VIPASSANA 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
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 you 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
that 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 toward 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.
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
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 to arise. No possessions are allowed. Therefore, no
ownership squabbles and less chance for greed and for 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 someone 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 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 arrises. 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
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. Persistence and a light touch
are the secrets. Mindfulness is cultivated by constantly pulling
oneself back to a state of awareness, gently, gently, gently.
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 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 that the distraction 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 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 simply
be 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 it. 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.
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
mind. Their cooperation results in insight and understanding.
These must be cultivated together in a balanced manner. 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. A couple of months down the track and you will
have developed concentration power. Then you can start pumping
your 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 can comfortably do so. Mindfulness
provides the needed foundation for the subsequent development
of deeper concentration. Most blunders in this area of practice
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.
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.