Nimitta of reality, and its relation to understanding the khandhas

a post by Nina van Gorkom
https://groups.io/g/dsg/topic/5701823#116147

Nimitta is a sign - (usually) taking a nimitta for something, a
concept, for instance an idea about sound. The concept is not
necessarily wrong view.

> Ph: There is never stopping at sense door cognition for us, always
> straight to mind door processes, like water going from one sheet of
> onion paper to the next, in a flash, is the meaning here?


N: I remember this metaphor, yes, correct.

Ann: There is both nimitta of concept and nimitta of reality.

Nina: Usually it is nimitta of concept. Where the other 5 sense
consciousnesses or bhavanga citta is not arising, then it’s thinking.
Seems as if we are thinking all of the time.

Understanding is nimitta of reality.

It is not easy to understand feeling as a reality (nimitta of vedana).


N: Different meanings of nimitta in different contexts. Nimitta as
object of jhaana such as a kasina is one thing.

Then there is the text: being infatuated by the the image of the
whole and the details. We take what is seen for persons or things.
Another meaning of nimitta.

Then there is sa"nkhara nimitta, nimitta of the khandhas. Nimitta of
ruupa, of feeling etc.

N: I shall now requote from my ‘Alone with Dhamma’ (Ch on the present
moment):

<We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Ch II, § 80, Ignorance,
translated by Ven. Bodhi) that a bhikkhu asked the Buddha whether
there is one thing through the abandoning of which ignorance is
abandoned and true knowledge arises.
We read that the Buddha answered: “Ignorance, bhikkhu, is that one
thing through the abandoning of which ignorance is abandoned by a
bhikkhu and true knowledge arises.”

Ven. Bodhi states in a note to this passage: “Though it may sound
redundant to say that ignorance must be abandoned in order to abandon
ignorance, this statement underscores the fact that ignorance is the
most fundamental cause of bondage, which must be eliminated to
eliminate all the other bonds.”

We read further on:

“> Here, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to’.

When a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to’, he directly
knows everything. Having directly known everything, he fully
understands everything. Having fully understood everything, he sees
all signs (nimitta) differently. He sees the eye differently, he sees
forms differently…whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as
condition… that too he sees differently…”

As to the term adhere, this pertains to clinging with wrong view.
The Commentary explains the words, “he sees all signs differently
(sabbanimittåni aññato passati)” as follows: “He sees all the signs
of formations (sankhåranimittåni) in a way different from that of
people who have not fully understood the adherences. For such people
see all signs as self, but one who has fully understood the
adherences sees them as non-self, not as self. Thus in this sutta the
characteristic of non-self is discussed.”

In this Commentary the word “sa"nkhåra-nimitta”, the nimittas, signs
or mental images, of conditioned dhammas, is used. When we were
returning from the Bodhitree walking up the long stairways, a friend
asked Acharn Sujin about this term. Nimitta has different meanings in
different contexts. The nimitta or mental image in samatha refers to
the meditation subject of samatha. We also read in some texts that
one should not be taken in by the outward appearance of things
(nimitta) and the details. However, the term sa"nkhåranimitta has a
different meaning as I shall explain further on.
Acharn Sujin emphasized that whatever we read in the texts about
nimitta should be applied to our life now. “What we read is not
theory” she often explains.

We read in the “Mahåvedallasutta” (Middle Length Sayings, no 43),
about freedom of mind that is “signless”, and we read that there are
two conditions for attaining this: ”non-attention (amanåsikåra) to
all “signs” and attention to the signless element”. The Commentary
states that the signs, nimittas, are the objects such as visible
object, etc. and that the signless is nibbåna. The signless
liberation of mind is explained in a way that clearly connects it
with the fruition of arahantship: lust, hatred and delusion are
declared to be “sign-makers” (nimittakarana), which the arahant has
totally abandoned.
When we read about object (årammana) as a sign, we should remember
that this is not theory. An object is what citta experiences at this
moment. When the rúpa that is the eyebase has not fallen away yet and
colour or visible object impinges on it, there are conditions for the
arising of seeing. If there were no citta which sees visible object
could not appear.
When we asked Acharn Sujin whether the impression or sign (nimitta)
of a dhamma is a concept or a reality she answered: “These are only
words. If we use the word concept there is something that is
experienced by thinking. We should not just know words, but
understand the reality that appears right now. There is not merely
one moment of experiencing visible object, but many moments arising
and falling away. When right understanding arises we do not have to
use any term.”
She repeated that there is the impression of visible object right
now. She said: “It is this moment.” Visible object impinges on the
eyesense and after it has fallen away, what is left is the impression
or sign, nimitta of visible object.
It seems that visible object lasts for a while, but in reality it
arises and falls away. Acharn Sujin used the simile of a torch that
is swung around. In this way, we have the impression of a whole, of a
circle of light.
We know that seeing arises at this moment, but we cannot pinpoint the
citta which sees, it arises and falls away very rapidly and another
moment of seeing arises. We only experience the “sign” of seeing.
The notion of nimitta can remind us that not just one moment of
seeing appears, but many moments that are arising and falling away.
Also visible object is not as solid as we would think, there are many
moments arising and falling away which leave the sign or impression
of visible object.
Visible object that was experienced by cittas of a sense-door process
has fallen away; sense-door processes and mind-door processes of
cittas alternate very rapidly. Visible object impinges again and
again and seeing arises again and again. When their characteristics
appear we cannot count the different units of rúpa or the cittas that
see, they arise and fall away; the impression of what is seen and of
the seeing appears.
Acharn Sujin said: “No matter whether we call it nimitta or not, it
is appearing now. Whatever appears is the sign or nimitta of the
dhamma that arises and falls away.”
We cling to what appears for a very short moment, but is does not
remain. It is the same with saññå, there is not one moment of saññå
that marks and remembers, but countless moments, arising and falling
away.
Thus, we can speak of the nimitta of each of the five khandhas: of
rúpa, of feeling, of saññå, of sankhårakkhandha, of consciousness.
There are nimittas of all conditioned dhammas that appear at this
moment, arising and falling away extremely rapidly.
Seeing arising at this moment sees visible object. We notice visible
object and while we notice it, we have a vivid impression of it, but
it has just fallen away. Seeing falls away but extremely shortly
after it has fallen away another moment of seeing arises that
experiences visible object. It arises again and again and in between
one notices that there is seeing, or, if there are the right
conditions a citta with sati can arise that is mindful of its
characteristic. However, mindfulness of seeing arises after seeing
has fallen away, not at the same time as seeing.


Nina.

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here is the complete book by Nina where the extract came from…

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But, venerable sir, how should a bhikkhu know, how should he see, for ignorance to be abandoned by him and true knowledge to arise?”

“Here, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to.’ When a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to,’ he directly knows everything. Having directly known everything, he fully understands everything. Having fully understood everything, he sees all signs differently (note 43). He sees the eye differently, he sees forms differently … whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition … that too he sees differently.

“When, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu knows and sees thus, ignorance is abandoned by him and true knowledge arises

Bhikkhu Bodhi note 43 > Spk: “He sees all
signs differently” (sabbanimittani annato passati): He sees all
the signs of formations (sarikhdranimittani)in a way differ-
ent from that of people who have not fully understood the
adherences. For such people see all signs as self, but one
who has fully understood the adherences sees them as
> nonself, not as self. Thus in this sutta the characteristic of
nonself is discussed.

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https://groups.io/g/dsg/message/167801

Nina: a question about concept: the step from nimitta to concept.

Acharn Sujin : If you do not think about the word concept, is there any reality? Whatever is real has its characteristic which appears as it is. When there is seeing or hearing the whole body from head to toe does not appear. When there is touching there cannot be touching of the whole body at once. When there is seeing, there is not one moment of seeing, there are many moments of seeing arising and falling away, but it is not known. There can be understanding of the nimitta of seeing. One moment of seeing cannot be the object of understanding. There are many processes and that is the nimitta of seeing. In the Tipitaka there are the words rupa-nimitta, vedana-nimitta, etc, for each of the five khandhas. Everything appears as nimitta, just one reality cannot be the object of understanding.
Hardness appears at the moment of touching. It is the object that impinged on the bodysense. It appears as something hard, it is the nimitta of hardness. When it is “something” it is paññatti, concept.

—————

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Harji had a question about nimitta (sign of a reality).
Sarah: There were countless visible objects so it is the sign of visible object that is experienced. It is the understanding of the characteristic of visble object that appears. When there is direct understanding of a characteristic of reality, that characterisic appears. In truth it is the nimitta of that reality.

Nina: I still find nimitta a difficult subject. I just understand it in theory.

Jonothan: Only the nimitta, the after-image, can be experienced. Also the thinking about what has been seen comes in very quickly. The idea of people and things comes in so quickly. When there is understanding of reality, reality cannot be found in people and things, in trying to see it in people and things there is a concept, which is different. What the Buddha said has to be considered very carefully.

Acharn Sujin: If you do not think of the term what is now appearing? We do not call it anything yet, but what is there now? It is very hard to say, it arises and falls away instanly. We think of a table or a chair. The absolute reality is seeing and that which is seen. What is seen is only that which is now appearing. How can seeing arise without the object which is seen? Studying dhamma is studying what is there now in truth, in the absolute truth. We take it for a chair, but where is it? When there is seeing, is there any chair? We learn to understand each moment as it is. When we talk about a table, it is a “thing” but what is there can be experienced, through one doorway at a time. If there is no understanding of the absolute truth, of what is there now, there cannot be the understanding of dhamma.
What is the absolute truth of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking? There are only six doors from day to day, from life to life. Different moments, not all at the same time, like seeing cannot be hearing, no matter in what life. Seeing has conditions to arise but it does not see a table. Is there anything on the table? That is not the truth, because then there would be something there.
Understand the truth of not self until there can be the understanding of dhamma, of anattå, that is uncontrollable. There can be more confidence in dhamma as not self.
————-

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http://zugangzureinsicht.org/html/lib/authors/nanadassana/wisdom_en.html

<<<<<<

i Paṭisambhidāmaggapāḷ- 1. Mahāvaggo - Mātikā

[8. Appearance as Fearful (bhayatupaṭṭhāna)]

Bhayatupaṭṭhāne paññā ādīnave ñāṇaṃ.

The wisdom gained by the appearance (of all formations[14]) as fearful[15] is knowledge of their danger[16].

  1. Sabba-saṅkhārānaṃ (i.e. of all mental and physical phenomena (nāma-rūpa)) of the three planes of existence (ti-bhāva), four modes of generation (catu-yoni), five destinations of existence (pañca-gati), seven stations of consciousness (satta-viññāṇa-ṭṭhiti), and nine abodes of beings (nava-satt’āvāsa); or of past, present and future saṅkhāra. (PsA 14; Vism 645)

  2. ‘As the meditator (yogāvacaro) develops and cultivates the contemplation of dissolution, the object of which is cessation consisting in the destruction, fall and break-up of all formations, then formations classed according to the three planes of existence, etc., (see n. 14), appear to him as fearful.
    He sees how past formations have ceased, present ones are ceasing, and those to be generated in the future will cease in just the same way.’ (PsA 14; Vism 645)
    Or, more specifically, these appear to him as fearful due to 15 instances:
    ‘Uppāda (arising or being born with previous kamma as condition);
    Pavatta (continuance [of the present life faculty (jīvitindriya) Ps i. 102] after one has been born with karma as condition);
    Nimitta (the sign of all formations, i.e. the five aggregates that appear like graspable entities and are a sign for the arising of mental defilements; see n. 23 below);
    Āyūhana (accumulation of karma for future rebirth-linking (paṭisandhi));
    Paṭisandhi (rebirth-linking for future reappearance);
    Gati (destination in which the rebirth-linking takes place);
    Nibbatti (generation of the five aggregates);
    Upapatti (rearising or continuance of the karma-result in one who has been reborn);
    Jāti (birth with becoming (bhava) as its condition, itself a condition for ageing and so on);
    Jarā (ageing);
    Vyādhi (sickness);
    Maraṇa (death);
    Soka (sorrow);
    Parideva (lamentation);
    and Upāyāsa (despair).’
    (Ps i.59; explained at PsA 65, 184; Vism 649 and Pm ii. 384)

  3. ‘As he develops and cultivates the knowledge of appearance as fearful he finds no asylum, no shelter, no place to go to, no refuge in any kind of existence, etc. (see n. 14).
    In all the kinds of existence, etc. there is not a single formation that he can place his hopes in or hold on.
    The three kinds of existence appear to him like charcoal pits full of glowing coals, the four primary elements like hideous venomous snakes (see S iv. 174) …
    he sees them as utterly destitute of any core or any satisfaction and as nothing but danger.’ (Vism 647)
    The opposite kind of knowledge to ‘knowledge of danger’ (ādīnave ñāṇaṃ), however, is the ‘knowledge of the state of peace’ (santipade ñāṇaṃ), namely, that
    An-uppāda (non-arising), etc. is safety (khemaṃ), bliss (sukha), unmaterialistic (nirāmisa), and Nibbāna. (Ps i.59)
    Thus ‘when Uppāda (arising), etc., have clearly appeared to him as fearful, his mind inclines towards their opposites, and so this [‘knowledge of the state of peace’] is said for the purpose of showing the advantages in the knowledge of danger established by the appearance as fearful.’ (Vism 649)

[…]

  1. […]
    The sign of formations (saṅkhāra-nimitta) refers to the five aggregates (pañca-kkhandha) [that form the object externally. See n. 12].
    These are a sign because they build the ground for the occurrence of the perception of compactness (ghana-saññā), or because they appear like graspable entities.’ (Pm ii.384)
    Particularly, it refers to the sign of materiality, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness, to the sign of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, etc. all physico-mental phenomena mentioned at n. 7.
    These are called ‘worldly formations’ (lokika-saṅkhāra) (PsA 193), ‘because they are a sign for the arising of mental defilements, or because they appear in the mode of a sign. Thus they are called a sign.
    And although they are included to one’s own continuity, they are nevertheless called “external” because they are seen as alien to it.’ (Pm ii.384)
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A question about what nimitta is:

Sujin: It is there now. It is there because of the rapid arising and falling away of realities. No matter which unit of visible object is arising and falling away, it keeps on arising and falling away so that it forms up the sign (nimitta) of it as something that can be seen. Whenever there is seeing there is the sign of the rapid arising and falling away of realities.

Q: Through all doorways?

Sujin: Through all doorways. The nimitta covers up the truth of realities which arise and fall away. No one can really directly experience a particular reality, because there are so many [N: arising and falling away very rapidly] that form up the sign, the idea of people and things. There is a reality that can be seen and pa~n~naa begins to understand that what is seen cannot be any one at all. Only memory and thinking condition the idea of someone or something .

One lives in the world of nimitta of everything. Even citta or vi~n~naa.na is vi~n~naa.na nimitta. There are also ruupa nimitta, vedanaa nimitta, sa~n~naa nimitta, sa”nkhaara nimitta. It is not each particular reality that is cognized, it is so short; but the nimitta of each one is cognized. If there can be sati on and on, feeling appears as that particular feeling. The nimitta of visible object can be the object of understanding, it can be understood as the nimitta of that characteristic, not as people or things.

There is touching and hardness appears. Does it arise and fall away?

Answer: yes.

Sarah: At the moment of understanding a characteristic there is no concern whether this is visible object or nimitta.
Sujin: Even understanding that what appears is only visible object is not easy. It is the truth. Without understanding this there is no way to experience the arising and falling away of realities.

https://groups.io/g/dsg/message/138870
Nina van gorkom:

Nåma and rúpa arise and fall away extremely rapidly. Every citta is followed by another citta without any interval, and thus, it seems that citta can stay. Rúpa does not fall away as rapidly as citta, it lasts as long as seventeen moments of citta. However, it still falls away rapidly and so long as there are conditions it is followed by another rúpa. All the sense objects we experience at this moment seem to last, it seems they were there already for a while when we experience them. Time and again Acharn reminded us that dhammas arise and fall away and that only a sign or nimitta is left of them when they have fallen away already. There is a sign or nimitta of each of the five khandhas that arise and fall away: of the khandhas of rúpa, of feeling, of remembrance (sa~n~naa), of the other cetasikas (sa.nkhårakkhandha) and of citta (vi~n~naanakkhandha). This is sa.nkhåra nimitta, the nimitta of conditioned realities [1]. It is impossible to have awareness and direct understanding of just one unit of rúpa or one citta. She said: “We do not have to think of nimitta, it appears. There is a little glimpse of that which is seen, different from when one closes one’s eyes. But we should not try to know it, it is useless. One begins to see the rapidity of the arising and falling away of realities. One clings to that which has gone. Only a sign is left.

https://groups.io/g/dsg/message/135508

The succession of the arising and falling away of visible object conditions an idea of continuity, the perceiving of shape and form. Acharn explained: < Memory just marks and forms up the idea of a particular shape and form of this or that person. It is all that can be seen. Close your eyes and there is no more that which can be seen. …Without reality there is no nimitta but the arising and falling away is so rapid that it cannot be directly experienced.>

Because of wrong remembrance of self, atta-sa~n~na, the nimitta is taken for something. Concepts are thought of because of different nimittas. Sarah also gave some more explanations: <Thinking has an idea of shape and form and that leads to the idea of eyebrows, people and things. Without experiencing visible object many times there could not be the sign of visible object and without that sign there could not be thinking about the outward appearance and details of things. One thinks of concepts of people and things on account of what is seen.>

  • Saṁyutta Nikāya
  • Connected Discourses on the Aggregates

22.3. Haliddakani (1)

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Venerable Mahakaccana was dwelling among the people of Avanti on Mount Papata at Kuraraghara. Then the householder Haliddakani approached the Venerable Mahakaccana, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Venerable sir, this was said by the Blessed One in ‘The Questions of Magandiya’ of the Aṭṭhakavagga:

‘Having left home to roam without abode,
In the village the sage is intimate with none;
Rid of sensual pleasures, without expectations,
He would not engage people in dispute.’

How, venerable sir, should the meaning of this, stated by the Blessed One in brief, be understood in detail?”

“The form element, householder, is the home of consciousness; one whose consciousness is shackled by lust for the form element is called one who roams about in a home. The feeling element is the home of consciousness … The perception element is the home of consciousness … The volitional formations element is the home of consciousness; one whose consciousness is shackled by lust for the volitional formations element is called one who roams about in a home. It is in such a way that one roams about in a home.

“And how, householder, does one roam about homeless? The desire, lust, delight, and craving, the engagement and clinging, the mental standpoints, adherences, and underlying tendencies regarding the form element: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about homeless. The desire, lust, delight, and craving, the engagement and clinging, the mental standpoints, adherences, and underlying tendencies regarding the feeling element … the perception element … the volitional formations element … the consciousness element: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about homeless. It is in such a way that one roams about homeless.

“And how, householder, does one roam about in an abode? (note 22) By diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of forms, one is called one who roams about in an abode. By diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of sounds … the sign of odours … the sign of tastes … the sign of tactile objects … the sign of mental phenomena, one is called one who roams about in an abode.

“And how, householder, does one roam about without abode? Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of forms: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the sign of sounds … the sign of odours … the sign of tastes … the sign of tactile objects … the sign of mental phenomena: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. It is in such a way that one roams about without abode.

“And how, householder, is one intimate in the village? Here, householder, someone lives in association with laypeople: he rejoices with them and sorrows with them, he is happy when they are happy and sad when they are sad, and he involves himself in their affairs and duties. It is in such a way that one is intimate in the village.

“And how, householder, is one intimate with none in the village? Here, householder, a bhikkhu does not live in association with laypeople. He does not rejoice with them or sorrow with them, he is not happy when they are happy and sad when they are sad, and he does not involve himself in their affairs and duties. It is in such a way that one is intimate with none in the village.

“And how, householder, is one not rid of sensual pleasures? Here, householder, someone is not devoid of lust, desire, affection, thirst, passion, and craving in regard to sensual pleasures. It is in such a way that one is not rid of sensual pleasures.

“And how, householder, is one rid of sensual pleasures? Here, householder, someone is devoid of lust, desire, affection, thirst, passion, and craving in regard to sensual pleasures. It is in such a way that one is rid of sensual pleasures.

“And how, householder, does one entertain expectations? Here, householder, someone thinks: ‘May I have such form in the future! May I have such feeling in the future! May I have such perception in the future! May I have such volitional formations in the future! May I have such consciousness in the future!’ It is in such a way that one entertains expectations.

“And how, householder, is one without expectations? Here, householder, someone does not think: ‘May I have such form in the future!… May I have such consciousness in the future!’ It is in such a way that one is without expectations.

“And how, householder, does one engage people in dispute? Here, householder, someone engages in such talk as this: ‘You don’t understand this Dhamma and Discipline. I understand this Dhamma and Discipline. What, you understand this Dhamma and Discipline! You’re practising wrongly, I’m practising rightly. What should have been said before you said after; what should have been said after you said before. I’m consistent, you’re inconsistent. What you took so long to think out has been overturned. Your thesis has been refuted. Go off to rescue your thesis, for you’re defeated, or disentangle yourself if you can.’ It is in such a way that one engages people in dispute.

“And how, householder, does one not engage people in dispute? Here, householder, someone does not engage in such talk as this: ‘You don’t understand this Dhamma and Discipline…. ‘ It is in such a way that one does not engage people in dispute.

“Thus, householder, when it was said by the Blessed One in ‘The Questions of Magandiya’ of the Aṭṭhakavagga:

‘Having left home to roam without abode,
In the village the sage is intimate with none;
Rid of sensual pleasures, without expectations,
He would not engage people in dispute’—

It is in such a way that the meaning of this, stated in brief by the Blessed One, should be understood in detail.”

Bodhi note 22:

22 I read the long compound with Be and Se rupanimittaniketa-
visiiravinibandhu. Ee has -Sara- in place of -visara-. The inter-
pretation is as difficult as it looks. I have unravelled it with
the aid of Spk, which explains: "Form itself is the ‘sign’
(nimitta) in the sense that it is a condition for defilements,
and it is also the abode (consisting in) the ‘sign of forms,’
being an abode in the sense of a dwelling place, namely,
for the act of objectification. By the two terms ‘diffusion
and confinement’ (visara-vinibandhu) what is meant is the
expansion of defilements and their confining (or binding)
nature. (Thus the full compound should be resolved:) ‘dif-
fusion and confinement in the abode (consisting in) the
sign of forms.’ Hence the meaning is: ‘by the diffusion of
defilements, and by the bondage of defilements arisen in
the abode (consisting in) the sign of forms.’

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