We perceived both light and a vision of forms

This phrase is extracted from MN128 where the Buddha lists the many mind activities while meditating that prevent to reach Jhanas.

Does “light” mean Nimitta?

What’s the meaning of “vision of forms”?

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Light here is obhāsa:

and yes, I believe it refers to what later texts refer to as the nimitta. Perhaps confusingly, I don’t believe the word nimitta,

here means the nimitta, instead it means the “reason”. As I pointed out long ago in my A Swift Pair of Messengers, nimitta never means “vision” in the suttas, but it does frequently mean “cause”. This sutta is about discovering the reason why meditation progresses and declines.

“Forms” (rūpā) is similar in meaning here, although the plural suggests a diversity that is absent from plain old light. Perhaps it refers to a kind of psychic vision, perhaps of past lives or something of the sort. But in any case, it is definitely a visionary experience happening in subtle meditation. Unlike most Western terms for the physical world, rūpa includes purely mental experiences, which is one reason it is so hard to translate. Older translations sometimes used “aura” for this, which is not too bad, actually.

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Dear Bhante,
I’m confused by your explanation of “rūpā”

Unlike most Western terms for the physical world, rūpa includes purely mental experiences, which is one reason it is so hard to translate.

Do you mean that in general, such as khandha of rūpā, or just how “rūpā” is used in MN 128?

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I asked Ven. Anālayo once about this topic and this sutta, MN 128, which was used in his online course and he didn’t respond.

It is his belief that this sutta describes the method in the Visuddhimagga of ānāpānāssati practiced, also very similar to how Ajahn Brahm teaches the use of visual light as a way to enter Jhāna. I can see how one can infer that from viewing MN 128 in isolation. But in the context of other suttas, I don’t think this is tenable.

One can use visual light to enter jhāna. But in the suttas, samma samādhi, i.e. the jhānas is one thing, visual light is another. When the Buddha talks about development of visual light, it’s for knowledge and vision, and usually implying the development of 6 abhiñña. Also developing this perception of light is useful for warding off drowsiness.

Note that in MN 128, the Buddha is talking to Anuruddha, who is foremost disciple known for being the best in the psychic power of divine eye. The visual light and vision of forms is in the context of the divine eye. The more stable, powerful bright the light is, the further the divine eye can see.

Also in this sutta Mn 128 the Buddha talks about when he was still an unenlightened bodhisattva, and rather than having the 4 jhānas formula (maybe at that time hadn’t been formulated yet) he talks about samādhi in 3 ways.
If the Buddha wanted us to use visual light as the sole way to enter jhāna, you would think he would say so in the definition of samma samādhi, or in the anapansati 16 steps. He doesn’t. In the 4 jhana similes, you work with visual light in the 4th jhana. This doesn’t mean visual light isn’t or can’t be in the first 3 jhanas, but that the prominent features of those first3 jhanas are piiti and sukha that we use to pervade and suffuse the entire anatomical body.

In iddhipada samyutta, mahapphala sutta the development of visual light is clearly for the 6 abhiñña.

And take a look at AN 6.29. This sutta really makes it explicit that first you develop 3 jhanas, THEN develop visual light, do some asubha, then develop 4th jhana. If visual light was a prerequisite for first jhana, then you would think the buddha says so in that order.

AN 6.29
9. Udayisuttaü Ý To venerable Udayi

003.09. The Blessed One addressed venerable Udayi: Udayi, how many are the things to be recollected? When asked, venerable Udayi was silent. For the second time, The Blessed One addressed venerable Udayi: Udayi, how many are the things to be recollected? For the second time venerable Udayi was silent. For the third time, The Blessed One addressed venerable Udayi: Udayi, how many are the things to be recollected? For the third time venerable Udayi was silent. Then venerable ânanda said thus to venerable Udayi: Friend, Udayi, the Teacher addresses you: Friend, ânanda, I hear The Blessed One.

Here, venerable sir, the bhikkhu recollects the manifold previous births such as one birth, two, … re … thus with all details he recollects the manifold previous births. Venerable sir, these are the recollections. Then The Blessed One addressed venerable ânanda: ânanda I knew that the foolish man Udayi, does not live yoked to the higher development of the mind. ânanda, how many are the recollections?

Venerable sir, there are five recollections -What five?

Here, venerable sir, the bhikkhu secluding the mind from sensual desires … re … abides in the third higher state of mind. Venerable sir, these are the things to be recollected. When they are made much they conduce to pleasantness here and now.

Again, venerable sir the bhikkhu attends to the sign of light, the sign of day, as the day, so also the night. Thus with an open mind not encompassed develops the mind of radiance. When they are made much they conduce to gain of knowledge and vision.

Again, venerable sir, the bhikkhu reflects this same body up, from the feet and down from the hairs of the head, surrounded by the skin as full of impurities. There’s in this body, hairs of the head and body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, nerves, bones, bone marrow, bladder, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, small intestines, stomach, excreta, bile, phelgm, pus, blood, sweat, oil of the body, tears, fat, spit, snot, synovic fluid and urine. When reflected and made much it conduce to dispel seusual greed.

Again, venerable sir, the bhikkhu reflects a body thrown in the charnel ground, when dead, after one day, or two days, or three days, or swollen, or turned blue, or festering and reflects, it will be the same with this body too. This body has not gone beyond that. Or he looks at a body thrown in the charnel ground eaten by, crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, foxes, or eaten by various living things and reflects it will be the same with this body too. This body has not gone beyond that. Or he looks at a body thrown in the charnel ground, a skeleton with flesh, smeared with blood and bound with veins, a skeleton without flesh smeared with blood and bound with veins, a skeleton without flesh not smeared with blood and bound with veins, a skeleton with disconnected bones, thrown here and there, the bones of the hand in one place, of the feet in another place, of the knee in another place, of the thigh in one place, of the hips in another place, the backbone in one place and scull in another place and reflects it will be the same with this body too. This body has not gone beyond that. Or he reflects a body thrown in the charnel ground the bones turned white, like white pearls, decayed bones, bones decayed for three years, turned to dust and reflects it will be the same with this body too. This body has not gone beyond that. When reflected and made much it conduces to root out the conceit `I am’

Again, venerable sir, dispelling pleasantness and unpleasantness … re … abides in the fourth higher state of mind. When reflected and made much it conduces for the realization of various elements. Venerable sir, these five are to be recollected.

Good! ânanda, bear in mind these six recollections too. The bhikkhu proceeds mindfully, recedes mindfully, stands mindfully, sits mindfully, lies mindfully, intends activity mindfully. ânanda, when these are recollected it conduces to mindful awareness.

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Sorry, but these aren’t a sequential teaching in any literal sense. Often teachings in the suttas have the form “A, b–y, Z”; where A is an essential, foundational factor, “b–y” are more minor or optional qualities, and Z is the culmination. And that is what is going on here.

There are plenty of other places where light and jhana are associated; indeed, the very word jhāna means to “blaze or shine”, and probably the best English translation would be “illumination”.

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In general, although it is made explicit in such contexts as MN 128.

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Dear Bhante,
Could you elaborate further on the mental aspect of rupa, or refer me to an article?
What I’m confused about is how the mental aspect of rupa khandha is distinct from the 4 other aggregates.

MN 28 has:
5.“And
what is the material form aggregate affected by clinging? It is the
four great elements and the material form derived from the four great
elements. And what are the four great elements? They are the earth
element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.

So I guess you get the mental aspect from here:
SN 22.79
Because it is afflicted
(ruppati), thus it is called ‘form.’ Afflicted with what?
With cold & heat & hunger & thirst, with the touch of
flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles.
Kiñca, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ vadetha? Ruppatīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘rūpan’ti vuccati. Kena ruppati? Sītenapi ruppati, uṇhenapi ruppati, jighacchāyapi ruppati, pipāsāyapi ruppati, ḍaṃsa­ma­kasavā­tātapa­sarīsa­pa­samphas­senapi
ruppati. Ruppatīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘rūpan’ti vuccati.

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Dear Bhante,

The places that I know of in the sutta that associate visual light and jhāna all have to do with knowledge and vision, the 6 higher knowledges, and a few times for warding off drowsiness. āloka sañña, pabha citta. (I’m making a point about nimitta here for benefit of other readers) I don’t think “nimitta” is ever used to refer to visual light in pali sutta. I haven’t looked at every single occurence of nimitta in the suttas, but I looked at a lot of them and all the times I saw it in context of samadhi, nimitta is always referring to satipatthana. So like the vism., “nimitta” is a way into samadhi and jhānas, but nimitta is satipatthana!

MN 128, and another AN sutta with Anuruddha similar to MN 128 seem to be pretty clear in linking the quality and power of visual light perceived with the divine eye.

There’s the iddhipada mahapphala sutta that link it with 6 higher knowledges, the AN 6.29 sutta passage I quoted in previous msg, and the AN 4.41 samādhi sutta. These 3 suttas all again link it to knowledge and vision and/or 6 higher knowledges with the same ideas of “as by day, by night, as by night by day, develops a mind that is open, unhindered, and bright (pabha citta)”.

In AN 4.41:
"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.

contrast with how the same sutta describes the 4 jhanas:

"And what is the development of concentration that, when developed &
pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now? There is
the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from
unskillful qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana:
(etc. all the way to 4th jhana as in standard canonical right concentration definition) — he enters &
remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness,
neither pleasure nor pain. This is the development of concentration
that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the
here & now.

There are two suttas with the simile of the gold smith where 4th jhana, visual light, are linked to being able to easily attain 4 formless attainments and the 6 higher knowledges. In one or both of those sutta, “jhāna” is not explicitly used, but it’s clear from other keywords such equanimity, etc, that the samadhi is 4th jhana quality level.

So in these passages cited they all seem to link visual light with knowledge and vision and 6 abhinna. AN 4.41 and AN 6.29 especially make a point to separate light as one thing, jhanas as another thing.

I would be very interested to know, if there are suttas where perception of visual light is linked with jhāna (unambiguously as a way to enter jhāna). I was rereading the section on vism. on anapasati last week and don’t recall any sutta references to that effect. Pa Auk Sayadaw’s blanket answer for this type of question I’m asking is that the suttas are too pithy and we need the commentaries to fill in details such as redefining nimitta as visual light. I’m of the belief that the Buddha and first wave of arahants intentionally kept instructions concise, precise, so that it would be harder to smuggle foreign ideas into the suttas.

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Can you really experience any material forms, internal or external, without mental forms?

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Dear Frankk,

The mental aspect of rūpa khandha is just whatever form you see with the mind’s eye, as in dreaming or fantasising. Of course, when it comes to the jhānas this is going to be very subtle, just like vitakka-vicāra is very subtle in the first jhāna. In the same way that vitakka-vicāra in the first jhāna does not refer to verbal thought, so rūpa in the jhānas is so subtle that you would not normally be able to identify it as such. It can really only be fully understood from the standpoint of a higher attainment, that is, the immaterial states.

Does this help?

With metta.

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Dear Frankk,

I think you are right that there is not much emphasis in the suttas on the perception of light before entering jhāna. The emphasis in the suttas is on the experience of tranquillity, passaddhi, and happiness, sukha.

My experience with reading the suttas is that the Buddha is extremely skilful in explaining the path and that his emphasis is on those aspects that are most easily identified because they stand out the most. I therefore suspect that the Buddha’s emphasis on happiness is due to this being the most salient feature of the mind as it gets close to jhāna. Presumably it is also the feature that one is least likely to get deluded or confused about.

The problem with visual nimittas (and you are quite right that nimitta is not used in this way in the suttas) may be that they can occur in too many different forms, such as different shapes, colours and intensities. Moreover, there are all sorts of visual content (again often called nimittas, but this too does not stem from the suttas) that is not useful for samādhi at all. This can include all sorts of visions, either stills or in motion.

All of this does not mean that visual nimittas are not important for entry into jhāna, but simply that they are not the most reliable way to describe the path. Indeed, I for one read MN128 as saying that the perception of light are part of the regular path into jhāna.

With metta.

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Dear Ajahn Brahmali,
Thanks for the explanation of rupa. I wasn’t aware of the broader definition of rupa encompassing mental aspects such as imaginary rupa that appears in a dream or even while waking. I always just assumed that would fall under sañña and viññāna. But since 5 khandhas are not independent entities and they arise together, either interpretation could work.

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Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

Thanks for sharing your interpretations on nimitta and jhāna. My intent here is not to start a jhana debate, but to get a better understanding of how meditators in Ajahn Brahm’s system interpret jhana, samadhi, and how they interpret the suttas to support their understanding.

All of this does not mean that visual nimittas are not important for entry into jhāna,
but simply that they are not the most reliable way to describe the
path. Indeed, I for one read MN128 as saying that the perception of
light are part of the regular path into jhāna.

Can I infer from the quote that you understand visual nimitta are prerequisite to entering jhana?

There are meditators who can enter jhana using either thanissaro’s anapanasati method, or the vism. method. That is, these meditators have visual light nimittas at will, but they can choose to ignore them and still enter jhana by doing sabba kāya patisamvedi as pervasively applying sati and sampajano to every cell in their body with regard to breath, and factors associated with the breath such as piti and sukha. Their interpretation is that visual nimitta is not a prerequisite of jhana, but that it’s the passaddhi of both citta and kāya, and calming of vitakka and vicara that was the cause of entering jhana.

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Dear Frankk,

Visual nimittas seems to be very common before jhāna, but I cannot say whether they are an absolute necessity.

According to the suttas it is sukha, happiness, not passaddhi, which is the immediate condition for jhāna. It is too easy to interpret a range of peaceful experiences as jhāna unless one takes into account the powerful sukha that is also required.

With metta.

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MN31, that’s the sutta that is similar to MN128.

‘Perception of light and form’, in my experience differs.

The first time I stumbled upon it, it was a really bright light; as though someone had drawn the curtains and a car headlight was shining in (we were on the 1st floor, of course with such ‘elation/excitement’, concentration fell away immediately).

I’ve never been back to that place, though I see different signposts now.

Usually it’s ‘perception of light and form’, usually of a dark colour, like a cloud and it moves if I were to follow them. Realised that it is the movement of my mind (following them) that makes them move. Bringing the attention back to the mind, instead of that perception seems to calm it. A sudden external loud sound (like someone coughing right behind me) shattered the perception, quite violently.

Unlike the first time (where I remembered following the whole body of the breath effortlessly), the mind has never been as as concentrated.

The closest I got since was a rotating disc of light (like a radar or something), and the vision shattered when the recording of the person leading the guided meditation broke into speech.

sigh All my experiences thus far seem to be in agreement that while these perceptions are common, they should not be the ‘focus’ of one’s attention. Meaning, back to the basics - focus on calming the body and then, calming the mind, such that it is content with the breath. Have faith that the rest of the steps would come automatically.

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Lovely thread. Katannyu to the Bhantes and everyone. So glad to see this thread! . Now and then I would get a pulsating light (not to dark or strong, bluish green in color) but it doesn’t develop any further than that. I know that there is more to be learnt and practiced for the light to developed.

Similarly, I have changed my approach to the meditation by heavily emphasizing on contentment. I also notice that I am not able to watch my breath, mind, or bodily sensations and find that approach is forceful for me. I find it easier to just be aware instead which leads to enjoying the breath and peaceful moments. What also is helpful is caganussati or just remembering something happy/or inspirational. Or sometimes I look at pictures of suffering and arouse compassion for the many beings (including myself) that suffer through the dukkha of existence. I notice that the mind is brighter (feels light not heavy) that way and have began to incorporate that into the training as I have been forgetting to do it and got caught up in just straight stilling the mind LOL (craving and control are so ingrained in us yikes!)

Thank goodness for the Buddha’s compassion he left us with excellent teachings to understand the nature of the mind and how to properly train it. Attended to properly to our best of our abilities, there is nothing but great results to come from it - and here is the great part- we don’t even have to ask for it! Awesomeness :heart_eyes:

:pray:

May everyone be free,
russ
.

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I’ve been meditating for a little less than a year now and only recently I learned about this light perception thing during meditation. I haven’t experienced it at all, and that’s fine (at this stage, I’d probably scare it off anyway!).

I’ve been having other light-related issues though, and I wonder whether they’re related to my practice. It looks like it is, but I really don’t know for sure.

Has anyone experienced or maybe heard of light perception immediately after meditation (a pinpoint of blue light, for maybe 30 seconds after I opened my eyes), before falling asleep (the usual blackness became really bright, like someone had turned on the lights) or during sleep (explosions of purple light while dreaming, which made me consciously want to wake up to check what was happening in my bedroom, and that even lingered for a couple of seconds after I opened my eyes - at that stage they were too purple circles near my eyes)?

Can those things be weird after effects of meditation? Or maybe I should talk to an eye doctor? Or just keep meditating, not paying attention to none of it?

I apologize if this is not the right thread or even forum to discuss this. If that’s the case, you can dismiss the whole thing entirely, no problem! :smile:

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Dear Fabiola,

If we’re talking about things experienced outside of the meditation, I’ve been seeing little pinpoints (occasionally bigger blotches) of light that usually last for only a fraction of a second and are mainly in the corner of my eye but sometimes appear right in the middle of my field of vision (a pinprick of beautiful light on paper while reading for example). Also sometimes I perceive all of my vision as kind of pulsating. It’s like being aware of the refresh rate of my vision.

So I’d guess it has something to do with the changes in our perception and perhaps the mind sense is becoming more active and is starting to “superimpose” stuff on things seen with the eye.

It would be good if others also reported if they have similar experiences, since I’m pretty sure a doctor would have no idea about these things (unless there’s something physically wrong with the eye or some part of the visual center of the brain).

With metta,
Raivo

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Thank you for sharing your practise: bring up good mental states (contentment, etc).

I’ve only just recently realised the importance of what Ajahn Brahm’s one liner: "If there is nothing to do, do nothing. If there is something to do, give it everything you’ve got."
It has to be all out and all the time, in everything that one does, whether in life or in meditation. (Just as the Buddha’s words, which should be taken to its absolute - when he said virtue - it is complete, utterly perfect and pure.)
And as usual, knowing this and doing it takes a bit of time to reconcile. :smile: [My present peeve has to do with multi-tasking which laylife has made me learn. Still recall how painful it was to learn it. It needs to be unlearned.]

While the past experiences are interesting, it is more important to focus on the present, for the future.

IMHO, the goal is not to develop the light. For me, at present, it is the progressive training in MN56 Upalisutta: generosity; virtue; K&R; danger in sensual pleasures & benefit in renunciation. Remember that Ajahn Brahmali’s opinion:

One more thing I’d retain from the memories is that during the months immediately after the deepest (which was also the first) experience, there was very little ‘wanting’. Someone asked me what I wanted from that, I said, ‘nothing.’

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Dear Waiyin,

:pray:
Sadhu! Sadhu! Another thing I’ve been experimenting with is to always wear a smile no matter what I’m doing. I notice that I don’t think as much because the smile naturally brings up happiness and my mind does not wander. At work during lunch time I usually walk back to eat inside my vehicle for some peace and quite, and while walking I notice that when I am smiling, my mind doesn’t wander but just feels the smile:) When I take breaks from my desk, I would walk around the building which is a good solid block and before my mind would wander but now that I would just wear a smile whilst looking down, the mind is not cluttered much.

Sukhi hotu.

:pray:

May all beings be free,
russ

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