Week 36 - Factors of Awakening: Concentration I

Joseph introduces concentration, the sixth of the seven factors of awakening, saying, “Clearly, concentration is one of the key players on this path of awakening.” He distinguishes and describes two related activities of the mind: the mental factor of one-pointedness and the meditative states of concentration.

Joseph then discusses jhana, which describes different levels of samadhi (concentration). While there are varied views of what the Buddha meant in encouraging the development of jhana, there is general agreement that deepening states of concentration are “skillful in themselves and necessary supports for the development of wisdom.”

The Buddha described four developments of concentration and Joseph explains each, pointing to why the factor of concentration is so important. These four are:

1.   Pleasant abiding

2.   Knowledge and vision

3.   Insight and wisdom

4.   Uprooting the defilements.

Next Joseph explains and distinguishes momentary concentration and absorption. Further discussion of concentration will continue in the following week (pp. 271-276).

Questions

1. There seems to be some overlap in the different enlightenment factors - both in their development and their manifestation.  Is there an enlightenment factor that is more familiar to you or easier to access?

2. What ways have you practiced to develop concentration?  What ways have not worked?

3. Do you typically focus on one-pointed concentration on a single object or on moment-to-moment awareness of changing objects?  What different flavors or qualities do these two have and in what situations is one or the other more helpful?  Do you sometimes use both (within a sitting) or try to stick to one?  Have you found any other ways of training the mind that are helpful when the mind is particularly discursive or flighty to calm it (counting, noting, etc.)?

4. Have you experienced jhana states and if so, what was the experience like?  Did you become attached?

5. The Buddha talked about spontaneously entering a deep state of concentration or peace when he was a young boy he described as “pleasant abiding” here and now.  Have you naturally fallen into a state like this off the cushion?  

6. Joseph refers to moment-to-moment awareness of changing objects as one-pointedness (even though the objects are constantly changing).  This almost seems like a contradiction.  If you practice this, how do you keep the mind steady?

Practices

1. Do one sitting this week using a different object of focus (i.e., if you typically use the breath, try using metta, body parts, buddha/dharma/sangha, peace, or one of the other objects he lists). 

2. If it’s not something you practice already, try using continuous awareness of changing objects.  You might use a single object just until mindfulness is steady and then switch to changing objects.  Make a note of what the experience was like (vs. single object focus).  

3. The Buddha describes using the concentrated mind in the service of clear comprehension, so that “feelings are known as they arise, persist and pass away; perceptions are known as they arise, persist and pass away; thoughts are known as they arise, persist and pass away.” Joseph suggests noticing the profound difference between being aware of a thought and being lost in it.

4. Set a strong intention at the beginning of a sitting to stay focused; keep coming back to that intention.  You might even set interval bells to reset your intention.  

5. Use wise effort to discern what quality would be most helpful in a given sitting (i.e., if you are tired, try bringing viriya into your practice; if you’re wound up or anxious, try using calm and relaxation as an object; irate or angry, try metta; if you have pain, compassion, etc.).