We should all develop tranquillity meditation, which can give temporary respite from suffering and stress. But in a state like this, you simply have mindfulness in charge. Discernment is still too weak to uproot the most refined levels of defilement and latent tendencies (anusaya). Thus, for our Right Concentration to be complete, we’re taught not to get carried away with the sense of pleasure it brings. When the mind has been still for an appropriate amount of time, we should then apply the mind to contemplating the five aggregates, for these aggregates are the basis for insight meditation. You can’t develop insight meditation outside of the five aggregates — the aggregates of form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness — for these aggregates lie right within us. They’re right next to us, with us at all times.
So. How do you develop the aggregate of form as a basis for insight meditation? You have to see it clearly in line with its truth that form is inconstant. This is how you begin. As you develop insight meditation, you have to contemplate down to the details. What is form? Form covers hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, and all the four great elements that we can touch and see. As for subsidiary forms, they can’t be seen with the eye, but they can be touched, and they depend on the four great elements. For example, sound is a type of form, a type of subsidiary form. Aromas, flavors, tactile sensations are subsidiary forms that depend on the four great elements. The sensory powers of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are subsidiary forms — they’re physical events, not mental events, you know. Then there are masculinity and femininity, which fashion the body to be male or female, and create differences in male and female voices, manners, and other characteristics. Then there’s the heart, and then viññati-rupa, which allows for the body to move, for speech to be spoken.
So the Buddha taught that we should contemplate form in all its aspects so as to gain the insight enabling us to withdraw all our clinging assumptions that they’re us or ours. How does this happen? When we contemplate, we’ll see that yam kiñci rupam atitanagata-paccuppannam: all form — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is inconstant, stressful, and not-self. It all lies under the Three Characteristics. When we remember this, that’s called pariyatti-dhamma, the Dhamma of study. When we actually take things apart and contemplate them one by one to the point where we gain true knowledge and vision, that’s called the practice of insight meditation, the discernment arising in line with the way things actually are.
This is a short explanation of insight meditation, focused just on the aggregate of form. As for feeling — the pleasures, pains, and feelings of neither pleasure nor pain within us — once we’ve truly seen form, we’ll see that the same things apply to feeling. It’s inconstant. When it’s inconstant, it’ll have to make us undergo suffering and stress because of that inconstancy. We’ll be piling suffering on top of suffering. Actually, there’s no reason why the mind should suffer from these things, but we still manage to make ourselves suffer because of them. Even though they’re not-self, there’s suffering because we don’t know. There’s inconstancy because we don’t know. Unless we develop insight meditation to see clearly and know truly, we won’t be able to destroy the subtle, latent tendency of ignorance, the latent tendency of becoming, the latent tendency of sensuality within ourselves.
But if we’re able to develop insight meditation to the point where we see form clearly in terms of the Three Characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, then disenchantment will arise. When the latent tendencies of ignorance and becoming are destroyed, the latent tendency of sensuality will have no place to stand. There’s nothing it can fabricate, for there’s no delusion. When ignorance disbands, fabrications disband. When fabrications disband, all the suffering that depends on fabrication will have to disband as well.
This is why we should practice meditation in line with the factors of the noble eightfold path as set down by the Buddha. To condense it even further, there are three trainings: virtue, concentration, and discernment. Virtue — exercising restraint over our words and deeds — is part of the path. Tranquillity meditation and insight meditation come under concentration. So virtue, concentration, and discernment cover the path.
Or, if you want to condense things even further, there are physical phenomena and mental phenomena — that is, the body and mind. When we correctly understand the characteristics of the body, we’ll see into the ways the body and mind are interrelated. Then we’ll be able to separate them out. We’ll see what’s not-self and what isn’t not-self. Things in and of themselves aren’t not-self, for they each have an in-and-of-themselves. It’s not the case that there’s nothing there at all. If there were nothing there at all, how would there be contact? Think about it. Take the fire element: who could destroy it? Even though it’s not-self, it’s got an in-and-of-itself. The same holds true with the other elements. In other words, these things still exist, simply that there’s no more clinging.
Source: Based on “Right Concentration”, by Ajaan Suwat Suvaco, translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/suwat/concentration.html .