Monday, December 29, 2014

The inner-LIGHT in meditation (nimitta)

Crystal Quintero, Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Kalyani, Wisdom Quarterly  MEDITATION
Light arose, knowledge arose... During meditation, inner-light may arise. (
The Buddha high in the Himalayas, Thimphu, Bhutan (

If one, while practicing consistent meditation, that is, just sitting in the sense of their being no objective other than to concentrate the mind (attention) on a single object, such as the in-and-out breath, the mind will eventually form a counterpart image of the subtle breath.

What is the "breath"? It is not the gross in and out, rise and fall movement of the body or respiratory system. In fact, it is the subtle breath (spirit), the prana, the "holy spirit" (Latin spiritus), as it were. Its movement at the nostrils is more like osmosis than inhaling and exhaling. The mind becomes fascinated with this still little breath.
More attention, more concentration (not effort and "trying" to concentrate but an almost effortless cohering of the mind being purified resting on a single object), more stillness, less obvious breathing. A less obvious breath is subtle and alluring. What goes unheeded, untended to, placed on automatic pilot is suddenly the object of keen attention without any effort to alter it. Why? It is a mirror reflecting mental and emotional states, and this becomes very clear when one simply and only attends to it.

The nimitta slow arises like parting clouds (imperishableconsciousness)
Eventually, an unusual thing begins to happens -- the cause of which seems to be consistent practice above all things, consistency not overexertion.
With long stretches of there being only ONE object of attention, the subtle breath -- and that is the arising of a "sign." This is a natural process. The mind does it. The third eye or divine eye (dibba cakkhu) perceives a light the mind is generating. In a sense, that inner light (nimitta, see below) is the breath. And it can even be visible with eyes open, from some internal internal.

It is very precious and something to protect, like a delicate sprout. It will go away and can be lost. It is very difficult to retrieve or regrow. If it arises in the mind's eye when attention is held steady at the nostrils, attention should NOT be given to it. Let it be.

If one lets it be, it will eventually grow stronger, brighter, more stable, and by itself it will come where attention is being given. If, however, one moves the mind from the nostrils to the new sign, the budding sprout, it will disappear. It is flighty like a timid bird, a fickle girl, a butterfly, or a curious woodland creature. It wants to approach, but it doesn't know. Any movement toward it scares it away instead of bringing it closer. How does one bring it closer? Let it be: "The bird alights on the hand that does not grasp."

I saw the sign (nimitta)!
I saw it, I saw it! (
The mark, sign, counterpart image, target, object, cause, condition. These meanings are used in and adapted to many contexts of which only the Buddhist doctrinal ones are mentioned here.
1. "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 external eye.

The object perceived at the very beginning of concentration is called the preparatory image (parikamma-nimitta).

Was it a nimitta? Hard to tell sometimes.
The still unsteady and unclear image [sometimes not a light but a mist, like cotton or cloud, or opaque or colored shape or disk], 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 counterpart-image (patibhāga-nimitta). 

As soon as this image arises, the stage of neighborhood (or access) concentration (upacāra-samādhi) is reached. For further details, see kasina and samādhi, meditation disk and concentration.

While Buddhist meditation teachers claiming to teach vipassana ("insight") are a dime a dozen, actual masters capable of helping one successfully cultivate the tranquility and serenity (shamatha and samadhi) necessary for insight-practices to succeed are difficult to find.

"Light will create matter in a year,"says science ( It already does.
Many people interested in Buddhist meditation in this more or less "decadent age" (kali yuga) are drawn to it because of previous practice at a subconscious level. So it may be easy for many people to see a nimitta or quickly arrive at access concentration. It seems safe to say that for most people, however, there is initial effort involved. How does one balance effort and effortlessness, striving and ease?

The Buddha gave a wonderful analogy in describing the initial-attention and sustained-attention, the first two factors or limbs (jhana-anga) of meditative absorption (jhana): When a stationary bird wishes to fly, it must first leap, struggle, and flap in an ungainly way, but soon it holds still and soars carried by the air. In exactly the same way, it takes effort to get to a meditation mat, to sit still, to apply the antidotes to the Five Hindrances to meditation.

The nimitta can take many forms but is NOT a phosphene (
But soon in a spell or fit of calm, one is simply doing it. There is the effort, as when one breathes in, but thereafter there is only release, letting go, simply being. Then one realizes no effort is actually needed in the inhalation. The body will do it by itself. Look. Watch it. Give complete attention to it.

The body will know when it's full, when it wants to exhale, when it wants to draw in another breath. All if its decisions are intimately tied to what we are doing with the mind. If, for example, we think of a distressing memory, breath immediately becomes labored: Angry or excited thoughts give rise to relatively short, quick breaths. Joyful or pleasant thoughts give rise to soothing longer inhalations and exhalations.

The Five Hindrances are (1) sensual craving, (2) ill will, (3) sleepiness/lassitude [bodily/mental tiredness], (4) restlessness/worry, (5) skeptical doubt. By overcoming them -- which Wisdom Quarterly has been covering in a five-part series titled "Ask a Ninja: How to Meditate -- one is effortlessly already cultivating the Five Factors of Absorption.

  • Pa Auk Sayadaw (Burmese elder)
  • Ayya Khema (German nun)
  • Sayalay Susila (Malaysian nun)
  • Ven. Dhammadipa (Czech monk)
  • Ven. Dipankara (Burmese nun)
  • Stephen Snyder, Tina Rasmussen (American)

    • Leigh Brasington (American)
    • Jack Kornfield (
    • Sharon Salzberg
    • Myoshin Kelly
    • Joseph Goldstein (
    • S.N. Goenka ( with no attention given to jhana or nimittas, which participants are discouraged from pursuing by the U Ba Khin school until later stages, so if it comes, pursue it silently and contact a better teacher.

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