meditation is something of a mental balancing act. You are going
to be cultivating two separate qualities of the mind--mindfulness
and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team.
They pull in tandem, so to speak. Therefore it is important
to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If
one of the factors is strengthened at the expense of the other,
the balance of the mind is lost and meditation impossible.
Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions.
They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship
between them is definite and delicate. Concentration is often
called one-pointedness of mind. It consists of forcing the mind
to remain on one static point. Please note the word FORCE.
Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can
be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once
developed, it retains some of that forced flavor. Mindfulness,
on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined
sensibilities. These two are partners in the job of meditation.
Mindfulness is the sensitive one. He notices things. Concentration
provides the power. He keeps the attention pinned down to one
item. Ideally, mindfulness is in this relationship. Mindfulness
picks the objects of attention, and notices when the attention
has gone astray. Concentration does the actual work of holding
the attention steady on that chosen object. If either of these
partners is weak, your meditation goes astray.
Concentration could be defined as that faculty of the mind which
focuses single mindedly on one object without interruption.
It must be emphasized that true concentration is a wholesome
one-pointedness of mind. That is, the state is free from greed,
hatred and delusion. Unwholesome one-pointedness is also possible,
but it will not lead to liberation. You can be very single-minded
in a state of lust. But that gets you nowhere. Uninterrupted
focus on something that you hate does not help yo at all. In
fact, such unwholesome concentration is fairly short-lived even
when it is achieved--especially when it is used to harm others.
True concentration itself is free from such contaminants. It
is a state in which the mind is gathered together and thus gains
power and intensity. We might use the analogy of a lens. Parallel
waves of sunlight falling on a piece of paper will do no more
than warm the surface. But the same amount of light, when focused
through a lens, falls on a single point and the paper bursts
into flames. Concentration is the lens. It produces the burning
intensity necessary to see into the deeper reaches of the mind.
Mindfulness selects the object that the lens will focus on and
looks through the lens to see what is there.
Concentration should be regarded as a tool. Like any tool, it
can be used for good or for ill. A sharp knife can be used to
create a beautiful carving or to harm someone. It is all up
to the one who uses the knife. Concentration is similar. Properly
used, it can assist you towards liberation. But it can also
be used in the service of the ego. It can operate in the framework
of achievement and competition. You can use concentration to
dominate others. You can use it to be selfish. The real problem
is that concentration alone will not give you a perspective
on yourself. It won't throw light on the basic problems of selfishness
and the nature of suffering. It can be used to dig down into
deep psychological states. But even then, the forces of egotism
won't be understood. Only mindfulness can do that. If mindfulness
is not there to look into the lens and see what has been uncovered,
then it is all for nothing. Only mindfulness understands. Only
mindfulness brings wisdom. Concentration has other limitations,
Really deep concentration can only take place under certain
specific conditions. Buddhists go to a lot of trouble to build
meditation halls and monasteries. Their main purpose is to create
a physical environment free of distractions in which to learn
this skill. No noise, no interruptions. Just as important, however,
is the creation of a distraction-free emotional environment.
The development of concentration will be blocked by the presence
of certain mental states which we call the five hindrances.
They are greed for sensual pleasure, hatred, mental lethargy,
restlessness, and mental vacillation. We have examined these
mental states more fully in Chapter 12.
A monastery is a controlled environment where this sort of emotional
noise is kept to a minimum. No members of the opposite sex are
allowed to live together there. Therefore, there is less opportunity
for lust. No possessions are allowed. Therefore, no ownership
squabbles and less chance for greed and coveting. Another hurdle
for concentration should also be mentioned. In really deep concentration,
you get so absorbed in the object of concentration that you
forget all about trifles. Like your body, for instance, and
your identity and everything around you. Here again the monastery
is a useful convenience. It is nice to know that there is somebody
to take care of you by watching over all the mundane matters
of food and physical security. Without such assurance, one hesitates
to go as deeply into concentration as one might.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is free from all these drawbacks.
Mindfulness is not dependent on any such particular circumstance,
physical or otherwise. It is a pure noticing factor. Thus it
is free to notice whatever comes up--lust, hatred, or noise.
Mindfulness is not limited by any condition. It exists to some
extent in every moment, in every circumstance that arises. Also,
mindfulness has no fixed object of focus. It observes change.
Thus it has an unlimited number of objects of attention. It
just looks at whatever is passing through the mind and it does
not categorize. Distractions and interruptions are noticed with
the same amount of attention as the formal objects of meditation.
In a state of pure mindfulness your attention just flows along
with whatever changes are taking place in the mind. "Shift,
shift, shift. Now this, now this, and now this."
You can't develop mindfulness by force. Active teeth gritting
willpower won't do you any good at all. As a matter of fact,
it will hinder progress. Mindfulness cannot be cultivated by
struggle. It grows by realizing, by letting go, by just settling
down in the moment and letting yourself get comfortable with
whatever you are experiencing. This does not mean that mindfulness
happens all by itself. Far from it. Energy is required. Effort
is required. But this effort is different from force. Mindfulness
is cultivated by a gentle effort, by effortless effort. The
meditator cultivates mindfulness by constantly reminding himself
in a gentle way to maintain his awareness of whatever is happening
right now. Persistence and a light touch are the secrets. Mindfulness
is cultivated by constantly pulling oneself back to a state
of awareness, gently, gently, gently.
Mindfulness can't be used in any selfish way, either. It is
nonegoistic alertness. There is no 'me' in a state of pure mindfulness.
So there is no self to be selfish. On the contrary, it is mindfulness
which gives you the real perspective on yourself. It allows
you to take that crucial mental step backward from your own
desires and aversions so that you can then look and say, "Ah
ha, so that's how I really am."
In a state of mindfulness, you see yourself exactly as you are.
You see your own selfish behavior. You see your own suffering.
And you see how you create that suffering. You see how you hurt
others. You pierce right through the layer of lies that you
normally tell yourself and you see what is really there. Mindfulness
leads to wisdom.
Mindfulness is not trying to achieve anything. It is just looking.
Therefore, desire and aversion are not involved. Competition
and struggle for achievement have no place in the process. Mindfulness
does not aim at anything. It just sees whatever is already there.
Mindfulness is a broader and larger function than concentration.
it is an all-encompassing function. Concentration is exclusive.
It settles down on one item and ignores everything else. Mindfulness
is inclusive. It stands back from the focus of attention and
watches with a broad focus, quick to notice any change that
occurs. If you have focused the mind on a stone, concentration
will see only the stone. Mindfulness stands back from this process,
aware of the stone, aware of the concentration focusing on the
stone, aware of the intensity of that focus and instantly aware
of the shift of attention when concentration is distracted.
It is mindfulness which notices the distraction which has occurred,
and it is mindfulness which redirects the attention to the stone.
Mindfulness is more difficult to cultivate than concentration
because it is a deeper-reaching function. Concentration is merely
focusing of the mind, rather like a laser beam. It has the power
to burn its way deep into the mind and illuminate what is there.
But it does not understand what it sees. Mindfulness can examine
the mechanics of selfishness and understand what it sees. Mindfulness
can pierce the mystery of suffering and the mechanism of discomfort.
Mindfulness can make you free.
There is, however, another Catch-22. Mindfulness does not react
to what it sees. It just sees and understands. Mindfulness is
the essence of patience. Therefore, whatever you see must be
simply accepted, acknowledged and dispassionately observed.
This is not easy, but it is utterly necessary. We are ignorant.
We are selfish and greedy and boastful. We lust and we lie.
These are facts. Mindfulness means seeing these facts and being
patient with ourselves, accepting ourselves as we are. That
goes against the grain. We don't want to accept. We want to
deny it. Or change it, or justify it. But acceptance is the
essence of mindfulness. If we want to grow in mindfulness we
must accept what mindfulness finds. It may be boredom, irritation,
or fear. It may be weakness, inadequacy, or faults. Whatever
it is, that is the way we are. That is what is real.
Mindfulness simply accepts whatever is there. If you want to
grow in mindfulness, patient acceptance is the only route. Mindfulness
grows only one way: by continuous practice of mindfulness, by
simply trying to be mindful, and that means being patient. The
process cannot be forced and it cannot be rushed. It proceeds
at its own pace.
Concentration and mindfulness go hand-in-hand in the job of
meditation. Mindfulness directs the power of concentration.
Mindfulness is the manager of the operation. Concentration furnishes
the power by which mindfulness can penetrate into the deepest
level of the mind. Their cooperation results in insight and
understanding. These must be cultivated together in a balanced
ratio. Just a bit more emphasis is given to mindfulness because
mindfulness is the center of meditation. The deepest levels
of concentration are not really needed to do the job of liberation.
Still, a balance is essential. Too much awareness without calm
to balance it will result in a wildly over sensitized state
similar to abusing LSD. Too much concentration without a balancing
ratio of awareness will result in the 'Stone Buddha' syndrome.
The meditator gets so tranquilized that he sits there like a
rock. Both of these are to be avoided.
The initial stages of mental cultivation are especially delicate.
Too much emphasis on mindfulness at this point will actually
retard the development of concentration. When getting started
in meditation, one of the first things you will notice is how
incredibly active the mind really is. The Theravada tradition
calls this phenomenon 'monkey mind'. The Tibetan tradition likens
it to a waterfall of thought. If you emphasize the awareness
function at this point, there will be so much to be aware of
that concentration will be impossible. Don't get discouraged.
This happens to everybody. And there is a simple solution. Put
most of your effort into one-pointedness at the beginning. Just
keep calling the attention from wandering over and over again.
Tough it out. Full instructions on how to do this are in Chapters
7 and 8. A couple of months down the track and you will have
developed concentration power. Then you can start pumping you
energy into mindfulness. Do not, however, go so far with concentration
that you find yourself going into a stupor.
Mindfulness still is the more important of the two components.
It should be built as soon as you comfortably can do so. Mindfulness
provides the needed foundation for the subsequent development
of deeper concentration. Most blunders in this area of balance
will correct themselves in time. Right concentration develops
naturally in the wake of strong mindfulness. The more you develop
the noticing factor, the quicker you will notice the distraction
and the quicker you will pull out of it and return to the formal
object of attention. The natural result is increased concentration.
And as concentration develops, it assists the development of
mindfulness. The more concentration power you have, the less
chance there is of launching off on a long chain of analysis
about the distraction. You simply note the distraction and return
your attention to where it is supposed to be.
Thus the two factors tend to balance and support each other's
growth quite naturally. Just about the only rule you need to
follow at this point is to put your effort on concentration
at the beginning, until the monkey mind phenomenon has cooled
down a bit. After that, emphasize mindfulness. If you find yourself
getting frantic, emphasize concentration. If you find yourself
going into a stupor, emphasize mindfulness. Overall, mindfulness
is the one to emphasize.
Mindfulness guides your development in meditation because mindfulness
has the ability to be aware of itself. It is mindfulness which
will give you a perspective on your practice. Mindfulness will
let you know how you are doing. But don't worry too much about
that. This is not a race. You are not in competition with anybody,
and there is no schedule.
One of the most difficult things to learn is that mindfulness
is not dependent on any emotional or mental state. We have certain
images of meditation. Meditation is something done in quiet
caves by tranquil people who move slowly. Those are training
conditions. They are set up to foster concentration and to learn
the skill of mindfulness. Once you have learned that skill,
however, you can dispense with the training restrictions, and
you should. You don't need to move at a snail's pace to be mindful.
You don't even need to be calm. You can be mindful while solving
problems in intensive calculus. You can be mindful in the middle
of a football scrimmage. You can even be mindful in the midst
of a raging fury. Mental and physical activities are no bar
to mindfulness. If you find your mind extremely active, then
simply observe the nature and degree of that activity. It is
just a part of the passing show within.