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The characteristic manifestations of absorption


The Seven Signs Of Skillful Meditation

October 1, 2004, last updated 01-20-2013

By Arahatta Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks):
(copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013 all rights reserved)

In the Discourses of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama occasionally mentioned a Magadhan term ‘jhana-nimitta’ or ‘samatha-nimittan’ or ‘samadhi-nimittan’ (see glossary) in reference to the absorption states, which he called “jhana.” The way in which we find these three Magadhan terms expressed, they seem to be synonyms, thus for the purposes of this essay we will just refer to the term ‘jhana-nimitta.’

Jhana-nimitta is often rendered into English as the “sign of absorption” (jhana-nimitta).  We believe it would be more accurate to translate “jhana-nimitta” as the “characteristics of absorption.” Or by another term in the English language, which comes from Christian mysticism ‘charism.’ This term generally means the charismatic phenomena that are associated with the personal religious experience.  It is this personal religious experience that we believe are similar, if not identical, to the absorption states that Siddharta Gautama called ‘jhana’ or ‘samadhi.’

Charism n. Theology and Charismatic adj. 1. Of, relating to, or characterized by charisma: "the warmth of a naturally charismatic leader" (Joyce Carol Oates). 2. Theology. Of, relating to, or being a type of Christianity that emphasizes personal religious experience and divinely inspired powers, as of healing, prophecy, and the gift of tongues. (1)

We must keep in mind while we translate concepts from one culture to another that we are going to encounter some variability in how parallel concepts are interpreted or emphasized from one culture to the next.  While in Christian theology the term “Charism” emphases the “warmth of leadership,” and “divinely inspired powers,” such as “healing, prophecy, and the gift of tongues” we find that the Christian mystics manifested a much wider range of charisms and they were quite similar, if not identical, to those manifested by Sufi mystics, Kabbalists, Yogis and Buddhist mystics, therefore we believe we should not assume that the religious experience of the saints of one religion are necessarily different from those of another.  And, in fact when we examine the Discourses of the Buddha and the stories of mystics from other religions we indeed find quite a bit of similarity in their experiences.

The Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22.22) clearly indicates that the practice of meditation (sati) as taught by Siddhartha Gautama led clearly to a religious experience that Siddhartha Gautama called “Jhana” (MN 22), and he described that experience within much of the same kind of terminology that the Christian mystics, Sufi mystics, Kabbalists, and Yogis used.  That terminology is ecstatic and refers to bliss, joy, ecstasy, rapture, etc.  Thus, bliss, joy, ecstasy and rapture are some of the characteristics of absorption (jhana-nimitta/ Charism).

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22.22)
 (1st Jhana)
[22]"And what seekers of Buddhahood is right absorption? There is the case where a contemplative is withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unwholesome mental states and beliefs with applied and sustained attention and bliss and joy one resides in the clarity of the first ecstasy (2).

Our premise is to argue in this essay that in the case of any contemplative within any religion who has arrived at a personal religious experience this individual will have thus found one of the states of meditative absorption that is not unlike that which was described by Siddhartha Gautama when he used the term ‘samadhi.’  And, by experiencing a personal religious experience the individual will know that he or she has arrived in such an experience because that experience is accompanied by characteristic observable phenomena.  And, further it is our premise that Siddhartha Gautama would have called that observable phenomena “jhana-nimitta.” And, further, any of the contemplative Christian mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, would have called the phenomena of the personal religious experience a ‘charism.’

Siddhartha Gautama not only emphasized the importance of recognizing the sign of absorption (samatha-nimittan), he even instructed his students in the importance of “grasping” at those signs in the Sangiti Sutta (DN 33).

Sangiti Sutta (DN

“There are [sets of] two things that were perfectly proclaimed by the Lord…”

(24) “The sign of calm and grasping the sign
(samatha-nimittan ca paggaha-nimittan ca).”

Sangiti Sutta (DN
“There are [sets of] five things that were perfectly proclaimed by the Lord…”

(25)…(e) “when he (she) has properly grasped some sign (samadhi-nimittam), has well considered it, applied his (her) mind to it (supadharitam) and has penetrated it with wisdom (suppatividdham pannaya).  At this joy (sukha) arises in him (her), and from this joy (sukha), [bliss (piti) arises); and by this (bliss) his (her) senses are calmed, he (she) feels happiness as a result, and with this happiness his (her) mind is established.” (in absorption) (3)

The Magadhan term ‘nimitta,’ has a broader context than the narrower compound term ‘jhana-nimitta.’ Nimitta simply means ‘characteristics’ or ‘sign’ and is often associated in the suttas with sensory experience, where the contemplative is paying attention to the characteristics of an object of desire.  However, Siddhartha Gautama also extended the use of the term ‘nimitta’ by conjoining it with the Magadhan terms “jhana” or the Sanskrit terms ‘samadhi’ or ‘samatha’ to form the compound terms ‘jhana-nimitta,’ or ‘samadhi-nimitta,’ or ‘samatha-nimittan,’ to indicate that there were indeed characteristic phenomena that a contemplative could look for as a sign to indicate that absorption had arisen.

While the Magadhan compound term ‘jhana-nimitta’ does not appear in the Satipatthana Samyutta sutta, we believe one will find this sutta is nonetheless one of the best references for the idea that Siddhartha Gautama recognized there were characteristics of absorption (jhana-nimitta) that one could learn to observe them as an indicator of progress or success in the contemplative practice (sati) and that it was desirable to do so, because doing so would enhance the religious experience (samadhi).

Satipatthana Samyutta SN 8 (8) The Competent Cook

“Suppose, monks, a wise, competent (and) skillful cook were to present a king or royal minister with various kinds of curries…that wise…cook observes the sign of his master’s preferences.”

“So too, monks, here some wise, competent, skillful monk dwells contemplating the physical body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.  While he (or she) dwells contemplating the physical body, his (her) mind becomes absorbed (jhana), his (her) corruptions (nivarana) are abandoned, he (she) picks up the sign (nimitta).  He (she) dwells contemplating the (5 Skhandas) body (rupa)… sensations (vedana)… perception (sañña)… mental states (sañkhara)… cognition (viññana)… ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.  While he dwells contemplating phenomena, his (her) mind becomes absorbed (jhana), his (her) corruptions (nivarana) are abandoned he (she) picks up the sign (nimitta)” of absorption (jhana) (4).

There are some schools within Theravadan Buddhism that believe the sign of absorption (jhana-nimitta) only manifests as a residual image of a spherical luminous orb from the practice of kasina meditation. Kasina meditation is a type of visual meditation object, however, we believe this is a rather narrow, and thus too restrictive definition for jhana-nimitta, especially since this definition does not take into account the subjective quality of absorption (jhana) and the distinct possibility that the signs of absorption might occur in any one or more of the senses. We should also keep in mind that nowhere in the suttas is a luminous sphere (kasina) defined as a sign of anything.

Sadly, the suttas do not clearly define what exactly is a sign of absorption (jhana-nimitta). However, we should be able to assume that at the very least the sign of absorption (jhana-nimitta) are the eight characteristics that the Buddha defined absorption (jhana) by.  They are: applied or initiating attention (Vitakka), sustained attention (Vicára), joy (Sukha), bliss (Piiti), tranquility (Passaddhi), equanimity (Upekkha), and freedom from unhappiness and suffering (Asukhacaadukkha).  Thus according to the Buddha in the Competent Cook sutta (SN 8 (8)) we should be attending at least to these seven signs of absorption (jhana-nimitta).


the Seven Jhana factors (jhana-nimitta, Jhánanga, charism)







applied or initiating attention


1st jhana



sustained attention


1st jhana





1st jhana





1st jhana





2nd jhana





3rd jhana



freedom from unhappiness and suffering


4th jhana


(DN 2, 22 ; MN 119)

In addition to the eight signs of absorption that the Buddha defined this contemplative has found absorption (jhana) is often accompanied by a wide range of additional characteristic phenomena.  It is these characteristic phenomena that I believe are also true jhana-nimitta or characteristics of absorption. It has been observed that these characteristic phenomena are readily available to all contemplatives, not just those practicing kasina (visual) meditation, or just Buddhists.

While some Buddhist scholars believe the “signs” of absorption (jhana-nimitta) are simply a retinal image, this contemplative has found that the characteristic phenomena (jhana-nimitta) that are associated with absorption (jhana) can manifest in any of the senses, not just the visual sense.  In support of this belief there is some suggestion in the Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20) that Siddhartha Gautama instructed his students to pay attention to the five senses for the signs (nimitta) of absorption (jhana).  While we are not told in this sutta what these five signs are, I believe it implied that these five “signs” (nimitta) are nonetheless manifest in any one of the five senses.

Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20)

2. “Monks, when a monk is pursuing the higher mind, from time to time he (she) should give attention to five signs (nimitta).” (4)

Charismatic ringing – Auditor Nimitta
Among the contemplatives who have reported the phenomena of absorption in there meditation on the Jhana Support Group, it seems charismatic ringing is far more common a characteristic manifestation of absorption than visual hallucinations, thus charismatic ringing is a classic example of auditory jhana-nimitta. Charismatic ringing, as it is reported by the members of the Jhana Support Group (5), is typically expressed as an omnidirectional whirring, buzzing, ringing, rushing or whistling sound that seems to originate from the center of the head, and is associated with a rigorous meditation regimen.

Charismatic ringing is perhaps the most commonly reported charism of the mystics of any religion.  Siddhartha Gotama mentioned them, and so did Patanjali, Teresa of Avila, Rumi and Kabir.  One of the Buddhist contexts for charismatic ringing appears in the Mahaasaccaka sutta (MN 36).  References to charismatic ringing appears in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila, in the poetry of Jalalu’l-Din Rumi, the Bible, and the poetry of Kabir.

Mahaasaccaka sutta (MN 36)
Aggivessana, then it occurred to me, what if I practiced stopping the in-breaths and the out-breaths?… air entering through the ears made much noise. It was like the sound that came from the bellows of the smithy… a lot of air disturbed the top of my head. Like a strong man was carving the top of my head with a sharp blade… I felt a lot of pain in the head...Like a strong man giving a head wrap with a strong turban… I felt a lot of pain in the stomach. As though a clever butcher or his apprentice was carving the stomach with a butcher’s knife… I felt a lot of burning in the body. Like a strong man taking a weaker one, by his hands and feet was burning and scorching him in a pit of burning charcoal… My effort was aroused repeatedly, unconfused mindfulness established, the body was not appeased owing to the difficult exertion. Aggivessana, even then these arisen unpleasant feelings did not take hold of my mind and settle.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (1.40-1.51)
“A contemplative’s mastery can extend to the infinite or the infinitesimal. Through becoming saturated in meditative absorption (samadhi) the habits of the mind, perceiver, perceiving and perception, dwindle until transparent as a jewel. Meditative absorption (samâpattiï) that is combined with sounds (åabda), forms (artha) and concepts (jõâna) is a conceptual meditative absorption with (sa) applied attention (vitarka) (savitarka samadhi) (upon objects).

Meditative absorption (samadhi) that is free of the (objects) of memory, thought and an awareness of a physical body, which is radiant in the emptiness of its own true nature, is meditative absorption without (nir) applied attention (vitarka) (nirvitarka samadhi). In this way subtle phenomenon arise during conceptual (savicârâ) and non-conceptual (nirvicârâ) meditative absorption (samadhi). Ending in subtle objects and without form. These meditative absorptions (samadhis) occur also with the seed sound.

The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila,
Pg 93) “As I write this, by the way, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside my own head.  Those noises I told you about in the beginning are getting so loud that it’s almost impossible for me to obey the order to write this. It sounds like there are a multitude of rushing rivers inside my head, their waters cascading downward, surrounded by many little birds and other whistling sounds.  This is all unfolding not in the ears but the upper part of the head, where they say the higher part of the soul resides.  I have spent long periods in these regions.  The spirit seems to push its way upward with great power and speed…all of this turmoil doe not hinder my prayer or interfere with what I am trying to say.  Instead, my soul is whole within its quietude, its love, its longing, and its clarity of consciousness.”

Jalalu’l-Din Rumi,
“There is a strange frenzy in my head,
each particle circulating on its own 
Is the one I love everywhere.”

Ezekiel 43:3
"I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory."

Kabir on Charismatic sound
If you want the truth, I will tell you.
Listen to the sacred sound, the real sound, which is inside of you.
The one no one speaks of enunciates the sacred sound to himself.
And he is the one who has made it all.

There are just a few references in the Discourse of the Buddha that lend further support to the idea of charismatic hearing.  The Lohicca Sutta DN 12.83, n.130 and the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) refer to a Pali term ‘Dibba-sota,’ which is generally translated as “divined ear element.”  By its description in the suttas we believe it refers to charismatic hearing.

Lohicca Sutta DN 12.83, n.130
(Clairaudience) Divine ear, Dibba-sota (Pali) 
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, he directs & inclines it to the divine ear-element. He hears -- by means of the divine ear-element, purified & surpassing the human -- both kinds of sounds: divine & human, whether near or far. Just as if a man traveling along a highway were to hear the sounds of kettledrums, small drums, conchs, cymbals, & tom-toms. He would know, 'That is the sound of kettledrums, that is the sound of small drums, that is the sound of conchs, that is the sound of cymbals, and that is the sound of tom-toms.' In the same way -- with his mind thus concentrated, purified, & bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability -- the monk directs & inclines it to the divine ear-element. He hears -- by means of the divine ear-element, purified & surpassing the human -- both kinds of sounds: divine & human, whether near or far. When a disciple of a teacher attains this sort of grand distinction, Lohicca, that is a teacher not worthy of criticism in the world, and if anyone were to criticize this sort of teacher, the criticism would be false, unfactual, unrighteous, & blameworthy.

There is a rather intriguing suggestion in the Mahàli Sutta (DN 6), which presents the ‘double object of absorption’ (samadhi) as one in whom both charismatic vision and sound arises. There is thus a suggestion that the idea of ‘both-ways-liberation,’ might relate to the dual attainment of charismatic vision and sound, in the same sense as Sant Mat emphasizes “light and sound.”

Mahàli Sutta (DN 6)
[153] 7. 'Suppose a contemplative, Mahâli, to have attained one-sided absorption with the object of seeing such heavenly forms in any one direction,--in the East, or the South, or the West, or the North, or above; or below, or across,--and not with the object of hearing such heavenly sounds. Then since he has attained one-sided absorption, with the one object only in view, he only sees the sights, he hears not the sounds. And why not? Because of the nature of his [samâdhi].

[154] 8, 9. 'And so also, Mahâli, if he has attained one-sided absorption with the object of hearing, in any one direction, the heavenly sounds. Then, and for the same reason, he hears the sounds, but he sees not the sights.

[155] 10, 11. 'But suppose, Mahâli, he has attained meditative absorption (samadhi) with the double object in view of seeing and hearing, in any one direction, those heavenly sights and those heavenly sounds. Then since he has attained meditative absorption with the double object in view, he both sees the sights and hears the sounds. And why so? Because of the nature of his meditative absorption.'
Translated by Jhananda

Some people discount charismatic ringing as simply a case of tinnitus.  The problem with this critique is tinnitus typically occurs as a consequence of a specific physical condition, such as an ear infection, the use of certain drugs, a blocked auditory tube or canal, or a head injury.  Where as, charismatic ringing, or auditory jhana-nimitta, is typically reported as a consequence of a rigorous meditation practice. What is also characteristic of charismatic ringing is typically the subject reports the ringing intensifies during meditation practice; whereas one would not expect the symptoms of tinnitus to intensify during meditation.

tinnitus  n.
A sound in one ear or both ears, such as buzzing, ringing, or whistling, occurring without an external stimulus and usually caused by a specific condition, such as an ear infection, the use of certain drugs, a blocked auditory tube or canal, or a head injury. [Latin tinnhtus, from past participle of tinnhre, to ring, of imitative origin. (1)

Tactile nimitta
The members of the Jhana Support Group (JSG) have found there are other charismatic phenomena (jhana-nimitta) that are associated with absorption.  In fact it seems that every sense can produce its own characteristic charismatic phenomena (charism).  Those who report charismatic phenomena in the tactile field have described a wide range of phenomena.  One of the most common phenomena reported is an increase of sensation in the area of any of the higher chakras. 

The chakras are psychic centers that are commonly described in various yoga sutras.  These psychic centers are located on or near the heart, throat, between the eyebrows and crown of head.  The tactile sensation that is often reported is a sense of vibration, or heat, or a tickle, a crawling sensation or a “fuzziness” in the area of the body that is associated with one of the “higher” chakras. 

The secondary charismatic phenomena that are less frequently associated with the tactile field are a sensation in the hands and feet that are very much likened to the classic “stigmata” of the Christian mystics.  While no one on the JSG has reported bleeding or open sores developing in the areas of their hands and feet, those who experience these charismatic phenomena have on occasion reported that these sensations can even become painful in advanced stages of absorption.

Other tactile phenomena that are commonly associated with absorption are a sensation as if one were wearing a cloak. Christian mystics have referred to this experience as the “mantle of God.” It is believed this manifestation is feeling one’s aura. Others have reported feeling their acupuncture meridians.  And, others have reported feeling a sensation around the head where a hatband would fall.  Perhaps this is the “halo” that is often depicted in medieval Christian iconography, and was referred to as “tongues of fire” in the Christian Gospels.

Charismatic smell and taste nimitta
There is even charismatic (jhana-nimitta) of smell and taste. Charismatic smell typically manifests as the smelling of a fragrance, such as incense or flowers not in season.  Charismatic smell is frequently reported in the literature of Arabian and Persian Sufis.  Charismatic taste, is typically tasting something sweet, such as honey, in the mouth without having eaten something to produce that sweat taste.  This manifestation is often reported in the Yoga literature.

Visual Nimitta (kasina):
Charismatic visual manifestations are most typically hallucinations, such as waking dreams, but it can also manifest as a glow around objects, to even patterns of light in a darkened room.  These hallucinations can be vivid or semi-transparent.  Most report the degree of lucidity of any charismatic manifestation is directly proportional to one’s depth of absorption.  Here is where we would find the hallucination of the luminous orb or kasina that appears in Theravadan literature.

Kinesthetic Nimitta - Out-of-Body (OOB) experiences:
Finally there are also charismatic kinesthetic manifestations, which most often manifests as Out-of-Body (OOB) experiences.  This manifestation is so common among contemplatives that most of those who have developed the absorption states (jhanas) will have OOBs at some point in there contemplative lives.  There are other manifestations of kinesthetic charisms as well.  The most common of which is a slight case of dizziness or vertigo, however charismatic vertigo is usually not accompanied by the nausea of vertigo, and most who report charismatic vertigo typically report that it is very pleasant.

Kriyas – Spontaneous Movement:
A Kriya is one of the signs or nimitta of absorption.  It is also called ‘relaxation response,’ or ‘hypnic jerk,’ or ‘astronaut twitch.’  The reason why it has these other names is ‘relaxation response,’ and ‘hypnic jerk,’ were noticed in the subjects of professional hypnotists, who documented the phenomena and named it. Astronauts have also manifested spontaneous twitches or jerks in space, so it has been documented by space scientists.  We believe these are all the same phenomena, which occurs when an individual becomes very relaxed, and is most probably caused by residual nerve energy which is released through involuntary muscle spasms.

Kundalini– Head will explode:
One of the many phenomena that our meditation subjects have reported is a sensation of a powerful energy either rising up the spine or expanding in the head. We believe these phenomena are characteristic of the descriptions for a phenomena called ‘Kundalini’ in Sanskrit literature.  This term appears in later yoga literature and is typically used as a synonym for 'vîrya,' which is a term that was commonly used in earlier literature such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas.  This term also appears prominently in the Discourses of the Buddha as 'viriya.'

So what value do the signs of absorption have other than to tell us that we are in absorption?  In the Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20) we are told that there is a “wholesome sign” that will help us leave the unwholesome states and abide in the wholesome states, and that once one learns to do this he (she) is considered a “master of the courses of thought.”  While this sutta does not specifically refer to the sign of absorption (jhana, samatha, samadhi), nor does it describe the sign; however it seems reasonable to suggest that this “wholesome sign” is none other than the sign or characteristic of absorption (jhana-nimitta), which is a charismatic phenomena that occurs when one meditates skillfully.

Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20)
3. (i) “Here, monks, when a monk is giving attention to some sign (nimitta), and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he (she) should give attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome.  When he (she) gives attention to…(the sign of)…what is wholesome, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him (her) and subdued.  With the abandoning of them his (her) mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and (absorption).”

8. When…”such evil unwholesome thoughts are abandoned in him (her)…and his (her) mind becomes steadied internally, quiet, brought to singleness, and (absorption) this monk is then called a master of the courses of thought.” (4)

Finally in the Mahaasaccaka Sutta (MN 36) we have the very key canonical support not only for the sign of absorption (jhana-nimitta) but the very best canonical support that the Buddha in fact used the absorption states (jhanas), and their characteristic phenomena (jhana-nimitta) as his means of enlightenment, because after experiencing the bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) of jhana he said, “Could that be the path to enlightenment?”  Then he acquired the intuitive insight, “That is the path of enlightenment.” Then has asked himself, “Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasure and unwholesome states?”

Mahaasaccaka Sutta (MN 36.30-32)
30. “I thought…by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones.  Could there be another path to enlightenment?”

31. “I considered (a recollection) when my father the Sakayan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained (attention/vitakka & vicára) with bliss (piiti) and pleasure (sukha) born of seclusion.  Could that be the path to enlightenment?  Then following on that memory, came the realization: That is the path of enlightenment.”

32. “I thought: Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasure and unwholesome states?  And, I thought: I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasure and unwholesome states.”

34. “Now when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhana…fourth jhana.”

43. “When I knew and saw thus, my mind was liberated from the taints of sensual desire, from the taints of being, and from the taint of ignorance.  When it was liberated there came the knowledge: It is liberated.  I directly knew: Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.” (4)

In this same sutta Siddhartha Gautama also said that he continued to return and sustain his concentration upon the sign of absorption (jhana-nimitta) in his daily life.

45. “…The Tathagata teaches the dhamma to others only to give them knowledge.  When the talk is finished, Aggivessana, then I steady my mind internally, quieten it, bring it to singleness, and (absorb) it on that same sign of absorption (samadhi nimitta) as before, in which I constantly abide.” (4)

What is the consequence of being mindful all of the time of the charisms of absorption (jhana-nimitta)?  This contemplative has found after being with these charisms almost every day for 30 years that every waking moment this body is now saturated with the signs of absorption (jhana-nimitta).  The consequence is more happiness (sukha) and fulfillment than at any other time in this life. These pleasant and wholesome feelings are in every moment of every day, because all day long, every day the charismatic phenomena that are the signs of absorption are a pleasure (piiti) and joy (sukha) that comes from meditation.  And, when I sit down to meditate 3 or 4 times a day I drop into deeper absorption (jhana) immediately. 

Siddhartha Gautama in fact spoke of the importance of becoming saturated with absorption (jhana) in several suttas, such as the Samadhanga Sutta AN V. 28.  However, what was it that he was speaking of that the monk would become saturated with?  I think it was the charisms, or characteristics of absorption (jhana-nimitta).

Samadhanga Sutta AN V. 28
"He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal." (6)

This contemplative has found the characteristic phenomena or 'jhana-nimitta’ are often accompanied by various psychic powers.  It is in the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) that the “Fruit of the Contemplative Life” are revealed.  Here Siddhartha Gautama described a number of attainments that accompany the contemplative who has found skillful meditation.  He specifically describes nine psychic abilities, The Four absorptions (Jhanas); Insight Knowledge (vipassana); The Mind-made Body (manomaya), which is often called the out-of-body (OOB) experience in this culture; various Supranormal Powers; Clairaudience (dibba-sota); Mental telepathy; Recollection of Past Lives; The Passing Away & Re-appearance of Beings; and the Ending of Mental Agitation.

Through reading the record of numerous contemplatives on the Jhana Support Group we have found that most people who manifest any one of the charismatic phenomena (jhana-nimitta) typically manifest other characteristic charismatic phenomena, as well as various psychic abilities.  It is understood that the use of jhana-nimitta as a charism has been highly contentious, however it is believed by translating the Magadhan term “jhana-nimitta” as 'sign' only does not leave us with a clear understanding of the word. Since contemplatives who give rise to absorption always have at least one of a series of manifestations or symptoms that are characteristic of absorption (jhana), then it seems reasonable to extend the meaning of the Magadhan term 'jhana-nimitta' to mean the “characteristics of absorption” or charisms, and we should include the various psychic abilities as well in this category.

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks):

the Great Western Vehicle

A Glossary Of Charismatic Phenomena, Psychic Abilities and Absorption States that The Buddha Spoke About

Absorption (jhana)

DN 42, 1.3.21f., n.79, n.50, n.57, n.76f., 2.75ff., 4.33, n.168, 9.10ff., 16.6.8f., 17.2.3, n.583, n.611, 26.28, 29.24, 33.3.3(6), n.1118, n.1127, n.1143

Absorption (samadhi)

MN 38f., 4.18, 7.8, 16.26, 19.8, 20.3ff., 24.2, 32.7, 36.45, 40.8, 44.11, 44.12, n.464, 69.15, 77.17, 122.7ff., 128.31, nn.1195-96

Absorption (Samatha)


Bliss (piiti)

MN 22.3, 66.21, 122.3, 139.9

Charism, (jhana-nimitta)

DN 33.24,  MN 20,

Characteristics or Sign

36.45. SN pg 1634, 1899-

of absorption, (samatha-nimittan)

1900, n.54, 1919

Delight (nandi)


Divine eye, (Clairvoyance) (dibba-cakkhu)

DN 2.95, n.253, 8.3, 14.1.36, 16.1.27, 17.1.16, 23.11, 25.19, 28.17, 33.1.10(46)

Divine ear, (Clairaudience) (dibba-sota)

DN 2.83, n.130

Extra-sensory perception

DN 2, 33

Happiness (Sukha)

DN 1.3.21, n.82,


DN, 11.1ff., 24.1.4ff., 24.2.13, n.736, n.749, n.750

Out-of-Body (OOB) (manomaya)

DN 1.2.2, n.49, 1.3.12, n76,

Mind-made body

2.86, 24.2.15, 27.10

Past lives, rebirth or reincarnation

DN 1.1.31ff, 2.93, 24.2.18ff,

(s. Patisandhi, paticcasamuppada)

25.18ff, 28.15ff, 33.1.10(58), 33.1.11(30), 34.1.7(10)

Powers, balani,

16.3.51, n.413, 33.2.3(9), 34.1.8(10), n.1150

Psychic power, miracle of

DN 11.3ff, n.231

Psychic powers, iddhi,

DN 2.87, n.128, 11.5, n.231, 17.1.18, n.481, 28.18

Roads to Power, iddhipada,

DN n.270, 16.3.3, 18.22, n.526, 26.28, 28.3, 33.1.11(3)

Sign of absorption, jhana-Nimitta

DN 33.24,  MN 20,


36.45. SN pg 1634, 1899-1900, n.54, 1919

Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, (Vinnananaacayatana)

DN 1.3.14, 9.15, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)

Sphere of Infinite Space, (Akasanancayatana)

DN 1.3.13, 9.14, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)

Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception, (nevasannanasannnayatana)

DN 1.3.16, 15.33f, 33.1.11(7)

Sphere of No-Thingness, (akincannayatana)

DN 1.3.13, 9.14, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)

Supramundane, lokuttara,

DN 38


33.11.3, n.232, n.660, n.671, n.1059, n.1140

Wisdom, pannna,

DN 4.23, n.168, 15.34, n.355, 33.1.10(42, 43), n.56

Wisdom Eye, pannna-cakkhu,

DN n140, 33.1.10(46)

Note: DN=Digha Nikaya; MN=Majjhima Nikaya; SN=Samyutta Nikaya.


  1. American Heritage Dictionary, 1992
  2. Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22.21
  3. Satipatthana Samyutta (SN 8) (8) “The Competent Cook,” a Discourse on the signs of absorption (Jhana-nimitta).
  4. Satipatthanasamyutta, page 1635. Wisdom Publishing, Boston, 2000.
  5. Sangiti Sutta (DN, Translated by Maurice Walshe, “The Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya), Wisdom Publishing, Boston, 1987, 1995
  6. Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20), Translated by Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi, “The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya), Wisdom Publishing, Boston, 1995, 2001
  7. Jhana Support Group, A dialog support group for ecstatic contemplatives in a Buddhist context
  8. Samadhanga Sutta (AN V. 28) “The Factors of Absorption”,
  9. The GWV Ecstatic Buddhist Pali-to-English Dictionary.
  10. Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) “Mindfulness of the Body”
  11. Mahasakuludayi Sutta (MN 77) “The Great Discourse to Sakuludayin
  12. Samadhi Sutta (AN IV.41) The Discourse on Absorption
  13. Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) “The Discourse on the Fruits of the Contemplative Life”
  14. Charismatic Movement, Kriyas

Mahaasaccaka sutta (MN 36)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (1.40-1.51)
Translated from the Sanskrit by Jhananda

The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila,
Pg 93) translation and introduction by Mirabai Star. Riverhead Books, Published by the Berkley Publishing Group a division of Penguin Group USA Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014, 2003

Jalalu’l-Din Rumi,
the Illustrated Rumi, translated by Colman Barks

Bible, Ezekiel 43:3

Kabir on Charismatic sound
Based upon a translation by Bly, the Kabir Book, Beacon Press, #4 page 5.

Lohicca Sutta DN 12.83, n.130

Mahàli Sutta (DN 6) 153-155

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