Friday, March 31, 2017

Differences Between Concentration and Mindfulness Techniques - The Meditative Mind (Daniel Goleman)

It’s simple mathematics, he said. All meditation systems either air for One or Zero-union with God or emptiness.  The path to the One is through concentration on Him, so the Zero is insight into the voidness of one’s mind.  This was my first guideline for setting out meditation techniques.”
- Joseph Goldstein at Bodh Gaya, p. xvii

The classical Buddhist text the Abhidhamma is considered the most comprehensive traditional examination of the psychology of states of consciousness.

The Visuddhimagga or "Path to Purifications" is a portion of the Abhidhamma summarized by monk Buddhaghosa.

I studied this text with Chris Chapple when I was taking the course "Following the Buddhist Dharma" at Insight LA. We did many of the mediation techniques described in the Visuddhimagga and some are described on this blog. The Visuddhimagga presents concentration and mindfulness as distinct meditation practices. Concentration is offered as a preparatory practice to mindfulness although it is not required.

The strongest agreement among many meditation schools is the idea of retraining attention.The essence of concentration is non-distractedness.  A meditator's job is to attain unity in the mind also known as one-pointedness. The goal in concentration meditation is to focus the flow of thoughts by fixing the mind on a single object or topic of the meditation. In more advanced states of concentration meditation, the mind is both directed towards the object, penetrates the object, is totally absorbed in it, and sometimes achieves oneness with this object.

In contrast to concentration techniques, in mindfulness meditation, we cultivate the habit of simply noticing sensory perceptions.  Mindfulness does try to concentrate away from sensory perceptions or block them out. These perceptions don't stimulate the mind into thought chains of reaction but are noticed, examined and left to pass by without attachment.

There are 40 meditation subjects of concentration meditation recommended by the Visudhimagga

Ten kasinas (colored wheels about a foot in circumference): earth, water, fire, air, dark blue, yellow, blood-red, white, light and bounded space
Ten asubhas (loathsome, decaying corpses): a bloated corpse, a gnawed corpse, a worm-infected corpse, etc. includes a skeleton
Ten reflections on the attributes of the Buddha, the Doctrine, the sangha, peace, one’s own purity, one’s wn liberality, one’s own posessions of godly qualities or on the inevitability of death, contemplation on the 32 parts of the body or on in out breathing
Four Sublime States: loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others and equanimity

At InsightLA I did the Ten Kasina practices as well as some of the Asubhas, Reflections of attributes of the Buddhas and Four sublime states.

In contrast, there are just four focuses of mindfulness listed in the Vishudhimagga; on the body, on feelings, on the mind, on mind objects.  Any of the techniques will "break through the illusions of continuity and reasonableness that sustain our mental life. In mindfulness, the meditator begins to witness the random units of mind stuff from which his reality is built. From these observations emerge a series of realizations about the nature of the mind.  With these realizations, mindfulness matures into insight" p, 23

In the early stages of concentration meditation there is  tension between concentration on the object of meditation and distracting thoughts.  The main distractions are: sensual desires, ill will, despair and anger, laziness and torpor, agitation and worry, and doubt and skepticism

“The state of concentration is like a child not yet able to stand steady but always trying to do so.” P.11

In the first state of bare insight (mindfulness practice without concentration meditation training) the meditator's mind wanders between moments of mindful observance. When the wandering comes the meditator is advised to notice the wandering. With practice, wandering thoughts subside once they are noticed and the meditator continues with the mindfulness practice.  Eventually the meditator will reach a level where these disturbances do not arise.

Jhana is the moment in concentration meditation which marks a total break with normal consciousness.  It is full absorption. Rapture at the level of the first jhana is the initially pleasure and excitement of a getting a long-sought object.  Bliss is the enjoyment of that object. The deeper the Jhanas the more one-pointedness becomes more intensified.   Advanced jhanas are referred to by some as “concentration games.”

Mindfulness means breaking through stereotyped perception. In mindfulness the meditator faces the bare facts of his experience.  S/he sees each event as occurring for the first time.  His/Her mind is receptive and not reactive.  S/he has “the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at successive moments of perception.”

Bhakti, Kabbalah,  Hesychasm, Sufi, Raja Yoga, TM are all concentration technique based meditation practices.  While Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti's Choiceless Awareness and Thervada Buddhism are mindfulness based systems.  Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are practices that integrate mindfulness and concentration techniques.

Mindfulness and Concentration can both be practiced by a meditator. Powers of concentration help a practitioner with mindfulness.  The Visuddhimaggs claims that it is preferable to do the jhana practices before moving on to mindfulness. But there is a technique called “Bare Insight” where a practitioner starts with mindfulness without practice in concentration meditation. When the mindfulness meditator reaches a level of practice where the mind no longer wanders and strays and notices every moment of the mind without cessation, this is the same as access found in concentration meditation.  So for me the goals are the same, attainment of nirvana/samadhi/moksha/enlightenment/bliss but the techniques differ.  As it is said by many sages "the paths are many, the truth is one."

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