The Basics of Looking

Looking is the process of perceiving what is there. It does not involve thinking.

Thinking is associating one perception with another. It is not part of looking.

Suppose you are in a coffee shop, and you see this person, who is sitting a few tables away from you. You can see his face only in profile. When the question arises, “How many ears does this person have?” your mind says, “Two.” But as you look, you see only one ear.

If you have internalized what the mind tells you, you might say, “This person has two ears.”  But if you decide to express what you actually see, your response might be, “I see only one ear, but my mind is telling me that this person has two ears.”

The first response is based on the assumption that every person has two ears. Here one is associating the thought in the mind with what one sees. This is thinking.

The second response is based on looking. The person sees only one ear. In addition, the person sees a thought, which says, “This person has two ears.” He keeps the visual perception separate from the mental perception, and perceives each for what it is. He may associate them later as needed.

Thus with our five physical sense-organs – eye, ear, nose, tongue, body – we experience the world of visible forms, sound, odors, tastes and tangible objects. And with our mind we experience the world of mental forms, such as, ideas and considerations. The activity of looking treats mind as a sense-organ.

In looking, we spot physical and mental objects, just as they are, without associating them with each other.


Looking with Eyes closed

When we close our eyes the visible forms are eliminated, but the perceptions of sound, odors, tastes and tangible objects are still there. The perceptions of mental objects, such as, thoughts, feelings, pictures from the past, etc., become more prominent.

Suppose a memory comes up when you were in school, and you used to be terrified at the sight of a bully. You may get a series of pictures of the school and the person, who bullied you. You may become aware of several incidents of being bullied, the time of the year when those incidents occurred, and a feeling of dread. Thoughts may arise, such as, how the fear of the bully affected your school grades.

Here, “looking” becomes a bit tricky. It becomes difficult to separate the sound, odors, tastes, etc., of the outside world from sound, odors, tastes, etc. in the pictures arising in the mind. Also, you become aware of the chattering, or “thinking,” going in the mind.

The trick is to look at the mental objects, and the activity going among them, without participating, or interfering, in any way.

This may be difficult at first, but, gradually, there is a separation from the mind. One starts to observe not only the various mental objects, but also the activity among them much more clearly.


Looking and Vipassana

“Looking,” as described above, was called “vipassana” by Buddha. In the language of India, in the time of the Buddha, passana meant seeing with open eyes, in the ordinary way; but vipassana is observing things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. Vipassana meditation was simply the practice of looking.  



In looking, we spot physical and mental objects, just as they are, without associating them with each other.

Physical objects
The physical objects result from the assimilation of coming perceptual elements from the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Mental objects
The mental objects are memories, thoughts, and feelings triggered by incoming perceptual elements.


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  • vinaire  On April 29, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    The traditional Vipassana Course says:

    “The course requires hard, serious work. There are three steps to the training. The first step is, for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation.

    “The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix one’s attention on the natural reality of the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.

    “By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.

    “Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.”


    KHTK is not taught as part of a 10-day course as described above. KHTK is practiced as part of one’s daily routine until it becomes part of oneself.

    Re: Step 1 above, it is left to the individual to determine any adjustment to his behavior based on his looking at inconsistencies to do with killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants.

    Re: Step 2 above. This step is “learning to fix one’s attention on the natural reality of the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.” This is a preparatory step. One may practice it as needed in the beginning to help one look at the mind. Focusing on the breath is not part of Looking itself, which is developed as a skill in KHTK.

    Re: Step 3 above, observing sensation as they come up is part of Looking per KHTK. As one looks at them per the KHTK procedure, the reactions disappear by themselves.

    As a persons looks per KHTK, many realizations come about and one does evolve over time into being a loving and kind person with goodwill towards others.



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