THE MYSTERY OF THE BREATH NIMITTA
OR THE CASE OF THE MISSING SIMILE
By Bhikkhu Sona.
As the title suggests, there is a significant puzzle to be solved by any meditator or scholar who tries to clearly understand the qualities of experience, which accompany the transition from mere attention to respiration to full immersion in jhanic consciousness. I will attempt to show that there are good grounds for confusion on this matter as one traces the historical progression of the commentarial accounts from the Patisambhidamagga through the Vimuttimagga to the (later) Visuddhimagga.
Since the Visuddhimagga is so influential and so widely quoted by modern teachers, it would seem critical that it is reliable and, if in certain aspects it is not, then, with supporting evidence, to show clearly why it is not.
The body of this essay will show that a description of the mind of the jhanic meditator found in the Canon itself and quoted in the Patisambhidamagga as a simile involving a comparison of mind with a full clear moon, degenerates to a mistaken literalization of these images as internally produced visual data. Since the contents of mind are not easy to point to, the Buddha frequently used similes comparing visual and other sense objects with mental contents in order for meditators to clearly understand what they should be seeking and experiencing.
In religious traditions of all kinds we often find a naive tendency to take literally what is meant as a simile. It seems this process has occurred somewhere along the line and has become enshrined in the Continue reading
By Nynatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary
Nimitta: mark, sign; image; target, object; cause, condition. These meanings are used in, and adapted to, many contexts of which only the doctrinal ones are mentioned here.
- ‘Mental (reflex-) image’, obtained in meditation. In full clarity, it will appear in the mind by successful practice of certain concentration-exercises and will then appear as vividly as if seen by the eye. The object perceived at the very beginning of concentration is called the preparatory image (parikamma-nimitta). The still unsteady and unclear image, which arises when the mind has reached a weak degree of concentration, is called the acquired image (uggaha-nimitta). An entirely clear and immovable image arising at a higher degree of concentration is the counter-image (paṭ””’ibhāga-nimitta”). As soon as this image arises, the stage of neighbourhood (or access) concentration (upacāra-samādhi) is reached.
- ‘Sign of (previous) kamma’ (kamma-nimitta) and ‘sign of (the future) destiny’ (gati-nimitta); these arise as mental objects of the last karmic consciousness before death (maraṇ””’āsanna””’ kamma.
Usages (1) and (2) are commentarial (s. App.). In Sutta usage, the term occurs, e.g. as: Continue reading
Day 10 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge
Yesterday I wrote about samapattis, which are slightly strange, and often a bit disturbing, experiences that can arise in meditation. They’re often a bit hallucinatory, and it’s not a good idea to pay much attention to them.
Nimittas are another kind of unusual experience we can have in meditation, but they’re more useful. The word “nimitta” literally means a “sign” or a “hint.” These are experiences we can have that let us know we’re making progress in meditation.
Nimittas, like samapattis, come in different forms. They can be visual, or kinesthetic, or even auditory.
In one classic meditation text, the Vimuttimagga, the arising of nimittas is described like this:
“the nimitta arises with a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton. Also it is likened to the pleasant feeling produced by a breeze.”
These are kinesthetic nimittas. They can be auditory, like a subtle sound accompanying the breathing that’s not heard through the ears. Visual nimittas might take the form of a stable image, or just a stable perception of light. Continue reading
Day 9 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge
During my sit I saw a bright white/yellow circle shape flash of light in between my eyebrows (closed eye meditation). The light came rushing at me and filled my vision then vanished. While very interesting, it actually freaked me out a bit. Is there a name for this experience?
I replied, “It’s what we call a samapatti. There are various kinds of these, and some of them involve light, although they can be tactile, proprioceptive, auditory, etc. They usually arise as the mind is starting to settle, and they’re more common in people who are relatively new to meditation. They’re nothing to worry about (they’re common) nor are they something to get very excited about (they’re just “noise” in the system).”
I see samapattis as arising in a few ways: They’re very similar to experiences that people have when they’re exposed to sensory deprivation, which makes me think there’s an element of that going on; the mind is getting quieter, but we’ve not fully tapped into the richness of our experience — especially of the body — and so the mind starts trying to make sense of random neuronal “noise.” One of the most common samapattis is the perception of “swirling lights.” Continue reading
The Teachings of Ptahhotep: The Oldest Book in the World
“First published around 2388 B.C. Fifth Kemetic (Egyptian) Dynasty under the title: Teachings of the Prefect of the City, Dja Ptahhotep ynder the majesty of the king of the South and the North. Assa Djed-Ka-Ra. living eternally forever.”
by Hilliard III Asa G. (Editor), Larry Williams (Editor), Nia Damali (Editor)
…Ptahhotep, instructs the ignorant in the knowledge and in the standards of good speech. A man teaches as he acts… The wise person feeds the soul with what endures, so that it is happy with that person on earth. The wise is known by his good actions. The heart of the wise matches his or her tongue and his or her lips are straight when he or she speaks. The wise have eyes that are made to see and ears that are made to hear what will profit the offspring. The wise is a person who acts with MAAT [truth, justice, order, balance, harmony, righteousness and reciprocity] and is free of falsehood and disorder.
—Ptahotep 2350 B. C. E. Continue reading
The Teachings of Ptah Hotep
From Abibitumi.kasa (Yahmeesh, 2010)
These are instructions by the Mayor of the City who is also the Vizier. His name is Ptahhotep and he serves under Pharoah Assa who lives for all eternity. The mayor of the City, Vizier Ptahhotep, addressed the Supreme Divinity, the Diety as follows:
“God upon the crocodiles.” (Reference to Heru) who is sometimes shown standing on two crocodiles. My God, the process of aging brings senility. My mind decays and forgetfulness of the things of yesterday has already begun. Feebleness has come and weakness grows. Childlike one sleeps all day. The eyes are dim and the ears are becoming deaf. The strength is being sapped. The mouth has grown silent and does not speak. The bones ache through and through. Good things now seem evil. The taste is gone. What old age does to people in evil is everything. The nose is clogged and does not breath. It is painful even to stand or to sit. May your servant be authorized to use the status that old age affords, to teach the hearers, so as to tell them the words of those who have listened to the ways of our ancestors, and of those who have listened to the Gods. May I do this for you, so that strife may be banned from among our people, and so that the Two Shores may serve you? Continue reading
The word Kasina means a meditation object whereby the mind is concentrated. There are 10 types of Kasina. The following are how to meditate with Kasina based on Visuddhimagga or the Path of Purification.
1. The Earth Kasina (Pathavi)
The method of meditating using the Earth Kasina can be readily understood by one with previous experience from a past life. He or she might just see a farm or rice paddy field and the Learning Sign (Uggaha-nimitta) would arise easily. Those who do not have such merit must create a Kasina. There are two ways of making an Earth Element Kasina: movable and fixed in position.
Movable Kasina Continue reading