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, too.
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
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
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
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
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.