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

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
Freawaru
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Re: Advice on tactile "nimittas", and how best to use them?

Post by 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?

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

Post by 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?

Post by 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?

Post by 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" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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)

Metta,
Dmytro

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

Post by 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?

Post by 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?

Post by 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?

Post by 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/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; 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" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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?

Post by 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" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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?

Post by 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).

Metta, Dmytro

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

Post by 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?

Post by 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?

Post by 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?

Post by 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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