The Eightfold Path Summary IIIb: The Concentration Element: Skillful Mindfulness and Skillful Concentration

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 193-246)

This is the fourth talk summarizing the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is divided into three elements:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Morality
  3. Concentration

This talk addresses the Concentration Element.

The Concentration Element

The Concentration Element is about how we practice to find freedom and cease suffering.  It consists of three steps:

  • Skillful Effort:  how we can strive for wholesome states of mind.
  • Skillful Mindfulness: how we can pay attention moment to moment to what is.
  • Skillful Concentration:  how we can focus our attention.

This talk addresses Skillful Mindfulness and Skillful Concentration.

Skillful Mindfulness

This step is a powerful tool to know the truth.

Mindfulness is paying attention moment to moment to what is.

“Skillful mindfulness is the incorporation of our whole life into meditative practice.”  (p. 197)

Without mindfulness, our thought patterns are limited, habitual and conditioned by delusions because the mind prefers certainty, satisfaction, and self nature.

One of the Buddha’s most famous teachings, The Satipatthana Sutra (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness) gives us guidance on how and on what to practice mindfulness.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:

  • Mindfulness of the body
  • Mindfulness of feelings
  • Mindfulness of the mind
  • Mindfulness of Mental Objects

With mindfulness of the body, we learn to practice mindfulness of the breath, postures, and the parts of the body.

With mindfulness of feelings, we practice discerning pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings.  We also discern worldly and unworldly feelings.

The worldly feelings are eight conditions (in pairs):

  • Gain/Loss
  • Pleasure Pain
  • Praise/Criticism
  • Fame/Disrepute

Unworldly feelings such as peace and happiness arise when we are pursuing the spiritual path of liberation.

With mindfulness of the mind, we become aware of consciousness and we learn that we cannot separate conscious from the object (mind state) of its attention.  There are specific meditations to practice when we are not at ease or overcome by emotions.

With mindfulness of mental objects, we can understand and meditate on the mental objects and important teachings:

  • The Five Hindrances
  • The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  • The Six Internal and Six External Sense Bases
  • The Seven Factors of Enlightenment
  • The Four Noble Truths

The Five Hindrances were addressed in Skillful Effort.

The Five Aggregates of Clinging and the Six Internal and Six External Sense Bases are how we experience the world.

The Five Aggregates of Clinging are:

  • Body
  • Feelings
  • Perceptions
  • Thoughts
  • Consciousness

The Six Internal and Six External Sense Bases are (in pairs):

  • Eye/Visible Objects
  • Ear/Sounds
  • Nose/Smells
  • Tongue/Tastes
  • Body/Tangible Objects
  • Mind/Mental Objects

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (as introduced in Skillful Effort)

  • Mindfulness
  • Investigation
  • Effort
  • Joy
  • Tranquility
  • Concentration
  • Equanimity

As you cultivate your mindfulness (paying attention from moment to moment to what is), it becomes an established form of practice.  Your mental object of mindfulness becomes mindfulness.  You learn that with strong mindfulness, you investigate all phenomena to discover that they all share the same three characteristics (impermanence, dissatisfaction and selflessness).  Thus the mental object of mindfulness becomes investigation.  With investigation, you exert more effort and shift your mental object of mindfulness to energy.  With these three powerful factors in action, you feel joy which leads to contentment.  With contentment, restlessness disappears and you are able to cultivate powerful concentration.

When all of these six factors (mindfulness, investigation, effort, joy, contentment, and concentration) are experienced, you feel that your life is in harmony and balance. When this occurs, you are experiencing the seventh and final factor, equanimity.

The Four Noble Truths can be summarized as follows:

  • First Noble Truth:  Dissatisfaction (life cycle, change, no control)
  • Second Noble Truth:  Cause (attachment to outcome)
  • Third Noble Truth:  End (letting go of attachment)
  • Fourth Noble Truth:  Path (The Eightfold Path)

Skillful Concentration

This step shows us how we can focus our attention to see deeply into an object.  Skillful concentration is always wholesome, it goes very deep with one-pointed focus and it incorporates the use of mindfulness to develop wisdom.

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.

The Jhanas

There are several stages of full concentration called jhanas.  With 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.

To achieve the first jhana, one starts with initial application of thought such as paying attention to the sensation of the breath and then continuing that though with sustained application.  Joy, happiness, and full concentration then arise in that order.

In the subsequent jhanas, the applications of thought, joy, and happiness disappear leaving mindfulness and equanimity.  The mind is focused on the mind.

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.” –Bhante G. (p. 239)

Reflection

Meditation

  • Continue your practice of meditation using either concentration, insight or both.

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