Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby AdvaitaJ » Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:37 am

Kenshou wrote:I can't really say though yet what "works", since I have no idea if I've gotten to jhana yet. I get to points where focus becomes very strong, piti and sukha are so strong that they almost seem to drown out the defined position of the body, and the the fuzzy-head/face-pressure-nimitta-thing that is powered by the breath seems to start to envelop/draw in my awareness (though mindfulness of the breath -still- remains at the peak of it all). It really feels pretty interesting, but I'm hesitant to claim that it's a jhana. Certainly feels like it could be close, though, maybe.

Kenshou,

When you attain the first jhana, there won't be any doubt about it. I think Ajahn Brahm and Catherine both mention the "bounce" that is possible from the intensity of the sensation. Also remember their advice about holding on to the breath too tightly. A hard and fast "grip" on the breath is counterproductive. I believe it's necessary to maintain resolve over time, pay attention to what works and what doesn't, and expect to "burn through" more than a few sittings simply experimenting.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Kenshou » Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:58 am

AdvaitaJ-

Also remember their advice about holding on to the breath too tightly. A hard and fast "grip" on the breath is counterproductive.


True, I do try to avoid that. I allow the sensations to grow and push their way further into dominance nautrally, but I've yet to come to a point where they become strong enough, strong as they may feel, that I can allow them to fully take dominance over the breath and not topple down shortly. But practice makes perfect.

expect to "burn through" more than a few sittings simply experimenting.


Yeah, no doubt about that.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby vitellius » Thu Feb 04, 2010 12:23 pm

Freawaru wrote:If you ask me it is a typical "energy" sensation as used in yoga. Tibetan Buddhism describes it in detail and also has specific techniques for them. One basically moves this energy (your breezy soft feeling and pressure) around the whole body, and even outside, until it all is "purified". When you start moving it you will notice that there are places that you can move it to easily and those that seem closed to it. The closed ones are so called "blocks", they need to be "purged", meaning one has to practice moving the element there, too. Full purification is reached when not only your head is filled with "air" but the whole body and then the whole world around.


Hello Freawaru,

Can you please tell me, where did you learn this from? Is it from a certain book or instructions of a certain Tibetan teacher?
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Freawaru » Fri Feb 05, 2010 3:16 pm

Hello Oleksandr,

Oleksandr wrote:Can you please tell me, where did you learn this from? Is it from a certain book or instructions of a certain Tibetan teacher?


Both. I learned it from a teacher, who was a student of the late Tarab Tulku Rinpoche http://www.tarab-institute.org/ We practiced what the Tibetans consider preliminaries such as Tara meditation or Golden Light meditation. They are basically samatha meditation with the object a specific "energy" linked to a certain Bodhisattva such as Tara. These kind of "energy" meditation are always similar: one visualizes a light of a certain color above one's head, and then have it enter the head at the top (crown chakra) into the central channel sushumna. From there it is supposed to spread through the whole body and finally leaving it into the whole universe. The central channel sushumna is here of supreme importance. In the Tibetan lore there are the main channels Ida, Pingala and Sushumna (just like in Hatha Yoga), when the energy moves mainly through Ida and Pingala we are conceptual and emotional, when it moves through the Sushumna we are mystics.

The Sushumna plays an important role in Tibetan Buddhism. To activate and purify specific chakras such as the heart chakra is one of the main basic practices.

There are different practices presented in Sutrayana and Tantrayana to purify mind’s obscurations. And the purpose of meditating White Tara is to purify one’s mind of the conceptual and emotional veils that conceal its true nature.
http://www.rinpoche.com/teachings/whitetara.htm


As to books I can recommend books by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (technically he is Bön but the whole energy lore is identical to what Tarab Tuluk Rinpoche taught as far as I can tell.) It is also described in detail in the book "Clear Light of Bliss" by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (from the Kadampa linage, just as HH Dalai Lama) but I am not sure if I can recommend it as of late there have been differences between HHDL and Geshe Gyatso - still, I expect that these basics remain the same.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Freawaru » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:24 pm

Hi Dmytro,

thank you for the quote and the link. I also read chapter 7, a good read. I will go through the rest later. :D

I think this is something I was getting confused about at first. The air element itself isn't the object, the feeling of the air-contact is. (don't know if those are the same thing)


In Sri Lanka, the traditional samatha practice is well preserved, and you can find in the book by Ven.Dhammajiva, In This Very Life, on page 23, the appropriate focus of attention for samatha practice - air element.

http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/dha ... /index.php


Yes - and I will have some more questions (as usual :P ). But I think the question was more whether the sensation IS the element or just the sensation of the element. Ven. Dhammajiva calls it (in chapter 7) the "manifestation of the element". So I suppose one does not really discern between sensing it and an element itself. Is this right ?
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Dmytro » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:38 am

Hi Freawaru,

Freawaru wrote:Yes - and I will have some more questions (as usual :P ).


You are welcome :^)

But I think the question was more whether the sensation IS the element or just the sensation of the element. Ven. Dhammajiva calls it (in chapter 7) the "manifestation of the element". So I suppose one does not really discern between sensing it and an element itself. Is this right ?


To be exact, I'll give a quote from Patisambhidamagga-Atthakatha (2.509):

Pakatiassāsapakatipassāse nissāya uppannanimittampi assāsapassāsāti nāmaṃ labhati. Upaṭṭhānaṃ satīti taṃ ārammaṇaṃ upecca tiṭṭhatīti sati upaṭṭhānaṃ nāma.

""Sati upatthana" means that sati, having approached, is established on that basis of concentration (arammana) (namely, the perceptual image (nimitta), that has emerged on the basis of inbreath and outbreath)."

Thus the element itself is known through the touch or visual appearance. The tactile sensation or visual appearance are incorporated into the perceptual image (nimitta), which serves as a basis of concentration (arammana).

The four elements are form (rupa), the tactile sensations are probably contact (phassa).

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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby appicchato » Sat Feb 06, 2010 12:49 pm

I didn't wade through this entire thread, but my understanding is we don't use them at all...note them and move on...
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby IanAnd » Sat Feb 06, 2010 3:48 pm

I didn't wade through this entire thread, but my understanding is we don't use them at all...note them and move on...

Pleased understand that this response in no way casts a negative light on the person who delivered this message. The response is meant to address the substantive issue brought to light by the message, viz. nimittas and their use in meditation. Someone who tells others not to use them at all and to only note them and move on is doing that person a grave disservice.

Misguided advice as expressed above is an example of the kind of advice that is given in order to disrupt or preclude a person's ability to enter into absorption. If a person follows it, they likely will never understand or experience absorption. Absorption helps the mind increase its ability of concentration so that the mind can become stable, settled, and at ease in order to more easily and clearly "see what is there" in terms of its observation of phenomena, both material and immaterial.

For people learning to enter into absorption, the observation of a nimitta is there in order to help them understand where they are at in terms of their ability to induce absorption. It lets them know that they are succeeding. Because the subtle state of absorption can be, in the beginning at least, a little tricky for the novice practitioner to recognize, the nimitta helps give them a guidepost to "hold onto," so to speak, until their practice matures and they are more able to identify their entry into absorption more easily.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby imagemarie » Sat Feb 06, 2010 5:18 pm

As a samatha practitioner of several years who experiences tactile nimitta, I think striking a balance between being observer, and being an active participant in jhana meditation, is pretty subtle stuff. It's a bit like the "objectivity" of the scientific method - impossible to abstract the contribution made by the scientist to the experiment..what is active..what is "letting go"...what is "just" observing?
I would say, FWIW, that "using" is not so much an appropriate description, as being given an alternative object to "investigate". A gift, if you like. But not one in which any investment is made. That seems to defeat the object (groan :smile: )
Again, from my perspective, it's subtle stuff - requiring a balance of active/passive processes. And no investment, clinging, craving..
"Things" have a tendency to move on, anyway. And "noting" can be more "active" :smile:
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby appicchato » Sat Feb 06, 2010 10:55 pm

IanAnd wrote:
I didn't wade through this entire thread, but my understanding is we don't use them at all...note them and move on...

Someone who tells others not to use them at all and to only note them and move on is doing that person a grave disservice.

I don't believe anyone told anybody to do anything...

Be well... :smile:
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby IanAnd » Sun Feb 07, 2010 4:27 pm

appicchato wrote:
IanAnd wrote:
I didn't wade through this entire thread, but my understanding is we don't use them at all...note them and move on...

Someone who tells others not to use them at all and to only note them and move on is doing that person a grave disservice.

I don't believe anyone told anybody to do anything...

I agree, venerable. Did you assume a reference was being made to yourself?

If so, you did yourself a disservice.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Heaviside » Fri Sep 13, 2013 10:06 pm

I found this old thread only recently through the kind reference of someone else on the forum, and I have really been engrossed with it.

May I add my own experience? I have been practicing fairly religiously for forty-five minutes each day for about two years.

I have experienced what might be termed "flashes," or perhaps "tantalizing glimpses" of the white light nimmita specified by Ajahn Brahm. I have also, much more consistently a la Leigh Brasington, experienced warm and pleasurable sensations in both head and feet. In addition, I have---on three or four occasions---experienced what might be called "a frisson," that is, something like ectasy, shuddering, and even tears in my eyes. But I then seemed to have experienced a corresponding tension which had the effect of dropping me back out of whatever state I was in. I have experimented with relaxing my forehead muscles, and find that this induces a quite out-of-the-ordinary feeling of detachment. Since then, I have lost the thread, and my sessions seem to be ho-hum and highly nonproductive. Consequently, I am losing heart.

But I do want to say how much value I have found in the postings on this thread. It epitomizes what I had hoped to find on the forum. Unfortunately, most of the other threads I have found both here and on other web sites are much too nonspecific to be of much value for me, a beginner who needs specific indicators and signposts for assurance that he is on the right track.

I would love to see many more threads in which specific experiences are discussed. I do understand that many have a natural reluctance to open themselves to possible contentious commentary and ridicule, but it would be of enormous usefulness to me---and undoubtedly to other pilgrims at the beginning level. Would anyone be so kind and so bold as to help me in resurrecting this thread topic? Or has everything to be said been said?
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby reflection » Fri Sep 13, 2013 10:54 pm

It may be worth saying that a tactile nimitta is not really a tactile sensation. The sense of the body (and thus also the breath) is gone and all that remains is the mental component - aka the mind itself. The nimitta is simply how the mind represents itself. It can be by a visual sign (which also is not really visual as it is not seen by the eyes), and it can also be a 'tactile' version. It feels like a touchable body of sorts, but it clearly isn't. It is the mind looking at itself, so it is both object and subject in a way. It's impossible to describe, because language is based around the other 5 senses. I've had this happen and couldn't stabilize them. So much advice on how to deal with them, I can't really give. Going back to the breath is an advice already given and it may be a good one, but it will also mean the nimitta will disappear.

So it might be that you are just sitting there and there's no breath. Really, the breath is still there, but it has become so refined that it seems to have disappeared. Why? Because the mind is at its most refined, with a special kind of knowing. All that remains is the knowing. Even though the breath has vanished, the mind is still concentrated with the knowledge that the breath is not there. As you continue, what should you take up as the object of meditation? Take this very knowing as the meditation object - in other words the knowledge that there is no breath - and sustain this. You could say that a specific kind of knowledge has been established in the mind.

At this point, some people might have doubts arising, because it is here that nimitta can arise. These can be of many kinds, including both forms and sounds.
http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Evening_Sitting.php


I also had problems focussing on this what Ajahn Chah describes - "all that remains is the knowing", because it is a strange and subtle state. I think Ajahn Brahm describes it as "the breath disappears but the beautiful remains". But my self-analysis that I went too fast to these states, not giving them the ability to grow strong. But when I had the tactile nimittas, they came from that kind of state. So I guess to judge what is nimitta or not it is also fruitful to look at what it it is based upon.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Heaviside » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:31 pm

reflection wrote:It may be worth saying that a tactile nimitta is not really a tactile sensation. The sense of the body (and thus also the breath) is gone and all that remains is the mental component - aka the mind itself. The nimitta is simply how the mind represents itself. It can be by a visual sign (which also is not really visual as it is not seen by the eyes), and it can also be a 'tactile' version. It feels like a touchable body of sorts, but it clearly isn't. It is the mind looking at itself, so it is both object and subject in a way. It's impossible to describe, because language is based around the other 5 senses. I've had this happen and couldn't stabilize them. So much advice on how to deal with them, I can't really give. Going back to the breath is an advice already given and it may be a good one, but it will also mean the nimitta will disappear.

So it might be that you are just sitting there and there's no breath. Really, the breath is still there, but it has become so refined that it seems to have disappeared. Why? Because the mind is at its most refined, with a special kind of knowing. All that remains is the knowing. Even though the breath has vanished, the mind is still concentrated with the knowledge that the breath is not there. As you continue, what should you take up as the object of meditation? Take this very knowing as the meditation object - in other words the knowledge that there is no breath - and sustain this. You could say that a specific kind of knowledge has been established in the mind.

At this point, some people might have doubts arising, because it is here that nimitta can arise. These can be of many kinds, including both forms and sounds.
http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Evening_Sitting.php


I also had problems focussing on this what Ajahn Chah describes - "all that remains is the knowing", because it is a strange and subtle state. I think Ajahn Brahm describes it as "the breath disappears but the beautiful remains". But my self-analysis that I went too fast to these states, not giving them the ability to grow strong.


Thanks for the comment. Now the question is whether it is bad for the nimitta to disappear-----? And I do concur with your wish to know just what causes the phenomenon.

I wonder if you or anyone else has experimented with the forehead muscles? I find that I can imagine that the forehead is getting heavier and heavier, and this seems to lead to a cessation of discursive thought--!
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby reflection » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:36 pm

Well, bad is quite relative. In my experience the mind has usually gone beyond those kind of judgments at such a stage. I wouldn't call it bad, but just the way it is. I think minding it disappearing is more fitting to be called bad, because that will set one back much further. That goes at any level, also including losing heart because you think you are not progressing. I find it more conducive to view a meditation session as a place of just being with things, not as a time and place to do and achieve things.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby IanAnd » Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:36 am

Heaviside wrote:I have been practicing fairly religiously for forty-five minutes each day for about two years.

Forty-five minutes a session is a fine amount of time. An hour would be better, but 45 minutes will do to start. However, you might find it more conducive to making progress if you increased your sessions to at least two a day rather than one. Once in the morning, and once again in the evening, or some such. More time on the cushion increases the chances of arriving where you want to arrive, so to speak.

Heaviside wrote:I have also, much more consistently a la Leigh Brasington, experienced warm and pleasurable sensations in both head and feet. In addition, I have---on three or four occasions---experienced what might be called "a frisson," that is, something like ecstasy, shuddering, and even tears in my eyes. But I then seemed to have experienced a corresponding tension which had the effect of dropping me back out of whatever state I was in. I have experimented with relaxing my forehead muscles, and find that this induces a quite out-of-the-ordinary feeling of detachment. Since then, I have lost the thread, and my sessions seem to be ho-hum and highly nonproductive. Consequently, I am losing heart.

But I do want to say how much value I have found in the postings on this thread. It epitomizes what I had hoped to find on the forum. Unfortunately, most of the other threads I have found both here and on other web sites are much too nonspecific to be of much value for me, a beginner who needs specific indicators and signposts for assurance that he is on the right track.

What you are looking for is a sensation that is very subtle while at the same time being pleasurable. Something that you can build upon in terms of becoming absorbed in the pleasure of this subtle sensation. It is often best if the sensation occurs in the center of the head region. Are you able to take yourself back to your childhood, when everything you experienced in a body was new and an adventure?

Think about the first time you experienced various activities and whether or not you experienced any kind of pleasant sensations in those relaxed but alert moments.

Are you familiar with an alpha state (of mind) sensation? It can take on many forms, but one of those forms is like tiny little pin pricks in the center of the head that are very pleasant. Or it can take the form of something smoother and more solid than pin pricks but just as pleasant. It all depends upon how your mind reacts to the activity that brings on these sensations. These are very subtle sensations, but you should be able to recognize them when they are occurring. They may be roughly compared to a cat's purring. When a cat is curled up and purring, it is usually perceived by the observer as being a very pleasant state that the cat is in. Hence, the purring.

When this process is done correctly, you should experience a very subtle but pleasant feeling or sensation, almost as though you are as light as a feather. If you experience this feeling, then you know you are doing it correctly. You may experience certain signs, like a slight pressure in the forehead, or a feeling of being in sync with the universe. These are definite positive signs. Flow with them as they lead you deeper into tranquility and quietude.

As a child I recall being able to enter a very pleasant state of consciousness (sensation and all) just based on someone giving me a haircut. Just their massaging the scalp, or using their scissors to cut the hair could bring on this pleasant sensation.

Another activity in childhood that I experienced the ability to enter into an alpha state of mind was the activity of swinging on a swing.

This technique developed out of an experience I remembered having as a child. I use to love to swing on those long chained, leather strap-seat swings that we found at the city parks. The seat was literally just a seven or so inch wide leather seat-strap hooked onto the chains. You could really get up a head of steam on the back swing, and the long foreswing gave the impression that one was flying (albeit for only a few precious seconds). Anyway, one of the things I notice about this experience as a child was a sensation (kind of like a pleasant pressure building, like air filling the center of my head) that was created in the region of my head when I would swing on these swings.

How this works with meditation is as follows. I used (visualized) the in-breath as the back swing, and the out breath as the forward swing. As I was breathing in, I would picture myself heading backwards on the back swing. Then, as the swing began to change directions (at the top of the breath), as I let the breath out, I pictured myself moving forward on the foreswinging motion. Just picturing these two motions in my mind as though I were actually swinging created the sensation in the center of my forehead. I used focusing on that sensation in order to enter into absorption.

Do you recall ever having had such experiences as a child? If you cannot relate to this, then I'm not sure what else to suggest.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Heaviside » Sat Sep 14, 2013 3:40 pm

You have made a good point, reflection, about my use of the word "bad". My first reaction was, "Oh, well, it was only a choice of words!" But after further (ahem!) reflection, I realized just how deeply ingrained judgement is and, in truth, I was indeed making a value judgement. It is so hard to let go the old type A behavior! So thanks for pointing that out. I'm sure it is a major hindrance in my meditation practice. By the way, I just noticed that I mistakenly used an initial uppercase R for your screen name. It was only when I edited the change that I got the point. You have made an excellent choice!

Thanks for all your helpful suggestions, Ian. Being retired, I should be able to easily find the time for longer and more frequent sessions, but for some strange reason it is hard to do anyway. But I will work on it.

Though my own pleasurable feelings are probably quite different from yours, I will do some cogitating on the past and try to come up with comparables. In any event, I think I understand your point that these sensations aren't to be forced, but should occur rather aturally as a kind of segue into a more relaxed frame of mind. I will definitely work on it.

I think your comment (and I think someone else earlier in this thread used the same metaphor) on a feeling of airiness in the head was in response to my question about the forehead, was it not? As I relax my forehead muscles, I seem to feel a kind of "unfolding sensation" further in toward the middle of my head. Is there a possibility that this is the feeling you described? Unfortunately, it seems to be difficult to distinguish between relaxation and effort when I am experiencing these sensations.

I know that the oft repeated refrain is "If you want it, it makes things go away" spells out the problem, but it diesn't offer a solution. After all, if I didn't want it to happen I wouldn't be meditating! There seems to be a fundamental inconsistency here! And perhaps the rationale for the Zen koan, hunh?
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby kmath » Mon Oct 07, 2013 4:54 am

Dear OP,

Have you heard of Ayya Khema? She's a highly respected jhana teacher in the Sri Lankan tradition. She talks about tactile nimittas in her book called "Being No One, Going Nowhere." Perhaps it might of some use to you. I think the book it's pretty widely available.

Good luck,

KM

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