November 14, 2019
  • 4:42 pm Prophet Negan PBUH v Islam’s Prophet Mohammed
  • 4:42 pm Spending a year in God’s time – Faith in action
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  • 4:42 pm Muslim Attacks Atheist For Insulting Muhammad?
  • 4:42 pm The Friendly Atheist Podcast
Buddhist Mindfulness #14 Mindfulness, Concentration and Aspiration


I wondered if you could explain to me what
the difference between mindfulness and concentration is from a Buddhist perspective? I
have often heard them used quite interchangeably in the media. Also some people use what they
call mindfulness for things like more focused productivity in business or as a way to achieve
other life goals, such as winning in sport or losing weight or just even to de-stress.
Could you explain your view on that? Mindfulness and concentration are two different mental
qualities. So, it really helps to understand what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is simply
awareness. As long as you are paying attention to what is being said now, you are, technically,
mindful. There is mindfulness present. Mindfulness can be very general or it can
be very specific. So you can be simply mindful of say, sitting in a chair or listening to
the birds singing or it can be a focused mindfulness on a particular object. That focusing of that
awareness is concentration. Mindfulness is your awareness, is a choice-less awareness, of what is present and concentration is then just focusing that awareness to a specific
point, to one-pointedness. Take the example of, I know you have talked to me before about, a tennis player who uses what he calls mindfulness in high pressure points during a game, and
he focuses on the tennis ball. So, what he is actually employing is both mindfulness
and concentration. He is concentrating on the ball so that he does not have any thoughts
arise during that time that might put him off. If it is the point to win the match and
the thought arises, “If I win this point, I win the match.” that can put him off, as far
as I understand that. Yes, I suppose it is the mental chatter that
goes with not living in the moment, so projecting what might happen in the future or has happened
in the past. Win-Lose. Anything else, even perhaps trying to lose weight or something,
if you’re eating mindfully you are very focused on what you are eating and you are enjoying
it, you are not just kind of stuffing chocolate in your face while you are walking around
town and not even noticing you are eating. Ok, good. During that period of focus the
mind is not attending to those other habitual routines. To give the example of the tennis
player, because he is focusing on that, he is not focusing on anything else, he is not
focusing on the past, he is not focusing on the future. In order to do that you need that
awareness but you also need the focus because you do not want the mind drifting off to other
things. It is no so much it’s a difference in mindfulness and concentration, it is a
difference in your aspiration. Somebody who practices mindfulness are taught to pay
attention to the breathing, to the exclusion of everything else. Then what they are actually
practicing, ultimately, is a concentration exercise. They are using mindfulness to help get concentrated,
so for that period of time there are no unwanted thoughts. There are not the neurotic selfish
preoccupations that people normally go in for at that time, they just let it go. Now,
the difference with Buddhist mindfulness is that you are not attempting to avoid looking
at those neurotic tendencies, you want to understand all about them, because Buddhist
mindfulness is about generating clear comprehension in every aspect of our conscious experience,
including all the unwanted thinking processes. So, it is almost the opposite of trying to
block out thoughts? Yes, it’s not blocking out thoughts. It’s almost trying to recognise
them and accept them and examine them. Yes and understand the process by which they arise,
their true characteristics and that is essentially what we call wisdom. Developing the wisdom
in understanding our own minds. There is that little bit of crashing together of cultures
there. Because I do understand that anybody who is able to block out inefficient unwanted
thinking is going to have a more effective mind that is capable of focusing and generating
whatever kind of results that you want to generate, undoubtedly. So it is not denying
the efficacy of that, but, specifically, Buddhist mindfulness is not about generating results
in that way. It is more about generating a wisdom that comes with you day by day gradually
developing, expanding, so you have a far more wise and understanding approach to life and
all it’s dilemma’s. I think that leads me on to another question that was not actually my second question. What is the difference between brain-training and progress on the path to enlightenment? Which I am now starting to think is quite a similar topic and, perhaps, a misunderstanding of my understanding of what mindfulness is. What I mean by this is,
unpicking conditioning, which is essentially layers of learned behaviour in the same way
that anyone who is trying to give up any habit would do that. So, for example, trying to replace
automatic, grooved responses with different ones because they are less painful. That could
lead to more positive outcomes for the student. So, are they simply stifling real-world natural
reactions at a mundane level? And is that not brain-training, therefore, rather than
progress on the path? Progress on the path is very interesting. It contains elements of reconditioning the mind, definitely. One of the things about mindfulness is we
have all got an inherent intelligence. It is not like we are trying to develop something
we do not have, we are just trying to utilise an aspect of our minds that we do not normally
utilise. And that is this ability to be wise and understand what is going on. And so you
have to be prepared to look at all that unwanted stuff. If you are going to be effective in
reconditioning the mind from an inefficient response to an efficient response to some
issue, then you have to firstly accept the existence of the inefficient response. You
have to fully comprehend that, indeed, these kinds of mental thought processes do arise.
And seeing in real-time that, actually, they are unhelpful, to devalue them. That is what
allows you to then introduce a different way of dealing with the issue. Is that you have
first accepted that you have an inefficient way of dealing with that and you know that
it is inefficient and that it does not work and it leads to pain and so you are more able
to put it down having accepted it. If you resist it, if you say “Oh no I should not
be neurotic, I should not have this irritation, I should not have this frustration,” it only
grows and gets stronger. So, you first have to accept it, that is what we mean by choice-less
awareness, the acceptance of what you find and then there is that intelligence that goes
“Oh, I do not want to be doing that. I have learned that that is not a very good way of
doing things, let’s see if I can try the opposite, do something differently.” So, going back to the tennis analogy in the first question, that you used. You were talking about trying
to concentrate by blocking out thinking about the future or the past, what has happened
or what might happen. So, there is an element to that in Buddhist mindfulness if you are
talking about it as a method for accepting that what you are doing is inefficient and
the way to actually achieve a better state is to not exercise those. Well, the difference is, and I think a lot of people are taught mindfulness as just purely a temporarily blocking out the problem, but that does not develop your wisdom. A wiser approach is to fully
acknowledge the arising of an inefficient thought, to fully see, because they are transient,
they do not last, and the beautiful thing is if you fully acknowledge it it is like
de-clutching the car, you just come out of that gear and you are able to say, “Oh, I do
not want to be doing that.” So, it is not being blocked out, it is being fully accepted, it’s
nature is to arise and pass away and it, therefore, allows the opportunity then, because you de-clutched,
you are outside that narrative, so if it is worry or anxiety you are suddenly outside
of that worry, you are labelling it as ‘worry’ and then it is possible to say “Yeah, but that
does not give me anything, that does not improve…”. So, as a lifestyle choice, it is a start? Yes, to round it off, you did ask about progress on the path. That is a component, a necessary
prerequisite, that somebody has the ability to let go of unwholesome, inefficient, undesirable
states of mind. So, in their absence the mind is calm, it is peaceful and it is able then
to go into the next stage of development in the Buddhist teaching, which is developing
what we call insight into the way conscious experience unfolds. You have to have that
ability to be able to get to a lovely balanced calm state of mind, which does have elements
of mindfulness and concentration in it. So, they are both there. There is no way that
somebody can ultimately become free through just improving themselves and improving themselves.
There is no end to that. No matter how good you get at something there is always
a tiny little improvement that can be made. So, there is a different level of involvement
in meditation that is not about improvement. That is about a more detailed examination
of life as it unfolds.

Jean Kelley

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1 COMMENTS

  1. Nagsen Gedam Posted on April 20, 2019 at 6:37 am

    Sir , is it only the reason many teenager get depressed/anxiety/other issue while they only seek for concentration rather than not aware or understanding pleasant-unpleasant or nor pleasant not unpleasant happen with them ? Sorry sir i cant mentioning my view correctly but i hope you will get what im talking about.

    Reply
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