Using Visual Imagery in Samatha (Tranquility) Meditation Practice

Before I left for Sri Lanka in 1987 to become a Buddhist monk, I was living in Nepal. A week or two before we left Nepal, Jacquelin and I went to visit Venerable Amritananda at his hermitage, Ananda Kuti Bihar, located behind Swayambhunath temple in the hills of Kathmandu. Amritananda was an elderly monk at the time and was eager to share his life with us. He was the author of many books in Nepali about the various people found in the Pali Canon, treating them like literary characters. It was rumored that he provided material for S. N. Goenka to use in his nightly Dharma talks.

We sat down in his small room, sipped tea, and listened to him recount his experience in Sri Lanka, as I had told him about my plans. He related how he spent a year doing kasina practice with a meditation master in Sri Lanka. He chose the white kasina as his object and made a white circle that he would stare at for long periods of time. He tried to remember the image when he meditated, but it was hard for him. Visual imagery probably was not his strong suit. But he stuck with it, and after a year, he successfully saw a white ball of light in meditation and his mind became absorbed on that image. After having succeeded at doing this samatha practice, he gave it up and turned his attention to other endeavors.

Traditional samatha practice is like that. The meditator tries to visualize a single prescribed object and then experience an absorption in meditation. Some people are more visual than others, and can do that easily. I, for instance, had no problem visualizing images and colors in my meditation sittings from the very beginning. If I went on a walk and then sit down to meditate, the images from the walk would come up readily; and when I would meditate for long periods of time, images of water or earth from the day would arise in my mind and I would quickly become absorbed on them without even trying.

When I wrote “Unlearning Meditation,” my editor asked me to edit the passages of seeing visual images, colors, and light in meditation, since he thought that many readers could feel left out who did not share those experiences. So, yes, reading about visual imagery that arises for other people in meditation, but not for you, might leave you feeling a bit discouraged. If that’s the case, you just need a little help, a gentle training of the mind, to be able to have visual images arise in your meditation sittings. Perhaps these videos I have created will be able to do just that: help bring visual images into your meditation sittings. Some people who have viewed these videos have reported back to me that they saw these images come up in meditation. See for yourself. There is no cost, no risk, no harm in seeing these videos. And, like someone engaged in a samatha meditation practice, you may even try watching a single video several times over, or just a segment that draws your interest, lodging those images in your mind. But my hunch is that if you watch several of these videos, paying close attention to how they unfold, morph, and change, you might just find some random images naturally arising in your mind at some point in your meditation sitting.

Leave a Reply