Good question.ToVincent wrote:Is the mental state (quale,) related to the "something it is like to have that experience"; inside or outside my head is one question.
But is the "salty", the sensual sign (nimitta,) outside or inside my head; is another question. The taste is certaily inside, but where does the "salty" lies?
Can we then, agree with Stephen Hodges when he considers nimitta to be exclusively a percept ("in your head"); or is nimitta also external to satta?
In some contexts the word 'nimitta' does mean external sign. But unfortunately, in cases when it does mean internal representation, the English translation is often skewed to preserve the uniformity of terms. One of such cases is experession "nimittaṃ gaṇhāti" (apprehends the representation).
Visuddhimagga (XIV 130) explains the recognition (saññā) in such a way:
"sabbāva sañjānanalakkhaṇā, tadevetanti puna sañjānanapaccayanimittakaraṇarasā dāruādīsu tacchakādayo viya, yathāgahitanimittavasena abhinivesakaraṇapaccupaṭṭhānā hatthidassakāndhā (udā. 54) viya, yathāupaṭṭhitavisayapadaṭṭhānā tiṇapurisakesu migapotakānaṃ purisāti uppannasaññā viyāti."
"All (saññā) has the characteristic of recognition (sañjānana); its property is the making of representation (nimitta) that is a condition of recognizing again, 'this is the very same thing' - as carpenters and so on do with the wood, etc.; its manifestation is the producing of conviction by virtue of a representation (nimitta) that has been accordingly learnt - like the blind perceiving the elephant ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ); its basis is whatever object that has come near - like the recognition (saññā) 'people' that arises for young animals in respect of scarecrows."
Ven. Analayo writes in his book "Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation":
The term "nimitta" can indeed mean "sign", but in this context the usage of "sign" is strained, and seems to result from current tendency to find one translation of the term for all contexts.The term “sign” renders the Pāli word nimitta. A nimitta is a sign in the sense that it can refer to the outward characteristic mark of things. These characteristics are the signs, the sign-als, that make it possible to recognize things.
In relation to the process of perception in general, the nimitta is what causes one to recognize something. An illustrative example for this function of the nimitta can be gathered from a situation depicted in the Raṭṭhapāla-sutta. Raṭṭhapāla had gone forth against the wish of his parents. After a long time had passed, he decided to visit his home town. Having arrived there, he approached his parental house while begging for alms. Seeing him from afar, his father did not recognize him and started abusing him, expressing his resentment towards these shaven-headed recluses who he felt had lured his only son away from him. Raṭṭhapāla turned around and left.
Here the father had not been able to recognize the characteristic marks, nimitta, of his own son, probably because he had never seen him dressed as a monk and with shaven head. In addition to the different outer attire, Raṭṭhapāla would also have been walking in a more self-restrained manner than earlier, when he was still living at home. All these differences, combined with the fact that the father only saw the monk from afar, would have made recognition difficult.
The story does not end here. A female servant left the house to throw away some stale food. Raṭṭhapāla approached her and asked that she give the food to him, instead of throwing it away. On coming close to Raṭṭhapāla to do that, the female servant recognized that this monk was the son of the head of her household. The Raṭṭhapāla-sutta and one of its parallels preserved in the Madhyama-āgama agree in using the term nimitta (and its Chinese equivalent) in this context, specifying that she recognized Raṭṭhapāla by the nimitta of his hands and feet, as well as by the nimitta of his voice.34
This shows the functioning of a nimitta as a central factor in the operational mechanics of memory and recognition. It is with the help of the nimitta that the perception aggregate is able to match information received through the senses with concepts, ideas, and memories.
Let's examine the sentence from Ratthapala sutta mentioned by Analayo:
"Atha kho āyasmato raṭṭhapālassa ñātidāsī taṃ ābhidosikaṃ kummāsaṃ āyasmato raṭṭhapālassa patte ākirantī hatthānañca pādānañca sarassa ca nimittaṃ aggahesi."
First, "nimitta" here is singular, and not plural 'sign-als', 'characteristic marks', or "characteristic features" in Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation:
Secondly, what causes one to recognize something is not some features of the object, but rather an inner representation of the object that one has acquired previously (as explained in Visuddhimagga passage above). When this inner representation turns out to be congruent with what one perceives, then one recognises the object.... While she was doing so, she recognised the characteristic features of his hands, his feet, and his voice.
So the literal translation of this sentence would be:
"While a slavewoman belonging to one of venerable Raṭṭhapāla's relatives was pouring some old porridge into venerable Raṭṭhapāla's bowl, she apprehended (gaṇhāti) her inner representation (nimitta) of his hands, his feet, and his voice."
This apprehension is a controllable mental act, as described in instructions on guarding sense doors:
and this apprehension (gaṇhāti) differs somewhat from recognition (saññā), since it describes a part of recognition when one attends to inner representation, without part of using sense faculties, or of making a representation.'ehi tvaṃ bhikkhu, indriyesu guttadvāro hohi, cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā mā nimittaggāhī ..."
Go, monk, guard well the doors of sense faculties. Seeing form with vision, don't apprehend the representation ...
(MN 107 and other suttas)
The sensual desire often increases in absence of physical object, when one recalls and contemplates the attractiveness of something.Careless attention (to sign of beauty) => letting it in ( => consciousness).And what, bhikkhus, is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire? There is, bhikkhus, the sign of the beautiful: frequently giving careless attention to it is the nutriment...
And what, bhikkhus, is the denourishment that prevents unarisen sensual desire from arising and arisen sensual desire from increasing and expanding? There is, bhikkhus, the sign of foulness: frequently giving careful attention to it is the denourishment...
Careful attention (to sign of foulness) => Not letting the sign of beauty in.
Similarly, dispassion can grow in absence of physical object, when one gives attention to inner representation of bloated corpse, or similar.
You may find useful the thread on "animitta":Then forget about the "signs of your own mind"Meditate on the signless,
Throw out the underlying tendency to conceit,
And when you have a breakthrough in understanding conceit,
You will live at peace.”