Questions on Nimitta

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Gerry T, modified 9 Years ago.

Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
Does anybody here have experience with perceiving a Nimitta during meditation?

Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw talks about the Nimitta (a light of some kind) that appears during breathing concentration practice. He says in "Knowing and Seeing"

"You should determine to keep your mind calmly concentrated on the white uggaha-nimitta for
one, two, three hours, or more. If you can keep your mind fixed on the uggaha-nimitta for one or
two hours, it should become clear, bright, and brilliant. This is then the pa ibhaga-nimitta (counterpart
sign). Determine and practise to keep your mind on the pa ibhaga-nimitta for one, two, or
three hours. Practise until you succeed.
At this stage you will reach either access (upacara) or absorption (appana) concentration. It is
called access concentration because it is close to and precedes jhana. Absorption concentration is
jhana.

Both types of concentration have the pa ibhaga-nimitta as their object. The only difference between
them is that in access concentration the jhana factors are not fully developed. For this reason
bhavaNgas still occur, and one can fall into bhavaNga (life-continuum consciousness). The yogi will
say that everything stopped, and may even think it is Nibbana. In reality the consciousness has not
stopped, but the yogi is just not sufficiently skilled to discern this, because the bhavaNgas are very
subtle."

Later he goes on to say......
"When a person wishes to cultivate a samatha subject, it is in any case good to have very strong
faith. If he thinks, ‘I will certainly reach jhana, if I develop concentration on the pa ibhaganimitta’,
then by the power of that faith, and by concentrating on the pa ibhaga-nimitta, he will
definitely achieve jhana. This is because jhana is based primarily on concentration.
For a person developing vipassana it is good that wisdom be strong, because when wisdom is
strong he will be able to know and see the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and
non-self penetratively.

Only when concentration and wisdom are balanced can mundane jhanas (lokiya·jjhana) arise. The
Buddha taught that this applies equally to supramundane jhanas (lokuttara·jjhana), which further require
that concentration and wisdom be balanced with effort and faith."

The Nimitta seems critical as well as reaching Jhana prior to vipassana practice.

When I am meditating I spend most of the time looking at the back of my eye lids. Some light shows through. I'm either looking at that or at times a "mental" image will appear and I note it and go back to the breath. Same with the light behind the eyes.

Is there any relationship between the lights behind the eyes and a Nimitta?

I figure the light coming into the eyes is a form of material contact and should hold something in the perception of the rupa kalapas but I figure I need to reach jhana (and maybe fourth jhana) before acquiring the degree of concentration that would be required to perceive any rupa kalapa.

Namaste
Gerry
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 783 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Gerry T:
Does anybody here have experience with perceiving a Nimitta during meditation?

Yes. But don't let these terms (like nimitta) become exotic or mysterious in your mind. They're not. A nimitta is simply a sign of some kind that helps the meditator confirm having established something (some ground or ability). It could be any phenomenon (visual or tactile/sensual) that arises that the individual meditator relates to which helps establish concentration (samadhi). And that could easily well vary from person to person. Some people perceive light and use that, others sense a sensation and use that to help them establish concentration.

Personally, I when I was first learning about this I didn't trust visual signs (like light of some kind) because they are often created by the mind and auto-suggestion. Hence, in my way of thinking, they weren't very substantial, and therefore unreliable as a sign for me. A physical sensation was a different story for me. It just seemed more substantial in my mind. Besides that, I had already established an idea of what the sensation of concentration "felt" like when I was growing up.

So, when I first experienced a pressure in the center of my forehead (what one could rightly term a nimitta) I knew when that sensation arose that my concentration was becoming well established on whatever object I had taken as my object of concentration (like the breath, for instance). From that point, I would watch to see the establishment of the second jhana (a kind of effortless feedback loop where the mind becomes established on an object like the breath). Once the second jhana became established, I knew I was on my way to achieving 3rd and 4th jhana by just calming the mind even more while performing samatha meditation.

Gerry T:

The Nimitta seems critical as well as reaching Jhana prior to vipassana practice.

It's only critical if one proceeds according to certain instructions and invests one's ideas and perception of success into that instruction. Otherwise, it's not as critical it is sometimes made out to be.

Gerry T:

When I am meditating I spend most of the time looking at the back of my eye lids. Some light shows through. I'm either looking at that or at times a "mental" image will appear and I note it and go back to the breath. Same with the light behind the eyes.

Is there any relationship between the lights behind the eyes and a Nimitta?

There could be; then again it may mean nothing at all. It all depends on how you perceive, use or not use, and react to it. In other words, only the individual meditator can answer that question for himself.
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Jeff Grove, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 310 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Hi

I spent a fair amount of time trying to understand Nimitta. I know friends that I have discussed this with also have had the expectation that a visual sign needs to appear prior to succeeding at Jhana.

If using a kasina or visual aid for concentration one of the first signs experienced may be afterimages see here for a good exercise to experience http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/after.html.

The afterimage is a sign that you are entering access concentration. This afterimage is called the learning sign and is usually short lived. I think of namittas as anchor pionts or handles. By concentrating on the object and then closing the eyes you start to prolong the afterimage changing from applied thought to sustained thought. Eventually you can hold this image in your mind. They call this the counterpart sign and for me it appears as a crystal clear image.

What caused a lot of confusion for me were accounts of when using breath as the object a namitta of white wispy smoke will arise. I have never experienced this. For me if the base was pressure the afterimage would be representative of pressure. The namitta that would arise was like a handle that I could anchor the breath to transform the qualities that lead to the first four jhanas. The formless jhanas involve transforming the object.

For sound as the base the namitta would be a single sound that developed in the richness of tones as the counterpart sign rose with sustained thought.

These are aids or tools only to develop sustained thought and should be used as such. Experience varies, let go of expectations and be attentive to the object of your meditation, when attention moves strike back at the object again and again

cheers
Jeff
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Gerry T, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
Jeff,
I appreciate your help on this.
I don't have experience with kasinas but I checked out the web page you referenced.
I saw the retina burnout in the experiment.
Your comment about "striking back at the object again and again" makes sense to me.
It tells me that the mind will constantly move from the object but at some point in time it will stop moving away from the object.

I too have been confused about the smoky jhana comments and other descriptions and do not want to imagine anything that is not there but instead let whatever comes up happen.

The fact that you describe your nimitta as clear is supposed to be a very good thing. It means that you would be ready to penetrate the nimitta and move into first jhana and beyond. At least that is what Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw says and I've heard it said by Sister Sayala Pandikara too.

I do have one more question...
When I finish meditating I feel differently about things (less attached) but then it wears off when I get distracted by things.
It feels almost (but not quite) like I am starting over every time I sit down to meditate.

I would think that after sustaining the focus on the nimitta it would be easier to not get lost in between meditation sessions by just going back to the nimitta. (Or maybe not?)

Did you do anything between sittings to help you get to the point where you could see the nimitta when you sat for meditations? What do you think helped the most to get to the point where you could see the nimitta?

Namaste,
Gerry
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Jeff Grove, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 310 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Hi Gerry,

What you describe is the norm for practitioners, we doubt and question the usefulness of our efforts and are unsure of the methods we use especially when we have no access to a teacher. The answer is time and practice.

Practice does not have to end when you get up from a sitting. Try and be mindful in everything you do throughout the day. I used my breath to be mindful of throughout the day and every time I became aware that I was not mindful I returned to the breath. Again strike back at the object again when attention moved. Forget about the nimitta.

You are exercising a muscle (mind) and only through the repeated acts of attention can you build it up. Don't forget about investigating the 3Cs

cheers
Jeff
Luna Swift Arrow, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 5 Join Date: 3/7/12 Recent Posts
I have some experience with observing the nimitta.

Watching it develop is quite relaxing. You might see it dropping off to sleep, or perhaps see it right 'there' in the middle of the night.

It begins with a wispy, white smudge of light, which builds and fades and builds, as if riding on subtle oscillations within the top of the body. It develops into a pearl embedded amidst other pearls, looking like a moon-in-the-clouds. At times. it appears as a half-moon, because some kind of 'bar', with a flat edge, appears over it, so it is like you are looking over a wall. If you watch if for some time, it can expand to a 'cave'-like tunnel, with what looks like 'growth' of some sort around the sides of the 'cave', rather like looking onto a flower. It can spin, and you will feel a turning on your forehead when it does. I've also seen thin, wavy pale lines going off into dark space.

It wasn't something I intended to ever see, it just started to build one day, and once you notice how it begins it seems straightforward to see its budding signs whenever you want.

I know people say not to dwell on these images, but note that the Buddha's Enlightenment is celebrated on a Full Moon day, and Heaven also has its Pearly Gate, and whilst a local mythology will talk of a Saint accepting the Veil on the 8'th of a Lunar month, she becomes consecrated on the 15'th. The 8'th day is a half-moon day, whilst the 15'th is a Full Moon, if day 1 is a New Moon, which is where we all start.

Whenever I see the Zen Ox-herding pictures, I always think of this sign. Pondering it can give some insight into how mystical ideas are portrayed in religious texts and mythologies.
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Gerry T, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Questions on Nimitta

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
Luna,
The symbolic associations you draw are interesting. There may be something to them.
I have stopped "looking" for a nimitta and now take everything in a different sort of way.
I'll try to explain and see if it makes any sense.

I am still doing the Jhana practice. When I sit I just watch the breath and relax. I don't expect anything. I just relax and let my attention on the breath be enough for me. I don't need to do anything else except return to my breath whenever I realize that my attention has wavered off the breath.

I have stopped trying to "concentrate". I figure it will happen on it's own if I am interested in the object of my breath.
I think that all I have to do is be there and place my attention on the breath and let everything happen from there on it's own.
So, I figure the coalescing of my attention onto the object will deepen on it's own. As it deepens I have found that a sort of happy, freeing feeling can appear. But I have to let that be as well. If my attention gets caught up in that too soon then I find that my mind can start to create a story about it, for example, "hmmm... that feeling feels a lot like something I knew when I was just a little kid..." I figure as my attention deepens the joy will deepen, and when the joy deepens enough then the nimitta will appear on it's own. And then the absorption of my attention will be possible my changing my object from the breath to the nimitta. It's sort of like the only condition I need to make an effort to create is to place my attention on the object and let it be, and let it deepen, which it does as I practice more and more.

Anyway, that's my take on it. At least for now.

The other thing that I have added to this work is that I try to keep my attention on my breath during the day. When I notice the attention has moved off the spot I bring it back to the spot. This has been interesting because I realize that I don't have to have myself, my attention, given 100% to most of the things that I do during the day. And it helps to avoid getting mentally caught up with things. I am hoping it will also help me when I and sitting on a cushion and meditating more directly.

Namaste,
Gerry