Basic questions about fire kasina

Ishmael Melville, modified 1 Year ago at 12/19/22 11:53 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/19/22 11:35 PM

Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 3 Join Date: 12/19/22 Recent Posts
Hello! I have just tried for the first time to meditate with a fire kasina. I have done, literally, 20 minutes of it. I didn't know what to expect -- I had quickly read Chapter 29 of MCTB2 earlier this evening, then had to cook dinner for me and the kids, spent time reading books by the fireplace, getting them to bed, etc. When I finally sat down for my first kasina fire experiement, I just vaguely recalled the instructions more or less as: light it up, look at it, afterglow, red dot, something about a "murk" and then I stopped reading because what followed seemed to be too advanced to be relevant on a first try.

Well, to my great surprise, I looked at the little candle flame, closed my eyes, glimpsed for two seconds at a purplish shade of the circular candle, and then had to face a thick, sharply defined red dot. It felt alien. Completely external to the visual experience of the candle, yet definitely "my perception". It slowly shrunk down and then disappeared.

Repeating the experiment, I have observed the same a couple of time. Then I have started a sequence of repeated observations where the red dot started appearing more slowly into focus, smaller than before, and to systematically drift towards the bottom left corner of my field of vision.

Then I just got a small dot, out of focus, quickly disappearing, into a larger black dot. I could perceive the black dot, centered where the red dot disappeared -- there was a blackness to it, and also a sort of glow around it. This happened also for two or three cycles.

On these last cycles, right between the intention of opening the eyelids, I somehow hesitated, and glimpsed for a very short frame/time/timeframe to a multiplication of red dots (like, say, 7 of them, scattered along the field of vision)... and then my eyes were open.

Finally, I got nothing at all, just the circular after glow of the candle. Rather than insisting and forcing it, I have decided to stop. I definitely felt I was excited and raising my expectations, possibly getting frustrated, or doubting that I was making everthing up based on the descriptions I had read. At the same time, the whole experience felt absolutely objective. I did not feel I had any control on the appearance of the red dot, its movement, its transformation into a dot of blackness against the visual static. In a sense, my intuition is that it stopped to appear the moment I tried to prove myself I was actively creating it.

I have troubles understanding the nature of these experiences. The retinal afterburn stage is evident. But what is the red dot, physiologically? What is the distinct sensation of observing its movement as if it were an independent object? I am finding all of this very confusing from the experiential/sensory level.

If anyone has anything to share, I would be delighted to read. Below, some additional background on my meditation-related adventures. Thanks!

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background

My first attempts at meditation started 2 years ago while reading Mindfulness in Plain English. However, it started feeling more real when I stumbled into Goenka's Anapana instructions. From there I got curious and listened carefully to the audios of the 10-days course several times. I started thinking about doing a retreat but wanted to know more about the whole story before committing the time. I kept practicing every morning while keep reading three more books by Gunaratana, large parts of Ingram's book, Leigh Brasington's book on concentration, a bit of the Abhidhamma etc. and have slowly started to build up a satisfactory the conceptual and historical framework that I needed to understand that yes, showing up at a Goenka's retreat was a reasonable thing to do (I have also been doing therapy for the past three years, so I felt to have a safe space to fall back to and process stuff if things would go south at the retreat). I finally did my retreat and it was an extraordinary experience. Silence, the five precepts, the absence of stimuli, my mind craving distractions and ending up eating up itself, showing to me the arbitrariness of several assumptions I held as true about my identity. I went home with a ton of mindfulness (that I have then lost in the span of a month or so by not practicing consistently) and a keen diffidence towards the method (it took me a year to process this point -- I was put off by the idea of "cleansing the defilements" -- now I do not negate the ethical premise to these efforts, but I also think it is vital to live it through a very down-to-earth and compassionate understanding of our human (thus mammalian, thus reptilian, etc.) nature). I think I have not lost the ability to tune in quickly to the relation between my body and my mind, and the localization of my emotions as physical sensations. In the past three months I have started again to systematically practice in the mornings, with the goal of finding access concentration and the first jhana. However, I am also going through an emotional mayhem due to a relationship folding over itself, which makes my meditation sessions more like watching the Titanic sinking under a hurricane of lava, than a stable, smooth experience -- in technical language, the best I can do there seems to be observing the mess as it unfolds. I have thus thought, I am a very visual person, let me check out these candles Daniel Ingram is so fond of to see if they can help me generate the concentration I cannot find with the breath... and there we are!
Hector L, modified 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 4:24 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 4:24 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 139 Join Date: 5/9/20 Recent Posts
If the dot is the color negative of the color of the kasina then it's probably photoreceptor bleach. E.g. for blue kasina it's yellow. After that if it's spinny and geometric I am guessing it's something to do with the visual cortex. We've had other threads talking about this before and everyone speculates something different after the photoreceptor bleach stage 
Ishmael Melville, modified 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 6:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 6:41 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 3 Join Date: 12/19/22 Recent Posts
Thanks Hector! I am doing a fire kasina, not a color kasina, so I am really looking at a candle flame. The sequence is pretty stable: black impression of the candle body, glowish impression of the flame, arising of a red dot.<br /><br />Yesterday, the red dot manifested as a pretty stable, sharply contoured little disk. In todays iterations, it takes longer to gaining its redness, it is generally smaller, it has typically an irregular complex contour with a possible circular aura, it generally likes to drift (upwards and sideways). When it drifts I feel like it is exiting my visual field. But it never does, and if I try to follow it, I lose it. My eyelids starts trembling when it drifts. At time it disappears but I have the impression it is just behind some black obstacle, and then if I wait it reappears without the need to look at the candle flame. The whole experience goes on for about one minute, occasionally two. Then I have to start again. I will start reading other posts in this thread carefully. I am really fascinated by the objectivity of this weird red-dot manifestation. More pragmatically, it is really cool to see how this simple experiment is good at suppressing the hindrances, or at least the discursive thought stream. I know this must be all obvious for people here, but for me is very exciting emoticon
Hector L, modified 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 9:19 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/20/22 9:19 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 139 Join Date: 5/9/20 Recent Posts
Oh yes I remember doing this exploration! I still do, for me it turns out to be a very nice meditation and I'm still exploring it! I'm eager to see what you get out of it and what you discover from it!
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 10:44 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 10:44 AM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 3274 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
We had an optical neuroscientis on a private fire kasina retreat, and she was really excited about his practice, basically saying that the progression went through the standard optical pathways from the retina on back, and was able to describe all of that, but I have largely forgotten the details, it being a few years ago. Still, the point is that the order in which things unfold mirrors in some ways the physiology as would be expected if you know the whole system and all of its parts, functions, and linkages, which parts to edge detection and the like...

Also, while initially one will see some retinal anti-colors (like black for white, purple for yellow, etc.), the red dot clearly isn't that, but something else, and the yellow that can then develop in it is obviously the same color as the candle, so something created by our visual system, and it diverges even farther from the original external kasina from there.

Enjoy!
Ishmael Melville, modified 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 2:57 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 2:55 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 3 Join Date: 12/19/22 Recent Posts
Thanks Daniel!

The first steps of the "fire kasina sequence" seem indeed a great meditation item for running a study on people that has not some meditation experience. In these first steps the phenomenology seems rather simple, anyone should be able to describe it accurately with everyday language. Visualizing a red dot and reporting on its behavior is something way more straightforward than describing the outcome of anapanasati, which in my experience is vastly more complex (also because the breath has such a strong emotional value, something I could not see in the red dot experience). Also, in the context of the first steps of fire kasina practice, it seems trivial to objectively define when someone is concentrating or not. With participants instructed to open their eyes and "recharge" as soon as they go back to static black, one has a sure way to decide when concentration has broken/decreased. All this said, one should still be able to observe strong relaxation effects, which are maybe measurable at neurological level: at least in my experience, watching red dots seemed to have a soothing effect comparable to what I have experienced during retreat, or during very quite and calm periods at home.

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Keeping my practice log, this morning I somehow cycled very quickly through: sharply bounded red dot, wiggly/pulsing red dot, red dot phasing into a pitched-black dot and then phasing back into a red dot (several times), and finally a good 10 minutes of a bright, golden dot with soffused edges. From there I took interest in my breath, which was very calm and smooth, and started to just be with it, losing interest in the fire kasina.

I am not sure if this is the canonical use of fire kasina, but it definitely seems a practical short-cut for getting to a point where one can concentrate on/observe the breath without having to fight off the hindrances.
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 4:18 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 4:12 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
I don't know for sure what is the canonical way of doing it either. I have done some of what Daniel describes, and it's very cool, but currently I'm working on a version using a photorealistic image of the flame projected onto the murk as my learning sign. It seems to fit more with how I understand the commentary that I have read on kasina practice (from one of the -maggas?), but it takes a much longer time to develop that image than what it takes to develop the red dot, which has been instant for me. Thus the red dot seems to be sort of an open source hack that obviously has really powerful effects. But since the photorealistic image appeared for me, I decided to go with that to see where it leads. It's a longterm project on a low dosis. From my very limited experience from comparing the two, it seems to me that the photorealistic flame learning sign is less prone to going bananas, for good and for bad. More stable. I'm guessing that the red dot version is a bit more rogue, allowing for more personal quirks to come through in the concentration. The version I'm doing is more regulated and more like focusing on any other object, except of course a particular bond is developed specifically with fire. But of course, the relative stability might just be because it's a longterm low dosis project. I'm doing 45 minutes per day in general, in combination with other practices. It develops skills that I need for my practice in general, improving concentration and clarity and developing my ability to visualize (I basically started out with no visual thinking available, and now visual thinking is common for me and I can visualize). 

I have been wondering about the red dot too, because it is apparently stylized in a way that a retina burn isn't, so the mind has got to have something to do with that. It would have been really fascinating to have had the details recorded from that optical neuroscientist. Is it recorded? Was it by any chance Kati? Her perspectives on stuff are always fascinating. I'm a big fan of her. I remember that there is a recording with discussions from a retreat where she took part. I think I'll listen to those again. I know that it's available on the fire kasina home page. 
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Bud E, modified 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 5:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 5:42 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 25 Join Date: 4/29/22 Recent Posts
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
From my very limited experience from comparing the two, it seems to me that the photorealistic flame learning sign is less prone to going bananas, for good and for bad. More stable. I'm guessing that the red dot version is a bit more rogue, allowing for more personal quirks to come through in the concentration.


With all due respect Linda, do you really think it's appropriate to throw shade at your fellow forum goers and call them bananas, or describe their practises as a hack? Is that stable?

Even if i'm nuttier than a snickers bar, I try to be so in a respectful manner, including largely backing off when I realized my practises and advice were not helping others.
Hector L, modified 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 8:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/21/22 8:42 PM

RE: Basic questions about fire kasina

Posts: 139 Join Date: 5/9/20 Recent Posts
I enjoyed how mine kept on evolving and having different meaning at different stages of my journey. In my few encounters with a Burbea trained teacher on the imaginal it seems that this happens to others too.

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