iPhone Flashlight Afterimage Kasina
This is an adapted and updated version of a post I wrote on the Dharma Overground back in August 2014.
Please note that having this experience probably requires strong concentration skills, so don’t feel too bad if you can’t manage it just yet. Don’t let that deter you from trying, of course! Beginner’s luck often plays a strong role in some of the most exciting meditation experiences (and life experiences in general!), because the lack of expectations and desire for some specific result actually keeps you relaxed which allows the results to unfold of their own accord. If you really struggle to maintain this level of absorption, however, you should probably go back and practise my Basic Concentration Meditation guide for a while.
There is an excellent section in MCTB starting on page 221 where Daniel describes moving through the jhanas using the retina-burned afterimage of a candle flame as his object. The following text has been heavily edited — please refer to the PDF for the full text.
Initially, I would stare at a candle flame until I really could stay with it, then there would be a natural shift, I would close my eyes, and I would see the visual purple phenomena where the afterimage of the flame was burned onto my retina. This would fade in a few seconds to be replaced by a red dot in the centre of my visual field. The red dot was clear, very round, pure, bright and seemingly stable. However, within a minute or so it would begin to shake, roll off to one side. […] Shortly thereafter the dot would begin to shake, shudder, split up, spin off to one side or the other, and generally seem to misbehave quite on its own. After a while of this, a slightly larger red dot would appear in the centre again that stayed there on largely its own, but it had a gold spinning star in its centre that would spin on its own with a speed and direction that varied with the phase of the breath.
The red dot with the spinning gold star would gradually acquire purple, green and blue rings around its outside, and then there would be a sudden shift where the red dot would vanish and be replaced by a slightly larger black dot. The black dot initially would seem to be a good focus, but quickly the area around the black dot got more interesting, with many very complex multi-point stars all circling slowly around it, getting wider and wider, with the interference patterns between them getting more and more complex, while the black dot faded somewhat, but to what was unclear. […]
As the complex patterns around the outside began to become more spherical as the edges wrapped around towards me, they began to be made out of lines that had more of a rainbow quality to them, with many complex motions and manifold symmetry. […]
This complex sphere on which was unfolding more and more complex patterns would then shift to something far more inclusive of space and the centre of attention, thus becoming much more three-dimensional. At this point, things seemed to happen on their own. As things would organize, there would arise all sorts of images, from Buddhas to black holes, from brilliantly formed Tantric images (Vajrasattva with consort, etc.) to complex abstract, three-dimensional designs that included the whole field of attention, with all made of rainbow lines, luminous, living, and very clear. I could end the cycle with essentially any image I wished with an ease I had never previously achieved. If I had not previously determined an image to end with, the surprises were just as good as anything I came up with and sometimes better. The point is that if you get your concentration strong enough, you can do these things also.
If you don’t have a candle to hand, or you don’t want to have a naked flame around, you can achieve exactly the same effect using any bright light. I did this using the flashlight on my iPhone. Stare at the LED for 10 seconds or so, turn it off, then close your eyes and use the retina-burned afterimage as your object. I do this in a completely dark room so there are no distractions from other light sources when the eyelids start to flicker etc. I even bought a black sleep mask, with moulded sockets so it does not inhibit the eyes flickering or opening during the meditation.
Please note that the object (kasina) is the retina-burned afterimage, not the direct light itself which should be turned off once a decent afterimage is created.
WARNING: I have no idea if this level of brightness from the LED is bad for your eyes or not. I looked it up online and there’s not a lot of information available, except for an estimate of 5-10 lumens. With this not being a laser I think 10 seconds might be all right, but if you find the iPhone LED too strong, or it hurts your eyes, or you don’t want to risk it, you can use a lower-powered light or candle flame.
The first time I tried this it was an interesting experience but I did not get the cool visuals described in the book, beyond the golden spinning star (which genuinely looks like a real sun).
On the second attempt, this time in a completely dark room, I got more of the visuals. I also fell asleep straight into a lucid dream after hitting what I believe was fourth samatha jhana. In the lucid dream I appeared to gain access to the unconscious’s “master narrative” — the ultra-condensed storyline it maintains about your character and direction of your life, filled with archetypes in the form of dream characters. I talked more about this experience here: Testing Charlie Morley’s Lucid Dreaming Techniques
On the third attempt with the kasina, I got practically every visual Daniel Ingram describes in MCTB. This included sparkling, fractal imagery within the “sun” itself and, when the sun faded and the outside edges of the “black hole” around the faded sun became the focus, I found they were made of coloured, beautiful fractals which looked basically identical to this:
I found that image here: The Mandelbrot Set – “Thumbprint of God”
Coined as the THUMBPRINT OF GOD, each MANDELBROT BUG is a near copy of the original, yet is an individual UNIVERSE unto itself with subtle and original variations. One could explore the above image FOREVER and still see new worlds. In fact, you can actually “zoom in” to the Set as seen above until the original image is larger than the UNIVERSE itself! Truly, it is an equation of INFINITY.
I could literally see infinite complexity in those fractals around the black hole in my visual field. Truly, you could not make this stuff up. The excitement of it all was nearly enough to break the jhana (this used to happen to me when first experiencing visuals), but I can hold things together pretty well now. I also noticed that the purple and green lines emanating around the black hole were made up of fractals themselves.
Studying these fractals was the last thing I remember because, suddenly — BOOM! I was into what appeared to be a future-prediction vision. I saw a girl I haven’t seen for ages in a bar I rarely go in. I’m quite often right when I have such visions, so I went to an open mic night at that bar the following week. The girl was there. She walked over, hugged me, then got on stage and started playing songs about the universe! I had no idea she even played at open mics. These kinds of incidents make total sense under a non-dual (non–subject-object) understanding of reality and do not require supernatural thinking or hocus-pocus to explain. Meditation practices like these are one way to begin to cultivate such an understanding.
On subsequent practices of this meditation, I experienced the white star spontaneously turn into the Earth viewed from many miles away in space, and several other images (usually space-related) that my conceptual mind would project onto this mind-made object. The days following such experiences were marked by a lasting, intense rapture and fascination, which is a hallmark of “hard jhana”.
In the days following these experiences, I found I had acquired seemingly a deep understanding of all things I turned my attention to. These ideas — about people, concepts and themes — were made up of “whole-image” sensory impressions and drifted around within dimensions interspersed with our known four dimensions of typical experience. They were then interpreted by my logical brain as easy-to-understand rules and paradigm shifts. I later discovered, through reading MCTB, that these whole-image sensory impressions are known in insight practice as “formations”.
Around the time I first wrote up the above experience, which was during the couple of months following reading MCTB, I had many “clicks” and mini Dark Nights lasting a few hours or a few days, which revolved around whatever object (be it person, place, concept, “theme” and so forth) I turned my attention to. The more personal importance the object had to me, the longer the cycle. These cycles were kind of like mini fractal versions of the Path of Insight. At this time, I arrived at the notion that any change in human understanding, on any topic, follows the Path of Insight in smaller or larger fractal versions. Even the Path of Insight itself can be seen as just a change in understanding about something bigger than usual — the nature of reality itself — and that cycle therefore typically takes longer to complete.
So, the Path of Insight can be seen as just a larger fractal version of the changes in understanding we make regarding any little piece of our reality in our daily lives. A silly example of this is as follows. Let’s say you turn on your computer and find that the internet doesn’t work that day. First, you notice the impermanence of the internet connection (The Arising and Passing Away), then you sigh (Dissolution). Then you have a little spike of fear as consequences begin to trickle in, such as not being able to do your work (Fear), followed by some sadness (Misery). Then there is anger at the change (Disgust) and a desire for a return to a stable reality (Desire for Deliverance), followed by mini-repeats of these last few stages as you adjust to the new situation (Re-observation). Finally, you become accepting of the adjusted reality and a sense of calm and things “being out of your hands” takes over (Equanimity). (Click here for a full list of the stages of the Path of Insight, or read MCTB).
This experience marked an important shift in my understanding of reality, whereby I came to find that “everything is everything” (it’s all just itself), and that everything is contained within everything else. This led to the development of my fractal model of the universe, which forms the basis for my new “theory of everything” — the most comprehensive description of reality I have ever encountered, possibly even one-upping the Buddha himself, and which I will write about here on PPM and eventually turn into a book over the coming years.
I will also add that, after originally having this experience back in August 2014, I since have achieved First Path, also known as Stream Entry. This means I’m “enlightened” in one respect, and on my way to “full enlightenment” in another, depending who you ask. This completion occurred over the last 2–3 weeks, with specific triggers and “cascade effects”. I’ll write up the full account of that experience soon. Gaining the insights described in this post however was a vital part of allowing me to make that transformation.
I’m sorry if this post hasn’t made much sense to many of you, and for its heavy reliance on terms from another work. There is simply no way to describe this sort of thing succinctly! Understanding these insights properly also relies on their direct experience. But hopefully some of you will understand some of what I’ve written here — and, if not, at least it may prompt a few of you to explore reality further by reading materials such as MCTB, and by practising meditation!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Daniel Ingram for all his hard work in bringing this technology to us in such an accessible form.