Helpful meditation similes

What are the similes and metaphors that have helped you in your personal meditation practice?
Goal would be to make a wiki entry here on SC with your inputs. Please use SC or (if not ETB) other accessible references! Categories would be (in descending priority): similes from…

  • suttas
  • commentaries / visuddhimagga,
  • mahayana
  • zen and vajjrayana
  • contemporary buddhist teachers
  • comtemporary other teachers

Let me start with AN 3.102
"Just as if a goldsmith … would take hold of some gold with his tongs and place it in the receptacle. Periodically he would blow on it, periodically sprinkle it with water, periodically examine it closely… In the same way, a monk intent on heightened mind should attend periodically to three themes: he should attend periodically to the theme of concentration… of uplifted energy… of equanimity."


SN 20.4:

Staying at Savatthi. "Monks, if someone were to give a gift of one hundred serving dishes [of food] in the morning, one hundred at mid-day, and one hundred in the evening; and another person were to develop a mind of good-will — even for the time it takes to pull on a cow’s udder — in the morning, again at mid-day, and again in the evening, this [the second action] would be more fruitful than that [the first].

AN 1.56:

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu cultivates loving-kindness for as long as a fingersnap, he is called a bhikkhu. He is not destitute of jhana meditation, he carries out the Master’s teaching, he responds to advice, and he does not eat the country’s alms food in vain. So what should be said of those who make much of it?

These have helped me to realize that I can always find time for a fingersnap of metta (like right now, taking a brief break in typing to send out some metta). Or even just as I am laying down my head on my pillow to sleep; why not do at least a fingersnap’s worth of metta? There’s no excuse not to, really :slight_smile:


(1)–(2) “Bhikkhus, for a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous, no volition need be exerted: ‘Let non-regret arise in me.’ It is natural that non-regret arises in a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous.

(3) “For one without regret no volition need be exerted: ‘Let joy arise in me.’ It is natural that joy arises in one without regret.

(4) “For one who is joyful no volition need be exerted: ‘Let rapture arise in me.’ It is natural that rapture arises in one who is joyful.

(5) “For one with a rapturous mind no volition need be exerted: ‘Let my body be tranquil.’ It is natural that the body of one with a rapturous mind is tranquil.

(6) “For one tranquil in body no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me feel pleasure.’ It is natural that one tranquil in body feels pleasure.

(7) “For one feeling pleasure no volition need be exerted: ‘Let my mind be concentrated.’ It is natural that the mind of one feeling pleasure is concentrated.

(8) “For one who is concentrated no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me know and see things as they really are.’ It is natural that one who is concentrated knows and sees things as they really are.

(9) “For one who knows and sees things as they really are no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me be disenchanted and dispassionate.’ It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate.

(10) “For one who is disenchanted and dispassionate no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me realize the knowledge and vision of liberation.’ It is natural that one who is disenchanted and dispassionate realizes the knowledge and vision of liberation.


“Thus, bhikkhus, one stage flows into the next stage, one stage fills up the next stage, for going from the near shore to the far shore.”

– Ceta­nākara­ṇīya­sutta AN10.2

I wish I had come accross this sutta earlier in my life. I try to always bring it to my mind, not only to the practice of formal meditation, but from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.


The Visuddhimagga also has rich images

Ch. XVI, 97 - pdf-page 530:
“Three friends, thinking, “We will celebrate the festival,” entered a park. Then one [samadhi] saw a champak tree in full blossom, but he could not reach the flowers by raising his hand. The second [effort] bent down for the first to climb on his back. But although standing on the other’s back, he still could not pick them because of his unsteadiness. Then the third [sati] offered his shoulder as support. So standing on the back of the one and supporting himself on the other’s shoulder, he picked as many flowers as he wanted and after adorning himself, he went and enjoyed the festival.”

Chapter VIII.202 - pdf-page 274f. illustrates breath meditation:
"Suppose there were a tree trunk placed on a level piece of ground, and a man cut it with a saw. The man’s mindfulness is established by the saw’s teeth where they touch the tree trunk, without his giving attention to the saw’s teeth as they approach and recede… "

  • tree trunk = the sign for the anchoring of mindfulness
  • the saw’s teeth = the in-breaths and out-breaths
  • the man’s mindfulness, established by the saw’s teeth where they touch the tree trunk = mindfulness at the nose tip or on the upper lip, without giving attention to the in-breaths and out-breaths as they approach and recede
With Metta


Thanks @Nimal , I know that collections of similes exist, yet my idea was not a general collection, but one that helped fellow practitioners in their practice. Could you quote with references in SC the ones that were helpful to you personally?

Sense-restraint, mindful attention, and how they feed into satipatthana & support progress, per the Gradual Path:

SN 22.101

When, bhikkhus, a carpenter or a carpenter’s apprentice looks at the handle of his adze…

SN 47.19

Bhikkhus, once in the past an acrobat set up his bamboo pole…

SN 47.20

Then a man would come along, wishing to live, not wishing to die, wishing for happiness, averse to suffering. Someone would say to him: ‘Good man, you must carry around this bowl of oil filled to the brim…

(Analayo writes, “Another important aspect of this simile is that it relates sustained awareness of the body’s activities to sense-restraint.”)

SN 54.10

Suppose, Ananda, at a crossroads there was a mound of soil…

Also, somewhere in the back of the Anapana Samuyutta (SN 54) anapanasati is described as “contemplating relinquishment”, which looks like the “letting go” that opens the door to sammasamadhi (this, I find, is much better meditation advice - in my case - than parsing the jhana pericopes).

Seated satipatthana rather than anapanasati, at the front end of my practice, has been hugely beneficial.

Finally, an especially suitable simile with respect to mental development in general:

AN 6.55

And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned to be right on pitch, was your vina in tune & playable?


Visuddhimagga, Ch. XX.104, pdf-page 660:

I always liked the mustard seed on a needle - there is just no way to stabilize it, neither the object of meditation nor the observing consciousness…

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When I started meditating I found the following simile helpful for the direction of my vipassana practice. It can be found in Sayadaw U Pandita - ‘In This Very Life’

I first applied it to the perceptions in sitting meditation and then to walking, and found it very helpful. I have vague memories of coming across the ant-image in an older text, so I’m not sure if it’s an U Pandita original.

The simile of the skilled bathman appears at several places (DN 2, MN 39, MN 77, MN 119, AN 5.28) and is still very useful to me when I ‘work’ with the joy in meditation.