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.
March 5 1991
I started with talk on concentration by talking about the benefits of meditation are that the mind becomes more stable and with that there is greater opportunity to gain insights. This evening I want to deal with the object of concentration. I would like to talk about three different levels or types of objects for concentration. For yourself, concentration is not easily understood, it is not part of our culture to develop samadhi or concentration. In the west we would term it as being a trance which sounds highly mystical or weird or unrelated to daily functions. And therefore, something we would not want or see any benefits of. In the west we do not have a good appreciation or understanding of concentration. If we think of someone concentrating, we think of someone with a furled brow, being quite serious. If you think, I am going to concentrate on something. You try to leave off all distractions and totally focus on something. And it can bring about a lot of tension. You get all tight, all strung out because you are having to put extra energy and effort in concentration on some particular issue.
In dealing with concentration, as westerners it is good to go into various subject matter of objects so you get a better idea of what you are developing when you develop concentration. To give you a good feeling for that! In that way you will avoid mistakes. I had a friend in India who tried to do a concentration retreat, to develop calm abiding. He got massive headaches. He found that a lot of his concentration had to do with his eyes as if he was looking at something. That can be the way that we again interpret concentration, as some sort of sense organ, such as eye sense, as looking at an object. Again, you have missed the mark.
Concentration is developed in the mind consciousness and therefore has nothing do do with the physical sensations of the organs. It is the mind learning how to maintain a stream of focused concentration. I mean, you have a continuous stream of consciousness awareness. As I am talking, for example, I am following a linear progression of conversation. You could think of it as a stream. In concentration you want to develop a flow or stream of consciousness which again and again or abides on a particular object and does not leave that object. In concentration, you would not think of it as being something which develops tension, it is where your awareness does not leave it's object. Or if it starts to leave, it is just brought back to the object.
There are levels of being able to maintain continuity of consciousness. If you are fairly good, you can maintain a fairly consistent awareness of a particular thing. As you start to develop concentration you will find you have stronger concentration but as the mind starts to become stronger, the distraction equally becomes as strong. So you might be focused on awareness of breath, which is one object to concentrate on. And as you develop that, you will find that the mind will strongly switch over to visualizing you and your house doing something. And you will have a very deep sense of participation in that distraction. And suddenly, oop... you will come back to your breathing. That distraction, with the higher level of concentration you are starting to access, will be very very engrossing, very full, and can become a greater cause of distraction because you will find you can really put yourself into fantasies or into particular thoughts more deeply as your concentration grows. And therefore you have to fight a little harder to maintain the awareness.
Fighting is the wrong word. I should say, dropping or letting go, of the distraction. The process is to let go and refocus the stream of conscious awareness. That initially deals with the concept that concentration is within the mind's consciousness and is awareness which is maintaining a flow dealing with one issue or one thing.
When you deal with concentration, I would like to think of three ways or levels in which concentration is developed. Concentration in it's pure form is awareness in breathing. In this I want to clarify we are talking about only the development of a stronger conscious awareness. And we are not dealing with realizations. There is a difference in that. If you want a realization about something, you turn your concentration towards such as the recognition of impermanence. And you become more and more familiar with impermanence. Then one day you will actually get some experience regarding impermanence and you will then have had the realization of that. That is different than what I am talking about. I am talking about just concentration as being developed. The mind becoming stronger in one area.
If you use breath which is the most fundamental of all Buddhist practices, you work with the breath , become conscious of it, at the level of the nostrils, or as the actual flow of the breath, or you can do the rise and fall of the abdomen. There are these different positions that you can take for focusing on breath. But, the focus is just the awareness, the awareness of the air as flowing out, as flowing in. And it is actually just the awareness of the breathing. There is no intellectualization. There is no idea or conceptuality tied to it. It is just pure awareness as with the flow of the air through the nostrils or the abdomen, depending on the tradition you are working with. For example, in the Zen tradition you always do the meditations from the abdomen. In Vipassana you either do the direct breath or with the passage of the air through the nasal passages. Different places they want you to concentrate on depending on the type or the quality of concentration you can develop. You get different experiences by working in different places on your body. Different qualities of concentration developed.
the point is, with no understanding, just being aware of the air going out, the air coming in, is a very pure one. It is very common to your whole being. If you find you have a lot of internal dialogue, a lot of emotions and stimulations, this concentration is the best because it completely calms you. You do not have to be involved with grasping and concept. It is purely my breath is going out, coming in. The mind becomes calm, tranquil, it requires you develop it, but the peace and quality of your being will change strongly with that technique. In my tradition, your progress is not focused on that meditative style, we work more on attitude and development and attitude. And developing concentration in attitude areas.
In the Vipassana tradition there are quicker results. If you want experience, you will have quicker results with this tradition. It is easy to say that because that is what happens. Those from that tradition, their personal experience as they work with concentration, the personal growth is initially very powerful because it works in direct way with your immediate conscious experience, with no elaboration to it. If that is an object which you have quite an interest in, I would say that particular type of concentration would be the best thing to do. It brings quick results, quick experiential results.
A different object which brings a very powerful effect for you is to take a taken. It is not something you have to be too philosophical about, it is just a blatant truth. Those are good objects for concentration but are different than just awareness on the breath. Let us make three very clear areas for you so you get a better feel for them. With awareness with breath, it is merely awareness. k Breath and awareness, and if it is in concentration, it should be awareness of breath. But with that you can easily reach over into the second area such as basic truisms which are taken because they are blatant for anyone as soon as they become conscious of what is happening. The strongest one is impermanence. The first is pure. Just awareness of breath with no elaboration and it develops very calm, clear concentration.
Next is taking a truth we are not that familiar with. We use that as a concentration object. It requires that your mind sets itself up. Sometime it is hard to understand that you could take a concept and concentrate on it. How can you concentrate on a concept? You might have some ideas! But let's go into it. For example. It is like a car. It works like, you have basic car. The basic idea of a car. It has four wheels and it is going to drive you somewhere. Now then, to that you add quality. Maybe it is a four wheel drive car. Until you have some experience with it, you have to investigate car. What it means. All four wheels move me. So you get out and you drive your car a little. And you find out what it means to have all four wheels drive you forward. It requires that you gain a little experience. But with experience, when you look at the car and see four wheel drive written on it, you know the power behind that. Because you have driven it. You have some experience there! And it has qualities that puts more power into it, let's say you drive it through muddy areas and find that it has more power in low gear. The next time you go out and see different cars, you can see the quality of the cars because you know more about that car. You know what it can do in different situations. You have experienced the power. So based on some experience, when you look at it and different models, you know this one is better! You know which will perform the best. You know. It is not that you have heard things about it.
So you have basic concept. Four wheel drive. You try them out, and then you gain more experience with four wheel drive. You don't need to articulate really, because you know. You have experienced it. Every time you get it it you experience more so it becomes a clearer concept that does not require articulation. But if you wanted to, you could quickly touch base with the qualities such as motor, posi-track, split axle, etc. Therefore you can settle back and know what the car will do.
This requires some thought. But as you gain experience in it, you do not have to think too much more about it. You just know. So when you take something as an object of concentration as a truism, and we are going to talk about impermanence, maybe if you are a developed person, you have a higher education, thinking about impermanence is immediately because you have spent time investigating about it, that the phenomenal material world in impermanent because it is comprised of electrons and neutrons. And you have an immediate appreciation of impermanence. It is not impermanence like four wheel drive, but it is impermanence quality four wheel drive, posi drive, split axle. You have the reason why you understand impermanence better because of that understanding.
Or maybe you think of impermanence, a flowing river and all the water flowing, and expand your mind to realize the whole world is impermanent like that. You have used an image and allowed your mind to expand into grasping a universal, impermanence, and again you have a conscious realization. And it isn't realization, but an object of concentration and you allow your mind to settle on that. And when your mind starts to loose awareness, you just touch base with flowing river, mud, world, is movable, and the stronger your concentration, the more powerful that experience is for you. On the basis of that experience again you can settle into that concentration.
That is concentration on a concept and that is how you do it. It is a little more developed than concentration on a pure object. But, you can see there is ramifications there. Next time you are in the regular world, it is not that you are clearly aware, your mind is broadened into understanding impermanence. And you can use that. Next time you are having an argument and realizing this person is stubborn, you can switch into your impermanence and you don't get upset about it. So you see, it has more quality than the first. The first is powerful but the second has ramifications which help you in daily positions.
I should clarify that from the first two you can bridge to the third very easily. Once you get concentration to the awareness of breathing, and your concentration grows, switch over into realizing impermanence very fast. It is not too difficult. There is not a lot of philosophy about it because you understand you are impermanent. The deeper you understand impermanence, particularly personal impermanence, and say you have a strong development of awareness of breath and you have scanned your body, right away you can you can feel the pulsating blood in your body. And that means a lot to you. It means you are an impermanent phenomena. And then you do not have to cling to your ego. It's the ramifications of that type of concentration versus the awareness. The depth.
The experience of that concept is the actual concentration that is developed and then tried to be maintained. I developed concentration as a conscious awareness which goes from moment to moment without distraction. So if you can generate a conscious experience of impermanence, then you allow that conscious experience to go moment to moment. When you start to loose it, then you bring back the example, and you are back into the concentration clearly of impermanence. Therefore it becomes the object of that concentration. And you can take that very deeply.
Initially your mind might say things are impermanent. As you become more deep about it, you can experience your whole body as impermanent. Initially you couldn't do that. You didn't have the concentration or the power of grasping the concept. But the next time you start to grasp myself as impermanent, and you are getting the experience of your whole being in there. Impermanence is becoming bigger as a conceptual experience. You should with developed concentration, be able to enter into it fully with no reflection as to the observer and the observed fully into a conscious experience of only impermanence where you loose the subject and objective side of it. But initially you will have a subject and object and there will be that duality. But as concentration develops, they say you can loose duality in the generation of that concept. For example, meditating on great love, can be felt as a non dual experience with development.
The final area is more philosophical and where a mahayanist would work, and it is more dealing with the issue of attitude. You would like to work with concentration. You find you have developed a certain amount of concentration, maybe you have practiced breathing awareness, and now you would like to deal with the issue of your attitude. And one of the basics in Mahayana Buddhism is to say self cherishing is a disadvantage and causes a lot of suffering in oneself and others, and cherishing others is the source of all goodness and happiness. I gave you all seven months teachings on this. I wonder how many of you can generate some realizations of why self cherishing is no good!
When you come to some realization of why self cherishing has only done you no good and why cherishing others properly done, not neurotically done, is a very positive attitude. You go through the process and arrive at that concentration and you hold that as a concentration object. But it is more philosophical. I requires you to be more profound. The first, simple. Anyone can do it. The second, an elaboration on the first but still a blatant. The third is for a more profound level of mind, is dealing with attitude. For example, the disadvantages of a negative attitude and the advantages of a positive attitude.
It is not that easy. It is a harder concept to grasp, but just like the other ones, but it is more philosophical. It requires more thought. I think it could be understood as a taken too, but not people would agree on that. Some would say realization of impermanence of reality, and that is the way it is, and there is nothing more, selfishness is a non issue, one should realize impermanence and there wouldn't be selfishness anyway!!!! People think like that. And it could be true maybe. If someone had an intelligent mind, impermanence could go that far. But if one was not too intelligent, I don't know if it would, to be truthful. Because people tend to enjoy self cherishing. It is an easier thing to live with. It is more comfortable. Thinking about being altruistic is an uncomfortable thing to think about. We don't like that generally. We like to be selfish about ourselves.
I would like you to think about it your own selves in your own time. Have your own thoughts about it. But, I hope in going through this, you have an understanding of how concentration works. It is the development of a stream or focused conscious awareness. And you can do it in the three ways, depending on how you want to work with yourself. And I would think, it is best to progress from conscious awareness of breathing, moved to impermanence, and then to issues like your attitude. How it benefits you or how it is a disadvantage. Then to maybe adjust your attitude. And then you focus on the adjusted attitude as the object of your concentration. And like I say, you gain experience in it. As you gain experience, it becomes more real for you. And, if it is valid, not a fantasy or an unrealistic realization you are dealing with, it actually should grow on you and become more real. And so you have an attitude shift where you become a more positive person. Alright?
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