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Nimitta

Nimitta (Pāli, Skt.). In Buddhism, variously translated as ‘outward aspect’, ‘general appearance’, ‘perceived object’, ‘mark’, ‘image’, ‘sign’, ‘omen’. Its five most significant usages are as follows.1. In canonical Buddhism, the outward aspect or general appearance of an object; that aspect which we find attractive (abhijjhā) or repulsive (domanassa) when our senses perceive things.2. In meditation, the perceptual objects used for contemplation (kammaṭṭhāna) are referred to as nimitta because they function as a mark, sign, or image on which the eye and mind focus their attention.3. According to the Pāli Commentaries (Aṭṭhakathā), at the last moment of consciousness before death the sign of previous karma (kamma-nimitta) together with the sign of future destiny (gati-nimitta) arise as mental objects, as an indication of that person's impending rebirth.4. It is the term for the ‘signs’ or ‘omens’ of old age, sickness, death, and the wandering mendicant which, according to legend, convinced the Buddha to leave home and lead the ascetic life.5. In the Yogacārya (Vijñānavāda) branch of Buddhism, it is the term for the perceived object, which has no existence independently of the perceiver but is merely a representation of his inner consciousness.

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