Concentration Meditation: Absorption

These are some notes that will be added to the next issue of the Basic Concentration Meditation guide.


Samatha jhana (“the jhanas”; concentration meditation) is known more often as absorption meditation in traditional Buddhism. I urge you to begin thinking of it along those lines. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that, by calling it concentration meditation (a translation used in MCTB, and which I therefore began using as I was following that book at the time) has, I feel, led many people to believe that they are supposed to just be staring at their object if it’s a visual object, or, if it’s the breath or a sound, just paying it some sort of unwavering attention. I also think this might be the reason many of you have reported feeling “pressure” in the forehead — that’s probably just eye strain from staring at something.

While there certainly is a strong element of being able to pay your object your undivided attention, there is a lot more to the jhanas than that. To get all the whacky effects such as wonder and awe, rapture and pleasure, you actually have to feel the object in your body. This is why the term “absorption meditation” is more useful and might give you the push you need to get you into those states.

I won’t give you too much information here because I feel that too many steps will overload you. Just have a little faith in yourself and assume that you will figure it out via a little trial and error. The path is there — just walk it.

If you are using a visual object, on the in-breath imagine you are taking the object into yourself. That’s all it is — just imagine you’re pulling on the object, taking it into your body, drawing it in using your breath. This is “absorption”. You can release it a little on the out-breath, then take the object into you again on the next in-breath. This kind of rhythmic pattern of “sensation, partial release, sensation, partial release” is how you establish a sine wave of attention — or an attention wave, as discussed here. A sense of rapture, awe, and pleasure is easy to begin to feel just by doing this. Simply maintain this rhythm of kind of “taking the object into you” — eventually you will “become” the object, as the separation between the object and yourself is broken down progressively.

If you are using the breath as your object, simply assume you can “be” the breath. Imagine you are absorbing “the breath” into you on each in-breath, then allow a partial release on the out-breath as just described. Again, this is how you set up that sine wave which gives the “illusion of solidity” as described in MCTB. If you are using a sound as your object, imagine that the sound permeates your whole being during the in-breath — so, feel the sound throughout your body. In fact, all concentration meditation (in my experience) uses the breath as an object in some way, as it is the breath that allows you to “merge” with your object by giving yourself body sensations while paying attention to the object.

Absorption therefore really just means feeling the object in your whole body. It is completely artificial! It is established by your purposefully linking your attention on your object to your breath. So you start to “feel” your object, even when that is physically impossible. You become “absorbed” in the object because you begin to feel it as though it’s part of you. With a little time you will be able to perceive nothing but the object, because the absorption will be so deep. If you are doing an advanced visual meditation such as iPhone Flashlight Afterimage Kasina, all the whacky black hole visuals occur at that deep level of absorption.

So, in short, concentration meditation is not just about “staring at the object”. It is about feeling the object and becoming absorbed in it, and I just told you one powerful way to achieve that. If renaming concentration meditation to “absorption meditation” helps you to remember that, I recommend you do it.

The Quickest Way to First Jhana

I was asked a couple of times during Skype coaching sessions the simple question: “What is the quickest way to achieve first jhana?” Instead of waffling on about objects and how it’s different for every person, I just gave my honest answer (for me).

The quickest way I get first jhana is as follows:

  1. Use the breath as the object.
  2. Use the absorption principle outlined above to “become the breath”.
  3. This very quickly (for me) begins to generate light in the visual field (so, the dark stuff behind my eyes will suddenly begin to get brighter). This light is known as the “nimitta”.
  4. Begin paying attention to both the nimitta (the light) and the breath simultaneously, while doing the absorption principle above. So I am becoming the light and the breath simultaneously, getting more absorbed with each breath. The result is that the the light begins to become brighter with each breath, until it is a brilliant white light. I now stay with it, simply doing more of the same, for as long as I choose.

At this point I am giddy with euphoria (I believe the white light is neurotransmitter release — likely opioids, dopamine and GABA). The breath feels extremely spacious at this point, as though there is infinite space within the breath and the edges of the body are difficult to find if the eyes are closed.

And that is the quickest and easiest way I personally get those awe-inspiring, rapturous states of sheer wonder from concentration (absorption) meditation.

I needed to write this up today because in a day or two I’m going to write a short guide on the easiest way to get the “fairytale” state — the state of pure presence described by Eckhart Tolle, also known as a “pure consciousness experience” in Actualism. Understanding absorption first-hand is a prerequisite for that state, so you should practise absorption in between, ready for the article.


The absorption principle outlined above can also be used for smiling during the Simple Reimprinting tech. Simply absorb the smile and let it melt away the other emotional responses going on, e.g. anxiety. “Become” your smile.

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18 Responses

  1. Lucifer says:

    Thanks for your clarification. Now I know what I was doing wrong

  2. meditator says:

    Thanks for your article, unfortunately I still do not fully understand. I’ve been doing concentration meditation watching the breath on the abdomen for 3 months and fail to get any nimitta or pleasure. I wanted to try some other meditation since im failing to progress to jhana while watching the breath at the abdomen. I tried meditation using this article as a guide yesterday and did not get any nimitta or pleasurable feelings. When I focus on the kasina, i assume you mean on the in-breath imagine the afterimage coming closer then entering your body, then out-breath imagine the afterimage going further away from the body? Does this mean the afterimage is no longer focused upon once you start to imagine it?

    • Illuminatus says:

      Okay let’s get very specific about what object you are using. The afterimage in the iPhone meditation? You want to watch it and, on the in-breath, imagine you are pulling on it slightly with your mind. Then release it gently on the out-breath. Then pull on it gently again. When you use your mind to pull on something, you will get a slight feeling in your body — watch out for that. Begin to get a good sense of that feeling. Then you can start to coordinate it better with both the in-breath AND your attention on your object.

      Spend 30 minutes just playing around with trying to get that body feeling, the “pull”, the in-breath, and your attention on the object all coordinated. Once this gets “learned” (by practice) you can use it to establish a rhythm. It is in the rhythm that the magic then begins to happen (the euphoria, rapture, and cool visuals).

      • Illuminatus says:

        Keep me updated please — I am always trying to learn how better to teach this stuff to different people. 🙂

      • meditator says:

        Hi illuminatus, the kasina object i am using is a lightbulb on the ceiling, starting at it for 15 seconds to build the afterimage, then closing my eyes to see it. Then when the afterimage disappears, going back to rebuild it again and repeating once it disappears again. When the mind “pulls” the afterimage, I feel a similar “pulling” feeling on the front part of my body. Focus on the afterimage should be continuous and unbroken, even when the mind is pulling or releasing the afterimage? No imagining since the pull is now a physical feeling? Is this what you mean?

        • Illuminatus says:

          “Hi illuminatus, the kasina object i am using is a lightbulb on the ceiling, starting at it for 15 seconds to build the afterimage,”

          Because it’s only a bulb you should look at it till you get access concentration (steady, unwavering attention on the bulb). So, that might be a minute.

          “Then when the afterimage disappears, going back to rebuild it again and repeating once it disappears again.”

          How long does that typically take?

          I am seeing you racing through all of this: staring at a bulb for 15 seconds, looking at its afterimage for a minute or two, losing the afterimage then just staring at the bulb for 15 seconds again.

          NO NO NO!

          Rebuilding the afterimage by staring at the bulb should be a last resort, when the meditation has completely failed and the afterimage has completely disappeared and you wish to start again.

          Here is what your meditation should look like when done right:

          0:00 – 1:00 — Get access concentration on bulb with eyes open
          1:00 – 3:00 — Look at afterimage with eyes closed. First jhana absorption in the afterimage takes place.

          *** At this point in “real life” the afterimage will be disappearing. HOWEVER, because you are in first jhana, your mind will simply persist the image and turn it into all sorts of crazy things. ***

          3:00 – 10:00 — Second, third, fourth jhana etc. Higher jhanas if your concentration is good. All sorts of whacky visuals and an emotional roller coaster wide of wonder and awe.

          “When the mind “pulls” the afterimage, I feel a similar “pulling” feeling on the front part of my body.”

          Excellent! Exactly right. 🙂

          “Focus on the afterimage should be continuous and unbroken, even when the mind is pulling or releasing the afterimage?”

          Yes. But your “pull” becomes part of your attention. The rhythm between push and pull — the “attention wave” is what animates the afterimage and results in it becoming all sorts of whacky things. Same with other objects — e.g. the breath becoming like a stream of white light, or the dark stuff behind your eyes becoming stars in a night sky etc.

          You are on the right track — keep practising with this “pull” feeling and try and turn it into a rhythm, then stay with the whole rhythm. Soon you will stop thinking so much and needing to ask so many questions, because you will suddenly find that your WHOLE MIND is engaged with the object in this rhythm. That is when you are properly doing concentration meditation. 🙂

          • meditator says:

            The afterimage does not last very long, about 2-3 minutes, so i have to keep rebuilding it. My mind seems to resist going into access concentration, when meditation on the kasina i feel a “click” happens then my mind seems to effortlessly rest on the kasina, but then becomes a monkey mind once again. Despite this, i tried meditation on the breath using the better understood pull method, although the monkey mind pulls me out of the rhythm, i could keep my attention rhythm going long enough for a few seconds to see split second visions and rays of light from the bottom half of my eyes. I could not get this far before until a hour had passed, thank you very much for sharing your techniques.

  3. AJM says:

    Hi, even at the risk of side railing this conversation a bit I would like to post something I found very useful last autumn when I first attained 1st jhana. This thread by Ian And is just pure gold.

  4. Illuminatus says:


    “The afterimage does not last very long, about 2-3 minutes, so i have to keep rebuilding it.”

    I literally just explained all of that. I literally said, in reality, at around 2-3 minutes:

    *** At this point in “real life” the afterimage will be disappearing. HOWEVER, because you are in first jhana, your mind will simply persist the image and turn it into all sorts of crazy things. ***

    I literally said the words you needed to explain that. Why would you then just repeat that you “need to keep rebuilding the afterimage”? Why, after I explain a point in excruciating detail, would you simply flip-flop back to what you said originally?

    “although the monkey mind pulls me out of the rhythm”

    Monkey mind mentioned twice. Why would you keep saying “monkey mind does this” when the whole point of concentration meditation is to defeat monkey mind?

    I just see comments like this as being the same as saying, “I practised piano but I couldn’t play the scale.” The whole point of practice is to learn the scale.

    Focusing on the failures and making excuses for them is completely pointless and wastes both our time.

  5. Ichigo says:

    Hey! I use breath as my object… could you explain a bit more about the whole thing of “becoming the breath”? first of all do I follow (feel) the breath a little bit more narrowly such as at the nostrils?

    if you can give a more detailed description of how I can get the sense of becoming the breath on an inhale and exhale

    • Illuminatus says:

      Hi Ichigo, welcome to PPM!

      Beginners often find it easier to use a wide focus when first learning absorption, so in this example I will use the sensations of the breath as it fills the whole body (rather than a narrow focus such as just beneath the nostrils).

      If you are not opposed to masturbation, then this is a good way to learn. During the moments just as you approach orgasm, you will feel the sense of the breath begin to deepen and be felt throughout the entire body as a tangible wave. Notice how the breathing at this point really captures your attention. There is a sense of rapture with each breath. At this point, you are “absorbed” in the breath.

      If you can learn that feeling, you can begin to apply it to objects at will (and with a narrower focus, such as at the tip of the nose just beneath the nostrils). Simply make the same sorts of faces you make when you are about to orgasm. For example, your eyes roll back in your head and enter light REM. Literally copy the process your body does automatically as you approach orgasm. Breathe in that same deepening rhythm. You can make your attention go into your object in waves the same way you feel waves as you approach orgasm.

      Concentration meditation uses the same pathway as pleasure, sex, orgasm etc. (dopamine->endorphin). I talk more about that here:

      But practice is more important at this point than more reading.

      I think one of the most difficult things for beginners to grasp is that they can create pleasure, fascination and rapture at will, just by copying what the body does anyway when it is experiencing those things organically. Think of Golem staring at “his precious”. It captivates him and gives him pleasure. That is really all concentration meditation is — copying the process of fascination and pleasure. And then, through practice, the process is drawn out and deepened to the point where one can become deeply absorbed in ANY object. By spending time practising, the state deepens and moves through levels of increasing depth and absorption. These levels are called the samatha jhanas and are basically the same for anyone who practises.

      Now, you just have to start practising.

  6. Ichigo says:

    I don’t know why I never have any success with a kasina object…

    I will tell you a little bit about my practice (without after image, even though with after image I tried sessions as well)

    I hold infront of me my phone with a picture of a red circle and the background is black… I rest my eyes on the circle (NOTstaring in a way that I try to zoom in the center of the circle “zooming in:), however, within the first second my eyes tend to defocus (and you know, then you see this very blue shiny color on the sides of the circle) I always have to refocus my eyes, but within a split second it goes back to “defocus mode”… it’s not because I am distracted or anything, it’s just the way the eyes operate I think…

    anyway I never seem to have any rapture or bliss from this

  7. David says:

    Hello everyone and thanks you much the author for all of this beautiful teaching.

    Please..! I need somes helps, I am at one inch of absorption ..
    , after that I meditate like 20min in my body without trying to push too strong my concentration in this first time.
    I start to do the whole body breathing because it happens that many times it enhance my concentration a lot.. but I get stuck because some kind of irritation start to appear around the first chakra..
    This irritation seems to be the root of anger in myself.. And there is nothing I can do to make it deseapears, Whatever if I try to continue to meditate, the anger persists and after it’s become just an exercise of endurance.. And I finish my meditation exhausted or full of anger energy..

    Do you think it’s some karma releasing? It prevents me completeyto feel any joy or any pleasure..

  8. Dmitry says:

    Hi, and thanks for all the [very helpful] articles!

    Ajan Brahm in his book gives the following characteristics of jhana:
    It is helpful to know, then, that within a jhāna: 1. There is no possibility of thought; 2. No decision-making process is available; 3. There is no perception of time; 4. Consciousness is nondual, making comprehension inaccessible; 5. Yet one is very, very aware, but only of bliss that doesn’t move; 6. The five senses are fully shut off, and only the sixth sense, mind, is in operation.

    From his book it looks like one is not capable of cutting it off voluntarily, even less “working” in jhana. “Doing” or “acting” should be completely inaccessible. Is that how you feel in your states, cause I had an impression that states you described didn’t absorb you to such extent?

    • Illuminatus says:

      Hi Dmitry,

      I have had a broad range of absorption experiences including as deep as Ajahn Brahm describes in your quote above (though admittedly infrequently).

      This is an old article and at the time I was only familiar with teachers such as Daniel Ingram and Leigh Brasington who allow the term “jhana” to denote less absorbed states where discernment is still possible. Culadasa has since written The Mind Illuminated which denotes three levels of jhana (“whole body”, “pleasure”, and “luminous”), the one you describe being consistent with luminous.

      You may find this article interesting:

      Personally I now lean towards higher absorption being required to qualify a state as “jhana” — i.e. one should not be able to “think” in the traditional way during it.

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