“In the third stage, ego develops three strategies or impulses with which to relate to its projections: indifference, passion and aggression. These impulses are guided by perception. Perception, in this case, is the self-conscious feeling that you must officially report back to central headquarters what is happening in any given moment. Then you can manipulate each situation by organizing another strategy.” – Skandhas
Note: bold lettering and image inserts done by Beezone
Feeling’s relating process consists of extremes, of polarities, of dichotomies. In other words, one cannot develop feelings unless there are two extremes of some kind. Following from that, because of having some sense of taking sides with this extreme as opposed to that extreme, the subtleties of feeling have a solid, grasping quality in dealing with the projection of the world outside, rather than responding purely and directly.
It is like a personal relationship with somebody which is based solely on temperamental reactions. As we know, there has to be something more than that, otherwise the relationship will not last very long. But feeling is like that. Feelings have a bouncy quality of jumping from one extreme to another. Having already the basic qualities of form, one starts to relate, to insert oneself into certain situations, into the two extremes of good and bad, pain and pleasure, body and mind, and so on.
It is like in rock climbing when you insert a metal peg. That is the feeling. But to continue the climbing you have to have rope running through that peg. The rope that you have to have running through the pegs is perception, the third skandha. Perception is necessary so that the two extremes have something continuing underneath as a common link, a common thread that runs between happiness and sadness of body and mind.
Perception is based on that which is manifested by form and feeling and that which is not manifested by them. These are the two basic qualities in perception.
In the first case, something is manifested via the six sense organs. You perceive something and you relate to it; you hold on to certain senses and their perceptions, and then from there you relate with that content. That is the first touching and feeling process. Feeling is like a radiation radiating out. Within that radiation, perception takes place as the radiation begins to function as definite details of that and this.
In this case “feeling” is not quite our ordinary notion of feeling. It is not the feeling we take so seriously as, for instance, when we say, “He hurt my feelings.” This kind of feeling that we take so seriously belongs to the fourth and fifth skandhas of concept and consciousness. Here, in the case of the second skandha, it is the immediate, impulsive type of feeling of jumping to certain conclusions and trying to attach oneself to them. Perception could be called another type of feeling, the deepened feeling of experiencing that which is manifested and that which is not manifested in terms of the solid bodily situation.
You see, the whole idea of the manifested or the nonmanifested here comes from freezing space in our way of dealing with situations. Primordial consciousness flashes out, the unconscious flashes out, which creates tremendous open space.
Within that space, ignorance and energy develop as we discussed before. Immediately then, when ego begins to take up its position through the action of the skandhas, there is a natural automatic tendency to relate to that open space as overcrowded.
Ego tries to possess that open space, that awakened state, by overcrowding it. But it can’t overcrowd it with a lot of stuff, because there isn’t enough stuff at that point; ego is not yet fully developed with all its resources of imagination. It is still the first impulsive situation of ego’s development, so in order to crowd that space, one tries to freeze the whole space into a solid block. It’s like water freezing into ice. The space itself is regarded as a solid thing of ego. In other words, the principle of shunyata and nothingness, emptiness and openness, the awake state, is automatically in itself regarded as a sleep state, as overcrowded space. That kind of freezing of the space starts at the level of form, continues with feeling, and now manifests fully with perception.
In the third stage, ego develops three strategies or impulses with which to relate to its projections: indifference, passion and aggression. These impulses are guided by perception. Perception, in this case, is the self-conscious feeling that you must officially report back to central headquarters what is happening in any given moment. Then you can manipulate each situation by organizing another strategy.
In the strategy of indifference, we numb any sensitive areas that we want to avoid, that we think might hurt us. We put on a suit of armor. The second strategy is passion–trying to grasp things and eat them up. It is a magnetizing process. Usually we do not grasp if we feel rich enough. But whenever there is a feeling of poverty, hunger, impotence, then we reach out, we extend our tentacles and attempt to hold onto something. Aggression, the third strategy, is also based on the experience of poverty, the feeling that you cannot survive and therefore must ward off anything that threatens your property or food. Moreover, the more aware you are of the possibilities of being threatened, the more desperate your reaction becomes. You try to run faster and faster in order to find a way of feeding or defending yourself. This speeding about is a form of aggression. Aggression, passion, indifference are part of the third skandha, “perception/impulse.”
Ignorance, feeling, impulse and perception–all are instinctive processes. We operate a radar system which senses our territory. Yet we cannot establish ego properly without intellect, without the ability to conceptualize and name. Since we have so many things happening, we begin to categorize them, putting them into certain pigeon-holes, naming them. We make it official, so to speak. So “intellect” or “concept” is the next stage of ego, the fourth skandha, but even this is not quite enough. We need a very active and efficient mechanism to keep the instinctive and intellectual processes of ego coordinated. That is the last development of ego, the fifth skandha, “consciousness.”
Perception, in the sense of the third skandha, cannot exist without solidness, without solidifying. That is the manifestation aspect. The nonmanifestation aspect is the aspect of annihilation, giving up all hope of retaining any kind of ground, which is based on fear. The first is hope, the second fear. The manifestation, physical manifestation, the solidified content of perception, is based on hope. And the second aspect, nonmanifestation, is based on despair (disappear). That works by, when there is no hope of maintaining solid ground anymore, making that position of despair into solid ground.
A third and fourth aspect of perception after manifestation and nonmanifestation are involved with criteria again. The criteria here concern how much area the grasping of perception can cover. Ego is extending its territory as far as it can, that is, trying to label and define as much as it can. Automatically the notions of big and small, greater and less, develop. Even the notion of smaller can help define more ground. So these polarities develop.
Then the fifth aspect of perception is absolute nothingness. Absolute nothingness in this case could be said to be a spark of intelligence coming through, connected with the primordial ground. There was a dispute on that subject between scholars of two schools of thought. One school said it was a spark of intelligence coming through. The other said that it was still confusion, that there could be no question of awakened intelligence in the skandhas; at this state of perception there could be no hope of freeing oneself at all. But, in my view and as I have been taught, there is a possibility of a complete change in one’s perspective in relation to perception. An experience of absolute nothingness means giving up even hope itself or fear itself, and no longer perceiving in terms of grasping or clinging on to something. In that experience you are just trying to be brave enough to let go of your grasping a little to just feel around openly a bit in local areas, float around a litde bit. So that aspect of perception means beginning to be pretty brave.
This sort of bravery comes from tathagatagarbha, buddha nature, the basic intelligence. It is the basic intelligence that begins to show this bravery. On the whole, any notion of exploring or taking a chance in relating with one’s ego and projections is regarded as inspired by the enlightened mind. That is because you are not trying to hold on, to continue something, to prove something, but you are looking at other possibilities. That in itself is a very brave attitude and a very spacious one, because your mind is completely charged with curiosity and interest and space and questions. It is a sort of wandering process and is very hopeful and very positive in this particular connection. This absolute nothingness is the last stage of development of perception.
On the whole, the relationship between perception and the previous skandhas is that form creates the ego and ignorance and basic things, and feeling brings the spike quality or sharpness within that, of something trying to maintain itself. The perception comes as extending ego’s territory and trying to define its position even much more. There is in perception a lot of referring back to the central headquarters of ego and then extending and exploring further and further always in relation back to it. This establishment of territory in relation to a central reference point seems to be the general pattern of the development of ego.