is not self, right? How do you actually do this? I can kind of maybe get impermanence, which I think you just notice the buzzy or changing nature of sensations, but I don't understand what you are actually doing for the others, or if I am even right about impermanence. And do you see all 3 characteristics at the same time, or choose one at a time?

Bonus question: I'm currently going through TMI and thought it would be a good idea to build concentration before doing vipassana. I'm currently in stage 4. What stage do you think would be good for starting vipassana? Stage 10? Or can the practice of TMI itself be a form of vipassana without having to change anything?
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Ni Nurta, modified 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 4:17 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 4:17 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 1100 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
IMHO if anything
Any type change
Any type or expression of suffering/dissatisfaction
Any sign of it not being your true self

Also I would advice against trying hard to see these qualities in each sensation as its then not vipassana anymore.
Just notice sensations as they arise and if any of these or any other characteristics is present notice it.

If you meditate and all sensations arise pleasant do not try to notice suffering. Just notice everything as it is and if there is dissatisfaction you will see it - then you should not turn your attention from it. It is way too easy to focus on neutral sensations and try to see characteristics they do not have but not notice real thing when it comes. This is the whole difficulity in Vipassana - not some technical detail how you notice sensations.

Also while you meditate and outside meditation observe your general attitude toward practice and its goal. What is your goal? Does it, your attitude toward it change, is it satisfying or is it you or not? Do not try to see it as anything. Just don't miss any instance where it exhibits these things.

BTW. Ideally there should be no special treatment of 3C over anythign else and you should notice all characteristics as they arise. Even doing it subtly is biasing your mind toward specific outcome and thus not real Vipassana. If you are affraid just sitting and being mindful of stuff no matter what stuff happen and want some method then its fine, just don't fall in to obvious traps - such as trying to notice characteristics where they do not show up but missing instances of things when they should be obvious. In fact the very reason this can happen is because of false sense of doing it right when you manage to make sensations feel the way you think these 3C should be showing up. This is then definitely not real Vipassana. It can still lead to some experiences, changes, progress, etc. but we should at each moment we are alive strive for perfection. This include figuring out how given practice might lead you astray and figuring out purpose of noticing anything.

As for concentration vs vipassana - it is actually hard to make general statement which one should start with and do more, etc. It should really depend on the person and situation. There are definitely times when focusing on concentration and jhanas is better and there are times when vipassana practices are better. Personally I mostly focused on ability of my mind to both as quick as possible. It might not be good practice regime for everyone as mind might need time to build up concentration or sensitivity for noticing. You need to figure out what you shoul do.
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Pepe ·, modified 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 4:56 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 4:56 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 715 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hi The Woofy Hermit, welcome to DhO!

Daniel Ingram's MCTB2 provides precise pointers on how to work with the Three Characteristics. Here you have one-page summaries on instructions for each: Impermanence, Suffering and No-Self. 

The easier connections usually are body sensations with Impermanence (but start/ending of thoughts works too), emotions and urge with Suffering (but usually are triggered by body sensations and thoughts) and thoughts with No-Self, in particular “planning thoughts”, “remembering thoughts”, “worrying thoughts”, “doubting thoughts”, etc. You'll find tonnes of pointers in Shargrol's posts compilation, start with Shargrol’s Structured Noting Practice Sample and don't forget to check his posts about balancing MCTB with TMI approaches. 
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The Woofy Hermit, modified 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 8:33 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/21/23 8:33 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 30 Join Date: 8/16/21 Recent Posts
Hey guys, thanks for the insightful replies, resources, and the welcome! I'm glad to be here and hope this community can help me in my journey, and if I get good myself, help others.

Both of your replies are helpful, and I learned a lot from those links.

It seems you can do both just noticing the 3 characteristics when they reveal themselves, and also intentionally searching for them? Though you don't want to try to see all of them at the same time in every single sensation, I think, which is what I used to think you were supposed to do for some reason.

Also, if I understand correctly in the hierarchy of vipassana practice, you reach stream entry and potentially higher paths if you can perceive 2 of the 3 characteristics at the same time completely clearly in your entire field of awareness? (I might be missing some qualities)

And generally body sensations reveal Impermanence (though beginning and ending of thoughts can too), urges and emotions reveal Suffering, and thoughts like planning or remembering reveal No-Self. It makes more sense to me now. No-Self still confuses me a bit, as on one hand I can still see thinking as me doing it so there is a me, and on the other hand it is obvious they are not self because I wouldn't really consider the thoughts themselves as to be me, but to have been produced by me. Even if there feels like there is a me, do I just kind of "declare" (not literally say or think, but acknowledge in this way) that it is not me even if it seems like it? Assuming I'm looking at the sensations that feel like the source of the thoughts and not the thoughts themselves, which are easily not me, in the same way this cup isn't, I think.

Those links seem like something that would need to be read more than once. I'll let them digest for now and try to go over them again when I have the energy.

Much appreciated!
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Jim Smith, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 6:15 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 12:03 AM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 1682 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Everything you experience, you experience through the activity of your mind and/or sense with you body. So to observe the three characteristics in all things, I observe the activity of my mind and the sensations in my body including sensations that accompany mental events like thoughts and impulses. When you do this you see that thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensory experiences, and senses of self and no-self arise and fade. I try to notice how they arise to see where they come from (you will see they come from nowhere (unconscious processes - the 5 aggregates) you don't control them, you observe them, they aren't you, they aren't yours). I try to notice when dukkha arises and fades, and any sensations in the body such as tensions accompanying it. I try to see how it arises and where it comes from and what causes it to fade (relaxation), and I also notice if the ego or self image is involved (it usually is - even when dukkha is caused by attachment to impermanent material objects, ego is there - grieving the loss or ending of something that is "mine" or something "I want" or "I like") and I notice that as identity-view. I try to see how the observer, the experiencer, the self image or self concept or feeling of being changes from situation to situation (I'm a friend, or a worker, or a customer, or a relative) or as the kind of person I am changes (I'm happy or sad, proud or humble, arrogant, peaceful, angry, annoyed, friendly, helpful etc etc), or as sensations change (comfortable, uncomfortable, hot, cold, tasting something, smelling something, hearing this or that, seeing this or that etc.

This mental activity creates the idea of a self. If we own something we assume there is an owner, if we experience anger we assume there is an entity who is angry, if we observe or experience we assume there is someone who is experiencing or observing. But you may notice the belief in an observer or experiencer is no different from any other thought or feeling it arises from the aggregates too.

As you watch the activity of the mind you see that thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensory experience, senses of self and no-self, are part of a sequence of cause and effect, they come up from unconscious processes, the aggregates, and one triggers the next through association or memories or logic, until something happens that starts you off on a new tangent. Even if it feels like you are using your mind to solve a problem, where did the impulse to do that come from? You see there is no one in control. Your emotions might just a well come from a magic 8 ball. This results in loss of trust, loss of faith, derision - that is how I experience disenchantment (often explained as disgust). You don't have to believe the story your emotions are telling you about why you should suffer.

Dukkha and identity-view are intimately intertwined, they both arise from the same source - the aggregates - they are really not separate phenomnena. Letting go of dukkha involves letting go of identity view. Ending identity view - understanding anatta - ends dukkha.

I don't separate vipassana from samatha, they are two qualities of mind that should both be cultivated. Both are necessary. As I observe the three characteristics I also try to be tranquil, to let go of dukkah, attachments, aversions. Being relaxed and being mindful are two ways of letting go that complement each other. Being relaxed, being tranquil, is letting go. When you are relaxed nothing is upsetting you. Being mindful is also letting go - when you are mindful, observing, you are not carried away by thoughts emotions and impulses or ego you are in the present moment, not thinking, you are not thinking in terms of winning and losing good or bad, wanting not wanting, dukkha does not arise, you are not fettered by thoughts caused by identity view.

When you are letting go you are interrupting the sequence of dependent origination not making dukkha, not thinking in terms of self or not-self.  You can experience this - when seeing just see. When hearing, just hear. Don't analyze experience in terms of self and not-self, wanting and not wanting, liking and disliking, just see, just hear, just feel. Just observe the activity of the mind, don't push anything away, but don't get carried away by it either, observe. Letting go is not like suppressing, it is more like being relaxed with, accepting, surrendering, Find the hidden emotion underlying those hard to let go of hot button issues (it may not be that bad, often resisting emotions causes much more suffering than the emotion itself) and just be with it. Notice that the observer, the experiencer, is not apart from or separate from the aggregates - the unconscious processes from which consciousness arises.
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Sha-Man! Geoffrey, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 3:50 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 3:50 AM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 358 Join Date: 10/30/23 Recent Posts
You can see them all all the time once you know what you're looking for. It's not that metaphysical reality kicks in later once you're "good" at meditation. 

For no-self, try a task that requires a good amount of motor skill, but not too much (like opening a door or drinking from a cup). Do this task a few times and pay attention. When you do this task, ask yourself "am I consciously controlling each of the dozen joints in my hands, all the muscles in my arms, etc? Or do I want to open the door and my arm just goes and does it?"

similarly, if you've ever been doing something (cooking, navigating a train station, etc) while completely preoccupied with something else (being on a phone, lost in thought, etc). How exactly did that work? Where did this autopilot mode come from? 
The Woofy Hermit, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 8:46 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 8:46 AM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 30 Join Date: 8/16/21 Recent Posts
Thanks for the added replies, resources, and activity to try.

I suppose being able to see all the characteristics all the time is not the same as trying to see them all in each sensation, right? Otherwise it would contradict the first post, I think. It sounds like it is something that just happens naturally when you know what you're doing better.

And hmm, if you don't separate samatha and vipassana, maybe I'll start a vipassana practice sooner rather than later. Not sure yet. I might stick with just samatha a little while longer, maybe until I can reliably get into jhanas, because I've heard that helps with the dukkha nanas and dark night, I think, and I don't want to have no way to deal with it. Hopefully it isn't too difficult for me to get to jhanas eventually.
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Pepe ·, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 9:09 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 9:09 AM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 715 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
You'll need to discover what suits you best by yourself. Your journey is yours alone. I recommend diving first into Shargrol's writings about Centering and Insight as that would help you find out what's better for you.
Soh Wei Yu, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 11:03 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 10:57 AM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 75 Join Date: 2/13/21 Recent Posts
First of all, do watch this video by Daniel Ingram on Vipassana: https://vimeo.com/250616410

Also

Daniel M Ingram wrote:



https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/11355316


JC said "why the need to experiment with all sorts of practices? Why the need for the switch to Zen, Vajrayana, prayer, Catholic devotional practices, martial arts, magickal practices, and so on?


Why not just continue to observe exactly what's going on in the present moment and see the Three Characteristics?"


Well, it could be enough, sort of. The Three Characteristics are profound, very profound, staggeringly profound, and not easily grasped in their entirety. It seems perfectly reasonable to grasp them in their entirety by observing them, but there is a problem, actually, that last line contains a bunch of problems that are not obvious until you see them clearly.

I will go by the words in that last line to illustrate the problem.

"Continue": there is no continuing. There is nothing to continue, no past that could be continued, no future to continue into, and this moment is entirely ungraspable. No sensation could ever actually grasp or continue. Everything is fresh but perfectly ephemeral. The notion of continuing, from a high insight point of view, is a serious problem. Instead, there has to be a deep non-grasping, a perfect and flawless appreciation of non-continuing, a deep never could be a continuing, a deep nothing could ever be continuing, a deep sense of not only discontinuity, but of the utter flowing, vanishing, empty transience of anything that seemed to be able to continue. One must figure out how to go beyond continuing, beyond grasping, beyond that strange mental illusion that such a thing could ever occur or have occurred.

"Observe": there is no observing. There can be no observing. There is nothing that can observe at all. Everything is just occurring where it is, naturally, straightforwardly. There is no observer. There can't be any observer. There never was any observer. Deeply understanding this is required. There never was any observation. Observation can't finally do it. One must figure out how to shift out of observing to just phenomena occurring.

The qualifier "in the present moment" is a problem in some way. This almost always involves some subtle or gross pattern of sensations that we refer to mentally when we say "now", or "the present", which are not actually stable, not actually a present, not actually anything but more empty transience, yet we make them seem like a stable present. This is very subtle, deep, profound. Even "the present" doesn't withstand scrutiny, and we must be careful with this sticky concept, as it can itself become a sort of a solidified thing, part of the illusion of continuity, observation, practitioner, etc.

So, while it is true that deeply comprehending emptiness, non-continuity, non-observation, and even non-present, can occur by just continuously observing this present moment, we must be careful, and sometimes it takes people shifting out of their trench of "good practice" to do something that is out from good practice and instead is just the unfolding empty wisdom dharma. Various people find various methods to make this subtle shift, and one size definitely does not fit all, so best wishes sorting out what will help you work out your salvation with diligence.

Daniel

One could just say that each transient moment, however it is, naturally understands its ungraspable, discontinuous, emphemeral, non-existent, empty nature, straightforwardly, perfectly.

However, one must be careful not to idealize or intellectually reify any of those concepts and qualifiers, and instead this is something that is purely perceptual.

It applies to every transient moment, regardless of any other consideration of the specific qualities of that moment.
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All that said, I did, as my last push, go back to the Three Characteristics and Six Sense Doors, just those, but at a level of extremely high precision, inclusiveness, and acceptance, and found that effective. Yet, the place I had gotten to that seemed to make it effective was a radical disenchantment and dispassion towards with everything “I” had attained, everything “I” was, everything “I” could become, everything “I” could experience, and how to arrive at such a place varies a lot by the person.



Thusness (author of https://www.awakeningtoreality.com/2007/03/thusnesss-six-stages-of-experience.html and https://www.awakeningtoreality.com/2009/03/on-anatta-emptiness-and-spontaneous.html ) wrote:

Partial excerpts from https://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/2018/12/thusnesss-vipassana.html

(12:21 AM) Thusness: what is the role of insight meditation?
(12:22 AM) Thusness: why bare attention?
(12:22 AM) Thusness: why naked awareness?
(12:22 AM) Thusness: when insight meditation is taught and buddha said when hearing jsut the sound...this and that...
(12:23 AM) Thusness: what buddha wanted is to experience directly what awareness is, the arising, the ceasing, the clarity, the non-dual nature
(12:23 AM) Thusness: in DO
(12:24 AM) AEN_____: icic..
(12:24 AM) Thusness: not to note it with thought or place any conclusion on any experience.
(12:25 AM) Thusness: "this is impermanence" is not about noting and place any conclusion about an phenomenon arising.
(12:26 AM) Thusness: but experience impermanence directly, not in words
(12:26 AM) AEN_____: icic.. yea
(12:26 AM) Thusness: be impermanence and know what is it really...
(12:26 AM) Thusness: see what clarity is, not what it should be
(12:27 AM) Thusness: it is luminous and yet empty...experience it directly...it is so.
(12:27 AM) AEN_____: icic..
(12:27 AM) Thusness: break the solidity until there is no holding simply thus.
(12:28 AM) Thusness:    don't watch...there is no watcher...there is just momentary manifestation and that is already luminosity and emptiness
(12:31 AM) AEN:    but in conventional saying we say often say watching mah haha
(12:31 AM) AEN:    easier to understand
(12:31 AM) Thusness:    yeah but i am not toking about conventional or ultimate
(12:31 AM) Thusness:    if it is just a form of expression there is nothing wrong with it.
(12:32 AM) Thusness:    but the fact is we are really experiencing it as if there is a watcher...that is the problem.
The Woofy Hermit, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 12:58 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 12:58 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 30 Join Date: 8/16/21 Recent Posts
Thanks again guys for the added resources, video, advice and such. I have a lot to digest now. It's been very helpful!
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Jim Smith, modified 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 2:23 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 12/22/23 2:09 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

Posts: 1682 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
The Woofy Hermit
In vipassana meditation, you are supposed to see in each sensation the fact that it is impermanent, does not satisfy, and is not self, right? How do you actually do this? I can kind of maybe get impermanence, which I think you just notice the buzzy or changing nature of sensations, but I don't understand what you are actually doing for the others, or if I am even right about impermanence. And do you see all 3 characteristics at the same time, or choose one at a time?

Bonus question: I'm currently going through TMI and thought it would be a good idea to build concentration before doing vipassana. I'm currently in stage 4. What stage do you think would be good for starting vipassana? Stage 10? Or can the practice of TMI itself be a form of vipassana without having to change anything?


I don't set out to see the three characteristics in every moment of experience. Although the more you practice the more you notice. You just need to see enough so your aggregates (unconscious mind) learns that dukkha is optional, it is something you do to yourself, that identity-view is an unhelpful opinion, that it is much nicer to be without dukkha and identity-view.

What I notice is:

Impermanence: Thoughts, emotions (including dukkha), impulses, sensory experience, senses of self and no-self, these are constantly arising and fading. (The changing sense of self = anatta.)

Dukkha: When you have an unpleasant emotion or craving. Notice dukkha arising and fading. It's more obvious with things you don't like but it also pertains to things you like: wanting things you like, and losing things you like, the ending of things you like, fear of losing, or the ending of, things you like. There is a lot of subtler and subtler dukkha that you become more and more aware of as you start noticing it. A lot of what you think of as normal might actually be colored by this, it is only when you begin to let go of it you see that you were living with a burden you didn't know you were carrying. Dukkha usually has the ego, the self image, involved, if you look for this involvement you will see how identity-view is harmful.

Anatta:
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  • Notice the activity of the mind, thoughts, emotions, impulses, sensory experience, senses of self, and no-self arise from unconscious processes, unasked for, in invited. You don't choose them, they just appear in your mind. You don't control them you observe or experience them. They are not you or yours. Even if you think you are using your mind to solve a problem, where did the impulse to do that come from? And thoughts pop into your mind fully formed, you don't see how they are constructed. 

  • The sense of being an observer or experiencer is no different from any other thought or feeling that arises from the aggregates. The self is not something that is separate from or apart from the aggregates.

  • Thought, emotions, impulses etc. flow in a sequence of cause and effect one triggering the next through associations, memory, and logic, but there is no one you can find who is controlling it.

  • The sense of self (your relation to other people in different situations), the kind person you think you are (the qualities you attribute to yourself), the feeling of being (sensory experience) is constantly changing (impermanence).

  • When you are walking everything goes automatically, you don't pay attention to moving your limbs or balancing, it goes by itself. A lot of things we do are just like that.

Even if you are not doing a vipassana type practice you will get some amount of insight from any type of meditation. Every time your mind gets distracted and you bring it back to the focus of meditation or mindfulness you see that you don't control your mind - thoughts etc arise and fade (impermanence) unasked for, they are not you or yours (anatta). You notice unpleasant emotions when they occur (dukkha), if you pay attention you see how they arise and fade.

When you are meditating you are focused on the object of meditation. You are in the present moment, your mind is not wandering you are not carried away by the activity of your mind, you are mindful. When you are mindful you are letting go, interrupting the sequence of dependent origination, not producing dukkha, not thinking thoughts produced by identity-view.

Just noticing what is going on in your mind during daily life, if you know what to look for, you can vipassana whenever you are aware of the activity of your mind. But do samatha too, try to be relaxed.
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Dream Walker, modified 3 Months ago at 12/27/23 2:00 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 12/27/23 2:00 PM

RE: How do you see the 3 characteristics?

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