Eyes Open Verses Closed During Meditation
By Dhammaccariya Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks):
Inyo National Forest
October 6, 2005
(Copyright 2005 all rights reserved)
Regarding the issue of whether the eyes should remain open or closed during meditation it seems it is more of a cultural issue than it is a functional one. If we consider that the Buddha taught standing and walking meditation in addition to lying down and sitting meditation (DN 118), then we would have to admit that the Buddha considered meditation could take place whether the eyes were open or closed. After all, one is not likely to engage in walking or standing meditation with the eyes closed. At the very least the eyes must maintain the horizon line or otherwise the contemplative would fall over. We can also say eyes closed meditation must have been acceptable to the Buddha because he taught lying down meditation, which I believe we can accept took place with the eyes closed.
This contemplative practices and teaches meditation under both the conditions of eyes being open and closed. I do this because I have found there are some things a contemplative learns by meditating with the eyes closed that one does not learn with the eyes open, and vice versa.
I teach eyes open meditation within the context of the Bahiya Sutta (U 1.10) The important aspect of eyes open meditation to this contemplative, as an ecstatic contemplative, is the visual sense is the only sense that we can readily remove ourselves from in the same way as the Buddha suggested to Bahiya that he remove himself from all of the senses.
Bahiya Sutta (U 1.10) 'Relinquishing Cognition'"Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of dissatisfaction (dukkha)."
I believe the point here, is not the cognitive process of relinquishing the sense of 'I' from the sensory domain, but more the idea that one can pull back the cognitive processes from the sensory domain so that one observes only raw sensor phenomena coming in through the senses. The mind, or the cognitive processes, is thus not involved in the interpretation of that sensor phenomena.
Charismatic or 'Jhana-Nimitta' Phenomena:
As an ecstatic contemplative I have found there is a very good reason to pull back from the sensory domain. The importance of removing oneself from the sensing apparatus has the advantage of bringing the 'true but subtle' phenomena of absorption, which the Buddha called 'jhana-nimitta' forward into the awareness domain. Through experience one will find the phenomena of absorption arises as the attention ('vitakka' and 'vicára') is moved from the material domain sense objects, which 'originate from sensory stimulation,' to the true, but subtle sense domain, which is were the charismatic or 'jhana-nimitta' phenomena originate.
This is a difficult concept to get for most people, especially the idea of removing oneself, or one's attention, from all of the senses. However, with the sense of sight we have the facility to withdraw from it readily. To withdraw from the sense of vision all we need do is defocus. Many of us learned to defocus as children when we were being bored to death in school. So, I instruct the student in defocused meditation and I often offer a kasina, which is a round or spherical visual meditation object, which is to be observed during the defocused meditation practice. I find how Zazen is taught, as sitting meditation with the eyes open, is much the same practice.
Defocused visual meditation then becomes an instructional model that helps people simply get the idea that it is possible to 'defocus' or withdraw one's attention from all of the senses. By withdrawing the attention from all of the senses one can find charismatic or 'jhana-nimitta' phenomena in every sense field.
I also teach meditation with eyes closed because I believe it offers important advantages as well. Most people who discover the meditative absorption states (jhanas) find that once one gets beyond the first or second stage of absorption (jhana) one really does not want to have the eyes open. Also, for some people meditation with the eyes open offers too many distractions, so then eyes closed meditation is useful for them.
In conclusion, while I find learning to meditate both with eyes open and eyes closed offers a number of advantages and subjective skills that are useful to the contemplative who is intents upon learning skillful meditation, the issue is nonetheless purely a cultural practice and a personal preference.
MAHå-PARINIBBåNA-SUTTA (DN 16)
"The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, so long as they ...(remain) favorable to meditative absorption (samadhi)...'
Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) "Mindfulness of the breath"
Bahiya Sutta (U 1.10) 'Relinquishing Cognition'
MAHå-PARINIBBåNA-SUTTA (DN 16)
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