Kasina objects (kasina meaning “all, complete, whole”) are among the meditation subjects recommended by the Buddha that are suitable for developing concentration conducive to the four absorptions (jhanas). For a number of reasons meditation practice using kasina objects has not been very popular in the West. One of the reasons may be that the method is not amenable to be taught in groups – as is ordinarily done in meditation retreats.
In the case of the breath, however, as one gains more serenity the object becomes more subtle and is harder to apprehend. This is not a disadvantage of breath meditation per se, since its very demand for higher mindfulness and concentration stimulates the development of these faculties. But for a beginner it may be easier to grasp a very concrete object such as a color-kasina during the initial stages of development.
One drawback to the practice is that kasina devices have to be made and are cumbersome to store and transport. The main drawback of kasina meditation is that it may place excessive strain on the eyes in some individuals, giving rise to eye irritation or fatigue. One should try, within reason, not to discontinue the practice if problems of this nature arise, although relief will normally occur during the regular intervals (or longer periods) during which the eyes are closed.
In any case, bear in mind that ordinarily meditators have to put up with aches and pains over long periods of time as they develop their regular sitting practice.
The following instructions are given in brief and include some aspects not mentioned in the classical texts. However, meditators are advised to consult available texts that deal with points not mentioned in this article. Initially one should find and consult a teacher with experience in kasina meditation, then one should prepare one or several kasina devices (see instructions at the end of this article), and seek a suitable place for practicing. The area of practice must be quiet and well-lit. One must make sure the practice area is also clean and tidy. The background against which the kasina device is placed must not be cluttered or show visually-distracting features.
The kasina device should be placed between 1.5 and 3 meters away from the eyes. One then stares at the center of the colored image without considering the border or the remaining white area. One may blink one’s eyes to relieve them of tension or fatigue. Focusing on the color one may initially repeat to oneself (mantra-like) the corresponding name of the color (e.g., “blue, blue…”) for a short while until the initial focus on the object has been established and one is increasingly less distracted. Then all verbalization is abandoned and one focuses exclusively on the “blueness,” with firm intent to subdue or keep at bay other thoughts or sensory experiences. More>>
- See for example: (a) Mahasakuludayi Sutra (Majjhima Nikaya, 77), in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Bhikkhu Ñanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1995; see also: www.saigon.com/~anson/ebud/majjhima/077-mahasakuludayi-e1.htm); (b) Sangiti Sutra (Digha Nikaya, 33), in The Long Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications: Boston,1995.
- Individuals with a history of psychotic disorders, on medication or treatment for such disorders (including depression) should not practice this type of meditation. If hallucinations or recall of repressed memories manifest in individuals who have never experienced psychotic disorders, they should consult with their teacher as soon as possible.
- See for example (a) Vimuttimagga (The Path of Freedom) by the Arahant Upatissa, trans. Rev. N.R.M. Ehara, Soma Thera, and Kheminda Thera, pp.124-27, Buddhist Publication Society (BPS): Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1995; (b) The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation, by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, BPS; (c) “The Mystery of the Breath Nimitta” by Ven. Sona, in http://www.baynet.net/~arcc/dhamma/nimitta.html; (d) Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) by Ven. Buddhaghossa, III.97, V.12-V20, XIII.95, XVII.143, BPS: Kandy, Sri Lanka.