NIMITTA

(Attribute - Efficient cause)

Nimitta has the verbal sense of "attribute"; viz. "associate connection with".
The "attribute" (nimitta) of something is what that thing is linked to, built upon and can be measured with.
(E.g. The nimitta of feeling is breath, in ānāpānasati)

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(All the suttas below have parallels in Chinese, Sanskrit and/or Tibetan)

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Here some wise, competent, skilful bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body, his mind becomes concentrated, his corruptions are abandoned, he picks up that attribute. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, his mind becomes concentrated, his corruptions are abandoned, he picks up that attribute.
“That wise, competent, skilful bhikkhu gains pleasant dwellings in this very life, and he gains mindfulness and clear comprehension. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that wise, competent, skilful (kusalo) bhikkhu picks up the attribute of his own mind (citta).”
SN 47.8

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Great king, this was said by the Blessed One who knows and sees, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One: ‘Come, bhikkhus, dwell guarding the doors of the sense faculties. Having seen a form with the eye, do not grasp its attributes through its added features. Since, if you leave the eye faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure might invade you, practise the way of its restraint, guard the eye faculty, undertake the restraint of the eye faculty. Having heard a sound with the ear... Having smelt an odour with the nose ... Having savoured a taste with the tongue ... Having felt a tactile object with the body ... Having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, do not grasp its attributes and added features....
SN 35.127

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And what, bhikkhus, is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire? There is, bhikkhus, the attribute of the beautiful: frequently not striving with the mind towards it, from the beginning is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire.
(Also the attribute of the repulsive - the attribute of serenity, the attribute of nondispersal)
SN 46.51 & SN 46.2

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It may be expected of anyone, Ānanda—whether bhikkhu or bhikkhuni—who dwells with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness, that such a one will perceive successively loftier stages of distinction.

“What four? Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he is contemplating the body in the body, there arises in him, based on the body, either a fever in the body or sluggishness of mind, or the mind is distracted outwardly. That bhikkhu should then direct his mind towards some inspiring attribute. When he directs his mind towards some inspiring attribute, gladness is born. When he is gladdened, rapture is born. Etc...
SN 47.10

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"When one eats & drinks & chews & savors, there is excrement & urine: That is one's reward.

"When one loves, there arises the state of change & aberration, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair: That is one's reward.

"When one is committed to the attribute of the unattractive, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of the attribute of beauty: That is one's reward.
Asubhanimittānuyogaṃ anuyuttassa kho, nāgita, subhanimitte pāṭikulyatā saṇṭhātieso tassa nissando.

"When one remains focused on the inconstancy of the six media of sensory contact, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of contact: That is one's reward.

"When one remains focused on the arising & passing away of the five clinging aggregates, one takes a stance in the loathsomeness of clinging: That is one's reward."
AN 5.30

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In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attunethe pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your attribute.
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So after that, Ven. Sona determined the right pitch for his persistence, attuned the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there picked up his attribute.
AN 6.55

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How does a bhikkhu dress wounds? Here, on seeing a form with the eye, a bhikkhu does not grasp at its attributes through its added features. Since if he left the eye faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the way of its restraint, he guards the eye faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the eye faculty. On hearing a sound with the ear…On smelling an odour with the nose…On tasting a flavour with the tongue…On touching a tangible with the body…On cognizing a mind-object with the mind, a bhikkhu does not grasp at its attributes through its added features....
MN 33

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Venerable sir, how should one know, how should one see so that, in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external attributes, I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within?”

“Any kind of form whatsoever, bhikkhu, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near—one sees all form as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’

Idem with feeling, perception, volitional formations, consciousness.

“When one knows and sees thus, bhikkhu, then in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external attributes, I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit no longer occur within.”
SN 22.82
also SN 22.91 & 92

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And what, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma exposition on the attribute of burning? It would be better, bhikkhus, for the eye faculty to be lacerated by a red-hot iron pin burning, blazing, and glowing, than for one to grasp the attributes through the added features in a form cognizable by the eye. For if consciousness should stand tied to gratification in the attribute or in the added features, and if one should die on that occasion, it is possible that one will go to one of two destinations: hell or the animal realm. Having seen this danger, I speak thus.
SN 35.235

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Seeing a form — mindfulness lapsed — attending to the attribute of 'endearing,' impassioned in mind, one feels and remains fastened there. One's feelings, born of the form, grow numerous, Greed & annoyance injure one's mind. Thus amassing stress, one is said to be far from Unbinding. Hearing a sound...

Smelling an aroma... Tasting a flavor... Touching a tactile sensation...
Knowing an idea — mindfulness lapsed — attending to the attribute of 'endearing,' impassioned in mind, one feels and remains fastened there. Etc.
SN 35.95

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And how, householder, does one roam about without abode? Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the attribute of forms: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. Diffusion and confinement in the abode consisting in the attribute of sounds … the attribute of odours … the attribute of tastes … the attribute of tactile objects … the attribute of mental phenomena: these have been abandoned by the Tathagata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that they are no more subject to future arising. Therefore the Tathagata is called one who roams about without abode. It is in such a way that one roams about without abode.
SN 22.3

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Adept in an attribute for the mind, sensing the savor of solitude, practicing jhana, masterful, mindful, you'd attain a pleasure not of the flesh.
Thag 1.85

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Oh, when will I be devoted to jhāna,
Rejecting entirely the attributes of beauty,
Splitting apart desire for sensual pleasures,
Like an elephant that wanders without ties;
When will it be?
Thag 19.1

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From distorted perception your mind is on fire. Shun the attribute of the beautiful accompanied by lust. See mental fabrications as other, as stress, & not-self. Extinguish your great lust. Don't keep burning again & again. Develop the mind — well-centered & one — in the foul, through the foul.
Have your mindfulness immersed in the body. Be one who pursues disenchantment. Develop the attribute-less. Cast out conceit. Then, from breaking through conceit, you will go on your way at peace.
SN 8.4

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‘It is said, “the attribute-less concentration of mind, the attribute-less concentration of mind.” What now is the attribute-less concentration of mind?’

“Then, friends, it occurred to me: ‘Here, by nonattention to all attributes, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the attribute-less concentration of mind. This is called the attribute-less concentration of mind.’

“Then, friends, by nonattention to all attributes, I entered and dwelt in the attribute-less concentration of mind. While I dwelt therein my consciousness followed along with attributes.

“Then, friends, the Blessed One came to me by means of spiritual power and said this: ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent, brahmin, regarding the attribute-less concentration of mind. Steady your mind in the attribute-less concentration of mind, unify your mind in the attribute-less concentration of mind, concentrate your mind in the attribute-less concentration of mind.’ Then, on a later occasion, by nonattention to all attributes, I entered and dwelt in the attribute-less concentration of mind.
SN 40.9

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"Monks, there are these three types of unskillful thinking: thinking of sensuality, thinking of ill will, thinking of harm. These three types of unskillful thinking cease without remainder in one who dwells with his mind well established in the four frames of reference or who develops the attribute-less concentration. This is reason enough, monks, to develop the attribute-less concentration. The attribute-less concentration, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit, great benefit.
SN 22.80

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And what, venerable sir, is the attribute-less liberation of mind? Here, with nonattention to all attributes, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the attribute-less concentration of mind. This is called the attribute-less liberation of mind.
SN 41.7

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Note: As one of the path to nibanna:
“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned?
Attribute-less concentration….
SN 43.12

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Ten children I bore from this physical heap. Then weak from that, aged, I went to a nun. She taught me the Dhamma: aggregates, sense spheres, & elements. Hearing her Dhamma, I cut off my hair & ordained.
Having purified the divine eye while still a probationer, I know my previous lives, where I lived in the past. I develop the attribute-less meditation, well-focused oneness. I gain the liberation of immediacy — from lack of clinging, unbound. The five aggregates, comprehended, stand like a tree with its root cut through. I spit on old age. There is now no further becoming.
Thig 5.8

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The one whose defilements are dried up,
Who’s not attached to food,
Whose resort is the liberation
That is attribute-less and empty:
Their track is hard to trace,
Like that of birds in the sky.
Thag 1.92

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Meditate on the attribute-less,
Throw out the underlying tendency to conceit,
And when you have a breakthrough in understanding conceit,
You will live at peace.”
Thag 21.1

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Nimitta must be compared, yet differentiated with Yoni
Yoni is the origin (the container) - Nimitta is the attribute (the content).

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LEXICAL REFERENCES
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Sanskrit
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√ मा mā - pp. (mita)

- to measure , mete out , mark off RV.
- to measure across = traverse RV.
- to measure out , apportion , grant RV.
- to prepare , arrange , fashion , form , build , make RV.
- to show , display , exhibit RV.
- to be measured RV.
- to cause to be measured or built , measure , build , erect Up. GṛS. MBh.

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नि ni - ind.
- down , back , in , into , within.


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In the pre-Buddhist texts.
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O men who lift the ladles up, these hewn and planted in the ground
yé vṛkṇā́so ádhi kṣámi nímitāso yatásrucaḥ
RV. 3.8.7

For him who follows your Law the mountains and heaven and earth stand as if firmly established.
táva dyā́vāpṛthivī́ párvatāsó 'nu vratā́ya nímiteva tasthuḥ
RV. 3.30.4

Or established on a field deep-spoiled and fruitful.
bhadré kṣétre nímitā tílvile vā
RV. 5.62.7

Rich in prosperity, rich in milk, founded and built upon the earth.
ūrjasvatī payasvatī pṛthivyāṃ nimitā mitā
AV. 9.3.16

Base of the seat and sheds, on whom the sacrificial stake is reared,
On whom the Yajus-knowing priests recite their hymns and chant their psalms,
yasyāṃ sadohavirdhāne yūpo yasyāṃ nimīyate |
brahmāṇo yasyām arcanty ṛgbhiḥ sāmnā yajurvidaḥ yujyante
AV. 12.1.38


One should know that all beings here are linked to it. Just before sunrise, it is the Hiṃ-interjection, and animals are linked to it. Animals, therefore, make the sound hiṃ, for they share in the Hiṃ-interjection of this Saman chant.
tasminnimāni sarvāṇi bhūtānyanvāyattānīti vidyāttasya yatpurodayātsa hiṃkārastadasya paśavo'nvāyattāstasmātte hiṃ kurvanti hiṃkārabhājino hyetasya sāmnaḥ
ChUp. 2.9.2

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Note:
There is the meaning of "cause" and "reason" in later post-Buddhist texts (Āp. & ŚvetUp.); but they would hardly be considered relevant, for they have no counterpart in the pre-Buddhist texts.
For instance, in AV. 12.1.38 above, the sacrificial stake has for nimitta the "base of the seat and sheds", on which it is reared. But you cannot say that the "base of the seat and sheds" is the cause or reason of the sacrificial stake. The cause & reason of the sacrificial stake is the need to sacrifice (for instance).
You can link the sacrificial stake to the base of the seat and sheds - the sacrificial stake is built upon the base of the seat and sheds. That is the primary relationship between a nimitta & its thing.
Nimitta might be the cause and reason of its thing - but this is not the primary common meaning of nimitta..

Again, later "contemporary" texts are good to be referenced, only if they have an equivalence in the pre-Buddhist texts. For it shows that the meaning went across the close pre and post Buddhist era.
To believe that a close-post-Buddhist word's meaning (with no counterpart in the close-pre-Buddhist texts), can be related to Buddhism itself, is not impossible - but highly speculative.

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Nimitta is often associated with anuvyañjana = a mark that causes to appear, to be manifest.

It is through this mark that the nimitta (attribute) is grasped.

It would be better, bhikkhus, for the eye faculty to be lacerated by a red-hot iron pin burning, blazing, and glowing, than for one to grasp the sign through the features in a form cognizable by the eye.
Varaṃ, bhikkhave, tattāya ayosalākāya ādittāya sampajjalitāya sajotibhūtāya cakkhundriyaṃ sampalimaṭṭhaṃ, na tveva cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu anubyañjanaso nimittaggāho.
SN  35.235

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PALI:
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Anuvyañjana (anubyañjana) = a minor or secondary characteristic. (PTS)

anu + vyañjana

Anu [Vedic anu] = along, alongside.

Vyañjana [fr.vi+añj,cp.añjati & abbhañjati] = (accompanying) attribute,distinctive mark,sign,characteristic.
see byañjana, viyañjana

 

SANSKRIT:
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Byañjana [Sk.vyañjana]

व्यञ्जन vyañjana [act. vyañj]
- decoration , ornament RV.
- a mark , badge , spot , sign , token ĀpŚr.
- allusion , suggestion ĀśvŚr.

व्यञ्ज् vyañj [vi-añj]
- to decorate , adorn , beautify RV.
- to cause to appear , manifest , display RV. MBh.
- to be manifested or expressed RV.


√ अञ्ज् añj
- to apply an ointment or pigment, smear with, anoint; to decorate, prepare (RV.)
- to honour, celebrate; (RV.)
- to cause to appear, make clear. (RV.)

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Additional note:

In the Nyāya philosophy (that is supposed to have originated around Buddha's time), निमित्त nimitta is the efficient cause. It is opposed to upādāna, the material cause. The latter being related to the anuvyañjana (the mark that causes to appear, to be manifest).

Again, in AV. 12.1.38 above, the sacrificial stake has for nimitta the "base of the seat and sheds", on which it is reared. The efficient cause of the sacrificial stake (the material cause,) is the sacrifice (the efficient cause). 

Again, the "attribute", the "sign" (nimitta) of something, is what that thing is linked to, built upon and can be measured with.

Created: 2016/09/18
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