by Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu | 1956 | 420,758 words | ISBN-10: 9552400236 | ISBN-13: 9789552400236
This page describes Insight (7): Knowledge of Reflection of the section Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Way of Part 3 Understanding (Paññā) of the English translation of the Visuddhimagga (‘the path of purification’) which represents a detailled Buddhist meditation manual, covering all the essential teachings of Buddha as taught in the Pali Tipitaka. It was compiled Buddhaghosa around the 5th Century.
[Full title: Insight: The Eight Knowledges (7): Knowledge of Reflection]
47. Being thus desirous of deliverance from all the manifold formations in any kind of becoming, generation, destiny, station, or abode, in order to be delivered from the whole field of formations  he again discerns those same formations, attributing to them the three characteristics by knowledge of contemplation of reflection.
48. He sees all formations as impermanent for the following reasons: because they are non-continuous, temporary, limited by rise and fall, disintegrating, fickle, perishable, unenduring, subject to change, coreless, due to be annihilated, formed, subject to death, and so on.
He sees them as painful for the following reasons: because they are continuously oppressed, hard to bear, the basis of pain, a disease, a tumour, a dart, a calamity, an affliction, a plague, a disaster, a terror, a menace, no protection, no shelter, no refuge, a danger, the root of calamity, murderous, subject to cankers, Māra’s bait, subject to birth, subject to ageing, subject to illness, subject to sorrow, subject to lamentation, subject to despair, subject to defilement, and so on.
He sees all formations as foul (ugly)—the ancillary characteristic to that of pain—for the following reasons: because they are objectionable, stinking, disgusting, repulsive, unaffected by disguise, hideous, loathsome, and so on.
He sees all formations as not-self for the following reasons: because they are alien, empty, vain, void, ownerless, with no Overlord, with none to wield power over them, and so on.
It is when he sees formations in this way that he is said to discern them by attributing to them the three characteristics.
49. But why does he discern them in this way? In order to contrive the means to deliverance. Here is a simile: a man thought to catch a fish, it seems, so he took a fishing net and cast it in the water. He put his hand into the mouth of the net under the water and seized a snake by the neck. He was glad, thinking, “I have caught a fish.” In the belief that he had caught a big fish, he lifted it up to see. When he saw three marks, he perceived that it was a snake and he was terrified. He saw danger, felt dispassion (revulsion) for what he had seized, and desired to be delivered from it. Contriving a means to deliverance, he unwrapped [the coils from] his hand, starting from the tip of its tail. Then he raised his arm, and when he had weakened the snake by swinging it two or three times round his head, he flung it away, crying “Go, foul snake.” Then quickly scrambling up on to dry land, he stood looking back whence he had come, thinking, “Goodness, I have been delivered from the jaws of a huge snake!”
50. Herein, the time when the meditator was glad at the outset to have acquired a person is like the time when the man was glad to have seized the snake by the neck. This meditator’s seeing the three characteristics in formations after effecting resolution of the compact [into elements] is like the man’s seeing the three marks on pulling the snake’s head out of the mouth of the net.  The meditator’s knowledge of appearance as terror is like the time when the man was frightened. Knowledge of contemplation of danger is like the man’s thereupon seeing the danger. Knowledge of contemplation of dispassion is like the man’s dispassion (revulsion) for what he had seized. Knowledge of desire for deliverance is like the man’s deliverance from the snake. The attribution of the three characteristics to formations by knowledge of contemplation of reflection is like the man’s contriving a means to deliverance. For just as the man weakened the snake by swinging it, keeping it away and rendering it incapable of biting, and was thus quite delivered, so too this meditator weakens formations by swinging them with the attribution of the three characteristics, rendering them incapable of appearing again in the modes of permanence, pleasure, beauty, and self, and is thus quite delivered. That is why it was said above that he discerns them in this way “in order to contrive the means to deliverance.”
51. At this point knowledge of reflection has arisen in him, with reference to which it is said: “When he brings to mind as impermanent, there arises in him knowledge after reflecting on what? When he brings to mind as painful, … as not-self, there arises in him knowledge after reflecting on what? When he brings to mind as impermanent, there arises in him knowledge after reflecting on the sign. When he brings to mind as painful, there arises in him knowledge after reflecting on occurrence. When he brings to mind as not-self, there arises in him knowledge after reflecting on the sign and occurrence” (Paṭis II 63).
52. As here after reflecting on the sign [means] having known the sign of formations by means of the characteristic of impermanence as unlasting and temporary. Of course, it is not that, first having known, subsequently knowledge arises; but it is expressed in this way according to common usage, as in the passage beginning, “Due to (lit. having depended upon) mind and mental object, mind-consciousness arises” (M I 112), and so on. Or alternatively, it can be understood as expressed thus according to the method of identity by identifying the preceding with the subsequent. The meaning of the remaining two expressions [that is, “occurrence” and “the sign and occurrence”] should be understood in the same way.
Knowledge of contemplation of reflection is ended.
Footnotes and references:
The sense seems to require a reading, “Kāmañ ca na paṭhamaṃ”…