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

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

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

Postby Kenshou » Tue Jan 26, 2010 1:48 am

Here I am posting in this section again. I'll try and keep this succinct. I've had the opportunity to practice quite often these days, and it seems to be paying off. I do believe (not -know-) I've been able to reach the stage of so-called access concentration. However, there is this issue of nimittas.

I've had experiences of these nimittas which seem in accordance with what I've learned of them. Rarely, I've had the orb-like visual signs as described by Ajahn Brahm, however, these are uncommon to the appearance of the tactile ones. I believe that these are not simply idiosyncratic happenings, since they consistently only occur after a fairly long time of sitting, when everything is calm, quiet, and focused.

This bit from the Vimuttimagga describes it well enough: To the yogin who attends to the incoming breath with mind that is cleansed of the nine lesser defilements the image arises with a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton. Also, it is likened to the pleasant feeling produced by a breeze. Thus in breathing in and out, air touches the nose or the lip and causes the setting-up of air perception mindfulness. This does not depend on colour or form. This is called the image. If the yogin develops the image [sign] and increases it at the nose-tip, between the eyebrows, on the forehead or establishes it in several places, he feels as if his head were filled with air.

I'm fairly confident this is not simply the arising of normal aspects of life that I've been previously unaware of, since quite a bit of that sort of expansive body-awareness increasing type stuff occurs far before this point and levels off. Only after dwelling in that calm state of awareness for awhile does this "nimitta" show up, and this breezy soft feeling which beings at and grows around the original breath-point is accompanied by a particular sort of pressure. It's subtle yet distinct from any normal experience.

However, all the literature on samatha I have only mentions these sort of experiences shortly, but tends to continue to describe the progression of the practice in terms of more visually-oriented nimittas. So, I'm asking for the experience or advice of anyone who has similar experiences and how to take advantage of them, since I'm finding that at this point, despite how well everything seems to go up until then, every time it seems to fall apart. It's as if at the threshold of a jhana, every time I screw up the transition point.

Is it best to continue to watch the breath at this point, or rather, is this the proper time to let go allow the focus to fall naturally where it will? Whatever you do, I seem to botch this transition every time so far. Enough times that I've given up and made a thread about it.

And if I'm clearly chasing in a direction I shouldn't, of course let me know.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Reductor » Tue Jan 26, 2010 2:28 am

That sounds familiar.

You need to bring the sensation and the breathing together, so to speak, allowing the sensation to grow stronger with each in-out-cycle... be aware of both, and try and sense the feeling getting stronger and weaker with each in and out of the breath, respectively.

That might do it.

A time will come when the sensation is very strong and you will not need to cultivate it as actively. Then allow that strong sensation to stay independent of the breath, and take it as you're main focus (but not you're only focus. Remain mindful of the breath). Understand that will fall apart if you loose the breath. This is because the breath is the break for discursive thinking, and discursive thinking will pick that pleasure apart.

These are pointers. The most important thing I've found from experience is that each session is different, even if they seem to be unfolding in a similar way. This is why you must be intelligent and experimental with you're effort and always watchful.

The best thing to do is train yourself to reach this point with regularity, and so you will get more than one opportunity to experiment. With more than one opportunity you will know what works and what does not.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:37 am

Hi Kenshou

Since you seem to be following Ajahn Brahm's instructions, what are his advice regarding the apprehension of nimittas?
metta

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

Postby IanAnd » Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:43 pm

Kenshou wrote:This bit from the Vimuttimagga describes it well enough: To the yogin who attends to the incoming breath with mind that is cleansed of the nine lesser defilements the image arises with a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton. Also, it is likened to the pleasant feeling produced by a breeze. Thus in breathing in and out, air touches the nose or the lip and causes the setting-up of air perception mindfulness. This does not depend on colour or form. This is called the image. If the yogin develops the image [sign] and increases it at the nose-tip, between the eyebrows, on the forehead or establishes it in several places, he feels as if his head were filled with air.

I'm fairly confident this is not simply the arising of normal aspects of life that I've been previously unaware of, since quite a bit of that sort of expansive body-awareness increasing type stuff occurs far before this point and levels off. Only after dwelling in that calm state of awareness for awhile does this "nimitta" show up, and this breezy soft feeling which beings at and grows around the original breath-point is accompanied by a particular sort of pressure. It's subtle yet distinct from any normal experience.

However, all the literature on samatha I have only mentions these sort of experiences shortly, but tends to continue to describe the progression of the practice in terms of more visually-oriented nimittas. So, I'm asking for the experience or advice of anyone who has similar experiences and how to take advantage of them, since I'm finding that at this point, despite how well everything seems to go up until then, every time it seems to fall apart. It's as if at the threshold of a jhana, every time I screw up the transition point.

Is it best to continue to watch the breath at this point, or rather, is this the proper time to let go allow the focus to fall naturally where it will? Whatever you do, I seem to botch this transition every time so far. Enough times that I've given up and made a thread about it.

And if I'm clearly chasing in a direction I shouldn't, of course let me know.

What you are experiencing is what a lot of meditators have experienced. It is not unusual. And your response to it is similar to what others have responded. And what they discovered was that oftentimes it is best to just go with what naturally occurs rather than try to "make" or "wait" for what you are being told should occur with regard to a visual sign. In other words, they realized that visual signs can often be misleading at best or else unreliable at worst due to the factor of the suggestibility of the mind to "make" something occur.

When I was first attempting to learn about absorption and what it felt like so that I could be certain I was "in it," I read about these same visual nimittas. The only times they appeared was when my mind had already been primed (by the suggestion of their appearance) beforehand (in other words by the power of suggestion). But what I began to notice ALWAYS happened was that there would occur the tactile nimitta of pressure in the center of the forehead (like an airy balloon expanding in the center of the head) between the brows whenever my concentration became acute. This was an occurrence that I had noticed happening all my life, even before I began studying meditation techniques designed to bring it on. As a result of this, I dropped all attention to visual nimittas and focused instead on following the tactile nimitta which, in my experience at least, ALWAY arose when the conditions were established, heralding an increase in mental concentration.

As far as being able to allow this process to continue in order to make it past the transition point where the mind become unified around this sensation as well as the process of absorption that it heralds, this should occur quite spontaneously, as long as you maintain contact and focus on the breath as the sensation is taking off. This is the process that I was alluding to in the other thread where people were concerned about whether there are four factors involved with the first jhana or five factors. From this point of view (the one I've just described) there are only four factors, as the absorption is being induced using directed thought or attention (vitakka) and examination (or sustained attention, vicara) upon the breath. In other words, cittasa ekaggata or "unification of the mind" on the object of meditation has not yet taken place; it is being induced, using vitakka and vicara! Once the mind becomes unified (cittasa ekaggata) around this occurrence (the arising of this tactile sign indicating pleasure in the breath), it (the mind) will remain absorbed around the breath quite naturally. Until the mind becomes unified around this process, which doesn't take place until the second jhana, one must maintain directed attention and examination on the breath. Once the mind actually becomes unified on this breathing process, vitakka (directed attention) and vicara (examination or sustained attention) drop out automatically as factors producing absorption. They are no longer needed as factors as the mind has already become absorbed in the breathing process.

The above explanation is what Gotama was also alluding to in his discourses whereby one can induce the process of absorption simply by paying attention to the pleasant sensations created by becoming absorbed in or on the breathing process itself.

Samadhi Sutta AN 4.41
Buddha wrote:"And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thought & evaluation, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance [meaning inner tranquility]. With the fading of rapture he remains in equanimity, mindful & alert [mindful and clearly aware], and physically sensitive to pleasure. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.' With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Kenshou » Tue Jan 26, 2010 7:47 pm

Thank you all for reading and replying.

So, it seems clear that I simply need to make what I have stronger and learn to maintain it, and not lose my hold on the breath when this occurs, I feel that that may have been what I've been doing. I think I'll be a little more anal about sila too, just in case. Always room for improvement...

I haven't been following Ajahn Brahm's instructions only at all, since his method is quite focused on his perspective dealing with those orb-nimittas. Though I notice that the method is the same as what has been suggested here, watch the breath and absorption will arise spontaneously. In his brief mention of the feeling-nimitta, he does mention that it's the more difficult one. I think I understand why that is for myself now. The method is the same regardless of what sort of nimitta you've got, but the feeling one is more subtle and similar to the initial object, and so it's easier to mess up, which I've been doing. And for some reason I came to the assumption that different nimittas required different approaches.

IanAnd- Thank you once again for another thorough explanation. So you are saying that actual "absorption" does not occur till the second jhana, but is induced by the increasing unification of the mind through vitakka & vicara during the first jhana? This seems to make sense in regard to the suttas, and I understand your reply in that thread more completely in light of this.

Then, though the second jhana has a more obvious transition, the border between the 1st jhana and what comes before it is rather undefined, isn't it. But all that really matters is the cultivating of concentration, eh?
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Reductor » Tue Jan 26, 2010 9:37 pm

Kenshou wrote:IanAnd- Thank you once again for another thorough explanation. So you are saying that actual "absorption" does not occur till the second jhana, but is induced by the increasing unification of the mind through vitakka & vicara during the first jhana? This seems to make sense in regard to the suttas, and I understand your reply in that thread more completely in light of this.

Then, though the second jhana has a more obvious transition, the border between the 1st jhana and what comes before it is rather undefined, isn't it. But all that really matters is the cultivating of concentration, eh?


As for being undefined? No. It is harder to discern as being different from regular life because the vitakka and vicara require effort and so the pleasure and rapture that arises is not as strong and an unwatchful mind might miss them. But if you miss them, they don't grow and give fruit.

The difference is that in the first Jhana you're mind becomes unified around the vitakka and vicara, and as you're mind is drawn inward to these processes it gives rise to the concentration sign. But these processes are constantly fluctuating and it is still possible that you're unification will disband if you get distracted. If you try to jump the gun and let go of vitakka and vicara before the sign is strong and absorbing then the concentration falls apart. But when it is strong you take that sign as you're main focus, and enter into the second Jhana where the mind is able to let go of the thought processes that it was formerly unified around. With that comes confidence, because the mind is notably pulled together and can relax a little into the sign, which can definitely be described as pleasurable.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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

Postby IanAnd » Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:31 pm

Kenshou wrote:So, it seems clear that I simply need to make what I have stronger and learn to maintain it, and not lose my hold on the breath when this occurs, I feel that that may have been what I've been doing. I think I'll be a little more anal about sila too, just in case. Always room for improvement...

The way to maintain it when you are first starting to learn about this is not to get too excited when you think that you have attained it or are near to attaining it. Allow the pleasantness and the calm to direct your attention. Also, apply equanimity toward your meditation and take a step back from it when you think that something extraordinary is occurring or about to occur. In this way, you will not step all over yourself on your way to attaining absorption. Once you begin to get used to it, you will think, "Well, you know, this isn't all that unusual at all. It's a very natural sensation and phenomenon."

Kenshou wrote:IanAnd... So you are saying that actual "absorption" does not occur till the second jhana, but is induced by the increasing unification of the mind through vitakka & vicara during the first jhana? This seems to make sense in regard to the suttas, and I understand your reply in that thread more completely in light of this.

No. I'm not saying that at all. If you are following the instruction given in the suttas (as in the example quotation I gave in my first post), you will be inducing absorption in the first jhana. While you may not yet (at this early stage of your development) always be able to sense having entered absorption, the fact that you will have attained it is unmistakable. As you become able to finally notice more and more subtle phenomena, you will eventually be able to corroborate this fact for yourself. But, in the meantime, don't fret too much about your inability in the beginning to identify that you are in absorption. Just know that you are there, and then proceed with your meditation session.

If you read my post again very carefully, you will see that what I do say is that "unification of the mind" does not occur until the second jhana. That's the point when the "automatic feedback mechanism" kicks in (via the unification of the mind on the breath), and the mind automatically takes up the absorption action without your having to "think" (read this as "directed thought") about doing it. In other words, as you gain more proficiency with this way of entering absorption, your mind will, on the periphery, be aware of its having entered into absorption while at the same time you will be also be able to direct it toward any other subject (read that as "Dhamma teachings" such as the five aggregates, the three characteristics etcetera) that you wish to examine and gain insight into.

Kenshou wrote:Then, though the second jhana has a more obvious transition, the border between the 1st jhana and what comes before it is rather undefined, isn't it. But all that really matters is the cultivating of concentration, eh?

Yes. That has been my experience thus far. You can, when you have more experience with noticing the phenomena involved, get to the point of being able to, within your own mind at least, identify the difference between "access" or "neighborhood concentration" (upacara samadhi) and apana samadhi (steadfast absorption). But the time it takes to be able to do this may be beyond most people's patience. Best just to be able to recognize when you have attained apana samadhi and take it from there. All the little nuances in between are relatively unimportant compared to the work of insight meditation (vipassana), which is where the meat of the practice is involved regarding the awakening process.

At this point I have to lodge my disagreement with what thereductor has said regarding the "mind becom[ing] unified around the vitakka and vicara." The mind does not become unified "around vitakka and vicara"; only at the second jhana does the mind unify on the breath. Otherwise, directed attention and evaluation (sustained attention) would not be necessary in the first jhana. You'd be able to just focus on the breath for one or two cycles and you'd be instantly in absorption from the get go. While this CAN occur, it only occurs on the occasion when the meditator has gained considerable experience entering absorption and knows how to get there rather quickly without a lot of preliminary action. Otherwise, he must take the time to first induce the absorption using applied attention (vitakka) and sustained attention (vicara) on the breath such that sometime thereafter the mind becomes unified on the breath.

Other than that, what thereductor had to say about an "unwatchful mind" with regard to pleasure and rapture and the fact that "concentration" can become "disbanded [by] distraction" are all well and good observations.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Reductor » Wed Jan 27, 2010 1:25 am

IanAnd wrote:At this point I have to lodge my disagreement with what thereductor has said regarding the "mind becom[ing] unified around the vitakka and vicara." The mind does not become unified "around vitakka and vicara"; only at the second jhana does the mind unify on the breath. Otherwise, directed attention and evaluation (sustained attention) would not be necessary in the first jhana. You'd be able to just focus on the breath for one or two cycles and you'd be instantly in absorption from the get go. While this CAN occur, it only occurs on the occasion when the meditator has gained considerable experience entering absorption and knows how to get there rather quickly without a lot of preliminary action. Otherwise, he must take the time to first induce the absorption using applied attention (vitakka) and sustained attention (vicara) on the breath such that sometime thereafter the mind becomes unified on the breath.



When I speak of unification of mind I don't think that I'm using the term the same way that you are. In the first Jhana I mean that the mind is directed in whole toward a single object, the breath, via the process of vitakka and vicara. It is the process of vitakka and vicara which are keeping the mind directed toward the breath, and without them the mind would disband. Just to start directing the mind to the breath does not Jhana make. Rather a point comes where the entire mind is focused on the breath and there are no longer errant thoughts and preoccupations, and that I classed as unification of mind -- the mind is together focused on the breath -- but that focus exists in dependence vitakka and vicara.

In time there arises a slight rapture and pleasure.

This unification of mind is very fragile in the first Jhana, and there is no feed back loop as you pointed out. It is by taking note of the signs (which I equate with pleasure) and the mental satisfaction that comes with becoming secluded (from external preoccupations) that the feed back loop can become established.

The unification of mind in the second Jhana is a much different experience than that in the first.

Or so is my experience. I have much less experience than you.

All in all Ian I find your above posts illuminating. As usual.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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

Postby Kenshou » Wed Jan 27, 2010 4:43 am

IanAnd wrote:If you are following the instruction given in the suttas (as in the example quotation I gave in my first post), you will be inducing absorption in the first jhana....

If you read my post again very carefully, you will see that what I do say is that "unification of the mind" does not occur until the second jhana.


Aha, gotcha. Absorption =/= unification of mind. Your explanation was clear but I read a little too hastily.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby IanAnd » Wed Jan 27, 2010 6:27 am

Please know in the first instance that I am not disagreeing in order to be difficult or in order to have my way. I just think that the Buddha KNEW what he was talking about in the discourses (not withstanding what later commentators had to say about this process), and that if he had intended to impart the idea that some sort of unification of the mind took place in the first jhana he would CERTAINLY have said so.
thereductor wrote:When I speak of unification of mind I don't think that I'm using the term the same way that you are.

Agreed. And that was my point.

thereductor wrote:In the first Jhana I mean that the mind is directed in whole toward a single object, the breath, via the process of vitakka and vicara. It is the process of vitakka and vicara which are keeping the mind directed toward the breath, and without them the mind would disband.

In the first jhana it is the attention of the mind that is being directed toward the object of the breath. With that part of the statement I agree. That attention, in the form of concentration, is, yes, very fragile. But it cannot yet be termed a "unified mind" steadfastly focused ONLY on the breath. It takes one's INTENTION to keep it focused on the breath. It is that INTENTION which keeps the attention of the mind placed on the breath. The mind itself does not actually become unified on the breath until that INTENTION has subsided in the second jhana. One can call that intention "one-pointed" (ekaggata), yes, but cannot call it unification of the mind (cittasa ekaggata). That, in its essence, is the subtle difference I wanted to point out, which is corroborated in the discourses.

thereductor as amended by Ian wrote:This absorption (rather than "unification of mind") is very fragile in the first Jhana, and there is no feed back loop as you pointed out. It is by taking note of the signs (which I equate with pleasure) and the mental satisfaction that comes with becoming secluded (from external preoccupations) that the feed back loop can become established.

The unification of mind in the second Jhana is a much different experience than that in the first.

That is because it is an actual unification of the mind at the point of the second jhana, just as the Buddha pointed out in the sutta quoted above.

thereductor wrote:Or so is my experience.

That is fine. You are doing a good job of standing up for your present experience of the process. And I appreciate the fact that you are willing to stand by those experiences rather than to do as some here do and just mouth other people's experience or repeat what others have said as though that somehow might make their point. One should only speak from experience, or otherwise not speak at all. If one does not speak only from experience, then one has nothing of use to impart on a subject matter.

On another note, I find the clarifications of your experience a helpful and informative element to this thread which will help others to be able to better discern this process. The descriptions of your experience have been insightful, clarifying, and relevant to the subject matter.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby IanAnd » Wed Jan 27, 2010 6:41 am

Kenshou wrote:
IanAnd wrote:If you are following the instruction given in the suttas (as in the example quotation I gave in my first post), you will be inducing absorption in the first jhana....

If you read my post again very carefully, you will see that what I do say is that "unification of the mind" does not occur until the second jhana.


Aha, gotcha. Absorption =/= unification of mind. Your explanation was clear but I read a little too hastily.

No. A small subtle difference was intended. Absorption per se does not outright equal "unification of mind," since one is in the first stage of absorption in the first jhana when the mind has yet to become unified. This "unification of the mind" takes place in the second absorption and hopefully continues on through the third and fourth levels of absorption and beyond to the immaterial absorptions.

What also occurs by having the ability to enter into absorption is that the mind becomes conditioned by this experience, thus increasing one's level of concentration, not only while meditating, but also outside of formal meditation (i.e. in waking consciousness). Thus, one can use the conditioning quality of the absorption experience to qualitatively affect the level of one's ability to keep the mind concentrated at all times (or failing that, at least when one is focusing on it). It's quite a delightful thought, actually.
Last edited by IanAnd on Wed Jan 27, 2010 7:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Reductor » Wed Jan 27, 2010 7:20 am

IanAnd wrote:On another note, I find the clarifications of your experience a helpful and informative element to this thread which will help others to be able to better discern this process. The descriptions of your experience have been insightful, clarifying, and relevant to the subject matter.


I am gratified in that, Ian and I would like to thank you for the depth and clarity of your posts. I'm have come away with more clarity in regard to my own experiences. Thank you.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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

Postby Kenshou » Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:59 am

IanAnd wrote:No. A small subtle difference was intended. Absorption per se does not outright equal "unification of mind," since one is in the first stage of absorption in the first jhana when the mind has yet to become unified. This "unification of the mind" takes place in the second absorption and...

Yes, that is basically what I had come to understand from your previous post. The difference is subtle, but a difference nonetheless.

And I'll add that the dialog between you two is clarifying for me too, without a doubt.. By keeping the topics discussed in mind I'm getting some positive results. That sign of concentration has gotten to the point of intensity that really can only be described as absorption, though I've still got some monkey-mind ("what, holy crap, this is cool" and the like) getting in the way, but it's a step in the right direction, which can definitely be owed in part to the help of the feedback of the people in this forum.

After a particularly good meditation I always notice that the mind still seems to incline towards the breath for some time after, in addition to a nice lingering clarity. I can see how the concentration cultivated in this practice could have some positive spillover as Ian mentions.

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

Postby vitellius » Wed Jan 27, 2010 1:59 pm

Hello Kenshou,

As far as I understand anapanasati instructions in Vimuttimagga are basically the same with Thanissaro bhikkhu / Ajan Lee Dhammadharo teachings. So, ven. Thanissaro's explanations may be useful for mastering this. For example, see this guided meditation:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... uided.html

So, they "grab" a feeling of air, keep attention on it and let it spread to fill the whole body.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Kenshou » Wed Jan 27, 2010 7:01 pm

Good little article, that's rather similar to how I settle in to do things.

As far as I understand anapanasati instructions in Vimuttimagga are basically the same with Thanissaro bhikkhu / Ajan Lee Dhammadharo teachings.


Interesting, will look into that.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Freawaru » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:48 pm

Hi Kenshou,

Thank you and the others for your descriptions of your experiences.

Kenshou wrote:I've had experiences of these nimittas which seem in accordance with what I've learned of them. Rarely, I've had the orb-like visual signs as described by Ajahn Brahm,


Yes, me, too. And they always just appeared when I induced them somehow.

When I concentrate on the physical body I usually get visual images of the body instead. When I concentrate on the nostrils I get an image of the nose for example, of the nose from the inside. No orbs for me.

This bit from the Vimuttimagga describes it well enough: To the yogin who attends to the incoming breath with mind that is cleansed of the nine lesser defilements the image arises with a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton. Also, it is likened to the pleasant feeling produced by a breeze. Thus in breathing in and out, air touches the nose or the lip and causes the setting-up of air perception mindfulness. This does not depend on colour or form. This is called the image. If the yogin develops the image [sign] and increases it at the nose-tip, between the eyebrows, on the forehead or establishes it in several places, he feels as if his head were filled with air.


This sounds to me like a sensing of the element "air" (or wind). It is odd, Theravada has the usual pranayama techniques and describes the elements just as Mahayana but lacks the chakras. Then again some nimittas are clearly described in synch with the chakras (same place, same image such as a wheel or orb). I mean, nose-tip, between eyebrows, forehead - all are typical chakra positions.

I'm fairly confident this is not simply the arising of normal aspects of life that I've been previously unaware of, since quite a bit of that sort of expansive body-awareness increasing type stuff occurs far before this point and levels off. Only after dwelling in that calm state of awareness for awhile does this "nimitta" show up, and this breezy soft feeling which beings at and grows around the original breath-point is accompanied by a particular sort of pressure. It's subtle yet distinct from any normal experience.


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.

Is it best to continue to watch the breath at this point, or rather, is this the proper time to let go allow the focus to fall naturally where it will?


Let it fall naturally where it will is always a good idea IMO. But if you want to use the element air you need to let go of the breath and use the element as your new object.

Oh, and btw doing these kind of element meditations can induce the iddhis as described in the Visuddhimagga. So don't be surprised when stuff starts to happen outside the sitting. :lol:
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby AdvaitaJ » Sun Jan 31, 2010 8:57 pm

Kenshou,

I see you've already received a number of excellent replies. Please let me add two suggestions. First, I highly recommend Shaila Catherine's book, Focused and Fearless. It's a great counter-point to Ajahn Brahm's despite a bit of overlap.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, don't forget that sukkha (happiness) is an essential component. A key bit of advice from a Leigh Brasington was to smile during your meditation. The thought being that despite, or perhaps because of, the humorousness of smiling needlessly, sukkha would arise. My readings indicate that if there's no sukkha, there's no jhana and it's oh so easy to be so focused on "what to do" that sukkha is easily forgotten.

Another key bit of advice I picked up somewhere was to focus on the "pleasant sensation". Keep your focus on the breath until a wave of rapturous pleasantness spontaneously arises, then let go of the breath to focus on the feeling of that sensation without adding verbalization.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Kenshou » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:34 am

Oh wow, more replies, thought this thread was dead.

Freawaru-

Interesting to hear about these things from another perspective. I don't know a lick about Tibetan practices or chakras or any of that.

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.


Yep, this is pretty much how it's been going. As I quote from the Vimuttimagga (which I've found to be the most reliable text on anapanasati for me so far), "...he feels as if his head were filled with air. Through increasing in this way his whole body is charged with bliss. This is called perfection." Pretty much the same thing you say and that I experience, though I think it seems that the airy sensations tend to spread when conditions are right, and doesn't require much direct effort of moving it. As far as I can tell, the only effort required is the continued attitude of renunciation, and sustained mindfulness of sensations. In addition to attention on the object, of course.

But if you want to use the element air you need to let go of the breath and use the element as your new object.


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) The "airy" feelings that develop are side-effects of stillness and calm developed through concentration, the way I see it. When I used to let myself get distracted from the breath, the sensations would lose force and the meditation would fall over.

As for Iddhis, I doubt it, but I'll watch out. :tongue:


AdvaitaJ-

Those are good points. Piti-sukha isn't really a problem, though, so I haven't really mentioned it. I find as concentration and stillness increase, I find that piti and sukha grow proportionately, till it spreads throughout like the metaphor of the bath-powder in the suttas. I've found more and more that mindfulness of the body is important in this aspect, since as thereductor said above, you've got to notice those sensations to allow them to grow.

I do have Focused and Fearless, and I do like it. I've pretty much abandoned the specifics of Ajahn Brahm's method and rely on the Vimuttimagga, the suttas, with the help of Shaila and other meditator's advices.

Another key bit of advice I picked up somewhere was to focus on the "pleasant sensation". Keep your focus on the breath until a wave of rapturous pleasantness spontaneously arises, then let go of the breath to focus on the feeling of that sensation without adding verbalization.


This is something I'm not sure of. Even when the jhana factors are very strong, I find that when I allow my focus drift from the breath, that it all breaks down. The impression I've gotten is that though the jhana factors will get very strong, the breath remains the "motor" until the factors are strong enough that they can stand on their own, which doesn't occur until the second jhana. Random "waves" arise multiple times naturally as things progress. I always keep mindfulness of the breath at the top, the nimitta/sign of the soft airy head-feeling at #2, and mindfulness of the body and sensations at #3. When I let the breath fall from the front of awareness, things stop working for me. Noticing the pleasant sensations of piti-sukha is important in allowing them to grow, but allowing them to take dominance over the breath as Bransington states seems to be less effective for me. But of course I recognize that different methods work for different people.

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. Nobody, Focused and Fearless included, is very specific about the transfer into jhana, but I suppose that is probably for good reason because of the subjectivity of it.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Freawaru » Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:29 am

Hi Kenshou,

Kenshou wrote:I don't know a lick about Tibetan practices or chakras or any of that.


As far as I can see it is pretty similar regarding practice and different regarding terminology. Dunno why Theravada uses the techniques but doesn't include the ancient yoga terminology. Mahayana has included the terminology again - it rather confused me at first.

Yep, this is pretty much how it's been going. As I quote from the Vimuttimagga (which I've found to be the most reliable text on anapanasati for me so far), "...he feels as if his head were filled with air. Through increasing in this way his whole body is charged with bliss. This is called perfection." Pretty much the same thing you say and that I experience, though I think it seems that the airy sensations tend to spread when conditions are right, and doesn't require much direct effort of moving it.


Ah, that is good. It means you don't have that many "blocks" at the moment. :D

"Blocks" arise from experiences such as physical accidents, illnesses, emotional stress and so on.

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)


Frankly, neither do I. :P

The "airy" feelings that develop are side-effects of stillness and calm developed through concentration, the way I see it.


Yes and no. I mean, calm abiding (samatha) is there but "air" has to be induced, too. When I concentrate on another object than breath I get different sensations, for example something more like heat and some kind of electric tingling, quite pleasant, too. Might be what they call "fire". Then, when I just stay aware of the body sensations as a whole I first become aware of some kind of vibration (or fluttering, like a motor) at the heart area (middle of the chest) that can spread all through the body, too. At first I worried that it might be the heart but it didn't fit (it feels nice and I would expect to feel bad if my heart behaved like that) . When I concentrate on being aware of this vibration I suddenly start to sense my heart beat - the real one, feels rather different than the vibrations. From there the inner organs start to flicker in and off but I haven't been able to stabilise them so far.
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Postby Dmytro » Mon Feb 01, 2010 8:47 pm

Hi Freawaru,

Freawaru wrote:
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)


Frankly, neither do I. :P


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

Anapanasati jhana is a variation of air kasina practice:

Kiṃ pana pathavīkasiṇaṃ ādiṃ katvā aṭṭhikasaññāpariyosānāvesā rūpāvacarappanā, udāhu aññāpi atthīti? Atthi; ānāpānajjhānañhi kāyagatāsatibhāvanā ca idha na kathitā. Kiñcāpi na kathitā vāyokasiṇe pana gahite ānāpānajjhānaṃ gahitameva; vaṇṇakasiṇesu ca gahitesu kesādīsu catukkapañcakajjhānavasena uppannā kāyagatāsati, dasasu asubhesu gahitesu dvattiṃsākāre paṭikūlamanasikārajjhānavasena ceva navasivathikāvaṇṇajjhānavasena ca pavattā kāyagatāsati gahitāvāti. Sabbāpi rūpāvacarappanā idha kathitāva hotīti.

"But is this all the absorption belonging to the consciousness of the sphere of refined form, beginning with the earth kasiṇa and ending in the perception of the skeleton? Or is there anything else?"
"Yes, there is. There is ānāpāna jhāna and the development of kāyagatāsati, which have not been spoken of here."
"Why not?"
"Because ānāpāna jhāna is included in the air kasiṇa; the development of kāyagatāsati arisen by virtue of the fourfold and fivefold jhānas with reference to the hair etc., is included in the colour kasiṇas; the kāyagatāsati produced by virtue of the jhānas attending to the unattractiveness in the thirty-two parts of the body, and that of the jhāna attending to the colours of the nine kinds of corpses in the charnel grounds is included in the ten repulsive things. Thus all the absorptions of consciousness connected with the sphere of refined form have been included here."

(Dhammasangani-Atthakatha 200)

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