Friday, October 2, 2009

Color-Kasina Meditation

Thitapuñño Bhikkhu

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).[1] 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.

Kasina meditation requires that each meditator use one's own kasina device and the surrounding environment must be free from visual stimulants. Another reason may be that it is not easy to find qualified teachers who have had experience with the method. Unfortunately information on this method of practice is limited and often vague also. Furthermore, some teachers discourage the practice of kasina meditation on the grounds that it is psychologically dangerous. This is an unjustified notion, although as with any kind of meditation practice a teacher should closely supervise students practicing kasina methods.[2]

Color-kasina meditation may prove to be very useful for some meditators who have found limited success using the breath or other subjects of meditation.

Like any meditation subject or method there are advantages and disadvantages to kasina practice. Among its advantages, the colour-kasina meditation object has the quality of being clearly defined in terms of its size, texture, and optical resolution (since it is a visual object), whereas the breath, likely the most common meditation subject, is a tactile object that is harder to define initially due to its “fuzzy” quality. Indeed, as meditators deepen their mindfulness and concentration in a particular sitting, the kasina object will appear to be clearer and more well-defined.

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.

During the development of serenity using kasina devices, the gradual improvement in mindfulness and concentration become evident by the emergence of clear signs (visual and/or mental) called nimitta that mark definite stages of the process. During practice, these nimitta, “signs,” facilitate the meditator’s assessment of progress by establishing clear reference points.

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.[3] 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.

One’s sitting posture must be comfortable (any arrangement of the legs/arms will do as long as the back is self-supported and straight). The image should be imprinted on a suitable surface such as a plate. Usually a colored or white circle with a black border centered on a square white surface will do (squares, triangles, or other regular polygons could be used as suitable images, as well).

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>>

  1. 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:; (b) Sangiti Sutra (Digha Nikaya, 33), in The Long Discourses of the Buddha, trans. Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications: Boston,1995.
  2. 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.
  3. 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; (d) Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) by Ven. Buddhaghossa, III.97, V.12-V20, XIII.95, XVII.143, BPS: Kandy, Sri Lanka.