Why is Concentration Important?  

“For one who develops in concentration, one can expect to develop in wisdom.”

The Buddha

Concentration makes us happy. At this stage we have been effectively committed to ethical conduct and guarding the sense doors. The mind is still, calm, unwavering, and focused. One finds it easy to witness what is arising in the mind, and to see what is arising as impermanent. We are developing a deep happiness that is not dependent on external sense pleasure. Truly, “happiness is an inside job.” 

Concentration is important to reach the final goal of liberation from suffering. The spaciousness of the awakening factors of joy and calm, with the laser focus of concentration, allow one to see the subtleties of  inconstancy, stress and non-self. One can clearly see cause and effect, and the arising of unwholesome factors.  When the mind becomes spacious, engaged, focused, and balanced, one’s old stock of greed, hatred, and ignorance arises from deep conditioning and is washed away.

What is concentration?  In meditation practice, we are working towards wholesome concentration. We can have unwholesome concentration. We can become so engrossed in a movie that we lose our mindful presence. Like they say in India, “the pickpocket only sees the pocket.” A necessary condition for wholesome concentration is the first awakening factor, mindfulness. Wholesome concentration is attention on a neutral object (the breath) or benevolent object of meditation (loving-kindness mantra.) Concentration is stability of mind, unwavering mind, like a candle flame not affected by the wind. Concentration (samadhi) is defined as unification of wholesome mental factors, such as intention, non-greed, and non-hatred. Concentration may be hard to distinguish from the other awakening factors of joy, calm, and equanimity.

Reflection: Identify a time when you were concentrated? Was the concentration wholesome or unwholesome? Was mindfulness present or not present?

Types of Concentration? There is fixed and moving concentration. Fixed concentration is on a single object, while moving concentration is about stable attention to whatever is arising in the mind. The Buddha encouraged practicing both forms of concentration. Jhana practice involves different levels of concentrative absorption. The Buddha would note that jhana practice is important, but there is disagreement about whether jhana is necessary to practice vipassana meditation. Teachers concur on the importance of development of concentration as an awakening factor in vipassana meditation.

How to Develop Concentration? 

  • Try to avoid striving for concentration. If one strives for too much for concentration, turbulence may become part of what is occurring in the mind.  Concentration can be
    • developed through a relaxed and receptive mindful awareness of the object of attention or whatever is arising in the mind. Bringing curiosity and courageous effort to mindfulness, the other awakening factors of calm, joy, concentration, and balance of mind will naturally arise. 
    • Use aiming and sustaining attention: aiming for the beginning of the in-breath, sustaining through to the pause, aiming attention for the beginning of the out-breath, and sustaining through the out-breath. 
    • Work for continuity of mindfulness in formal meditation practice and throughout the day. Within any activity be mindful of sensations. For example, when reaching, note the sensations in the arms. 
    •  Maintain moral behavior (sila) to the best of your ability. Sila is a proximate cause for concentration. If we commit unethical actions, the mind will probably become turbulent.
    • “Guard your sense doors,” meaning be mindful of sounds, touch, taste, etc, and guard the mind from building a narrative about what the mind is sensing.
    •  Keep life simple. Eliminate people, places and things that support drama. 
    • Go on retreat. Retreat conditions support all of the above conditions. Some practitioners have a tough time attaining concentration as householders.
    • Be mindful of intentions. We have hundreds and thousands of intentions a day. Meditation practice is about developing healthy intention and understanding cause and effect. 

    Reflection: In the area of sensuality, what is hard for you to give up? What are you getting out of this? What would you have to deal with if you gave that up?

    Reflection: What areas of your life support turbulence or drama? How do you contribute? What does that drama do for you? If you gave up this turbulence or drama, what would you have to deal with?

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