Question about perceiving the repulsive and the unrepulsive

I read this sutta but don’t understand. Can some one give example of:
perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive
and
the repulsive in both the unrepulsive and the repulsive
Thanks!

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For beginners it’s important to understand the application of impermanence and the concept of conditioned phenomena. Ultimate reality or the unconditioned is a seperate category. The ordinary uninstructed person would find the idea of meditation on impermanence or contemplation of death repulsive. Even on Buddhist forums the down to earth subject of impermanence does not feature often.

“Perceiving constancy in the inconstant,
pleasure in the stressful,
self in what’s not-self,
attractiveness in the unattractive,
beings, destroyed by wrong-view,
go mad, out of their minds.”—AN 4.49

“the repulsive in both the unrepulsive and the repulsive” is an exercise in developing mind control leading to equanimity:

"If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome & what is. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not. If he wants — in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not — cutting himself off from both, he remains equanimous, alert, & mindful. Or he may enter & remain in the beautiful liberation. I tell you, monks, awareness-release through good will has the beautiful as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release. [2]—SN 46.54

This extract of the Buddha instructing a student shows how the suttas should be read, and how at the beginner level there should be a concept of the unconditioned (ultimate):

“Lending ear, he hears (reads) the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.”—MN 95

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Following on from Pauls reply above…

This sutta is describing a practice that allows one to see how ‘perception’ works. A thing by itself is not inherently beautiful or repulsive, these judgments and values come from our acquired belief systems and habit patterns of our thoughts and feelings - conditions, formations and constructions.

Easy examples are those which are relatively neutral, eg Rain. But then you can move on to more challenging examples… a bird eating a worm… Dependent on the way you look at this (attention) you can either see the repulsive (worm getting eaten and killed) or the beautiful (bird feeding its babies and happy life), or one can develop equanimity by understanding this process (it is neither good nor bad, beautiful or repulsive - it is what it is … just the way samsara operates). With skill one can switch all perceptions at will :slight_smile:

As for traditional subjects this involves seeing the repulsive in the unrepulsive… seeing a persons body. A ‘beautiful’ body would not normally be perceived as repulsive by ordinary people (rather this is often a source of craving) so to counter-act this, one can see through this surface layer of beauty to perceive the repulsive- eg the organic functions… the bacteria in the mouth etc, and many other organic processes which can be perceived as quite repulsive, or just remove the skin or hair etc etc… so the way that one directs attention affects how things are perceived.

This then shows that perception is dependent, not independent… that perceptions arise due to causes… and in this way one begins to see through the idea of permanence or a ‘static’ state of affairs.

Eg do a thought experiment of chocolate. Lets say one loves chocolate, but then the ONLY thing one is allowed to eat is 2kg of chocolate a day - for ever more! :scream: One could move from seeing chocolate as a wonderful reward to being like a punishment. This shows that there is no inherent ‘likeability’ of the chocolate, but that our perception of it is dependent on conditions (not in our control). This begins to break down the delusions/ignorance we have about our world. Knowing this, one is no longer so personally invested > suffering begins to diminish. This also assists in understanding how views are formed, why everyone forms different views, and then to be able to let them go (not really worth holding onto once you realise how they are formed), resulting in more peace :relieved:

I hope this assists with your question

With metta :slight_smile: :dharmawheel: :sunflower:

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Suffering seems to be noble in it’s essentialness to forming character. “The devil guards Nirvana”, so to speak.

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That sutra deals with many sense objects (including thoughts) that arise during Vipassana meditation. Or you may apply to daily senses.

The objectives are to resist against greed (craving), hatred (anger) and delusion.

Example of “unrepulsive” is an attractive woman appearing in your mind;

in that case you need to comtemplate on Asubha (unpleasant conditions of the body); otherwise craving towards that object will overwhelm you; in case of materials like new iPhone, you need to comtemplate Anicca (impermanance).

Example of “both repulsive and unrepulsive” is an object with mixing pleasant and unpleasant situations. If being pleasant is a little stronger, then you need to treat it as “repulsive (bad)”. And vice versa.

Thanks and regards,

(Ref: teaching and explanation by Rector Sayadaw Dr. Nandarmarlar Vivumsa)

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Thanks for your answer.
I understand why we should perceive the repulsive in the unrepulsive, because:

For what reason should a mendicant meditate perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive? ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed.’ A mendicant should meditate perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive for this reason.

But i don’t understand the case: the repulsive in both the unrepulsive and the repulsive

For what reason should a mendicant meditate perceiving the repulsive in both the unrepulsive and the repulsive? ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed. May hate not arise in me for things that provoke hate.’ …

Perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive is OK, the same purpose: ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed.’
Perceiving the repulsive in the repulsive - why this can prevent hate? I don’t understand this.

Thanks for your answer!

For what reason should a mendicant meditate perceiving the repulsive in both the unrepulsive and the repulsive? ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed. May hate not arise in me for things that provoke hate.’ …

Perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive is OK, for the purpose: ‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed.’
Perceiving the repulsive in the repulsive - why this can prevent hate? I don’t understand this. Can you explain this for me?

In the sutta where it says “‘May greed not arise in me for things that arouse greed.” And “May hate not arise in me for things that provoke hate”. We need to look at the reason why greed or hate would not arise.

So my understanding is that all the 4 variations are given just to show that ANY/All of the combinations are dependent on perception and highlight the impermanence and unreliability of any perceptions to do with ‘repulsive’ or ‘un-repulsive’ and that are the cause of greed or hate arising.

These are all just different permutations showing that the ‘perception’ is disconnected from the object - the repulsiveness, beauty or ‘neither’ is not inherent in it, but created by perception. Once you start to realise that it is not the object that is arousing the perception, but other conditions, then desire and hate also become disconnected from the object. Why would you desire or hate something when you know that your perception about it depends on conditions - that it is not ‘true’ or permanent? In that way your relationship with the objects changes, and instead your focus is on how perception works… and how it can distort reality and result in delusion… (leading to desire and hate). It is the understanding of this mechanism that gradually leads to the deeper insights about impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self… which leads to dispassion (rather than desire or aversion) which leads to letting go and being free :slight_smile:

It can also be used as an ‘antidote’ in specific situations in order to overcome/weaken specific occurrences of desire or aversion (though there are many suttas which talk specifically about this, so my take is that this sutta is more about the underpinning principles)… In a broader context this is an exercise that can be applied at various levels while moving towards deeper insight.

What I find works well in these situations, (indeed it is in the very opening of the sutta itself where the Buddha gives advice about how to practice “Mendicants, a mendicant would do well to meditate from time to time perceiving the following…”) rather than trying to ‘think’ ones way through - is just to keep the sutta in mind and to apply it in your daily life or meditation for a while… it will become clearer with practice :slight_smile:

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Perceiving the repulsive in the un-repulsive
As I understand, “the repulsive” in the above sentence is about the perception of a man, right?
How do you think about “the un-repulsive” in the above sentence? Is it also perception or it’s a measurable thing (by math, for example). If it’s also perception then whose perception is it? (mine or someone else?)
Sorry if i can’t explain thing clearly. My english is not so good. It’s good to see reply from you!

For me, this sutta is about how wanting distorts perception.

When we are attracted to something (or someone) the mind starts to grasp at that thing and we tend to pick out all the attractive (unrepulsive) features - the curve of a neck, the lovely colour of their eyes, etc. At the same time our mind ignores all the drawbacks or repulsive features - the spot on the neck, the smell of their feet, their tendency to constantly lie etc… So the wanting causes a distortion of perception and we don’t see things as they actually are; as we should see them - with objectivity and taking account all of the aspects of the object - their gratification and drawbacks.

If on the other hand we dislike what we see, then the mind has a tendency to pick out all the flaws and not see any of the attractive parts.

So the practice is to recognise what is happening in the mind and to look for the aspects that don’t fit with our current (usually distorted) perceptions.

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Generally speaking, “repulsive” is something you don’t like and “unrepulsive” something you like.
If you react to what you like, greed will appear and if you react to what you dislike, hatred will appear.
To overcome greed, you contemplate on bad points of a thing you assumed as good; and to overcome hatred, you contemplate on good points of a thing you assumed as bad.

Thanks and regards,

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I believe that this is about anything seen as ‘repulsive’ not just a man.

It is about our perception not someone else’s. And it is interesting that you ask ‘is it measurable’, because one of the things about perception is it’s unreliability… it is constantly changing. One day you can look at something and get a pleasant feeling, the next day you can look at the same thing and get an unpleasant feeling (you might be grumpy or sick or something)… the thing hasn’t changed - your perception has. It depends on many things that may have nothing to do with what you are looking at. By shifting you attention on purpose (by perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive etc) you start to understand how perception works, and what it’s role is with regard to craving and aversion, and start to overcome greed and hate.

I may have made it more complicated than is useful :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:
See how it goes, thinking about all the answers you have received, relax and enjoy :smiley:

with metta and best wishes for your practice :pray: :dharmawheel: :sunflower:

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I believe that this is about anything seen as ‘repulsive’ not just a man.

Sorry for my bad english. What i really mean is the perception that one has

I may have made it more complicated than is useful :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:
See how it goes, thinking about all the answers you have received, relax and enjoy :smiley:

Really thank you for your long answer. I have read them carefully, and finally i think that i have understand how to practice with this sutta. It’s all about switching perception about things by will.
Best wishes for you :innocent:

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:slight_smile: Yes - By switching attention (where you focus), one can alter perception (how something is perceived). It is one of the great ‘tools/skills’ that the Buddha has shown us, Yoniso Manasikara (wise attention), and it can be used in all kinds of situations, including to reduce greed and hatred :smiley:

Much metta :slight_smile:

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One of the interesting things about perceptions is that no matter what they are, in the end they are to be categorised as repulsive. All an arahant ever sees is suffering arising and ceasing. Why would we not see (this whole mass of) suffering as repulsive?

6.1 “When you’ve seen happiness as suffering,
6.2 and suffering as a dart,
6.3 and that there’s nothing between the two—
6.4 what keeps you in the world? What would you become?

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All an arahant ever sees is suffering arising and ceasing.

I think arahant see thing as it is, not repulsive or un-repulsive

Metta filled greetings,

I believe the idea is to develop equanimity. We balance our minds by seeing the unbeautiful in the beautiful to avoid lust or craving and the opposite to avoid aversion. These are the beginning level practices and for protection from unwholesome states.

The mind becomes more and more easily brought into balance. Then one starts to see different aspects of perception. We start to play with the perceptions and change them at will. We can observe how perceptions trick us.

I believe that the Arahant sees the repulsive in the repulsive and is equanimous. They are just seeing things as they are.

In Dhamma friendship,
Svjj

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I agree that the arahant sees ‘as it is’, but I am suggesting that ‘as it is’ is inherently ‘repulsive’, but I guess it depends whether you think suffering is repulsive or not? :woman_shrugging:

Arahants have obviously attained nibbana, so from their point of view there’s no repulsion from suffering (they have already been repelled out of creating future suffering for themselves and are now watching from the side-lines awaiting parinibbana), but what about non-arahants? - If one sees samsara ‘as it is’ which the arahants suggest is just suffering arising and ceasing, then will that perception repel you away from samsara and towards nibbana)?

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@hdvd2309 I also struggle with this formula, It seems to be associated with the Brahmaviharas but I have not seen anywhere where this is elucidated, AN 5.144 comes closest to a Vibangha but is almost as obscure as the original text. SN 46.54 is a fascinating sutta that seems to connect the repulsiveness formula with the brahmaviharas AND the aruppas, however IMO it bears all the hallmarks of a “mechanical” SN sutta where simpler formulas have been mechanically permuted in ways that might do as much to mislead as inform.

I hadn’t seen the AN one before so thankyou for posting it!

My take:

If they wish: ‘May I meditate perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive,’ that’s what they do.

means basically seeing that the beautiful woman you might want to sleep with is a soon to be rotting corpse that is full of puss and shit. As the sutta says, it helps overcome greed for worldly things.

If they wish: ‘May I meditate perceiving the unrepulsive in the repulsive,’ that’s what they do.

Is I believe a synonym for Mettabrahmavihara. shining love on all the creatures you had previously decided where repulsive. Metta being, as is mentioned in the Suttas a cure for hate.

If they wish: ‘May I meditate perceiving the repulsive in the unrepulsive and the repulsive,’ that’s what they do.

This in my reading refers to Karuna, that is feeling compassion/pity/sympathy for all living beings doomed to suffer and die.

If they wish: ‘May I meditate perceiving the unrepulsive in the repulsive and the unrepulsive,’ that’s what they do.

This would then be Mudita, which is some kind of refined emotion I don’t quite understand but is I suppose a feeling of warmth and well wishing to beings even tho they are doomed, rather than pity, a kind of “you got this kid!” (even tho they don’t)

If they wish: ‘May I meditate staying equanimous, mindful and aware, rejecting both the repulsive and the unrepulsive,’ that’s what they do.

Upekkha here, the definitive Buddhist virtue, basically being “unshakable” “imperturbable” “peaceful” looking on all beings without lust, hatred or delusion fully woke.

So I think that the formula originally is a description of the corpse meditation and the brahmaviharas, and i think this can be inferred form parsing some of the SN passages where the two formulas are presented together, and while I agree with all the things said in the thread above I would note that in the EBT’s themselves the formula is rarely if ever elaborated on and so a lot of all this is necessarily guesswork.

Much Metta!