Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 227-236)
Skillful Concentration is the eighth step of the eightfold path.
In the last talk, we discussed Wholesome Concentration. As you develop more profound states of concentration, you will be able to attain deeper insights.
Stages of Full Concentration: The Jhanas
The more profound states are called jhanas. The term, jhana, is not directly translatable. In general jhanas are “states of deep mental unification which result from the centering of the mind upon a single object with such power of attention that a total immersion in the object takes place.” (Bhante G, The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation , 1995)
The purpose of meditation is to gain insights into the Three Marks of Existence or the Three Characteristics (impermanence, dissatisfaction and selfless nature). There are two meditative approaches or levels, Vipassana (Insight) Meditation and Skillful Concentration Meditation.
Using impermanence as an example, with Vipassana meditation, the focus is on mindfulness after you have quieted the mind with concentration practice. You are paying attention moment to moment to what is and you notice that everything is constantly changing (impermanent).
With full concentration or jhanic meditation, you are going deeper and focusing directly on the experience of impermanence without the objects, investigation, or thinking. The mind is focused on the mind. “This is the experience of pure impermanence, the impermanence of experiencing awareness itself.” (Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English. Bhante G. page 94).
“Both concentration and mindfulness must work together to see things as they really are. One without the other is not strong enough to break the shell of ignorance and penetrate the truth. You may start with concentration and gain jhana, and then use the concentration to purify insight or mindfulness to see things as they are. Or, you may start with mindfulness, then gain concentration to purify mindfulness, so that you can use this purified mindfulness to see things as they really are.” –Bhante G, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, p 17.
Full concentration focuses on the smaller and smaller details. These are called moments of mind and each mind moment consists of three briefer mind moments: rising, peak and dying mind moments. There are four stages of full concentration to practice in order to focus on these mind moments to see the truth of impermanence.
The First Level or First Jhana
- First the mind must be cleared of hindrances.
- Next, five mental factors must come together: “initial application of thought,” “sustained application of thought,” joy, happiness, and concentration.
- You start with wholesome concentration which includes the initial application of thought (focusing on an object) and sustained application (continued focus)
- Joy and happiness arise. Joy arises from the hopeful anticipation of happiness. This is the joy of non-attachment. Happiness arises out of contentment when the hopeful anticipation has been fulfilled.
- The object of concentration seems to fade and becomes a mental image (sign of concentration).
- The sign of concentration fades and the mind concentrates on itself.
“Quiet, secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, one enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied thought and sustained thought, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion” –Bhante G., Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, p. 121
- Read this talk every day and reflect on it.
- Try practicing concentration meditation daily.
- Don’t set reaching the first jhana as a goal. Merely, follow the steps as outline above and see happens.
- Remember that mindfulness and effort are necessary as well.