Monday, August 1, 2011

40 Meditation Objects - Samatha Bhavana

Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw
Buddhist Meditation and its Forty Subjects

The Pathavī Kasina

A person who, of the forty subjects of meditation, chooses the pathavī-kasina as his subject of contemplation, should look at a spot of earth on the ground or at a round earth-device and contemplate, saying mentally ‘pathavī, pathavī, pathavī’ or ‘earth, earth, earth’. After repeated contemplation for some time the vivid image of the earth-device will appear in the mind as if it were seen by the eye. This appearance of a mental image is called ‘uggaha-nimitta’ (acquired image). As soon as this ‘nimitta’ becomes fixed and steady in the mind he can go to any place and take up a posture of either sitting, walking, standing or lying down. He should then continue to contemplate on the ‘uggaha-nimitta’ by saying mentally, ‘pathavī, pathavī’ or ‘earth, earth’. During the time of this contemplation it may happen that the mind does not remain fixed on its object but often wanders to other objects in the following manner:–
  1. The mind often thinks of desirable objects. This ‘kāmacchanda-nīvarana’ (sensuous lust).
  2. The mind often dwells on thoughts of despair and anger. This is ‘vyāpāda-nīvarana’ (ill-will).
  3. There is slackness in contemplation and the mind is often dull and foggy. This is ‘thīna-middha-nīvarana’ (sloth and torpor).
  4. The mind is often not steady but restless, and the mind is often worried on recollecting past misdeeds in speech and body. This is ‘uddhacca-kukkucca-nīvarana’ (restlessness and worry).
  5. The mind often dwells on the thoughts “whether the contemplation which is being undertaken is a right method, whether it is capable of bring beneficial results, whether there is any chance to achieve any good results”. This is ‘vicikicchā-nīvarana’ (sceptical doubt).
These five hindrances should be cut off as soon as they occur and the mind should be at once brought back to the object of ‘uggaha-nimitta’ which should be contemplated as ‘pathavī, pathavī’ for instance. If the mind loses its object of uggaha-nimitta one should go back to the place where the original earth-device is kept and contemplate again ‘pathavī, pathavī’ by looking at the device until the ‘uggaha-nimitta’ is formed again in the mind. Then one should return to the same place and proceed with the contemplation in any posture of sitting, standing, lying and walking.
Carrying on thus the contemplation of the object of uggaha-nimitta repeatedly for a long time, the object assumes a very brilliant and crystal-like appearance unlike the original. This is called the ‘patibhāga-nimitta’ (counterpart-image). All that time the mind is free from all ‘nīvarana’. It stays as directed on the ‘patibhāga-nimitta’. This state of mind is known as ‘upacāra-samādhi’ (neighbourhood concentration). Now, by continually fixing the mind with this neighbourhood concentration on the counterpart-image the mind reaches a state as if it sinks into the object and remains fixed in it. This state of fixedness and steadiness of mind is known as ‘appanā-samādhi’ (attainment concentration). There are four kinds of this ‘appanā-samādhi’ viz. (a) the first jhāna, (b) the second jhāna, (c) the third jhāna, and (d) the fourth jhāna.
(a) In the first jhāna five distinct constituents are present; they are:–
  1. Vitakka (initial application),
  2. Vicāra (sustained application),
  3. Pīti (rapture),
  4. Sukha (happiness), and
  5. Ekaggatā (one-pointedness).
(b) One who has already attained the stage of first jhāna, seeing unsatisfactoriness in the first two constituents of initial and sustained application, again proceeds with the contemplation to overcome them and succeeds in attaining the stage of second jhāna where there are present the three distinct constituents of pīti, sukha and ekaggatā.
(c) Again, seeing unsatisfactoriness in pīti, he proceeds with the contemplation to overcome it and succeeds in attaining the stage of third jhāna where there are present the two distinct constituents of sukha and ekaggatā.
(d) Further, seeing unsatisfactoriness in sukha he proceeds with the contemplation to overcome it and succeeds in attaining the stage of fourth jhāna where there are present the two distinct constituents of upekkhā and ekaggatā.
This is the brief description of the manner of the contemplation of the ‘pathavī-kasina’ and the development of the stages of the four jhānas. The same applies to the remaining kasinas.

Asubha Kammatthāna

In the case of a person who, of the 40 subjects of meditation, chooses ‘asubha’ as the subject of contemplation, he should look at a bloated corpse, or a livid corpse, etc. and contemplate by saying mentally ‘bloated corpse, bloated corpse’, ‘livid corpse, livid corpse’ etc. He should then carry out the contemplation in the same manner as in the case of ‘pathavī-kasina’. The only difference is that the contemplation of these asubha subjects will lead only the stage of the first jhāna.
The contemplation of the 32 parts of the body (kāyagatāsati) also will lead to the stage of first jhāna. The 8 reflections (anussati) consisting of the subjects of ‘Buddhānussati’ to ‘maranānussati’, reflection on the loathsomeness of food and analysis of the four elements will lead to the stage of neighbourhood-concentration.

The Four Brahmavihāras

The three Brahmavihāras of metta, karunā and muditā will lead to the stages of three lower jhānas, while those who have, through the contemplation of any of these three, already attained the stage of third jhāna, will also attain the stage of fourth jhāna by carrying out the contemplation of the fourth Brahmavihāra of ‘upekkhā’.
Those who have, through the contemplation of the ten kasina, attained the stage of four rūpa-jhānas, will attain the respective stages of four arūpa-jhānas by carrying out in serial order the contemplation of the four ‘arūpa’.

Ānāpānasati Kammatthāna

One who chooses ‘Ānāpānasati’ as the subject of contemplation should retire to a quiet place and seat himself cross-legged or in any convenient manner that enables him to sit for a long time, with body erect, and then keep his mind fixed on the aperture of the nose. He will then come to know in a distinct manner the feeling of touch at the tip of the nose or at the edge of the upper lip, which is caused by the constant flow of breathing in and out. This flow should be watched at the point of its touching and contemplated by saying mentally: ‘coming, going’, ‘coming, going’, on every act of in-breathing and out-breathing respectively. The mind should not go along with the flow either on its inward or outward journey, but it should remain at the point of touching.
During this contemplation there will be many hindrances with which the mind wanders. These hindrances should not be followed any longer but attention should be brought back to the point of touching and contemplation carried on as ‘coming, going’, ‘coming, going’.
By this means of continually watching the point of touching and carrying on the contemplation:–
  1. the long in-breathing and out-breathing are clearly noticed when they are long.
  2. the short in-breathing and out-breathing are clearly noticed when they are short.
  3. each course of soft in-breathing and out-breathing with its beginning, middle and end is clearly noticed from its touching the tip of the nose to where it leaves the nose, and
  4. the gradual change from the strong to the gentler form of in-breathing and out-breathing is clearly noticed.
As the in-breathing and out-breathing becomes more and more gentle it appears that they have vanished altogether. In such cases, time is generally wasted by trying to look for the objects of in-breathing and out-breathing, by trying to investigate the cause of vanishing, and finally by remaining idle without carrying on the contemplation. There is, however, no need to waste time in this manner: if the mind is fixed attentively either on the tip of the nose or upper lip, the gentle flow of in and out-breathing will again appear and will be distinctly perceptible.
By thus proceeding with the continued contemplation of in and out-breathing it will be visualised in some peculiar forms or shapes. The following are those mentioned in the Visuddhimagga:–
“To some the in-breathing and out-breathing appears like a star or a cluster of gems or a cluster of pearls, to others with a rough touch like that of a cotton stalk or a peg made of heartwood, to others like a long braided string or a wreath of flowers of a puff of smoke, to others like a stretched-out cobweb or a film of cloud or a lotus flower or a chariot wheel or the moon’s disk or the sun’s disk.” It is said that the variety in the forms or objects is due to the differences in ‘saññā’ (perception) of the individuals. This peculiar form of objects is the ‘patibhāga-nimitta.’ The concentration which is then developed with the patibhāga-nimitta is called neighbourhood concentration. On continuing the contemplation with the aid of neighbourhood concentration then the stage of ‘appanā-samādhi’ (attainment concentration) of 4 rūpa-jhānas is developed.
This is the brief description of the preliminary practice for ‘Samatha’ by a ‘Samatha-yānika’ who chooses ‘Samatha-kammatthāna’ as the basis for realising nibbāna.
Those who desire to practise Vipassanā should in the first place be equipped with a knowledge, either in brief or in extenso of the facts that living beings consist of the two sole constituents, of body (rūpa) and mind (nāma), that the body and mind are formed due to cause and effect and that, as they are in a constant state of flux, they are impermanent, ill and devoid of self (atta).
A person with the proper knowledge mentioned above should, in the first place, induce the jhānic state which he has already attained and then contemplate on it. He should then proceed by contemplating continuously the sensations such as ‘seeing, hearing, smelling, knowing the taste, touching, knowing, etc.’ as they occur clearly at any of the six sense-doors. If he feels tired or exhausted by having to carry on continually the contemplation of these varied objects (pakinnaka-sankhārā), he should again induce the jhānic state by making strong determination that the jhānic state may remain for 15 or 30 minutes. When the jhānic state passes away he should then immediately contemplate on that jhānic state and afterwards proceed by contemplating continuously the sensations as they occur at any of the six sense-doors. This alternate procedure of inducing jhānic state and then proceeding with the contemplation of sensations at the six sense-doors should be carried out repeatedly. When the Vipassanā-samādhi is sufficiently strong he will be able to carry on the contemplation continuously day and night without feeling any strain.
At this stage it is distinctly perceived as a matter of course at every moment of contemplation that the body and mind are two separate things which are joined together. It is also perceived that the object and the mind which directly knows the object rise and pass away at the very moment of the contemplation. It is therefore understood that “they are clearly proved to be impermanent”, that “they are ill without any pleasant qualities or reliability”, and that “they are merely a process of arising and passing away of things which do not consist of ‘atta’ (enduring entity or soul).” With the full development of the factual knowledge of ‘Anicca, dukkha, anatta’ there arises the insight of ‘Magga and Phala’ and he realises nibbāna.
This is the description in brief of the practice by way of ‘Samatha-yānika’ for the purpose of realising nibbāna.


  1. According to Asruthawath Sutra, any meditation on outcomes of Apo, Thejo, Vayo and Patavi is not Buddhist. Buddhist Meditation tackle mentally created Panchupdaaskanda created by Raga, Dwesha and Moha qualities of beings because of misinterpretion of outcome of Apo, Thejo, Vayo and Patavi.

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