Presented by Jhampa Shaneman
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
November 27 1990
During the next few classes I wanted to go into the development of concentration because we have done a lot of theory. In the Buddhist style it is termed relative because it is merely the development of change of the habit patterns, it is also temporal. You can temporarily adjust your attitude for some time, but that can be lost. As soon as circumstances in your life change, you can loose that practice without difficulty because it is of a temporal level. You could say a personality adjustment. And it might be a profound one! A whole new attitude about the way you look at things! But it is termed relative or temporary because it does not deal with the actual nature of reality.
In working towards a more profound change which is not relative, not subject to being lost to circumstances, to receive that level of realization, it is important that there be foundation for that. The foundation is concentration.
The benefits of concentration, developing a mind which is able to concentrate for any length of time is, as you develop concentration, many of the delusions which we have due to a scattered mind, naturally fall away. There is a natural benefit without even being overly in a pursuit of any spiritual practice. If you start to become more concentrated,m you will find the superficial delusions cease to be as effective on you. In that way, it is termed suppression, but I would say more than a suppression, it is more that they do not get an opportunity to function. So it is not like in the term suppression where you hold your breath or try to tie yourself up in a knot and not interact with anything. It means more, that type of activity, your mind does not work in that way any more so therefore those things are not given energy, so in that way they are suppressed in a sense. They do not have easy capacity. That is one benefit of concentration.
Another, on the physical level, the sense of well being, the sense of pliancy of the body, the ability of the body to feel very comfortable at all times, and then actual physical bliss are heightened. On the side of mental benefits, the mind is more serene, the delusions are less active, the deeper levels of concentration, the mental bliss is also generated, so that in the sense of being much less affected by the stimulation of the reality around us is much less so we have greater serenity about ourselves. That is also one of the benefits of concentration.
Many of you might think concentration is sitting there and becoming serious. When we think of someone in the West is concentrated, we think if someone working on some problem, they are very concentration. But in that, they develop a lot of tension. You know, working very hard! And you do not experience it at the moment, but when you are finished, you are exhausted! Because you have really gone into this thing, you are really drained! That is not what should be understood of the development of concentration in a meditative sense.
Concentration is the ability to hold the object of focus from one mind thought moment to the next, so it is the continuity of a particular focus which can be understood as concentration. Although that itself is not concentration, with the development of longer periods of focus, concentration develops from that. In the west, what is presented in the East as samadhi and samantha, in the west, translated the word works a little but it is not as affective in giving a feeling or understanding for what is being developed. So in looking at concentration, it is a mental event, not physical. And in working with the mind, it is being conscious that you are focused in one area. And in being focused, you maintain the awareness on that object in a continuous flow.
For example, you are following what I am talking about. There is a certain amount of concentration there. If I am not very effective in talking, you will loose your concentration and start thinking about other things. If I am a good speaker, then concentration continues. With a really good speaker, an hour passes quickly and you are totally captivated without becoming exhausted! In that way concentration is not an exhaustive event, it is an event where you maintain a stream of consciousness focused on a particular thing.
Next week I want to talk about what it entails in regards to the way it is broken down into being, how it is developed, the opponents or hindrances to the development of concentration, and then what to utilize to help your concentration development. Remember the benefits are less activity from the delusions or deluded states of mind, a greater development of physical bliss, with good development of concentration, mental bliss, greater serenity, and of course, insight which is the real objective of concentration. Insight is an actual understanding or grasp of reality.
In realizing the nature of reality, there is what is termed the realization of self and then secondly, the realization of phenomena. IN doing that, the only way one can realize self is via concentration. It is only by concentration that you gain a very tranquil mind space, and within that, when the various feelings and thought formations start to activate, you can actually see how they formulate themselves,l how they set themselves up for a particular experience. And in that, you can gain a lot of insight into how the personality works, how we have strong identifications with something and maybe how we can untie it a bit and how not to get totally caught up with the various thought forms that we have in our mind and various stimulations that we experience.
So concentration is a very important key. It is the key to a deeper level of practice. I think one aspect of a teacher is keeping people entertained. If one is a very good teacher for many years, you can entertain your students and it keeps them there! That is nice! As long as your teacher keeps your interest going, then it is obviously a good teacher! But what would be more effective is if we can gain experiences which are beneficial and effective for us. Then we do not need to be entertained so much because we have inner dynamic which gives us a solid basis for the continuity of our practice. And that is gained from concentration. There are very few other ways to do it!
There are different techniques to concentration. Maintaining awareness on breathing. Awareness of sensation generated! You can move into a mentally focused object. Or with mantra. Deity visualization and such things! All these are valid ways of concentration.
The one we are going to work with is awareness of breath because that helps to slow down the internal dialogue which is often a great hindrance for people. So if you follow the breathing, it is very manifest so it makes it easy. If I give you the form of a Buddha to meditate on, some of you might have a rough time on that one! Whereas if I say do your breath, each moment you think of the inhalation or retention of the breath. So it is manifest and easy to identify.
Secondly, if you are aware of the breath, it will automatically slow down the internal dialogue which is beneficial because it helps us realize we are not only an intellectual being, but we have actually an awareness which does not always have to have a qualifying intellect making commentary to things.
Generally I teach meditation from the abdomen because it's rise and fall is very easily noticed and not subtle. And that potion of the body has the largest chakra, it is said. In most Asian philosophy it is called the center of being. But because it is deeper in the body, it is easier to go to sleep! If you meditate at that point, you may find that awareness can become very heavy. As we do live in a working world, it is easier for us to fall asleep than it is to meditate well! You may find yourself drifting off and doing this jerk thing! We all experience according to how tired we are from the day.
So rather than doing it deep in the body, we will do it at the level of the nostril because that point, termed an upper point for clarity and for sharpening of awareness, if one uses the nostrils it is automatic that will awaken the mind, whereas deeper in the body it calms you a great deal.
For the meditation, you can do one of two things, your choice. Either you can just register the flow of the air at the nostril, you should try to focus as the air is passing out from the nostril as a continuous sensation, and then there is a pause, and then a continuous sensation as it passes back into the nostril. So it can be the breathing itself, or if you want to, you can find one part of the nostril touched a bit by the air. That is the point you flow to. You might find it changes a little as you focus on it, but it is alright, just go with it. And where the continuous sensation of air passing through the nostril passages, the object is there. So there are two objects, the flow of the air passing out, pausing, and flowing in, or secondly, the sensations which are generated in the physical nostril passages as you sit there.
Both, because they are very face orientated, are easier for you to remain a better clarity of awareness. And do not get tight about it, you want to just have, I am concentrating on it! Continuity! And you will find in the tenth or eleventh second of continuity, you are gone. Thinking about the rain or snow or something! It is alright. Just bring it back. And try to develop a continuity for fifteen seconds.
You could, if you wanted to, even count the breath but it gets crowded then in your mind. Mind does not like to have continuity. But if you start working on it, you will find that mind becomes sharper and clearer. And there will be automatically a certain clarity of mind which has a certain level of bliss and certain physical energy there. Very minimal, but it is something which helps you then feel inspired. And if you develop it, it will lead to the benefits of serenity, less delusions catching your mind, and the development of the capacity to actually have insights into the nature of reality, into the nature of yourself.
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