Nonprofits & Activism
THE “HOME STRETCH” INTO JHANAS
When the breath disappears and delight fills the mind, the nimitta usually appears.
Nimitta, in the context used here, refers to the beautiful “lights” that appear in the mind. I would point out, though, that the nimittas are not visual objects, in that they are not see through the sense of sight. At this stage of the meditation, the sense of sight is not operating. The nimittas are pure mental objects, known by the mind sense. However, they are commonly perceived as lights.
What is happening here is that perception struggles to interpret such apure mental phenomena. Perception is that function of mind that interprets experience in terms one can understand. Perception relies crucially on comparison, interpreting experience as in the same category as some similar previous experience. However, pure mental phenomena are rare so rarely visited that perception has great difficulty finding anything at all comparable to these new experiences. This is why nimittas appear strange, like nothing one has ever experienced before.However, the phenomena in the catalogue of one’s past experiences which usually come closest to these nimitta are simple visual lights,such as a car headlight or a flashlight in the dark or the full moon in the night sky. So perception adopts this closest, but imperfect, comparison and interprets the nimitta as lights. Thus, one usually experiences nimitta as a light, a light seen in the mind.
It was a fascinating discovery to realize that everyone who experiences these nimittas, experience exactly the same thing! It is only that meditators interpret one and the same experience in different ways.Some see in their mind the nimitta as a pure white light, others see it as a golden, some as a deep blue. Some see it as a circle, some as oblong in shape, some as sharp edged, some as fuzzy edged. There is indeed no end to the features of nimitta, which meditators describe. The importantthing to know is that color, shape and so on are irrelevant. Because it isone’s perception that colors the nimitta and gives it shape, just so onecan make sense of it.
When Nimitta Come Up Early
Sometimes, a “light” can appear in the mind at a very early stage ofmeditation. However, for all except accomplished meditators, one will find that such “brazen intruders” are highly unstable. If one focuses one’s attention on them, one will not get anywhere. It is not the righttime for nimitta. It is better to regard them as distractions and go back to the main task of the early stage.
Ignore the Nimitta at First. It is more uncertain what to do when a nimitta appears at the stage of the beautiful breath, when the breath has yet to be calmed to disappearance. Again, the nimitta appears intrusive,It interferes with the main task of sustaining one’s awareness on the beautiful breath. If one deliberately turns away from the breath and onto the nimitta, it usually doesn’t remain long. The mind is not refined enough yet to hold a subtle nimitta. One needs to practice on the breath more. So the best thing to do is to ignore the nimitta and let all one’s attention train on the beautiful breath.
Often having followed this advice, the nimitta comes back, stronger andbrighter. Ignore it again. When It returns a third time, even more powerfully and radiant, go back to the breath. Practicing this way,eventually a hugely powerful and brilliant nimitta will break into your awareness. You can go with that one. Actually, it is almost impossible to ignore. That one usually takes you into jhana.
The above can be compared to a visitor knocking on your door. It could be an unimportant salesman so you ignore them and go on with your business. Often that’s the end of the matter. Sometimes, though, they knock again, louder and longer. You ignore them a second time and continue with your task. They bang ever louder, ever more vigorously.This proves that it must be your best friend, so then you open the door,let them in, and have a great time together.
Incorporating the Nimitta into the Middle of the Breath.
Another method of dealing with an early nimitta that arises at the stage of the beautiful breath is to incorporate the nimitta into the middle of the breath. One trains to visualize the situation as similar to a jewel being held in the center of lotus petals. The shimmering jewel is the nimitta,the lotus petals the beautiful breath. If the mind isn’t quite ready to stay with the nimitta, it still has the breath to anchor it.
Sometimes, the mind is so unready that the breath appears to close inon the nimitta, and the nimitta disappears leaving only the beautiful breath. But this step backward does not disturb the meditation. Atother times, the mid is well prepared for the nimitta, and the nimitta strengthens and expands pushing out the breath, which disappears beyond the edges of one’s awareness, leaving only the nimitta. This method is skillful because it doesn’t involve moving the mind from one thing to another. Such movement is coarse and disturbs the meditation significantly. Instead, one just passively observes the transition from the beautiful breath the nimitta, and maybe back again, allowing the process to develop or recede according to nature, not according to one’s desire.
For Accomplished Meditators Only.
Although the following advice is fora ccomplished meditators only, by which I mean those with plentiful experience of Jhana already, it is included here for the sake of completeness. When one is skillful in the way into Jhana and one has experienced a Jhana recently, the mind is so still and powerful even before one begins to meditate that one may skip many stages. So much so that one may arouse the nimitta almost immediately after starting.The mind being so used to nimitta, and so favorably disposed to towards them, literally leaps into the nimitta and the nimitta stays. Soon Jhanais reached. For such accomplished meditators, the earlier the nimitta arises, the better.
When the Nimitta Doesn’t Appear
For some, when the breath disappears, the nimitta doesn’t happen. No lights appear in their mind. Instead, they are only left with a deep feeling of peace, of emptiness, of nothing. This can be a very beneficial state and should not be belittled, but it is not Jhana. Moreover, it lacks the power to proceed any further. I is a cul-de-sac, and a refined one at that,but it is incapable of being developed further. There are a number ofmethods to bypass this state, generate the causes for nimitta, and go deeper into the jhanas.
Cultivate Sufficient Joy and Happiness (Pitisukha).
The state above arises because one did not cultivate sufficient pitisukha along with thebreath. There was not enough delight when the breath disappeared, so mindfulness had no clear mental object of beauty to latch on to.Understanding this, one needs to put more value on developing delightwhen one is watching the breath, and cultivating that delight into a strong sense of beauty. For example, one may regard the breath as the messenger bringing you oxygen as a life support gift from the flowers and trees. The breath unites you vitally with all of the plant world,supporting one another with the pulse of the air. Whatever skillfulmeans one employs, by paying careful attention to the beauty alongside the breath, the beauty will blossom. What one pays attention to usually grows.
In the previous chapter, one was cautioned not to be afraid of delight in meditation. I regard this exhortation as so important that I am going to repeat it again almost word for word.
Do not be afraid of delight in meditation.
Too many meditatorsdismiss happiness thinking it unimportant or, even worse, thinking that they don’t deserve such delight. Happiness in meditation is important!Moreover, you deserve t bliss out! Blissing out on the meditation object is an essential part of the path. So when delight does arise alongside thebreath, one should cherish it like a valuable treasure,, and guard it accordingly.
Putting Energy into Knowing.
Another reason for the nimitta not arising is that one hasn’t put enough energy into the knowing. As explained in the previous chapter, in the section entitles “What if pitisukha hasn’t appeared,” delight is generated by putting lots of energy into the knowing. Usually, most of our mental energy gets lost in the doing, that is, in planning and remembering, controlling and thinking. If one would only take away one’s energy completely from thedoing, and give it all totally to the knowing, to attentiveness, then one would experience one’s mind becoming brightened and energized with delight. When there is lots of delight, strong pitisukha, then when the breath disappears, the nimitta appears. So, maybe the reason why a nimitta doesn’t appear is that one wasted too much energy on controlling, and didn’t devote enough energy into knowing.
Watching Out for Discontent.
However, if the breath has disappeared but no nimitta arises, then one must be careful not to fall into discontent. Discontent will wither any pitisukha already there and will urge the mind into restlessness. This discontent will make the arising ofa nimitta even more unlikely. So one must be patient and seek the remedy in becoming aware of contentment and letting it consolidate.Just through paying attention to contentment, it usually deepens. As contentment grows stronger, delight will arise. As delight grows inpower, the nimitta appears.
Focus More Sharply in the Present Moment.
Another useful method to arouse the nimitta when the breath disappears is to focus mores sharply on the present moment! Present moment awareness is the very first stage of this method of meditation. But, in practice, as the meditation progresses and one pays attention to other things, the present moment awareness can become a little sloppy. It may be that one’s mindfulness has become “smeared” around the present moment,instead of being precisely focused. By noticing this as a problem, it isvery easy to adjust the focusing of mindfulness to be knife-edged in the center of now. Like adjusting the camera, the slightly blurred image becomes very sharp. When the attention is sharply focused in the present moment, it experiences more power. Pitisukha comes with the sharpening of focus, and the nimitta soon follows as well.
Suitable Nimitta and Useless Nimitta
It is very helpful to cultivate nimitta of the sort perceived as a light.These “light nimittas” are the best vehicle for transporting the meditator into the Jhanas. However, it is just possible, but rarely done, to enter a Jhana by using “feeling nimittas” instead. By this I mean that one sees no lights in the mind, instead one experiences a feeling of bliss in the mind. It is important to note that he sense of touch has been transcended and such a “feeling” if bliss is experienced completely by the mind sense. It is a pure mental object again, but perceived as relating closely to a physical feeling of bliss. This is a bona-fide nimitta. But it is much more difficult to work with such as a nimitta to gain access to Jhana, though it is not impossible. For these reasons, it is recommended to cultivate the light nimitta if one aspires for the jhana.
There are some visual nimittas that are of no use on the path into Jhana.It is helpful to know these “useless” nimitta so that one will waste no time with them.
Sometimes whole scenes can appear clearly in the mind. There might be landscapes, buildings and people. They may appear familiar or strange. It might be fascinating to watch such visions, but they are of little use. Moreover, they are meaningless and one should certainly not take them as some revelation of truth! Experience shows that visions arising at this stage are notoriously deceptive and completely untrustworthy. If one likes to waste time, one can linger on them awhile. But the recommended thing to do is to remove all interest and goback to the beautiful breath. Such complex nimitta are merely are flection of an over-complicated mind. The mind should have been calmed into simplicity much more effectively before letting go of the breath. When one sustains the attention on the beautiful breath,uninterrupted for long periods of time, then one is training in simplicity.Then when the breath disappears, a simple unified nimitta arises, one that is suitable for progress.
The Firework Nimitta.
A less elaborate nimitta, which is still over-complicated, can be called the “firework nimitta.” As the name suggests,this consists of many bursts of light coming and going, never lasting long and exhibiting much movement. There may be several bursts of light at the same time, even of different colors. Again, this firework nimitta is a sign that the mind is still too complicated and very unstable. If one wants, one can enjoy the sideshow for a short time, but one should notwaste too much time there. One should ignore all the razzel-dazzel of the firework nimitta, return to the breath, and develop more one-pointedness and calm.
The Shy Nimitta.
The next type of nimitta can be called the “shy nimitta,” a single pure light that flashes up quickly and then disappears.After a few moments, it flashes up again. Each time, it lasts only a second or two. Such a nimitta is much more encouraging. Its simplicity shows that the mind is one-pointed. Its power is a sign that pitisukha is strong. But its inability to remain after breaking through into consciousness shows that the level of calm is not quite enough. In such a situation, one need not return to the beautiful breath yet. Instead, one patiently waits, developing more calm, allowing the mind to become more receptive to the very shy nimitta. As will be explained at greater length later, this nimitta disappears because the mind overreacts to its arrival,usually with excitement or fear. By establishing more solid calm and having the confidence to not react at all, the shy nimitta returns and stays longer each time. Soon, such a nimitta loses its shyness and,feeling accepted within the mind’s calmness, remains a long time. One should attempt this approach first. But if the nimitta continues being“shy,” with no indication that it is remaining longer, then one should return to the beautiful breath and ignore the shy nimitta. When one has built more tranquility of mind with the beautiful breath, then one can return to the shy nimitta to see of it will establish itself this time.
The Point Nimitta.
Another type of nimitta is the “point nimitta,” asimple and powerful light, but ever so small, which persists many seconds. This nimitta can be very useful. It shows that one-pointedness is excellent, calm is sufficient, but pitisukha is still a bit lacking.However, all one needs to do is gently look deeper into the point nimitta,letting mindfulness zero in, then it appears as it one’s awareness comes closer to this nimitta and its size starts to increase. As it expands alittle, one should keep one’s focus on the center, not on the edges, norbeyond the edges. By maintaining the mind’s focus sharply on the center of the point nimitta, it increases power, it grows in pitisukha.Soon the nimitta unfolds into the best nimitta of all.
The Best Nimitta.
The best nimitta of all, that which is the mostsuitable for Jhanas, begins as being similar to the full moon at midnightin a sky free of clouds. It rises unhurried when the beautiful breath softly disappears. It takes three of four of four seconds to establish its presence and settle down, remaining still and very beautiful before themind’s eye. As it remains without remains without effort it growsbrighter, more luminous. Soon it appears brighter than the sun at midday, radiating bliss. It becomes, by far, the most beautiful thing onehas ever seen. Its beauty and power will often feel more than one can bear. One wonders whether one can take so much bliss of such extreme power. But one can. There’s no limit to the bliss one can feel. The nimitta explodes, drowning one in even more bliss, or one dives into the center of the radiating ecstasy. If one remains there, it is jhana.
Shining up the Nimitta
It is a far-reaching insight to realize that this nimitta is actually an imageof one’s mind. Just like one sees an image of one’s face when one looksin a mirror, one sees an image of one’s mind in the profound stillness ofthis meditation stage. The nimitta is a reflective image of one’s mind.
The Importance of Virtue.
So when the nimitta appears dull, or even dirty, it means that one’s mind is dull, even dirty! Usually, this is because one has been lacking in virtue recently, possibly angry, ormaybe self centered. At this stage of meditation, one is looking directly atone’s mind and there is no opportunity for deceit. One always sees the mind as it truly is. So, if one’s nimitta appears dull and strained, thenone should clean up one’s act in daily life. One should undertake moral precepts, speak only kindly, and be selfless in service. This stage of meditation when nimittas appear makes it abundantly clear thatvirtue is an essential ingredient for success in meditation.
Having taught many meditation retreats over the years, I have noticed that the meditators who have the easiest progress and most sensational results, are those who are joyously generous, whose nature would never allow them to harm another being, who are soft spoken, gentle and very happy. Their beautiful lifestyle gives them a beautiful mind. And their beautiful mind supports their virtuous lifestyle. Then when they reach this stage of the meditation and their mind is revealed in the image of the nimitta, it is so brilliant and pure that it leads them easily to jhana. Itdemonstrates that one cannot lead a heedless life and self-indulgent lifestyle and have easy success in one’s meditation. On the other hand,purifying one’s conduct and developing compassion, at the same time prepares the mid for meditation.
The best remedy, then, for shinning up a dull or dirty nimitta, is to purifyone’s conduct outside the meditation.
Focusing On the Beautiful Center. The above being said, if one’s conduct in daily life isn’t too outrageous, one can shine up the dirty nimitta in the meditation itself. This is achieved by focusing the attention on the center of the nimitta. Most areas of the nimitta may appear dull, but the very center of the nimitta is always the brightest andpurest part. It is the soft center of an otherwise stiff and unworkable nimitta. As one focuses on the center, it expands like a balloon to produce a second nimitta, purer and brighter. One looks into the very center of this second nimitta, the spot where it is the brightest of all and that balloons up into a third nimitta even purer, even brighter. Gazing into the center effectively shines up the nimitta. One continues in this way until the nimitta is beautifully brilliant.
When, in life, one has developed a strong fault finding mind, obsessively picking out what’s wrong in this and that, then one will find it almost impossible to pick out the beautiful center of a dull nimitta and focus attention thereon. One has become so conditioned to pick out the blemishes in things that it goes against the grain to ignore all the dull and dirty areas of a nimitta to focus exclusively on the beautiful center.This demonstrates once again how unskillful attitudes in life can stop success in deep meditation. When one develops a more forgiving attitude to life, becoming more embracing of the duality of good and bad—not being a negative obsessive nor a positive excessive but balanced“acceptive”—then not only can one see the beauty in mistakes, but one can also see the beautiful center in a dull and dirty nimitta.
It is essential to have a bright and luminous nimitta to take one through to Jhana. A dull and dirty one is like an old, beat up car that will breakdown on the journey. The dull nimitta, when not made to shine, usually vanishes after some time. So, if one is unable to shine up the nimitta, then go back to the beautiful breath and build up more energy on that part called the “beautiful!” Generate greater pitisukha, huge happiness and joy, along with the breath. Then next time the breath disappears and a nimitta arises, it will not be a dull one but something more beautiful and luminous. In effect, one has shined up the nimitta inthe stage of the beautiful breath.
Stabilizing the Nimitta
When the nimitta is very bright, it is also very beautiful. It usually appears unearthly in the depth of its beauty and more wonderful than anything one has ever experienced before. Whatever the color of the nimitta, that color is a thousand times richer than anything that can be seen with one’s eyes. Such awesome beauty will captivate one’s attention, making the nimitta remain. The more beautiful the nimitta,the more likely is the nimitta to become stable and not jump about.Thus one of the best methods to stabilize the nimitta, so that it persists a long time, is to shine the nimitta into brilliance, as just explained above.
However, some brilliant nimittas still don’t last long. They burst into the mental field of awareness with strong ptisukha, but they persist not much longer than a glorious shooting star in a clear night sky. These nimittas have power but lack sufficient stability. In order to stabilize such nimitta, it is important to know that the two enemies that disperse the nimitta are fear and excitement.
Fear. Of the two enemies, fear is more common. These nimittas appear so immense in their sheer power and beauty, that one often becomesvery afraid. Fear is a natural response to the recognition of something much more powerful than oneself. Moreover, the experience is sounfamiliar that one’s personal security looks seriously threatened. It seems as of one might lose all control overwhelmed by supra-mundane bliss, and, in consequence, much of what one took to be one’s self would vanish leaving a real sense of freedom. It is the fear of losing one’s ego that is the root cause of alarm when a powerful nimitta appears.
Those who have understood something of the Buddha’s teaching of Anatta, that there is no self, will have an easier time of transcending this fear and accepting the nimitta. They realize that they have nothing to protect and so can let go of control, trust in the emptiness, and selflessly enjoy the beauty and power. Thus the nimitta settles, Even an intellectual understanding that there is no one in here will help overcome the terror of letting go of the inner most controller. However, those whohave no appreciation at all of the truth of no self, may overcome this fearby substituting it with the more powerful perception of bliss, as in the simile of the child and the swimming pool.
When a child, who has just learned to feel confident upright on dry land,sees for the first time a swimming pool of water, they are likely to be scared. The unfamiliar environment threatens their security, and they are deeply concerned how their little bodies can manage on such an unsolid material. They are afraid of losing control. So they put one toe into the water and quickly pull it out. That felt all right. So they place three toes into the water, just a little bit longer. That was okay too. Next they dip a whole foot in. Then a whole leg. As the confidence increasesand the swimming pool begins to promise much fun, the anticipation of joy becomes stronger than the fear. The child jumps into the water and immerse itself fully. Then they have such a great time that even their parents can hardly get them to leave!
Another skillful means for overcoming fear at this stage, especially when fear is not strong, is to perform a little mental ceremony of handing overtrust. It is as if one has been the driver of one’s meditation up until now,and now is the moment to hand over the control completely to the nimitta. One may imagine handing over a bunch of keys to the powerful nimitta, like getting a trusted friend to take over driving one’s car. With the imaginary gesture of passing the keys, one passes over control. One then lets go of all driving and controlling, and puts full trust in the nimitta. Such a transfer of faith from oneself to the nimitta usually leadsto stability of the nimitta and its subsequent deepening.
Indeed, one is placing faith in the knowing and taking it away from the doing. This is the theme underlying the whole of the meditation path. One trains from the very beginning in passive awareness, that is,the ability to be clearly aware without interfering at all with the object of awareness. Energy, with faith, goes into the mindfulness and away from activity. When one learns to watch with ease an ordinary object like the breath without meddling, then one’s passive awareness will next bechallenged with a more seductive object like the beautiful breath. If onepasses this test, then the most challenging object of all, the nimitta, willbe presented to you as the ultimate test of passive awareness. For if one gets involved with the nimitta with even the slightest of controlling, thenone fails the final examination and gets sent back to the beautiful breathfor remedial training. The more one meditates, the more one learns to bepowerfully mindful while letting go of all doing. When this skill is fully perfected, it is easy to pass the final test and stabilize the nimitta with flawless passive awareness.
The simile of the mirror is applicable here. When one looks in a mirror at the reflection of one’s face and the image moves back and forth, then it isfutile to try to stabilize the image by holding the mirror still! In fact, if you try this, the reflection moves even more. The image in the mirror ismoving because that which is watching is moving. The mirror doesn’t move and so does not need to be held still. The fault is with the knower.The nimitta is in reality a reflection of the mind, an image of that which is knowing. When this reflection, this nimitta, moves back and forth,then it is futile trying to stabilize the nimitta by holding the nimitta still! In fact, if you try this, the nimitta moves even more.
The nimitta ismoving because that which is watching the nimitta is moving. When thisis understood, one gives up on doing any holding and, instead, focuseson that which knows, letting that some to stillness. Because when that which knows doesn’t move, then neither does the nimitta. Like the reflection of one’s face in the mirror, when the knower is still, then so is its reflection.
Excitement. I mentioned above that the other enemy of the nimitta’s stability is excitement or exhilaration, what I sometimes call the “Wow!”response. It is understandable that when there is success in the meditation and amazing thing happen, then the meditator can get very excited. This is especially so when a wonderful nimitta first appears,more radiant than the sun and more beautiful than the most exquisite flower! It is common, then, for the mind to say, “Wow!” Unfortunately,immediately after the “Wow” the nimitta disappears and may be reluctant to return for a very long time, even months. In order to avoid such a calamity, one should bear in mind Ajahn Chah’s famous simile of the still forest pond.
In the late afternoon, forest monks, wandering in the jungle for solitude,would seek out a river or pool. They needed the water for drinking,bathe, and maybe wash a few robes. After drinking and washing, they would setup their forest monk’s umbrella draped with mosquito nettingaway from the pool to spend the evening in meditation. Ajahn Chah said that sometimes he would sit in his mosquito net with his eyes open to watch the jungle animals come to the water at twilight, also to drink and bathe. But the animals would only come out to drink when he was very still. If he moved, they would sense his presence, run back into the jungle and not return for many days. Ajahn Chah knew how to sit very still, so that the jungle animals didn’t know that he was there. He wouldenjoy watching them drinking and playing, sometimes squabbling, and he would delight in the antics of these wild children of nature.
On some occasions, Ajahn Chah would sit extremely still. Then, after the usual jungle animals had finished by the lake, some strange and wonderful animals would cautiously emerge from the undergrowth’s darkness. These beings, if they were animals at all, were so beautiful and rare that no one hade ever told him about their existence. Or if they had, then he hadn’t understood. He didn’t know their names, As they came out form the jungle, their ears would scan the whole area and their noses would timidly sniff for any danger. If Ajahn Chah stirred, even slightly, or softly said, “Wow,” these beings would pick up his presence instantaneously and flee back into the jungle, not re-emerging for months. They were the shyest of all beings who live in the jungle, andalso the most rare and wondrously beautiful. They are hard to describe.
In this accurate simile, the forest pool represents the mind, and theforest monk sitting near its edge stand for the mindfulness. When mindfulness is still, then, “animals” like the beautiful breath and pitisukha come out from the “jungle” to “play” by the mind’s edge.Mindfulness must remain still and not interfere otherwise the beautiful breath and pitisukha will nervously withdraw back into the jungle, not easily coming out again. But if the knower, mindfulness, remains extremely still, after the beautiful breath and pitisukha have finished their business in the mind, then the beautiful, shy nimitta will cautiously emerge to play in the mind. If the nimitta senses that mindfulness isn’tso still, if it hears the knower thinking “Wow,” then the bashful nimitta will immediately run back into the jungle, and it will not re-emerge for avery long time. Mindfulness blew the opportunity by moving.
So when the powerful and beautiful nimittas appear, one must remember this simile and watch with the stillness of an Ajahn Chah, sittingabsolutely motionless by the remote forest lake. One must restrain all excitement. Then one will watch this strange and wonderful nimitta make merry in the mind for a very long time, until it is ready to take one into Jhana.
Disturbing the Stable Nimitta
When the nimitta is stable and radiant, then one is at the entrance to Jhana. One must train to wait patiently here, maintaining the stillness through the lack of any doing, until the causes or conditions are readyfor the transition into Jhana. However, at this stage some meditatorsmake the mistake of disturbing the process by “peeking” at the edge ofthe nimitta.
Once the nimitta is stable and bright, one might become interested in its shape, or size. Is it circular or oblong? Are the edges precise or illdefined? Is it small or is it big? When one looks at the edge,mindfulness loses its one-pointedness. The edge is the place of duality,of inside and outside. And duality is the opposite of one-pointedness. If one looks at the edge, the nimitta will become unstable, and may evendisappear. One should keep mindfulness on the very center of the nimitta, away from the edge, until any perception of edge vanishes intothe non-duality of one-pointedness. Similarly, if one attempts to expandor contract the nimitta, then one will also be sacrificing the essentialone-pointedness. Expansion and contraction involve the perception of size, and that involves awareness of the edge of the nimitta and the space that lies beyond. Again one is falling back into the trap of duality andlosing one-pointedness, through this unprofitable expanding andcontracting.
So when the nimitta is stable and bright, just be patient. Don’t move.One is building up the Jhana factors of pitisukha and one-pointedness.When they are built to sufficient power, they will unfold into Jhana by themselves.
A Note on the Luminous (or Radiant) Mind
There is an oft-quoted passage from the Suttas that is relevant here, but which is often misunderstood. The passage is from the Anguttara Nikaya1.
This mind O monks, is luminous, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements. The uninstructed worldling doesnot understand this as it really is; therefore for him there is no mental development.
This mind, O monks, is luminous, and it is freed from adventitious defilements. The instructed noble disciple understands this as it really is; therefore for him there is mental development (AN 1,1-2).
At the stage of the beautiful and stable nimitta, it is the nimitta that isradiant and incredibly luminous. And the nimitta, as already explained, is an image of the mind. When one experiences such animitta, one recognizes it as the luminous the luminous (or radiant)mind of the Anguttara passage above. This nimitta is radiant because the mind has been freed of the Five Hindrances—is the doorway into Jhana, and then one truly understands what is meant by “mental development.”
When the nimitta is radiant and stable, then its energy builds upmoment by moment. It is like adding peace upon peace upon peace,until the peace becomes huge! As the peace becomes huge, the pitisukha becomes huge and the nimitta grows luminosity. If one canmaintain the one-pointedness here by keeping one’s focus on the very center of the nimitta, the power will reach a critical level. One will feel as if the knower is being drawn into the nimitta, that one is falling into themost glorious bliss. Alternatively, one may feel that the nimitta approaches until it envelops the knower, swallowing one up in cosmicecstasy. One is entering Jhana.
Yo-yo Jhanas and Snakes and Ladders. It sometimes happens that when an inexperienced meditator falls into the nimitta, they immediately bounce back to where they began. I call this “Yo-yo Jhanas,” after the children’s toy that goes up and down on the end of a string. It isn’t real jhana, because it doesn’t last long enough, but it is so close that I give it this label. It is that enemy “excitement,” which I explained above, that caused the mindfulness to bounce right back from jhana. Such asreaction is quite understandable since the bliss that one experiences when falling into the nimitta is so much more joy than one can everimagine. If one thought that the best sexual orgasm was something nice,then one now discovers that it is nothing, trivial, compared to the bliss of these jhanas. These jhanas are powerful, they blow one away, they are real bliss. Even after a Yo-yo jhana, one often bursts into tears with happiness, crying at the most wonderful experience, by far, of one’s whole life. So it is understandable that novice meditators experience theYo-yo jhanas first. After all, it takes a lot of training to be able to handle such immensely strong bliss. And it takes a lot of wisdom to let go of excitement when one of the great prizes of spiritual life is theirs for the taking.
For those who are old enough to remember the game snakes and ladders,the simple children’s board game played with dice, they will remember the most dangerous square to land on was the square just before the goal. The ninety-ninth square held the head of the longest of snakes. If you landed on the hundredth square you won. But if you landed on the ninety-ninth square, you fell down the snake ending right back at the beginning! A Yo-yo jhana is like landing on the ninety-ninth square ofthe game “snakes and ladders.” One is so very close to “winning thegame” and entering jhana, but one fell just a little short, landing on the snake-head of excitement, and slid, or rather bounced, right back to the start.
Even so, Yo-yo jhanas are so close to the real thing that they are not tobe sneered at. One experiences incredible bliss, and transports of joy. It makes one as high as a weather balloon, for many hours up high in the sky without a care in the world, and with so much energy that one can hardly sleep. The experience will be the biggest in one’s life. It will change you.
Through a little more training and wise reflection on one’s experience,one will be able to fall into the nimitta, or be enveloped by it, without bouncing out. The one has entered the amazing would of jhana.1
I am using the translation here from the Numerical Discourses of theBuddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya, translated by Nynaponika Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi, Oxford: Altamira Press, 1999, p36.