Concentration – The Collected Nature of Mind

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.

It is the last of the section about the four qualities of mind: ardency, clearly knowing, mindfulness and concentration.

One of the benefits of meditation is to find a clearer, calmer mind. This helps us in so many ways. It helps us relax and be present, and it also helps us discern what we should do in each situation. We aren’t filled with thoughts and stories of our own projections. It is a mind that is free from our personal desire system and also a mind that knows the truth about samsara – the wandering-in-circles world. We will never find the wholeness and happiness we seek from the appearances and stories of our world. We have to find this truth, this discontent with regards to the world, in order to have enthusiasm about practice.

What surprised me about this section was Goldstein’s emphasis that concentration brings joy and relaxation.

He quotes Ajahn Sucitto speaking of Samadhi thus:

Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and Samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment. It is based in skillfulness. It is the careful collecting of oneself into the joy of the present moment. Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no “ought to” There isn’t anything we have to do about it. It’s just this.

Early in my Buddhist life, I felt the opposite about concentration. It was an intense and very effortful focus on staying with an object; almost military in its discipline. Maybe even the opposite of joy, until I opened up to the rapture of concentration. Then, I was attached to the sensual delight of rapture for another several decades. I laugh.

But in this reading from the book, the emphasis is on skillful behavior, sila, ethics, as the skillful means that is the basis of non-harming that is the foundation of joy. We do not want a mind that is filled with worry, regret and agitation.

In the stillness of Samadhi, we become more aware of our actions and their consequences. As our mindfulness gets stronger, we see more clearly the unending ego-centricity of our minds. This is a good thing! We have a vast field of moments in which to practice pivoting our ego-centric desires into skillful behavior. Dogen says we have 6 and a half billion moments in a day to continuously practice pivoting our behavior.

The strengthening of concentration comes through the continuity of mindfulness.

In practicing continuity, we learn to skillfully interweave the two approaches to concentration

  1. Object concentration – placing our mind on a single focus, the breath, the sound, our walking etc. This can definitely help moving away from the hindrances and interrupting our monkey minds- the constant chatter in an untrained mind.
  2. Choiceless awareness – one-pointedness on changing objects called momentary Samadhi or in Zen vernacular, Shikantaza, receiving the moment just as it is.

Object concentration gives us the strength to follow choiceless awareness without being distracted. After some time, we get an intuitive feel for which approach to concentration is appropriate at any given time. We have the flexibility of mind to move between concentrating on an object and being open to everything according to the circumstances.