Understanding animittā (signlessness) as in AN6.13

Hi friends,
In looking AN6.13 I have become a little puzzled about this phrase

‘animittā hi kho me cetovimutti bhāvitā…’

which Thanisarro Bhikkhu translates as

‘Although the signless has been developed…’

I understand animittā to be the opposite of nimittā/sign and that it’s not just limited to the bright light of the mind. However, I’m lost as to how to understand it in this particular context.

Can someone please shed some light on this for me?

Thanks :slight_smile:



Animitta, in suttas with parallels
From distorted perception your mind is on fire. Shun the sign of the beautiful accompanied by lust. See mental fabrications as other, as stress, & not-self. Extinguish your great lust. Don’t keep burning again & again. Develop the mind - well-centered & one - in the foul, through the foul.
Have your mindfulness immersed in the body. Be one who pursues disenchantment. Develop the signless. Cast out conceit. Then, from breaking through conceit, you will go on your way at peace.
SN 8.4

‘It is said, “the signless concentration of mind, the signless concentration of mind.” What now is the signless concentration of mind?’

“Then, friends, it occurred to me: ‘Here, by nonattention to all signs, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the signless concentration of mind. This is called the signless concentration of mind.’

“Then, friends, by nonattention to all signs, I entered and dwelt in the signless concentration of mind. While I dwelt therein my consciousness followed along with signs (nimittānusāri* viññāṇaṃ hoti).

*Anusari:[aor. of anusarati]: went after, followed - Anusarati [anu + sṛ] to follow - SK: √सृ sṛ : to run after, pursue (RV.)
Note: it is significant to realize that it is also at the level of sense-consciousness that the nimitta must be adressed. One must guard the doors of his sense faculties, AND also prevent consciousness to follow the nimitta, in the case that the former has not been properly performed.
I don’t know how reliable is MN 138, but one should take a look at this passage
Kathañcāvuso, bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ visaṭanti vuccati?
Idhāvuso, bhikkhuno cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā rūpanimittānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti rūpanimittassādagadhitaṃ rūpanimittassādavinibandhaṃ rūpanimittassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ (confused) visaṭanti (diffused, dispersed) vuccati.

“Then, friends, the Blessed One came to me by means of spiritual power and said this: ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent, brahmin, regarding the signless concentration of mind. Steady your mind in the signless concentration of mind, unify your mind in the signless concentration of mind, concentrate your mind in the signless concentration of mind.’ Then, on a later occasion, by nonattention to all signs, I entered and dwelt in the signless concentration of mind.
SN 40.9

"Monks, there are these three types of unskillful thinking: thinking of sensuality, thinking of ill will, thinking of harm. These three types of unskillful thinking cease without remainder in one who dwells with his mind well established in the four frames of reference or who develops the signless concentration. This is reason enough, monks, to develop the signless concentration. The signless concentration, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit, great benefit.
SN 22.80

And what, venerable sir, is the signless liberation of mind? Here, with nonattention to all signs, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the signless concentration of mind. This is called the signless liberation of mind.
SN 41.7

Note: As one of the path to nibbana:
“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned?
Signless concentration….
SN 43.12

Ten children I bore from this physical heap. Then weak from that, aged, I went to a nun. She taught me the Dhamma: aggregates, sense spheres, & elements. Hearing her Dhamma, I cut off my hair & ordained.
Having purified the divine eye while still a probationer, I know my previous lives, where I lived in the past. I develop the sign-less meditation, well-focused oneness. I gain the liberation of immediacy — from lack of clinging, unbound. The five aggregates, comprehended, stand like a tree with its root cut through. I spit on old age. There is now no further becoming.
Thig 5.8

The one whose defilements are dried up,
Who’s not attached to food,
Whose resort is the liberation
That is signless and empty:
Their track is hard to trace,
Like that of birds in the sky.
Thag 1.92

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.”
Thag 21.1



Ven Thanissaro’s translations of some other suttas may give clues

And what is the themeless awareness-release? There is the case where a monk, not attending to any theme enters & remains in the themeless concentration of awareness. This is called the themeless awareness-release.


Passion is a making of themes, aversion a making of themes, delusion a making of themes. For a monk whose fermentations are ended these have been abandoned, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. To the extent that there are themeless awareness-releases, the unprovoked awareness-release is declared supreme. And that unprovoked awareness-release is empty of passion, empty of aversion, empty of delusion

SN 41.7 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn41/sn41.007.than.html

How many conditions are there for the attainment of the theme-less awareness-release?"

“There are two conditions for the attainment of the theme-less awareness-release: lack of attention to all themes and attention to the theme-less property. These are the two conditions for the attainment of the theme-less awareness-release.”

“And how many conditions are there for the persistence of the theme-less awareness-release?”

“There are three conditions for the persistence of the theme-less awareness-release: lack of attention to all themes, attention to the theme-less property, and a prior act of will. These are the three conditions for the persistence of the theme-less awareness-release.”

“And how many conditions are there for the emergence from the theme-less awareness-release?”

“There are two conditions for the emergence from the theme-less awareness-release: attention to all themes and lack of attention to the theme-less property. These are the two conditions for the emergence from the theme-less awareness-release.”

MN 43 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.043.than.html


There are three doors to liberation: the signless, the desireless, and emptiness. If we understand impermanence, anicca, fully, it is called the signless liberation. If we understand suffering, dukkha, fully, it is the desireless liberation. If we understand no-self, anatta, fully, then it is the emptiness liberation. Which means we can go through any of these three doors. And to be liberated means never to have to experience an unhappy moment again. It also means something else: it means we are no longer creating kamma. A person who has been completely liberated still acts, still thinks, still speaks and still looks to all intents and purposes like anybody else, but that person has lost the idea that I am thinking, I am speaking, I am acting. Kamma is no longer being made because there is just the thought, just the speech, just the action. There is the experience but no experiencer. And because no kamma is being made any longer, there is no rebirth. That is full enlightenment.



in everyday, not jhanic, sense, i suppose this is basically not being entangled by and caught up in the properties of objects as they appear to the 5 senses and thereby form basis for ideation and conceptual proliferation, attraction and aversion

it has connection with sense restraint


Thank you all for your speedy replies. You have helped a lot.

Excellent Suci!

I think this is an explanation from the commentaries. Here is Piya Tan’s analysis:

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In the EBTs as far as I can see animitta is a samatha phenomenon. Vipassana requires stimuli (nimittas). At the very least they have anicca, dukkha and anatta as the stimuli. A state without stimuli won’t give rise to any new insight about the nature of the way things are. Equally someone might be puzzled as to how there can be Samatha or samadhi arising without a stimulus as focusing on a single object is how samadhi develops.

I came across what IMO is the closest description of an animitta samadhi technique that I have heard to date: the method is to sit in a quiet environment (ideally outside) and focus one’s attention on a tree (for example). While doing this, withdraw the mind from the stimulus of the tree while keeping the eyes open. If done correctly the tree should begin to fade away. This process can be then done to all stimuli presenting through the senses. At this point absolutely nothing will be perceived. The mind will enter a state of unification. When doing this it becomes apparent why Ven Moggallana had difficulty maintaining this state!

It is clear that this doesn’t involve seeing the aggregates or tilakkhana. In fact the EBTs show monks doing Vipassana after doing this. It is then that Nibbana is reached, using this samadhi as a base.

In a normal state of mind it is also possible to focus but without having an object of focus (without pushing aside sense stimuli, yet not focusing on them either). This will also develop samadhi. This is possible when these faculties have been practiced before with an object present. This method might be another way to practice animitta samadhi.

Neither of these methods are explicitly mentioned in the EBTs, incidentally. :slightly_smiling_face:

With metta


Are you saying desireless, signless, emptiness liberation is not found in sutta?

Hi Sarath,

Could you please read Piya Tan’s article above? I agree with it. I also liked Suci’s posting of suttas with animitta. I think it helps to do that otherwise I have to keep repeating myself.

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desireless, signless, emptiness ARE found in the suttas (EBTs).

With metta

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Thank you Sarath and Mat
very helpful

Where did you here that teaching on animitta samadhi?

I suppose you are referring to the two methods that I mentioned. The first one was from a dhamma discussion which was on the TV in Sri Lanka. The person who described it unfortunately thought it was Nibbana and that they had attained stream entry. However it looked like a good candidate for animitta samadhi. The second method was something that I came across while I was meditating.

With metta


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