Perceptions, which never existed in themselves, are mistaken for objects;
Awareness itself, because of ignorance, is mistaken for a self;
Through the power of dualistic fixation I wander in the realm of existence.
May ignorance and confusion be completely resolved.
~ Rangjung Dorje, Aspirations for Mahamudra (trans. Ken McLeod)
When we know the actual nature of what's arising, we can make choices that lead to freedom and happiness rather than choices that lead to struggle and suffering.
We look into what’s arising and we see that it’s actually just a flow of passing sensations, feelings, stories, and actions. What appear to be “real objects” are actually just "external" sense perceptions. What appear to be “real emotions” and “true thoughts” are just "internal" experiences.
When you can relax and settle into the unceasing flow of sensations, feelings, and stories, then try looking into what experiences. Look at a sensation or a feeling or a thought. Then look at what experiences that sensation, feeling, or thought.
"What is aware" is actually just another experience. We habitually mistake awareness for a self, but it turns out to be a compelling combination of sensations, feelings, and stories.
The "self" is empty of permanence and solidity. The “self” is also empty of separateness: it always arises in the context of a situation, in interaction with an “object” or another "self."
Is this not true? Don’t just analyze or try to determine whether these are logical statements. Test again and again how your experience actually arises. Be sure, in your own direct experience.
Our senses of self come and go, depending on the situation or role we’re in. We walk into work and become a colleague or employee. We get together with friends and become another particular self. We interact with family and another self arises -- a father or mother or son or daughter or sibling.
We habitually mistake the passing experience(s) of "self" for something solid, some thing that needs to be defined and defended. Lots of suffering there.
When we really see and understand the nature of suffering, how it arises from confusion and clinging and aversion, we care about what happens. In insight practice we are not trying to generate a particular sensation or feeling or thought; we are trying to see clearly (vipashyana), to know the actual nature of all experiences, so that we can free ourselves from the confusion, attachment, and aversion that create so much suffering for ourselves and others.
Of course if we don’t notice the suffering, or we don’t care about it, we may not have the incentive to look deeply. So alongside insight practice is the equally (or more) important practice of interacting with others in the world: the practice of kindness, compassion, generosity, ethics. Insight leads to compassion. Compassion leads to insight.
Neither insight nor compassion are complete unless the other arises. If we focus exclusively on compassion, we may take things too seriously and end up embroiled in trying to save or fix the world. If we focus exclusively on insight, we can take things too seriously and end up lost in a tangle of thoughts, or pursue special states of mind. Better to practice insight with the motivation of compassion, and practice compassion with clarity of insight.