The 5 Key Insights of Buddhist Meditation: De-mystified and Re-conceptualized in Lay Terms

1. Impermanence

I.e. Temporary-ness: everything is only temporary. Literally. Everything is in the process of change, whether it’s perceptible or not.

Practical Implication: Do not crave or cling to things (because they most certainly will not last).

2. Emptiness

I.e. Inherent Illusoriness: nothing is quite as it seems. There is no “essence” of things — things are empty of an essence — as everything can be deconstructed or distinguished into smaller parts. Everything we experience is technically a representation or concept, because everything is filtered through our minds, so while we experience reality, there is no inherent definition in any given component of our reality. That is, no object or experience is inherently defined by one thing (by a single essence) alone, which is why emptiness is very closely related to the 3rd insight…

Practical Implication: Do not crave or cling to things (because they don’t actually contain what you think you want).

3. Interdependence

I.e. Constant Connectedness: everything is connected to everything else. Everyone and everything exists in the same space, and nothing exists or operates independently. Everything that is or occurs has an effect or a potential effect on something else (e.g. someone’s arm movement in public affects someone else’s visual experience, or the tree’s movements subtly change the air pressure or quality of the environment), and that has some effect on another something (even if it’s imperceptible or immeasurable), and so on. And while many effects are relatively insignificant, they still occur, and technically this sustains a degree of constant interactivity among all people, objects, environments, and events.

Practical Implication: Respect your experience. Your actions (or inactions) always have effects.

4. Suffering (the nature of)

I.e. Unsatisfactoriness: our default experience as human beings is inherently unsatisfactory: we have ongoing needs & desires that must be met, thus we must consistently exert effort (which feels bad as we have limited functional energy) or else we’re forced to manage deprivation and loss, which also takes energy and subsequently feels bad. When we’re forced to exert ourselves to fulfill basic needs, or when we simply desire things to be different (in any way, to any degree), by definition we’re unsatisfied, and this generally translates into various forms of feeling bad, aka suffering. All the while, we live amidst general uncertainty as we ultimately can’t predict what the future, thus we are prone to fear, anxiety, and stress.

Practical Implication: Suffering is a default condition of being human (especially when we operate unconsciously), but as conscious beings we don’t necessarily have to suffer (We’re primed to suffer, but suffering is not inevitable)

5. No Self (illusoriness of separate self) [aka the Ultimate Insight]

I.e. Self-illusion: The self is yet another concept. We experience our “self” as a distinct entity with a mind and identity. But since there is no single distinguishable essence of “self” — not in the body, the mind, or in social identity — the self technically does not have a separate existence that could be considered completely independent of anything else. We are technically only a relative concept, not a distinct entity in a vacuum. Our minds and identities were created by, and are sustained by, everyone and everything around us and that’s come before us. Nothing about you is only yours: you do not produce the oxygen that sustains the form of your body, nor do you produce the contents that comprise your mind. Moreover, no concept or element definitively defines your experience of “you”, especially not for all of time. All concepts that comprise definitions are relative to other things. Thus a self can only be defined by previously learned concepts, concepts that were generated by other minds within the same physical space.

As far as physical illusoriness of self, while there is no one particular combination of limbs, organs, or bones that define a self, the physical “self” is only a collection of matter and concepts, a collection which is always changing… which means there is no static self, which obviously means there can’t technically be a universal definition of self:  a definition of something in constant change would necessarily need to be revised and refined every moment for it to be a technically accurate definition, thus accurately defining a self is a functional impossibility, because there is no static self to be defined.

Finally, “you” do not possess any quality that the space around you doesn’t also possess, so from the greater perspective, you are not a separate entity.

Practical Implication: Let go of your ego, live with compassion. You are not who or what you think you are, and everyone else is in the same boat.

Personal Note:

I don’t completely identify with these insights, nor can I say fully understand them. According to Buddhist philosophy, these insights cannot be fully understood by intellectual examination, they can only be realized as an adept meditator, and I’m no adept meditator. These are simply my superficial interpretations of the insights based on my limited study and experience. I can’t even say I fully “subscribe” to these insights in all respects, however I do see some significant potential value in them and I do find them intriguing enough to warrant clarification and further contemplation.