The Light Itself

The Light Itself

An Essay on Attainment

Be what is lacking in the World. Create a life worth living.


Mastering our experience

Meditation is the fastest way to true GNOSIS, the personal experience of the divine within. Personal experience is how we know. So reading books isn’t going to take us there; living is. Our personal experience supersedes everything. Being our own Master, we witness the divine deep within us. It reveals the selflessness of the human experience. It is nothing short of a life changing practice. The selflessness discovered, we realize that perfection isn’t a way to ‘be someone’. Inflating the ego would in fact be a sign of failure. Meditation is surrendering to who we truly are, beyond self.

Meditation brings about overwhelming sensations, some of which go beyond the mundane sensations of daily life. It’s not a way to relax after a hard day at work. It is a transcendental experience. On another hand, if beautiful moments happen, we shouldn’t let them get into our head. Most of them are only temporary. With repeated experience, they won’t be so overwhelming anymore. We must move on and not allow ourselves to be mystified. Meditation is testing our ability to handle experiences that are more emotionally shocking than everyday reality. We pass the test by studying them. Questioning with healthy doubt is our tool to navigate towards our truth. Doubt is what forces us to be thorough. It is the force that confirms the reliability of our experiences. GNOSIS justified by doubt. That is our path to Attainment.

Concentration Meditation

Concentration meditation is the practice of keeping attention on one point to the exclusion of anything else. It brings to clarity of consciousness and one-pointedness in the spiritual Work. It leads to the most profound and impressive GNOSIS.

The Buddhist literature commonly calls the point of attention the Object of Concentration. The Object of Concentration the most often recommended is the breath, because it takes no effort; in fact it can’t be stopped or forgotten. We usually pay little attention to the breath in our daily life, which means that when we do pay attention to it, we have little tendency to attach stories to it. It’s an easy object to look at without distraction.
The goal of Concentration Meditation is maintaining our attention on the Object, not thinking about the Object or analysing the Object. Anything other than steady attention is considered a distraction. It is noteworthy for the reader that at the beginning of a session of Concentration Meditation, even for an advanced practitioner, the sole goal will be to handle distractions. The difference between an advanced meditator and a beginner is how quickly one can deal with the waves of distractions. In Buddhism, distractions are separated in Five Hindrances: sensory desire, ill will, torpor, restlessness and doubt. Sensory desire is here intended in the sense of a distracting sensory impulse like an itch or a sound in the room. Ill will is meant as an aversion for the practice at hand or for the Object of Concentration itself. Torpor is the tendency to dose off, maybe causing the dropping of the head. Restlessness is an agitated urge to move or a short attention span. Doubt is distrust in the method or the teacher. There will be time when distractions seem gone only to come back in a new wave, crashing against the shore of one’s practice.

During the initial stages of Concentration Meditation, one might start seeing moving lights of various colours and shapes behind the closed eyelids. The Buddhists call it Nimitta. Meaning “sign”, the Nimitta is useful to cultivate, because it points in the right direction. However it shouldn’t distract from the Object of Concentration. The practitioner should simply notice that a Nimitta appeared and keep practicing. There is a special kind of Nimitta that usually makes quite an impression on the meditator, even with experience. Often called the Counterpart Sign, it is the Nimitta that marks the entrance into Access Concentration and that leads to the Jhana , a deeper state of consciousness. It can appear as moonlight or sunlight, sometimes shyly peeking through a veil or a cloud. It is beautiful and precious.

When one has mastered distractions, one falls in a state commonly called Access Concentration. It is a definite state of consciousness. It is tempting to fool oneself into thinking that one is concentrated enough to call it Access Concentration. However, Access Concentration feels like something has changed, with a definite and clearly perceived transition, like a piece of machinery that fits in place.
Let’s briefly examine the phenomenon of Access Concentration. It is characterized by the lack of effort required to stay focused on the Object of Concentration. Attention is drawn to the Object like a magnet and distraction takes no hold. Thoughts might happen, but they will simply pass by, in the background of the mind. Access Concentration may feel like an antechamber, like something is about to happen or like anything is possible from here. It’s an empowering state. All is quiet though. The mind is clear and fully aware of itself. Access Concentration brings pleasurable sensations caused by the surrendering of the mind and of the stories of the ego. This pleasure should be sought after, desired. The more complete the surrender of the mind, the bigger the pleasure and the closer one gets to Jhana.

But before delving into Jhana, it would be best to mention mundane jhanas or what some call the soft jhanas. We here enter a muddy territory. It is beyond the scope of this book to explain them in more details than painting them as a mild Jhana. It is only important to realize that when they write about the Jhana, some writer will mean mundane or soft jhana and some will mean the supramundane Jhana. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, but it is what it is and the reader should be warned. The mundane jhana isn’t the most useful state, but it teaches the basics of Jhana. It introduces to the Five Factors. It helps distinguish between the Eight Jhana (more on this in a moment). It allows learning Insight by studying the Three Characteristics of those Factors as they appear, which is impossible in the actual Jhana. The mundane jhana framework also gives a sense of progress, which is encouraging given how long it takes to reach Jhana. Hopefully, this segue didn’t confuse our reader. The seeker of Attainment will be well advised to stick to the Buddhist writers who talk about the supramundane or “deep” Jhana such as the traditional texts, the Visuddhimagga or the work of Pa Auk, Henepola Gunaratana or Ajahn Brahmavamso to name a few.

Upon repeated basking in the luminous pleasure of Access Concentration, the practitioner is taken into Jhana. The term Jhana is usually translated as absorption and it is literally how it feels. The consciousness is absorbed through the cranial suture into a blinding light in the Crown Chakra, spirited away. The transition is often announced by what could be characterized as a sensory overload: bright light, ringing or roaring in the ear, buzzing skin… It can be so overwhelming that one is quickly taken back down into mundane reality. The intimidation can take a while to master and the swinging back and forth of consciousness can mark the end of the meditation session, in frustration or confusion. Every peek in the Light, ever so short, is the discovery of a lifetime. So it should be treasured. With practice, the transition gets softer and consciousness adapts itself to the brightness of the Light.

The Jhana state in Buddhist tradition is constituted of Five Factors. They are traits or characteristics of the Jhana. They are Applied Concentration, Sustained Concentration, Rapture, Happiness and One-pointedness.
The Buddhists separate the Jhanas into eight individual stages, the most important of which are the first four. Each Jhana should be seen as a purer version of the previous one, each Jhana losing some Factors of its predecessor. The First Jhana has all the Five Factors (Applied Concentration, Sustained Concentration, Rapture, Happiness and One-pointedness) and is characterized by a dominant sensation of mental excitement. The Second Jhana loses Applied Concentration and Sustained Concentration and is characterized by the dominant sensation of emotional happiness. Applied Concentration and Sustained Concentration are the precondition for discursive thinking, so it follows that in the First Jhana some small degree of discursive thought is possible, but it is very limited. In the Second Jhana discursive thought is completely gone. The only thoughts possible are abstract and unnamed concepts. The Third Jhana loses Rapture and is characterized by the dominant sensation of peaceful contentment. The Fourth Jhana only keeps the One-Pointedness and is characterized by the dominant sensation of stability and equanimity. The progress through the Jhanas could be described as going deeper from the mental excitement of Rapture to the emotional Happiness and finally to the pure experiential equanimity; peeling one layer after another, from the mind to the core of consciousness.
As mentioned, there is no conscious thought in Jhana, so these sensations aren’t mentally recognized or labelled. The practitioner feels them without knowing precisely what is felt. However, upon exiting the Jhana, those sensations become accessible again. They are remembered and experienced anew. Theravada tradition lists a series of Five Masteries of the Jhana. They are as follows:

  1. Mastery in entering the Jhana when one wants to.
  2. Mastery in remaining in the Jhana for as long as one has determined.
  3. Mastery in emerging from the Jhana at the determined time.
  4. Mastery in adverting one’s attention to the factors of the Jhana after one has emerged from it.
  5. Mastery in reviewing the factors of the Jhana (i.e. practicing Insight Meditation on the factors).
    These masteries should be applied to each of the Four Jhana individually. This practice refines the Jhana, causing the Five Factors to drop one by one and ultimately leading to the equanimity of the Fourth Jhana.


Beyond Jhana is the mysterious state of Nirodha Samappati, only accessible to more advanced meditators (the Anagami and the Arahant in Theravada spiritual tradition). It is a state of oblivion where consciousness is completely gone. Nirodha can only be understood by studying the sensations preceding and succeeding it. We know Nirodha from its silhouette. There is a divinely inspired lesson here: to reach for the unknowable and incomprehensible one can observe the negative space around it, which, by definition, can be known and understood. Even though Nirodha is the luxury of the most advanced meditator, there is a similar state that is accessible earlier. Fruition, also characterized by the absence of consciousness, often happens in the context of Insight, when something new has been learned. The practitioner curious to study Fruition gets a glimpse at Nirodha and peeks through the fabric of Reality.
Let’s attempt an overview of the phenomenon of Fruition and Nirodha. An analogy could be made with an operating system needing the computer to shut down to finish installing a new update. Both Fruition and Nirodha feel like Reality stops and reboots. They are followed by an exalted vibration in the body. The practitioner coming out is a different person altogether. The peak of the effect wanes quickly leaving room for an afterglow characterized by the ease of spiritual practice and pervasive equanimity. A state without consciousness is unsurprisingly hard to control and only lasts for a split second and rarely more. With practice however, it can last up to six days for the most advanced practitioners. So it follows that the beginner might experience the confusing states of Fruition and Nirodha and be at a loss as to what happened. In truth, it doesn’t really matter. Progress is being made.

Concentration Meditation is the way to Jhana which is true GNOSIS, a direct experience of the divine. There is nothing accessible to humanity that encapsulates union with the divine better than Jhana. The emotional impact is overwhelming, the spiritual progress ascertained. However, the exaltation of Jhana is temporary. For a steady, albeit less intense, union with the divine, we must turn to Insight Meditation.

Exercise: Concentration Meditation

Concentration Meditation is the art of focusing the attention on one object to the exclusion of anything else. The technique develops focus, clarity of Mind and inner peace.

Let the practitioner sit in a quiet place in a comfortable position, eyes closed.

  1. Let the practitioner breathe naturally in and out without conscious effort to do so while keeping one’s attention on the air passing through the nostrils.
  2. When a distraction appear, let one note its presence by bringing one’s attention to it without getting emotionally involved and without following it. Such a distraction should merely be witnessed until it goes away, allowing one to bring back one’s attention to the breath.
  3. The first objective should be to meditate thus once a day. The duration of the sitting doesn’t matter as much as the development of a healthy spiritual habit.
  4. The second objective should be to sit for fifteen minute every day effortlessly. Practice should almost happen as a matter of course like eating, going to bed or taking a shower.
  5. The third objective should be to extend the duration progressively until one reaches forty-five to sixty minutes of effortless daily practice.
  6. The most advanced practitioner is invited to develop stillness by paying attention to any tendency that breaks it: eye movements, tongue movements, slight twitching of a muscle… The breath should fall to a subtle state that is barely perceptible. Beyond the veil of that stillness is Absorption.

Insight Meditation

Insight is the practice of looking at sensations, without judgment, as they arise and pass away. It leads to dissolution of the sense of self and to the prized reward of liberation from Sorrow. It must be stressed that this state of liberation comes as a shock for the unprepared. The previous chapters were a preparation for this one. This is the chief Attainment: Enlightenment. Insight will shatter the sense of self and lay bare the illusion of Reality. Everything that the practitioner took as true will break. It is a form of death, not physical but mental and psychological. It is a real death in every sense of the word but physical. It’s slow and can be painful. The unprepared will be left with the ghost of a seemingly pointless life. But it is only pointless to the old Mind, the one that is dying and refuses to let go. The ego will fight this mise à mort with all the tricks available to it, mostly variants of deception. Our life with friends and family will feel like a puppet show. Our job will seem futile. Our passions will lose their warmth. But only for a while. Slowly, the soul will wrap itself around what is happening and we will start making sense of the new Reality. This rebirth is only possible with an orderly Life, a strong Mind, sound Psyche and the focus, clarity and peace built through Concentration Meditation. And only then comes liberation from Sorrow.
Insight is seeing the worlds as if it was the first time, for what it is, without thinking about it or inventing stories. That is Insight. The state of alertness is similar to trying to hear something in another room. Insight Meditation is the practice of listening, of directing the senses to the endless void of the sphere of sensation. There is nothing particularly Buddhist about experiencing sensation. It’s the nature of every human being. What is Buddhist is the method.
Today, one of the most efficient Insight Meditation is the Noting practice as taught by the Venerable Mahasi. He was a Theravada Buddhist monk from Burma who expanded upon the traditional mahasatipatthana practice from the Pali Canons. The Noting technique is deceptively simple at first glance, yet out of its simplicity emerges profound realizations. It is separated in three exercises: a walking, a sitting and daily life practice.
For a quick overview of the technique, the walking practice has the meditator walking in circle paying close attention to the sensations that arise at every step, noting, without judgment, the ‘lifting’ and ‘placing’ of the foot. As precision of perception improves, the practitioner is invited to further detail the noting ‘Lifting, moving, placing’. With dedication, the technique is brought to a level of detail ever more precise, where every grain of sensation is perceived.
The sitting meditation applies the same effort to the movement of the chest caused by breathing. The meditator notes ‘rising and falling’. Here the goal isn’t particularly the details of sensations, but rather the diversity. Since this isn’t Concentration Meditation, distractions are allowed and even welcome. Every one of them is an opportunity to note. The subtle sensations that arise during such an introspective moment, duly noted, reveal the vast range of human experience.
The last of the three practices is the daily life exercise which invites the practitioner to pay attention, still without judgment, to the variety of sensation constituting mundane life activities.

The Noting method is very simple, but it can only bring results through intense and relentless practice. Noting Insight Meditation must be practiced in retreat situation (home retreat is fine), meaning at least eight hours a day for several days per retreat, limiting social interaction and mundane task to a minimum. Only by committing to the three exercises given by Mahasi all day for several days is the ego kept from looking at sensation with a judgment and a story. If only doing it one hour here and there, the practitioner inevitably reverts into the ego-driven view of sensations and the practice doesn’t take root in consciousness (this is at least true until Stream Entry). A retreat is intimidating. We are all busy. It is not easy to arrange for a few days, let alone two weeks of solitary lifestyle. It is advisable to start with a few hours here and there to understand what the practice is about from first-hand experience. However, once the method is understood, it is highly recommended to make arrangements for a one-week home retreat, the aim being to reach a two-weeks retreat as soon as possible. It probably takes several retreats to obtain any tangible result like the Arising and Passing Away (quickly followed by Stream Entry), but with commitment Attainment is inevitable. In-between two retreats, a period of rest from Insight Meditation practice should be taken to reflect upon and experiment with the newly acquired skills of Insight. It might encourage the ones hesitant to commit to a retreat to know that the achievements brought forth by Insight Meditation are permanent. Every ounce of progress is acquired once and for all.

When noting sensations become second nature, the practitioner is invited to study the Three Characteristics of each of these sensations. The Three Characteristics form a core tenet of Buddhism. Firstly, every sensation is impermanent, it comes, it lingers a bit and then it passes away. Secondly, every sensation is a source of dissatisfaction, as it triggers the mind into a judgmental mode of analysis. We cling to the things we like and we fear the things we don’t like, engaging in an endless dance of pushing and pulling that leaves us perpetually dissatisfied. This is the source of suffering. Thirdly, every sensation exists unconditioned by the presence of a self. In other words, sensations happen, nothing more, nothing less. It is by seeing the Three Characteristics from personal experience that union with the divine slowly arises. It is crucial to understand that we are talking about a personal experience, not about knowing, coming to a conclusion through reason or believing. The profound realization is a GNOSIS characterized by selflessness and detachment. Enlightenment as intended by Buddhist is reached through this very practice of Insight Meditation. Its importance cannot be underestimated.

The results of Noting Insight Meditation come in the form of a series of realizations that expand the practitioner’s worldview. Reality is what we perceive through the five senses and our thoughts, the six sense-doors, as the Buddhist call them. It is through these six doors that we can create a mental image of the world at large, which remains constantly beyond our grasp. In truth we have no idea whether or not such a world at large actually exists. The only thing we can know is the image in our mind (image is intended in the sense of representation and is not strictly visual). That is what knowledge is made of. We know by investigating with our six sense-doors. Knowledge is the fruit of consciousness. It is this definition of knowledge that is intended in the Wisdom through Insight Meditation in Buddhism. It leads to Right View.

Looking at sensations without judgment or Right View brings a series of pleasurable impressions. It is like being in the presence of a baby, a creature of pure existence. It commands silence and calm. It is a sign of relief given by the glimpse of liberation, like the ones felt when entering Access Concentration mentioned in the previous chapter. Likewise, they should be nourished and enjoyed. As they are refined through diligent practice, they become equanimity, the sensation that everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be. The neutral emotional and mental state of equanimity is the closest to liberation that one can feel. The sharp analytical mind so developed should therefore be used to investigate every sensation that constitutes reality. Then, the most subtle sensations are reached, ones that weren’t even noticed before, such as a slight flickering of the peripheral vision or a light swinging of awareness. The experienced meditator can switch way they look at the world at will. Much like Edgar Rubin’s optical illusion of an image looking either like a vase or like two faces, one feels a switch in perception when one enters Right View. It is advised to practice switching into this mode of view until it becomes second nature as it is useful both in the spiritual practice and in daily life.

Exercise: Insight meditation

Insight Meditation is the art of witnessing sensations with detachment. It leads to the realization that everything is sensation, which reveals the illusory nature of Reality and the self, which in turn reveals non-duality. This practice should only be attempted after having made significant progress in strengthening the Mind, Psyche as well as inner peace. Let the unprepared beware of the consequences of the tearing of the Veil.

Let the practitioner sit in a quiet place in a comfortable position, eyes closed.

  1. Let one witness the movement of the chest as one breathes naturally. Let the attention remain emotionally detached.
  2. Let one note the rising and the falling of the chest mentally: ‘rising, falling’.
  3. When a distraction appear, let one note it in a similar manner: ‘tingling’, ‘pain’, ‘memory’ or ‘hunger’. Then let one come back to the movement of the chest: ‘rising, falling’.
  4. Let one practice this exercise once a day until familiarity has developed.


Let one make the arrangements to free oneself from worldly activity for a week or two. During that time, let one limit social interactions and daily tasks. And during that time, let one practice the sitting practice explained above as well as the walking practice explained bellow, alternating between the two for one hour each for a total of eight to ten hours a day.

Let the practitioner walk in circle at a slow pace in a quiet room, free from distractions.

  1. Let one witness each step without emotional involvement and note it: ’stepping’.
  2. Once one gets comfortable, let one witness the parts of the step in finer detail ‘lifting’, ‘placing’ then ‘lifting’, ‘moving’, placing’.
  3. Let one beware of anticipating the sensations. Only the witnessing the actual experience of the sensations can be considered a success.

This type of retreat should be repeated at a few months interval, taking the time to integrate the insight so gathered, until a deep realization is made that can only be described by the individual. For no two practitioner’s experience will be the same. Shall the practitioner aspire to more, let one continue the cycle of retreats until a full dissolution and reconstruction of the ego is experienced. That is true Enlightenment.

Once familiarity has been developed in both techniques explained above, let the practitioner study three key attribute of each of these sensations :

  1. Sensations are impermanent. They come, they linger then they go away.
  2. Sensations are source of suffering. One wants to get rid of sensations one doesn’t enjoy. One misses the sensations one enjoys. And one ignores the sensations that leave one indifferent.
  3. Sensations are not experienced by a self, but rather they are emerging independently.

The study of these three key attributes shouldn’t be based on reason. It is the personal experience that should be sought after. One must learn to see and recognize those traits in every sensation, one characteristic at a time at first, but progressively aiming at witnessing the three of them at once. Only then is clarity of the perception of sensations attained.

Recommended Reading

The concepts presented in this chapter come from Theravada Buddhism. The following books should help the reader eager to know more on the subject.
“Visuddhimagga” Buddhaghosa
“Mindfulness of Breathing” Pa Auk Sayadaw
“Path of Purification A Critical Analysis of the Jhanas” Henepola Gunaratana
“The Jhanas” Ajahn Brahmavamso
“Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha” Daniel M. Ingram
“Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas” Leigh Brasington
“Practical Insight Meditation” Mahasi Sayadaw