Using the moon as a visual meditation object
August 11, 2004
By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)
For a few days around the full moon in Capricorn, 2004, I decided to use it as a meditation object. The Buddha is said to have described a series of visual meditation objects to his students. These were hemispherical devices he called “kasina” that he recommended could be made from mud from a riverbank. He recommended a reddish colored mud, “the color of the sunrise” for the purpose of meditation. While there is not much said on the use of the kasina in the Discourses of the Buddha, the practice has certainly been a curiosity among a small community of Buddhist contemplatives.
I believe the purpose of the Kasina as a meditation object is for the contemplative to get at what he meant by relinquishing one’s grasp on the clinging aggregates (khandas/skhandas). The aggregates are, in a Western point of view, the processes of cognition, which are the mental processes or faculties of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, sensing, reasoning, and judgment.
The Five Aggregates (khandas/skhandas) of Cognition that cause the arising and passing away of mental structures (pancha-upadana-skhanda):
|Body, matter, physical form||rupa|
|2||Sensuality, sensory stimuli||vedana|
|4||Mental structures, states and objects||sa˝khara|
What was of central importance to the Buddha is how we use the senses, and his particular point of view on the senses was very poignantly revealed in the Bahiya Sutta, U 1.10. In this sutta the Buddha inspires a mystic, Bahiya, to let go of sensing, perception and cognition, so that any sense of self-identification with the objects of the senses is relinquished. The purpose of course is to arrive at a state of tranquility where one is free of the thinking mind while still engaged in the world.
Bahiya Sutta (U 1.10)"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)."
My use of the full moon as a visual meditation object (kasina) was simply to sit in meditation while facing the rising moon with my eyes open. The key here though is not to use the faculty of seeing even though the eyes are open. I have found the kasina is most effective if the eyes are defocused so that only the luminance of the object is taken in.
Luminance is a term from physics that refers to the intensity of light per unit area of its source, which means that while one is meditating on a kasina one simply uses the eyes to sample the quality of light that is reflected from the object, not to see the details of the object. The full moon happens to be an excellent object for that practice, because it is not too bright, it occurs at night, the best time for meditation, and it moves slowly across the sky.
While keeping my eyes upon the moon, but defocused, I sat for a few hours of meditation. A considerable portion of the sky was also available to me, but again I kept from focusing on any particular object. However, I noticed the occasional flash of headlights on the opposite mountain range across the Owens River Valley (White Mountains). I also noticed a few meteor streaks, but I kept from looking at any of these other sources of light. I just let them pass through without noting, or even clinging to them as a source of sensation.
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