Phenomenology of meditation objects - how to describe pre-nimitta meditative experiences?


Yes there is certainly a need/desire for this, but it does have a significant impact on how a forum is run. I’m sure that when the time is right, there will be opportunity to discuss these kinds of matters and have input. Just from my own perspective, I would suggest that we wait until Vassa is over before starting this ball rolling :slight_smile:

There is still a great deal that can be learned and shared without being a ’ completely personal case study’, and it is very useful to keep a focus on what the Buddha advised, rather than just hearing personal views and opinions (which can be endless) :slight_smile:


It sounds like you are more than ready to move on from reading books about what the Buddha taught to reading the Buddha’s actual teachings. Sutta Central is the place for this! For how to practice you can make a start with MN118 Anapanassati Sutta, with it’s four tetrads (tetrad = ‘4-part structure’) and MN10 Satipatthana Sutta. And could someone please remind us of the title of the sutta that best presents the Gradual Approach? This sutta, which I can’t find at the moment, puts it all into the context of sīla (ethics), samādhi (stillness/meditation) and pañña (wisdom).

That’s a very small beginning and, while we don’t (as a policy) discuss our personal practice in this forum, there are heaps more suttas to find, and, as @viveka suggested, we can turn this whole thread into an ongoing personal message thread that would be private to the participants and a suitable place to be more personal.


Hello Viveka and others! :slight_smile:
Yes I have already booked retreat with Bhante Sujato in Slovakia, very happy for that! :smiley:
All places on Polish retreat were already taken the first day, but me and my friends are going to Slovakia :slight_smile: Can’t wait for that, but I thought I really could use some help right now.

I really need guideance in meditation from really experienced teacher (I have trouble and fear of opening to some powerful dissolution experiences which happen in my meditations sometimes and scares me a lot), so I’ll just write a PM to Ajahns and hope that they will find a while to reply to my personal concerns. It is very difficult sometimes, because we don’t have a single monastic in Poland and generally no one who is very deep into practice, so I feel very lonely in my practice when going deeper into it to the point when things get really serious. It is hard for us when we get deeper into mind and get scared of profundity and power and peculiarity of these experiences and we have no people to look over us. And no all these experieces are so pleasant as Ajahn Brahm says “dissapearing is so fun”. For me sometimes it is hellish experience of absolute fear. So please understand that I wanted to share here and find someone who might help a little or just get some encouragment from someone who “been there, done that”, or understand a little more whats happening to me and what to expect next, how to deal with etc…

But lets keep this topic from now on only related to more objective dhamma, and I’ll try to get support via PM. I believe this discussion can go into very constuctive direction.
I also believe some description of our experiences can really deepen our objective understanding of the dhamma, because our personal experience is everything we’ve got after all. So without them we would never understand what suttas are really about. So I think we can use this descriptions as objective case study if needed, not for personal stuff. But thats just my opinion. Anyway, more than enough was described already, so we can get into more theoretical stuff.

Back to the subject: I think it would nice to find a pali canon word for this “entity” that “piti” and “breath” are expressions of. What are these experiences of energetic body?
I think they are partly piti, partly “citta” and partly “elements” that I’ve described when writing about kasinas. But I’m not sure whether elements are EBT or some later work.
I’ve actually read carefully MN 118 and MN10 more than once, and I didn’t found there much about things I was talking about. I wasn’t asking from point of ignorance of never reading the suttas… I’ve read the suttas but still can’t find there many answers on my own, thats one of the reasons why I started this discussion. I wouldn’t dare to ask questions without reading the suttas or search the Internet first.

For example there is no single mention of “tetrads” in the suttas, it seems like a classification/interpretation of text. How oral text can be coded into tetras after all? It is just for our convinience it seems. Someone had at some point of codyfying the text put it into tetras, since Buddha didn’t say “there you have these 4 stages making first tetrad”, but just 16 stages of anapanasati… Am I not correct?

@paul1 A lot of teachers have different opinions on samatha vs vipassana. For example Ajahn Brahmali says they are parts of the same practice and not distinct methods that can be divided at some point. Thats why I asked about your opinion and to elaborate on this division at the second stage. Anyway I’ll seek answers in the suttas as you’ve pointed out, when I have the time, thanks.


Perhaps you can share a couple of suttas that you find help people with their practice, that apply to some of the issues @Invo has raised. :relieved:


This is true, though in the Anapanasati sutta stages 1-12 is samatha and 13-16 is insight. The ‘liberation of mind’ is likely to be the first or one of the jhana. Vipassana is practiced after that. This insight practice (impermanence of the in and out breath) focuses on the sign of impermanence -of each breath. This is how the fourth foundation of mindfulness is fulfilled, here as the mindfulness of breath fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness.

For ‘light’ see MN128 SuttaCentral

There’s a lot to explain, but also see Samadhi Sutta: Concentration (Tranquillity and Insight).



The whole path


Hope this helps. :pray:



The elements (Pali dhātu) are definitely referred to in the EBTs. See, e.g. SN 14:30 SuttaCentral

The number of elements enumerated varies according to context: sometimes 4 (air, water, fire, earth), sometimes more (e.g. SuttaCentral)

If you do a key word search ‘element’ on the main SuttaCentral website, you should find plenty of lovely discourses to read.


I don’t think there is any mention of “energy body” in the suttas, nor is there any mention of light nimitta (that first comes about in the Visuddhimagga, correct me if I’m wrong).

Similar ideas might be the idea of a manomayakaya in the section on psychic powers (iddhi), an illusory dream body that is pulled from the corporeal body like a sword from it’s sheath. The light visuals bear resemblance to “light and vision of forms” obhāsa and rūpa (in meditation context). However, usually even when the Buddha mentions these other meditative experiences, he caveats them by only most highly praising those practices which lead to liberation.

In my opinion, the body that’s referred to in the anapanasati sutta is the physical body and not a “body of breath”. This is a debated topic though. The idea of a breath body and an energy body has precedence in the Upanisads, where there are some passages that suggest different layers of bodies around the Self. These ideas are later expanded upon in the Tantras and the Yogic traditions in the Medieval period of India.

Drugs are another hotly debated topic. Most people are unaware, but the 5th precept only came about later in history and drinking for monastics, although an offense, is not a disrobing one. Do psychedelics lead to a loss of mindfulness? I would argue that the general thrust of most psychedelia is not in the same direction as alcohol, they generally don’t lead in the direction of addiction like alcohol, opioids, cocaine, etc. and when taken at higher doses don’t lead to bumbling around, pursuing sense-objects like an animal but instead lead to a kind of withdrawal from “the world”. Other classes of hallucinogens like dissociatives, perhaps even more interestingly, share the effect of many Buddhist practices (not me, mine, myself). Although it must be said that because these effects aren’t the result of wisdom, they are dependent, short-lived, and probably not true insight in a Buddhist sense.

( @MODS please advise, I know these are sensitive topics)


You can find more information about kasina practice in Chapter 4 of the Visuddhimagga, there is a PDF version on Access To Insight.
Basically kasina are used as “external” objects for developing concentration.

As for the elements of form, MN140 provides a comprehensive analysis.


For some detailed discussion of the term nimitta in the suttas, see Bhikkhu Analyo’s Encyclopedia Entries on Nimitta and Upakkilesa Sutta, at this link:

I collected some of the sutta quotes here: “Concentration Nimittas” Suttas mentioning tranquility and concentration nimittas - Dhamma Wheel


:slight_smile: It would seem that the right time is now :slight_smile: The words of the Buddha are the clearest directions, and reflecting on them in light of your issues can yield the required insights.


Thank you for your sensitivity around sensitive topics and making your statements objective. You provided some careful guidance and have avoided stating your own view, either for or against, and thus haven’t encouraged anybody to argue with you or state personal opinions of their own.


Thank you all for your links and references :slight_smile: You’re very kind ! :slight_smile:

I’ll read the all suttas you’re provided and when I’ll finish I’ll post my speculation about how to put these experiences into words of the suttas. Thank you for inspiring me to look deeper into the suttas.

Nice to see that elements are part of EBT and not just later addition.

There is interesting passage in AN 4.41, Samadhi sutta

"And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision? There is the case where a monk attends to the perception of light and is resolved on the perception of daytime [at any hour of the day]. Day [for him] is the same as night, night is the same as day. By means of an awareness open & unhampered, he develops a brightened mind. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision.

What is your take on it? I thought that possible interpretation is if “day is same as night” that he sees some inner light (light nimitta perhaps like Ajahn Brahm describes?) that makes everything he see is this light, so he cannot discern what amount of light there is in outside world. I thought this passage refers to deeper jhanas, when we go into light nimittas. What do you think?

The more I think about it the more it seems like it could be both physical body, body of breath, or energetic body. Sooner or later concentration dissolves any kind of body into same “mass of energy”, whatever type of samadhi we are using (khanika samadhi - with moving attention, or appana samadhi - one-pointed attention) in which I suppose nimittas can appear and get into the jhana, or some advanced vipassana practice may happen depending on other factors, like type of samadhi and wheter one is focusing more on piti or on three characteristics. That’s my intuitions for this moment, but I am no expert. What you think?

It is very interesting that it came later on. Do you have a source for this information?
It is very vast subject when it comes to entheogens and I think it would deserve seperate topic, but for now I’ll just drop it cause it could cause controversies and I think it will be good to just stick to discussing subject of putting pre-nimitta experiences into words of EBT. Maybe one day :slight_smile:

Thats the general interpretation yes. But somewhere I found information that kasina could actually mean “category”. Like for example kasina of space - and you notice/concentrate on spaciousness in general. I also believe that external kasinas are only beginning phase to later focus on internal kasina.

Interesting information:

When I met Ajahn Brahm, I asked him and he said that Kasina meditation is not encouraged because the resulting nimitta is very, very strong. I did not ask him to elaborate as I got it from his intonation that it’s negative. However, he later added that if we really want to do Kasina, we must combine it with metta to soften the effect and keep us on the right path.

Interesting. It opened me a new doors in my unerstanding of meditation that object of meditation can be actually too powerful. Especially when coming from mouth of Ajahn Brahm, because he is well known for encorauging diving into deep and powerful states of mind.

With metta :pray:


Space is an interesting topic. A distinction is made in the Visuddhimagga between contained space (as in kasina practice) and boundless or infinite space (as in formless jhana).
There is also spaciousness of mind, which is probably best considered in the context of the third frame of satipatthana (see MN10).
And on a related note there is emptiness (sunnata), but that’s another discussion!


I want to bring in the idea, that phenomena arise because causes make them arise! This inherently means there’s no Self, doing it. Phenomena constantly change.


Sure :slight_smile: But the path is divided into three pillars: sila, samadhi and panna. Vipassana is practice directed at “realisation” of ultimate reality, while samadhi can be helpful also in dealing with relative reality, and to get better preparation for vipassana practice.
My posts relates mostly to the second pillar: samadhi practices, which are still in the realm of relative reality. And putting too much vipassana into it too quickly can be very confusing in my opinion.
So it is not bad to “deal with conventions” first, and to drop them a later stage I suppose :wink: And when we’re talking about earlier stages of meditation for a lot of students it is good to let them understand mind on relative level before diving deeper into “ultimate” vipassana.

This is exactly what I find not suitable for me in Goenka vipassana school. They dive too fast into too deep stuff, talk too much of only deep insight practice, and too little of samadhi stages and development of metta and people just loose faith in meditation altogether. I stopped practicing for years because of this and resumed when I found Ajahn Brahm.
This point was also arisen by Bhante S. Dhammika in his book “The Broken Buddha”, that hard-core vipassana schools put too much emphasis on sooo deep stuff that it is discouraging for most students, who at first seek to just get some progress in their lives and learn how to deal with their mind, before they get to full awakening stuff. I also remember Ajahn Brahmali criticising same aspects in his talks and posts on forums.

The fact that vipassana is of course final aspect of the path should not stop us from discussing in depth the second pillar - samadhi. :slight_smile:



Rather than criticise a particular technique/tradition/school, I would rather just acknowledge that we are all different, and what works for one person may not work for another.

For example, I’ve heard of people spending a whole year at Mahasi centre in Burma and described the experience as like banging their head against a brick wall. I’ve heard of others who attain stream entry on their first day there.

There’s no fault or blame to be attached. As practitioners, we just need to find what works best for us as an individual.


I totally agree with you that we are all different and thanks for pointing that out. I just point out to the fact that we can have different approaches towards the practice and different realm of practice among various moments of life.

Most on my questions were related to details of various ways of samadhi practice on pre-nimitta stage (in Ajahn Brahm understanding of nimitta), and many responses I got are about switching my attention to more universal vipassana practice.

It is like someone is asking about technique of driving cars, and someone is telling “you know, you can use a plane”. It can be a nice advice but it is not related to the question of how to drive a car. Which is the response I got all the time from vipassana teachers on retreats there, like my questions relating samadhi stages were irrelevant and just go back to vipassana practice. It is not that I think vipassana is unimportaint, it is just I wanted to discuss some aspects of samadhi practice in relation to EBT, so I/we can better communicate about these things with other buddhists.

Anyway I’m going to educate myself more in the things discussed here, thanks again for pointing out the suttas, I’ll also look deeper into vipassana aspects, much to read and practice I have. I’m deeply sorry if my posts have offended anyone in any way, it wasn’t my intention, just expression of my own experience, feelings and perceptions.

Have a nice day everyone, with metta :pray:


And yet there is still intention (cetana), with which we create our world.


I agree with your general point, and I think it’s important to develop both samatha and vipassana, tranquillity and insight, calm and clarity.

See AN2.31 (at the bottom), where these two qualities have a share in clear knowing: