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 Concentration of Mind - by Upul Gamage

 My dear Friends,

While meditating, we attempt to concentrate our mind.  In meditation, this concentration of the mind is extremely important. How have we understood this state of mind? How do we identify this important factor? What do we mean by the words “concentration of mind”? This is something important to think of. Concentration of mind is often defined and interpreted as a process of thinking only of a single matter or a subject. This is the popular belief. We can rely on this concept if we do not practice meditation. When our mind is concentrated following meditation, one could conceive an idea in the mind, that no further thoughts would arise, that the mind doesn’t wander about and no trains of thought would enter the mind. That interpretation can be applied for concentration of the mind so long as one does not meditate. But once we start meditating, we understand that the real state of the mind, is that thoughts keep on flowing in. That is what is referred to as the mind. These are not two separate things. The mind and thoughts are not two different things.

Even though in common usage, for convenience of understanding, we refer to two different concepts of the existence of a mind and of thinking with that mind, in actual fact, there is only one concept. Only one thing occurs. That is thinking. There are no two separate things here. For example, if we say that ‘‘someone is running”, there is the act of running. But it is not possible to distinguish the person from the act of running. Just as much as when we say that ‘it is raining’. “Rain” and “raining” are not two things. We believe that there is a thing called rain and that it rains at times.  It is the same when we say that ‘a river is flowing’. We believe that there is a thing called a river and that it is flowing down.  What in fact, exist here are, the acts of “raining” and “flowing”. But in usage, we adopt a noun because it is difficult to communicate using only a verb. In the same way, there is ‘thinking’ and ‘thoughts coming in and going away’. That is all. We have adopted a noun, “mind” for this purpose. What we try to concentrate is that noun or the word that we have adopted.  But in meditation, we notice that what exists is not a word but an action process. Thoughts come and go away. Just like the ear hearing sounds. How many different sounds enter the ear? In the same way there is a continuous flow of thoughts. That is all. Have we felt anything anywhere as the mind, beyond that? We have all meditated for some time now. See carefully whether we have perceived anything as the “mind”, except the process of thinking and whether there is a “mind” that wanders about? What we perceive is only thinking, recollection of different things. Thoughts come in about one’s own self, about others, about the past, the future. That is all.

Now let us see what needs to be concentrated. There is a thing called ‘mind’ that wanders about. If it is thought that the mind should be secured, without allowing it to wander about, it would only be an idea. But when we start meditating, we do not perceive that there is any such mind. The only fact that we perceive is that these thoughts come and go away. If so, what is there to concentrate? What is being concentrated? We realize that it is not possible to explain “Concentration” in that manner. That is quite important, to find an interpretation based on meditation for this ‘concentration’. What then do you mean by ‘concentration’? Let us discuss this matter with our experiences. Why, because this is a practical problem. This is not a matter to answer in an examination. It is not relevant to a subject or to any employment. Let us examine this matter in detail from the angle of meditation, as this is practically connected to meditation.  Let us examine from a point we can understand to identify concentration of a mind. What do we mean when we say that several of us ‘agree’ on some matter?  Sometimes three or four of our family members discuss what we should have for dinner or where we should go for our vacation. What do we mean when we say that al of us ‘agree’ on any such matter?  That is, all of us expressed our consent for such an idea. It is quite clear that in ‘agreement or consensus’ there is no dissention for such a situation. Then we say that all of us agreed. What if we don’t? If there are several opinions that we should have bread, or we should have rice, that we should go to Kandy, or we should go to Colombo and so on, and try to promote one’s own idea, to implement it and challenge the others’ ideas, then there would not be any peace there. There is only a conflict. Friendship diminishes and will vanish altogether. If we now relate this matter to the mind, these thoughts are similar to a group of individuals. What is referred to as the mind is a group of such individuals. Not for anything else. It is a mass of an endless stream of thoughts. What do we perceive as the “mind”? It is a mass of thoughts, a huge mass of thoughts beyond assessment.  When such a mass of thoughts get together, we perceive as if there is something existing. If we look at a mass, we see a single object. But if we get closer, we notice that there are ten or a hundred or a thousand individuals. We can look at those individuals as one group. But if such group of individuals fight each other and quarrel with each other, we will not see them as a group. We notice several groups divided into several sectors. We cannot refer to a particular sect as a group. We have to call them a group of sects. Then again, such sects split into three or four and argue on the basis of different ideologies, and then we shall not be able to identify that original group. Now consensus has vanished completely.

It is much the same thing that happens in our thinking process. Here we have a stream of thoughts that come and go away. We perceive as if a mind exists due to the collection of all thoughts. That is all.  It is much the same thing as the perception of a group when a collection of individuals get together. But if we look closely, there is a space between every two individuals. So it cannot be called a single group. What we call a ‘forest’ is a word. But what is this ‘forest’? There are a few individual trees. There is nothing to be identified as a forest. When a few trees cluster together, we use the word “forest”. What is referred to as the “mind” is much the same thing. We feel and perceive a thing as the “mind”, when a group of thoughts cluster together. But if we discard those thoughts, there won’t be anything left as the “mind”. Our body is also much the same. Here we find a group of cells. When those cells cluster in a certain pattern they form an organ called the eye. They form the ear, nose, hair and finger nails. But in fact there is only a group of cells. The mind is even simpler. If all the thoughts constitute one idea there is no clash there.  There is peace and happiness in the inner soul (Aadhyaathmaya). But it is not so. That is the problem. One thought is in conflict with another. There is friction, animosity.

What do we do in meditation? We sit down with a certain intention. What is the intention?  Let us think it as “I will concentrate on inhaling and exhaling”. It is an intention, isn’t it? We sit down with that intention. If everything happens in conformity with that intention, there is no problem. If we do not wish to listen to that music coming in from outside, if no thought arises considering that as an utter nuisance, an obstacle or if no thought arises wondering at what time the bus to go back is, then there is no problem.   There is no problem whatever, if our only thought is concentrating on inhalation and exhalation. All the time we will feel breathing in and breathing out.  But it is not the factual situation. That is not what actually happens.  That thought may be forgotten the moment we sit down. What do we mean by forgetting? Another thought comes in. The former thought is not material to the latter thought. Why did he sit down?  The latter thought will not question whether he sat down for some purpose.  It barges in to the midst of what the others were engaged in and says what it wants. Isn’t that we refer to as wandering?  It says; ‘Remember you met someone in the morning? I am going to think about that individual”.  This thought tells me “Let us think about that individual.” So, while I have just started to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling, this thought comes and makes a proposal, an enticement. So I forget why I sat down. I second the proposal made by the second thought and start thinking accordingly. While I generate thoughts on that matter, yet another thought barges in.  My dear friends, thoughts do not have any moral principles, manners or any culture.  They act naturally.  Now the third thought also barges in. It brings us some economic problem.  ‘I have to buy a dress for someone. Is there money for that’? It suggests that we think about that.  By now I had completely forgotten why I sat down. Later, I was thinking about the individual I met in the morning.  I had forgotten that and started thinking about the economic problem proposed by the third thought and seconded by me.  While thinking on it, yet another thought comes in saying that ‘there is a slight pain in the knee’. Then I wonder when I will be able to stretch my leg. That is the current problem. Instantly, I forget all these thoughts and continue thinking about the fourth thought.

This, my dear friends, is the true state of our mind. That is the nature of what exactly happens in the mind. This is what we call the wandering or scattering of the mind or that the mind is not concentrated. Even though we have experienced this, we have not understood what is happening here. When we understand this, we realize what happens. Firstly, the reason why we forget what we were doing. Forgetting why we sat down, is what we mean by losing consciousness. If this consciousness -Sathi- exists to a certain extent, he knows why he sat down, why he closed his eyes, so long as that consciousness exists. You don’t lose hearing even though you remain conscious. You hear sounds; drumming, crows crowing. Even though he hears, he knows that he did not sit down to hear either drumming or crowing.  However, the moment he loses consciousness he goes astray.  A mind without consciousness is a mind gone astray; an individual who has lost consciousness is one who has gone astray. It’s as if he is lost in maize of streets. He becomes one who goes from street to street, not knowing where he stands, from where he started and wandering aimlessly not knowing his destination. The moment one loses consciousness, he becomes a canoe without an oar and a sail, not knowing where to go or how to go. He is carried away by a wave in one direction. A current carries him with it.

The fundamental reason for this wandering, scattered mind is the lack of consciousness, attentiveness. Then, the most significant characteristic, aptitude, which we should cultivate, is consciousness, attentiveness.  Thoughts may flow in just as it is possible to hear sounds.  Proposals may come from all directions. See the task of a president of a meeting in the chair.  He says the next item on the agenda is to discuss about the excursion in the coming month.  Then a member may propose to visit to Anuradhapura.  Another may suggest visiting Polonnaruwa.  They are all relevant to the topic.  Meanwhile, one may stand up and say about some activity in the previous month.  What is the responsibility of the president, then?  He should say, “No sir, now it is not the time to discuss that. That matter is not relevant now.  Speak on the relevant topic”.  But it is not possible for different people to put forward different ideas.  But if the president did not have the understanding and attentiveness as to what was being discussed, the meeting will turn to discuss the previous month’s activity.  That is exactly what happens to all of us.  Why, because whatever thoughts that keep coming in, become the current topic due to the absence of fundamental consciousness, attentiveness in us.   

In an examination, the most important factor in marking an essay is whether the contents running into several pages, is relevant to the subject.  No marks will be given if the contents are irrelevant to the subject even if they run into several pages.  How is an essay written outside the topic?  Whatever comes into the mind is put down on paper.  If so written, according to the nature of our mind, this essay may be written on hundreds of topics.  The subject may be ‘The future of Sri Lanka’.  But while writing the essay, it is possible to recall what one had for breakfast.  It is not possible to prevent such thoughts.  But he knows that it is not relevant to the subject.  He does not write about what he had for breakfast.  That thought is not made a part of the essay.  It is discarded immediately.  Such are the thoughts that keep coming in.  He examines whether it is relevant to the subject. If it is relevant it is incorporated into the essay.  If not it is discarded.  That is what we do with “consciousness”.  It is not preventing thoughts from coming in.  We may think something sorrowful.  But we do not keep on thinking about the sorrow.  We identify whether this is relevant to the subject, relevant to what we study, relevant to meditation.  If it is not relevant, allow it to come and allow it to pass away, in just the same way it came.  In such passage, a multitude of thoughts may come, ideas may come.  But those thoughts will perish then and there.  That is the concentrated mind.  What is referred to as “mindfulness” is such a concentrated mind. Various thoughts will come in.  But they are not acted upon.  If it is possible to identify the thoughts that come in that manner and abandon them, attention will revert back to the initial subject of inhaling and exhaling. Now if we discuss about the mind, we can say that the entire mind is meditating. There is no individual there who thinks about yesterday, or tomorrow. No person who thinks about earning money. Proposals may come and suggest “Shall we think?”  It is not possible to prevent it.  But identify the difference between these two.  The moment you close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, proposals to think will come from all directions as thoughts.  These thoughts will scream “let us think about this and that”.  But if you remain conscious and attentive you should hear them and abandon them.  These thoughts suggest various things for you to do.  The responsibility to second them is in your hand and mine.  So, the moment we lose consciousness, we get lost among the various unnatural thoughts that come every second.  Therefore be alert when thoughts come in, while meditating.  Listen to what the thoughts say.  Realize how they entice us. Don’t say “yes”, don’t second them nor be angry with them.  Just be silent. If someone comes along and requests us to go somewhere, and we smile and remain silent, then that request will wilt down in our silence. An un-seconded proposal will not sustain for action.  It is so with the mind as well. Don’t provide oxygen to these thoughts.  Allow them to go away, just as they came in.  Not in anger.  We did not invite them, did we?  When they come, allow them to go, without getting involved with them.

Then we experience as to what a non-wandering mind is.  Thoughts come in, just as we hear sounds.  But we don’t set off to think.  We revert back to inhaling and exhaling.  A thought will come again and inquire where we would stroll down in the evening.  We hear it and allow it to go. We won’t say anything.  We examine again whether the breath is coming in or going out.  At that point a mind comes into being that does not oppose being attentive to inhalation and exhalation.

The nature of a scattered mind is such that each occupant opposes what the other does.  Here there is no opposition.  Only one thing happens.  That is being attentive to inhalation and exhalation. That is all. You and I can experience this attentiveness together with the incoming and outgoing thoughts.  Otherwise, if one concludes without meditating that a concentrated mind is one which does not receive thoughts and does not wander about, one will never be able to experience it.  Therefore, try to find a practical definition to all those matters, through your own experiences, meditation.

If you stand before a mirror, you will see your entire reflection as one.  That is ‘oneness’. But if that mirror is shattered into two or three pieces, you may see two or three noses, six or seven eyes and a large number of hands.  That is the nature of a shattered mirror. There is no ‘oneness’ in it.  One piece of the mirror reflects one way, another one in another way.  Each piece reflects light in its own way, making images, a number of abnormal images.  Dear Friends, our scattered thoughts create an even greater abnormality.  Nothing that falls on it is true. Just as how false the reflections of that shattered mirror were, even more so false is what is told by these scattered thoughts.  The entire world, finally, is a reflection that falls on our mind.  So, that reflection is a great absurdity.  The external world that we see, not only others, but even one’s own self is a great absurdity.  Why? One’s self is in fact a collection of reflections that appears in a mirror that is shattered to a countless number of pieces.  Therefore, what meditation does is to make one’s inner self an un-shattered mirror.  If at any moment, un-shattered thoughts enter an un-shattered mind, then what we hear, see, think, at that moment we will perceive as they are.  That is why it is stated in the Dhamma that a concentrated mind perceives things as they are. “Samahitho hothi Yathabhuthanam Janathi passathi”.
Samahitha – The un-scattered concentrated mind
Yathabhoothaya –Existing nature as it is
Janathi- It is possible to perceive
Passathi- It is possible to see.
Till such time, what we always perceive as one’s own self or as others, is a cluster of abnormalities.  This concentration is something practical that we can cultivate.  It is very practical to look at the world with a concentrated mind and concentrated thoughts. It is just that process that is referred to as Samatha and Vidarshana meditation.  Let all of us try to meditate on the basis of that practical interpretation.  


Translated by S.D. Rathnayake