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The Light Within

September 3, 2013

Q: When I meditate I see lights within. Can you explain this?

The Arahant: When you are asleep in a dark room and dream, there is light. When you think and visualize or imagine, there is light. You can see your dreams and thoughts. Similarly, when you concentrate in meditation there is light. What is this light?

The Buddha gives us a hint:

“Monk, the property of light, the property of beauty, the property of the dimension of the infinitude of space, the property of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the property of the dimension of nothingness: These properties are to be reached as perception attainments.” — Sattadhatu Sutta (SN 14.11)

Perception attainments are natural results of cultivating jhānas. One should concentrate the mind in a peaceful place, removing it from all disturbing elements such as fear, desire, agitation, doubt, etc. and focus on the breath. After some time, various phenomena begin to arise spontaneously. The Buddha explains this process:

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

“Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the mental fermentations. Or, if not, then — through this very dhamma-passion, this very dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five of the fetters — he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world.” — Jhana Sutta (AN 9.36)

So cultivation of jhāna is the key to all higher powers, including enlightenment. One of the key features of modern life is the lack of the time and peacefulness required to meditate properly. People are constantly busy, always extroverted, senses engaged in stimulating activity. Thus their minds are overcome with stress and can never focus on one thing to the exclusion of others. This is suffering. The Buddha teaches us to discipline the mind through cultivation of jhāna, so we can overcome suffering and attain to higher mental powers.

Among these powers is the vision of inner light. However this occurs naturally when the mind is focused. Just like if you have a flashlight bulb or other source of light hanging in a room, its light will not be seen as brilliant. But if you put the same flashlight bulb in a reflector an concentrate the beam, then it appears much brighter.

Similarly, there is always light in the mind—that light is how you perceive thoughts—but in most cases it is unfocused, or moving so swiftly from one thought to another that you cannot perceive its brilliance.

“I consider, monks, there to be no other thing that turns as swiftly as the mind—so much so, monks, that it is difficult to illustrate how swift to turn it is. This mind, monks, is luminous, and it is stained by occasional stains. This mind, monks, is luminous, and it is freed from occasional stains.” — Aṅguttara-Nikāya, Ekakanipātapāḷi, Paṇihitācchavaggo 1.48-50)

The stains or defilements in the mind block the light. They are like dense clouds of darkness. You can see these in meditation also. At first you see the inner light far away, hidden by the dark clouds. Then as concentration and purity increase, you see it more brightly. You recognize how the mind overlays the patterns of light with dreams and visions that become thoughts.

When you can let go of identifying with thoughts, you are able to see the inner light in full strength, a magnificent vision. Finally, you will realize that the inner light is coming from your self—your authentic self, not your false ego. At that time the subject/object dichotomy turns inside-out, and you realize what you really are: you are the inner light.

From → Q&A

  1. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    ( I submitted this query through the form on the “About” page, but I was unsure if it went through)

    Here, you mention that cultivation of jhāna leads one to insight and other perception attainments. How dow Buddhist scholars, meditation teachers, and present-day Buddhist “religion” view jhāna. I ask this because there seems to be confusion and arguments regarding this, at least on the internet. Thank you.

    • The Arahant replied by email:

      We cannot speak for others. We agree there is confusion, and it is because people follow their own opinions and speculations without reference to either experience or what the Buddha actually said.

      All questions are answered in the Suttas. The jhānas are defined very precisely there. But instead of looking up the terms in the dictionary and accepting the direct meaning, some people want to make up their own meaning or quibble about words. Better to sit down, concentrate and experience the jhānas for oneself. That will clear all doubts.

      • peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

        Yes, as I read the Sutta passages regarding jhānas, it is very clear to see their significance. In fact, the Suttas answer many of my questions regarding other topics as well- which has been reiterated on many of the posts on this website. So, I shall maintain focus on the Suttas rather than get entangled with the numerous interpretations and opinions.

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