Skillful Concentration: Mindfulness of Skillful Concentration

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 237-245)

From Ajaan Suwatexternal_link:

“A woman who had sat several retreats complained to the effect: ‘I’m finding myself frustrated in my practice of meditation. Now that I’ve gotten started, I can’t turn back, and yet I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.’

Ajaan Suwat’s simple response: ‘Where are you trying to go?’

After a brief moment of silence, the woman laughed and said she was satisfied with the answer.”

Mindfulness of Skillful Concentration

In sitting practice, both mindfulness (insight) and concentration are necessary.  You can start with either concentration or mindfulness and either switch to the other or go back and forth.  Observing and suppressing the five hindrances is important when you begin a sitting meditation.  You will learn which type of meditation initially works best to overcome a hindrance such as restlessness.

Using the powerful combination of concentration and mindfulness, you can then move on to vanquish the fetters from which the hindrances arise.  Vanquishing the first three fetters (belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul, doubt in the message of the Buddha, and belief that one can end suffering by merely following rules or rituals) leads to the first stage of enlightenment. 

From Bhante G:

“Seeing the impermanence, dissatisfaction, and selflessness of your own form, feelings, perceptions, volitional formations, and consciousness is the primary function of insight meditation” (p. 239).

Mindfulness allows us to recognize these objects (aggregates) and concentration allows us to see deeply into that object.  Bhante G. compares this to using a laser beam to burn through a hard substance.  The hard substance must be identified and aimed (mindfulness) and then powered (concentration) to work effectively.

“When meditators cultivate sufficient concentration guided by mindfulness, they can trace back their mental images of events, time, thoughts, and previous behavior until they perceive the link between the present continuous flow and the events, thoughts, and actions of the past.  That link is greed and ignorance.  They see for themselves the relationship between impermanence, greed for impermanent things and suffering  The penetrating wisdom of the meditator also recognizes all negativities in all dimensions and how and why they arise.  Wisdom recognizes that all negativities come from grasping.  It recognizes that this grasping can end and that the way to end it is by ending one’s own greed.

Through this knowledge, the mediator comprehends, by personal and direct experience that everything is impermanent, that clinging to anything impermanent causes dissatisfaction, and that everything that exists is without permanent substance,  Gaining this threefold knowledge is the doorway to enlightenment”  (p. 239)

What Bhante G. says about perceiving the link between the present continuous flow and the events, thoughts and actions of the past is critical to our understanding.  Memories and thoughts that arise from the past do so because in some way we are attached to them.  We may be attached intentionally because we want to remember something for a reason (an appointment or where we put something).  In this case, the memory of something is useful.  On the other hand, memories from other past actions or experiences arise because we are clinging to them for some reason.  Using mindfulness and concentration, we can look deeply and see the link of greed and ignorance. 

Reflection

  • Read this talk every day and reflect on it.
  • Reflect on memories and see if you can truly see the attachment that causes them to arise. 

Meditation

  • Be aware while meditating of what type of meditation you are doing (insight or concentration).
  • Try different variations to see what you experience. Find the combination that work best for you knowing that this, too, is impermanent and will change over time.

Next: The Eightfold Path Summary I: The Wisdom Element
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Skillful Concentration: The Stages of Full Concentration II