Part Two: Principles
The Principles of Tranquillity and Insight
In Part Two, there is a change in the emphasis of this book - the
next two chapters look at the principles that underlie meditation,
rather than practice.
When you first learn to meditate there is no need for any special
knowledge, apart from understanding the basic instructions in meditation.
The important thing is simply to put what you have learned into practice.
Sooner or later you can decide whether or not you wish to continue
meditating indefinitely.
But once you have made a firmer commitment to your practice, it is
a good idea to learn a little of the theory behind Buddhist meditation.
Then, when you are ready to go more deeply into things, you will have
the necessary foundation of knowledge.  An overview of the Buddhist
Path will help give you confidence in what you are doing.
This part of the book is therefore more concerned with the underlying
principles of Buddhist meditation.  If you find some sections too technical
for your taste, then just skip them for the time being.
Part Three deals again with practical methods - methods that are
relevant to more experienced meditators.  Some of the ideas in Part
Three will make more sense if the principles explained here in Part
Two are understood.


Chapter Four
Higher Consciousness

the process of integration

Here perpetual incense burns;
The heart to meditation turns,
And all delights and passions spurns.
A thousand brilliant hues arise,
More lovely than the evening skies,
And pictures paint before our eyes.
All the spirit's storm and stress
Is stilled into a nothingness,
And healing powers descend and bless.
 Refreshed, we rise and turn again
To mingle with this world of pain,
As on roses falls the rain.

Urgyen Sangharakshita

Sometimes when we meditate we may find blissful feelings arising spontaneously.  Such feelings can range from mild pleasure and joy to an almost overwhelming ecstasy - the experience can sometimes be so beautiful that we shed tears.  People often blush, find their hair standing on end, or feel `goose-pimples'.  What is more, their ability to concentrate may enter a completely new dimension of lucidity and calmness.  Whatever is happening? In psychological terms, they are directly experiencing what is known as the process of integration: somewhere, disparate parts of the psyche are combining into a whole.
In spiritual terms, we are beginning to enter a higher state of consciousness - the first of four preliminary levels of dhyana enumerated by Buddhist tradition - which is experienced as a deep inner harmony.  It is the transition to this harmony which is so blissful.
Before I explain the nature of dhyana any further, it will be useful for us to understand how the process of integration takes place, to see the connection between dhyana and our day-to-day states of mind - which may not always be filled with bliss and inner peace! More often our mind resembles a battleground of contradictory likes, dislikes, hopes, and fears.
Practising mindfulness, whether in formal meditation or outside of meditation, is likely to reveal paradoxes and oppositions in our character.  It's almost as though we are not one person - as though we have a number of different `selves'.  We may, for example, behave quite differently when we are at work, when we are at home, and when we are with particular sets of friends.
This is the case with everyone (to different degrees, and in different ways) and is perfectly natural.  We probably even choose our activities and friends precisely because they allow us to express different sides of our personality.  However, the fact that we do so indicates something of an imbalance, though we may not immediately see things that way.
Imagine you are walking along with a neighbour, someone with whom you are on friendly terms.  On the way, quite by chance, you meet another friend from work.  These two people have never met before; both know you quite well, but each knows you in a different context.  The personality that your workmates see every weekday probably differs in certain respects from your `off duty' personality around the home.  Each friend may actually see you quite differently, and expect different behaviour of you.  Such an encounter may feel rather odd, since you may find it difficult to live up to both sets of expectations at once.
This example illustrates a way in which we may sometimes detect a hint, at least, of hidden divisions within the mind.  We do not usually notice such blind spots ourselves, unless they are pointed out to us.  It is rather as though we have many different selves or, rather, different `sub-personalities', which influence the mind in different ways at different times.  Sometimes it is as if we had a whole coach full of these different characters, and each of them wants to take over the driving! Inconsistencies and conflicts like these are at the root of much of the psychological tension that we experience in day-to-day living.  They can be very strong - so when the tension bound up in conflict is released through meditation, it's no wonder that blissful feelings and clarified concentration can arise.
However, these dhyana-like feelings, enjoyable as they are, are not the aim of meditation.  At this stage they usually last for only a few sessions at most, so it may be tempting to chase them - we’ll probably want to get them back! But such an approach is likely to stir up distracted meditations.  Dhyana is a by-product of the integration process - it’s what we feel when inner conflicts come to a head and are resolved.  It is only natural that for a while afterwards we no longer experience quite the same intensity of pleasure, as the leading edge of our practice once again gets to work on the less integrated departments of our mind.  For the time being our meditation will be more or less `back to normal'.  Yet the general tone of our practice, in terms of concentration and emotional engagement, will now be established at a new level.  And, provided we keep practising, we should be able to maintain that new level.
breaking down the walls
Integration is an interesting phenomenon.  It's as though our life used to go on in several different `compartments' at once, and now the momentum of our practice has started to remove some of the separating walls.  We have begun to harmonize the contrary aspects of our character, together with the thoughts and emotions that are associated with them - and which, no doubt, often arise as hindrances to concentration.
On the whole we can actually see the changes that are happening; they are all more or less at the surface of our mind, all on the same horizontal plane.  But sometimes meditation can penetrate deeper than this.  Sometimes we may go beyond the hindrances altogether and transcend the world of the senses and the ordinary mind.  This is when we enter the state of absorption (dhyana) in the fullest sense.  When we enter into absorption at this deeper level, some of the contents of our subconscious mind will come `up' into our consciousness.  This marks the beginning of a `vertical' aspect to the process of integration.
horizontal and vertical integration
This second aspect of integration is called `vertical' because we are getting into contact with our heights and our depths - we are discovering our heavens and our hells.  At this stage a completely new order of emotions, thoughts, and pictorial images may be released into our consciousness.  They may be connected with significant past experiences: happy childhood memories, or perhaps painful experiences that have long been forgotten.  They may well be vision-like: sometimes people see divinely beautiful or awe-inspiring forms such as gods, demons, Buddhas, or symbolic images.  Such experiences have a very different character to the samapattis
(distortions of sense-perception that can occur at the edges of deeper concentration, described in Chapter Three).  These are more like visionary experiences - universal images coming from the heights and depths in our mind, such as the archetypes described by Carl Jung, who particularly mentions the Shadow, the Hero, the Anima and Animus, and the Wise Old Man.  Images like these are commonly experienced in deep meditation.  Clearly, there is much hidden energy and creativity in the depths, waiting to be activated through meditation.

Consciousness levelCharacterised by
Ordinary consciousness
Desire for sense experience
  • Ill will
  • Sloth and torpor
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Doubt and indecision
    • Mental factors in conflict
    • Energy blocked
    • Emotional clinging to hindrance
    Access concentration
    No gross hindrances present
    • Enjoyment
    • Co-operation of mental factors
    • Concentration easier
    • More energy available
    • No strong emotional pull towards hindrances
    First dhyana
    Described later
    Described later
    Ordinary consciousness, access concentration, and dhyana
    getting to know the dhyanas
    access concentration

    Getting rid of these five hindrances is like having a debt
    remitted - it is passing from a famine-stricken country into a
    land of prosperity.  It is like living in peace and safety in the midst
    of violence and enmity



    The experience of dhyana begins to emerge at the point in our meditation when the five hindrances start to die away.  This point is known as access concentration (Pali upacara samadhi): we now have `access' to the dhyanas.
    It is extremely useful if we can recognize whether or not we have reached this stage in our meditation.  We will know that we are `in access' when the concentration has become significantly easier.  At this point our thoughts and emotions will start co-operating with our efforts to concentrate, instead of continually pulling us away from it.  We will still experience some distractions, but these will not exert a strongly emotional pull, as do the five hindrances.
    This new situation provides us with a significant opening.  Since distracting thoughts now have less power over us, we have more free energy available.  This allows us to notice distractions more quickly, before they have time to take hold; it is therefore easier to disengage from them.  Reducing the level of distracted mental activity frees even more energy - which further sharpens our awareness.  We are entering into an expansive, progressive phase; indeed, this is the beginning of meditation proper.
    cultivating higher consciousness
    The term `access concentration' doesn't just mark a cross-over point between the ordinary mind and dhyana.  It describes quite a broad band of consciousness, ranging from the point at which we are concentrated but still frequently slipping back into distraction (i.e.  almost in the hindrances) to a state in which concentration is extremely easy (almost in dhyana).
    This stage is within the reach of everyone who meditates regularly - it is not so very far away from our ordinary state of mind.  If we know how to recognize access concentration, we can then learn how to encourage and dwell in it for as long as possible.  The longer we can sustain access concentration, the more we are likely to move on into full concentration - that is, into the first dhyana.
    The first level of dhyana is, again, within fairly easy reach of anyone who meditates regularly.  We are likely to experience at least a taste of it within the first few weeks of taking up meditation - particularly if we `treat' our practice to some time on a retreat.
    Just now we noted that it isn't helpful to cling on to the pleasure of dhyanic experiences, should they arise.  But that does not mean that dhyana ought not to be deliberately cultivated.  On the contrary, it is important that we do so.  We should definitely aim to develop higher states of consciousness - the benefits, in terms of our growth in maturity and insight, will be considerable.  We can cultivate dhyana in the ways that have already been outlined - by concentrating mindfully on the object of meditation, by acknowledging the hindrances, and by working with them with faith and confidence.  As with the hindrances and access concentration, recognition is an important key.  It will be very useful if we can learn how to recognize different aspects of the dhyana state, so that we can encourage them to arise.
    images of higher consciousness
    So how can we recognize them? Perhaps it is easiest to communicate the experience through images - just as the Buddha himself described the levels of dhyana:

    As a skilful bathman or his apprentice will scatter perfumed
    soap powder in a metal basin, and then besprinkling it with water,
    drop by drop, will so knead it together so that the ball of lather,
    taking up the unctuous moisture, is drenched with it, pervaded by
    it, permeated by it within and without, and there is no leakage possible.
    His very body does he so pervade, drench, permeate, and
    suffuse with the joy and ease born of concentration, that there is
    no spot in his whole frame not suffused therewith.

    (1)The experience of the first dhyana is compared to soap powder and water being mixed thoroughly together - mixed until the soap powder is entirely saturated by the water and the water is completely pervaded by the soap powder.
    (2)Being in the second dhyana feels like a calm lake being fed by an upwelling underground spring.
    (3)The third dhyana feels as though lotuses and water-lilies are growing in that lake, soaked and saturated by its water.
    (4)The fourth dhyana is like the experience of taking a bath in that lake on a very hot afternoon, and afterwards resting on the bank wrapped in a perfectly clean white cloth.
    Notice how water, a universal symbol for the unconscious mind, links the images together into a series.  In the first dhyana the water is perfectly mixed with its opposite element, dry powder.  This image of opposites mingling perfectly together reflects the theme of integration; we have already seen how, in our consciousness, there are all kinds of oppositions in need of integration.  Oppositions like our emotionality and rationality, `masculinity' and `femininity', consciousness and unconsciousness, introversion and extroversion, are now all beginning to co-exist in harmony.
    Dhyana is an experience of pure happiness, pure in the sense that it has not been caused by anything external but comes from within our own mind.  While it lasts, it makes us feel truly ourselves.  We may feel the effects of this `perfect mingling of opposites' for some time - hours, even days or weeks - after the meditation.
    Yet dhyana may not necessarily arise as a result of applying a particular meditation technique.  It is a state of mind that occurs naturally in anyone who is extremely happy.  Under special conditions it may be possible to dwell in dhyana outside meditation for sustained periods of time.  (We will discuss some of these special conditions later on.) As a general rule, higher states of consciousness will arise naturally in our meditation if we are quite happy and free from guilt feelings.
    In the second dhyana, our concentration is so pure that we experience no thought whatever.  Thoughts did occur back in the first dhyana, of course, but even there they were minimal, and they were mostly thoughts about the meditation object.  So as we cross over from the first into the second dhyana we find ourselves in a far more lucid absorption which - apart from a subtle recognition of the state we are in - is completely without thought.
    Outside of meditation, it is unlikely that the second dhyana will simply arise on its own, spontaneously - but it isn't impossible.  Apart from meditators, there could conceivably be great artists, composers, or philosophers in the world who dwell in this sort of state frequently, even without meditating formally at all.  The second dhyana is thus a very inspired state of mind - we are sustained by an inner flow of inspiration which wells up inside us, like the constant trickling of an underground spring beneath the calm surface of a lake.
    In Classical times, artists and poets in need of inspiration would call upon the Muses, goddesses who personified different aspects of this higher nourishment.  At times, inspiration may be felt as a powerful unification with forces that are normally viewed as `outside' our conscious personality.  So this dhyana level is also the mental state of the inspired prophet, who receives `messages' from a deeper level of consciousness.
    The third dhyana is compared to lotuses growing in the waters of the lake, completely surrounded by and soaked in the medium of water.  In our progress through the dhyanas we become more and more integrated with the higher element of inspiration (which in the second dhyana is experienced as just trickling into our consciousness).  By the time we reach the third dhyana the stream has greatly expanded until it has become our whole environment.  This is a very rich experience of `vertical' integration.  In this third dhyana, we feel as though we are part of something much greater than our conscious self.  It is a mystical state, in which we are completely surrounded, pervaded, and `at one with' a higher element.
    The fourth dhyana is the perfection of human happiness - or, at least, happiness this side of Enlightenment.  This attainment doesn't endow us with any ultimate wisdom or compassion - we could still act unethically, even now, and fall back in our progress.  However, even though we don't possess the fullness of insight, we are in the best possible state of mental health.  In the fourth dhyana all the powerful energies that have been tamed and liberated through previous meditation co-exist in perfect harmonious peace.  Notice how the Buddha changes his style of imagery at this point.  A immaculate being appears, secure from harmful influences through being wrapped in the pure white cloth.  It is as though the inspired state of consciousness, thoroughly purified through experience of the other dhyanas, is now ours to wear and to take with us, as both a protection and an outward influence upon the world.  We are so happy that our positivity radiates outward, counteracting harmful influences - affecting others too, so that we become charismatic and even magical.  This is why the fourth dhyana is regarded as the basis for the development of `magical' powers (walking on water, passing through walls, etc.  attributed to practitioners of many religions) and amazingly acute faculties of perception.
    recognizing higher consciousness through the five dhyana
    Images like the underground spring may help us recognize dhyana from our own experience.  But a checklist of its main `component parts’ - the mental states of which dhyana consists - will also come in useful. As though it were a brilliant rainbow of higher consciousness, we can view dhyana as a `spectrum' of positive mental states, all of differing hues and shades.  Tradition enumerates five of these positive mental states, known as `dhyana factors' (Sanskrit dhyananga) plus a sixth which only emerges in the fourth dhyana.  However, we should not think that dhyana consists only of these factors, for we will experience many other positive qualities too.  These six are selected because they are characteristic of particular levels of dhyana.

    Cognitive - 'cool'

    One-pointedness (ekagatta)


    Initial thought (vitakka)


    Applied thought (vicara)

    Emotional - 'warm'

    Rapture (piti)


    Bliss (sukha)


    Equanimity (in 4th dhyana) (upekkha)

    The spectrum of dhyana factors
    We may imagine these dhyana factors as bands of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo light.  Dhyana is both a `warm' state of positive emotion and a `cool' state of increased concentration - and within this spectrum there are three `warm' and three `cool' colours, indicating the three predominantly emotional, and the three predominantly cognitive, factors of dhyana.
    In the `cool' portion are the cognitive faculties of one-pointedness, initial thought, and applied thought.  One-pointedness is our ability to pay attention (which is especially strong in the dhyana state).  Initial thought and applied thought are aspects of clear thinking.  Initial thought is thinking `of' something.  For example, out of all the millions of possibilities, we might think of our friend George.  As we call George to mind, some kind of thought or image which represents him arises in our consciousness.  Applied thought is when we think `about' George.  We explore our general idea of him more, perhaps wonder how he is, and what he might be doing now.
    `Initial thought' and `applied thought' are simple categories for analysing the way we think.  Like one-pointedness, they obviously occur outside dhyana too - we are thinking `of' and `about' things all the time.  But in dhyana our thinking is wonderfully lucid and almost entirely under our conscious control.
    In the `warm' portion of the spectrum are the feelings of rapture and bliss that were spoken of earlier.  Rapture is when we experience the process of integration as it were `reflected' in bodily pleasure.  It is predominantly physical, though not entirely so - we feel both physically thrilled and wildly happy at the same time.  Traditionally there are supposed to be five degrees of intensity of rapture! We will probably recognize the first stage, which is the sensation of `goose-pimples’ - when the hairs on our body become erect with pleasure.  The second stage is even more intensely enjoyable: the rapture descends on us in little shocks, like repeated flashes of lightning.  In the third, it washes over us again and again, like waves breaking on the seashore.  The fourth quickly floods every part of our body, like a huge volume of water suddenly invading a sea-cave.  The fifth, according to tradition, is so intensely joyful that it transports us bodily into the air: it is the `miraculous' phenomenon of levitation.
    So if rapture is such a powerful experience, what can bliss be like? Bliss is more subtle than rapture - but though less dramatic it is, in its own `quiet' way, actually more intense.  Rapture is traditionally compared to the delicious feeling of anticipation we experience when we know that we are about to obtain the very thing we have always wanted; bliss is more like enjoying the satisfaction of actually possessing it.  Bliss thus marks a deeper stage of integration, in which our mind has begun to tame the somewhat wild, unrefined sensations of rapture.  With experience one becomes less attached to these relatively coarse feelings, and begins to move into a deeper, stronger - and even more happy - state of mind.
    The occurrence of rapture and bliss show that increased concentration is an intensely enjoyable experience.  It is interesting to see how bliss arises out of rapture.  As absorption takes a firmer hold, the experience of bliss becomes larger, as it were, so that it increasingly `contains' the feelings of rapture.  This process of containment is known as passaddhi, and it is through increased passaddhi that the concentration will deepen further.  The deepening bliss gradually assimilates the bubbly, thrilling energy that is released in the experience of rapture.  The process of passaddhi
    27 makes one's mind pliable, flexible, and very easily worked with.  It is a maturing, strengthening quality, very characteristic of higher states of consciousness, and important in meditation generally.

    dhyana factor



    is developed through…

    …and transforms this



    Sense Desire

    Initial thought


    Sloth & Torpor

    Applied thought








    Restlessness & Anxiety

    Stepping from the Hindrances to the Dhyana Factors

    Since each of the five factors - initial thought, applied thought, one-pointedness, rapture, and bliss - is a component of dhyana, we can encourage the dhyana state to arise by developing those factors that seem to be missing from the experience.  By developing a dhyana factor, such as onepointedness of mind, we are simultaneously counteracting one of the five hindrances - sense desire, in this example - as shown in the table above.
    This is how it can work: if you try to develop one-pointed concentration, your interest in objects of sense desire will begin to hold your attention less intensely.  It is obviously more satisfying and enjoyable to be one-pointedly meditating than it is to be sitting there, supposedly meditating, but with your mind continually tossed here and there by sense desire.  And, likewise, any ill will will have no choice but to subside if - through your efforts - rapture starts to arise.  It is simply not possible to be angry and, at the same time, feel so wonderfully happy! There is less possibility of restlessness or anxiety taking hold if you have some sense of bliss in the meditation.  Such a sense of bliss will begin to bestow a certain contentment.  As that contentment grows, you will feel increasingly calmed and pacified, and the hindrance will subside.  If you begin to clarify the objects of your thinking - if, in other words, you start arousing clear initial thought in the meditation - any mental torpor, and even physical sloth, may begin to lose its foothold.  In meditation your thoughts can sometimes acquire such an abundance of energy and clarity that their inspirational power can eventually cut through the heaviest resistance.  Finally, doubt - which can so stubbornly prevent you from involving yourself in the meditation - can be dissolved by introducing an element of applied thought.  Remember that the hindrance of doubt is not `honest' doubt but negative scepticism; and remember that the faculty of applied thought is not mere distracted thinking.
    If you apply your thinking truthfully, you can see irrational doubts in clearer perspective.  It is the nature of this more investigative thought not to allow any `sitting on the fence', but to drive on towards a clearer examination of the meditation object.
    In practice, of course, it may take some time to move from hindrance to dhyana factor - this depends on the strength of the hindrance.  But if you know that there is a pathway that leads from one to the other you can have more confidence in your efforts to create the dhyana factor.  And as you work you may be able to find `intermediary' factors, such as those suggested in the middle column of the table opposite.  For example, trying to arouse interest in the practice - rather than in the objects of sense desire - could be a first step towards shifting the emphasis of your attention more towards one-pointedness.  Remember that our inability to pay attention usually depends on some emotional factor.  We certainly have some emotional investment in the particular hindrance that we are stuck in - otherwise we could simply drop it and forget about it.  If we first allow ourselves to experience what this investment feels like - experience its character - and then recall the character of the dhyana factor, it may be possible to `unhook' our emotional energies from the hindrance and point them in the direction of the dhyana factors.

    Dhyana Factors

    Dhyana Factors

     1st Dhyana2nd Dhyana3rd Dhyana4th Dhyana
    Initial thought   Applied thought   
    BlissBlissBliss    Equanimity

    Progress of Dhyana Factors through First 4 Dhyanas

    recognising higher consciousness in changes in the meditation object
    As soon as each of the five factors is strongly present, we enter the first dhyana level.  If our concentration deepens still further, we may gain access to the other dhyana levels too.  Each progressive stage of dhyana has a different ordering of dhyana factors.  As concentration deepens, the cognitive factors tend to drop away and the emotional factors become progressively `contained', as already described.  This process continues until, in the fourth dhyana, a new `emotional' factor – equanimity - arises.  We shall see in the next chapter how the fourth dhyana is also the basis out of which a further four dhyanas - known as `formless' dhyanas - may be developed.
    The traditional classification of dhyana levels is useful for defining higher states of consciousness in the abstract, but it is essentially an artificial way of looking at our experience.  The dhyana factors provide us with a better, more experiential framework.  For example we do not really experience `the first dhyana' as we become free from the hindrances.  We simply experience various positive mental states arising - in particular rapture, bliss, initial thought, applied thought, and one-pointedness.  What happens is that these factors become stronger and then - as we enter further into meditation - thinking (first initial thought, and then applied thought) is left behind.
    This is because discursive thought requires a state of mind which, compared with a higher state of consciousness, is unrefined; it also takes up a considerable amount of energy.  Now, the energy that was previously taken up with thinking is free to flow directly on to the meditation object.  At this point we find ourselves in that state of lucid, conceptless concentration traditionally classified as the second dhyana.  From this stage onwards we experience `vertical' integration increasingly strongly.  In terms of the Buddha's simile, this is the point when an underground spring begins percolating its way up from the depths.  The spring of inspiration expands and broadens until, in the third dhyana, it becomes the entire medium in which we experience ourselves.  The process of passaddhi has by now absorbed all the wildness of rapture into bliss, so that the only dhyana factors remaining are this peaceful bliss and one-pointedness.  This process of purification continues into the fourth dhyana, at which point bliss is transformed into equanimity (upekkha).  At this stage our mind goes beyond any possibility of conflict, and reaches a peak of emotional stability and purity.  Our one-pointedness of mind becomes unshakeable, so that we can maintain the concentration undistractedly for as long as we wish.
    recognizing higher consciousness through the way we perceive
    the meditation object
    Another approach that will help us become familiar with higher states of consciousness is to notice how we experience the object of our meditation at different levels.  As we progress into the dhyanas, the way we experience the breath, or the metta - or whatever it is that we happen to be concentrating on - will undergo several noticeable changes.
    It may seem that the object itself changes, but of course we are really witnessing a transformation in our own state of consciousness.  Any change in our subjective state is reflected in our experience of what is `out there’ - if we are in a good mood, we'll perceive the external world as beautiful.  The same goes for meditation experience - our perception of the meditation object reflects our state of mind.  Since everything is filtered through our subjective mental states, we cannot say whether or not we perceive our meditation object as it actually is.  But we certainly experience something: we experience some kind of image of the object.  The technical term for this image-object is nimitta (literally, `a sign').  Let's look at what happens to the nimitta as we enter the dhyana state.
    Changes take place in the perceived meditation object during every kind of meditation practice - including the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavana.  However, it is easier to explain what happens in the context of meditation practices in which we visualize something.  So let us imagine that we are engaged in one of the kasina visualization practices.  These simple visualization exercises were originally taught by the Buddha.  If you wish, you may try something like this for yourself, though it is given here just as an example.
    A kasina is a disc of colour which we visualize in our mind - traditionally, the actual colour is chosen according to our temperament.  Since it is easier to visualize the kasina when its colour is really bright and vivid, tradition recommends that an actual physical disc is made first of all - often out of flowers of the appropriate colour.  There are other types of kasina too, like the fire kasina, in which one begins by gazing, through a round hole, at some flames.
    As we concentrate on one of these discs, our concentration will eventually pass through the three levels of consciousness that have been mentioned - we eventually transform our ordinary sense-based consciousness into access concentration, and that into full concentration or dhyana.  At each level of consciousness our experience of the disc undergoes a definite change.
    We begin by positioning a disc of the appropriate type about a metre in front of our meditation seat.  We then simply look at it.  With our eyes open, we try to keep our attention continuously upon it, returning to it every time we notice we are distracted.  Whatever we perceive as we look at the physical object with our physical eye is called the preparatory image (parikamma-nimitta).  Once we have gained a fairly undistracted perception of this, we are said to have reached the first stage, that of preparatory concentration (parikamma-samadhi).
    Then, closing our eyes, we try to visualize, internally, a replica of the preparatory image.  This may take many attempts.  If we persist, however, we shall eventually be able to perceive the coloured disc `in our mind's eye'.  At this stage, our perception of the object is known as the `acquired image' (uggaha-nimitta).  We now place our attention on this internally visualized image.  When we manage to establish our attention on the acquired image - again, this may require much practice - eventually the level of access concentration (upachara-samadhi) will arise.
    In access concentration there will occur a subtle but significant change in the appearance of the object.  It may become lighter and, as it were, transparent.  It may acquire new qualities which are not easy to describe - and which will vary considerably from person to person.  A traditional text says that the new nimitta appears `like the moon's disc appearing from behind a cloud', or as `cranes (silhouetted) against a thunder-cloud', or, again, `like a crystal fan set in space'.
    We should not expect literally to see anything like this - these images were chosen to give a feeling for what happens, rather than a concrete representation - though the nimitta may have a visual aspect.  At this stage our perception of the object has become the `reflex', or `counterpart' image (patibhaga-nimitta): we are experiencing a subtle counterpart of the original meditation object.  We should now concentrate our full attention on this reflex image.  As we sustain access concentration with this as our object, the dhyana factors of rapture and bliss, etc.  will arise, and then we will enter the stage of full concentration, or dhyana (also known as apana-samadhi).
    Some form of nimitta, some image of the object of concentration, will be perceived as we progress through these stages in any meditation practice.  It may, however, not be a visual image.  In the Mindfulness of Breathing, for example, the breath may simply acquire a special subtlety at the stage of access concentration.  That would be a type of nimitta.  On the other hand, there could be some indescribable visual-aural-tactile counterpart of the breath.  It is very difficult, even impossible, to describe reflex images because they are purely mental; since they are not experienced through the physical senses, the usual modes of factual description do not exist.  A simile or poetic image is the best that can be offered - the Buddha's image of mingled soap powder describes this kind of experience well.
    29 In access concentration we are entering a realm in which we experience only mental form, not physical form.  We are moving from the realm of the senses (known as the kama-loka) into the realm of purely mental form (the rupa-loka).  More will be said about these modes of experience shortly.

    e.g.  the breath, emotional quality such as metta, visualised object, etc.
    how we experience the object at each level

    On first taking up a meditation object,  our concentration is generally scattered and  characterised by the five hindrances.

    (parikamma samadhi)
    The stage at which some continuity of concentration has been established. The object now becomes more internalised as the hindrances are weakened.

    (upachara samadhi)
    Concentration has settled easily upon the acquired image, though it is not yet completely stable. Now  the object begins to acquire a more 'image-like' character.

    (apana samadhi  or  dhyana)
    Concentration is now very stable. The dhyana factors (which appear weakly in access) now become strong and constant.

    TYPE OF OBJECT  (nimitta)



    preparatory image

    The basic object of the meditation that we take up - it tends to be experienced as though separate from  oneself.


    acquired image

    A subjective mental impression of the object, experienced internally.


    reflex image

    Indescribable (see text).


    reflex image

    Indescribable (see text).