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Mindfulness and Concentration in Yoga Meditation

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    From: http://www.swamij.com/mindfulnessconcentration.htm MINDFULNESS AND CONCENTRATION IN YOGA MEDITATION Swami Jnaneshvara ... Mindfulness OR Concentration
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2007

      Swami Jnaneshvara

      Mindfulness OR Concentration

      It is very common for teachers of meditation to describe one of two
      general types of meditation, and to recommend one as being superior
      to the other:

      CONCENTRATION: In this approach, one intentionally focuses the
      attention on only one object, such as breath, mantra, a chakra
      center, or an internally visualized image.

      MINDFULNESS: In this approach, one does not focus the mind on one
      object, but rather observes the whole range of passing thoughts,
      emotions, sensations, or images.

      Students of meditation often find themselves confused by having to
      decide which is best, having to practice only one or the other of
      mindfulness or concentration. To cause further confusion, mindfulness
      is often described as coming from one religion or tradition, while
      concentration from another religion or tradition.

      Mindfulness AND Concentration

      To the sages of the Himalayas, both methods are used in Yoga
      meditation. In fact, they are not seen as different choices at all.
      Mindfulness and concentration are companions in the same one process
      that leads inward to the center of consciousness.

      If one stays only in the shallow, beginning levels of meditation,
      then choosing between one or the other can seem to make sense. But if
      you go deeper in meditation, you will find that both processes are

      If one practices only mindfulness, the mind is trained to always have
      this surface level activity present. Having this activity constantly
      present may be seen as normal, and the attention simply does not go
      beyond the mind-field. Attention can "back off" from experiencing
      deeper meditation and samadhi so as to remain in the fields of
      sensation and thoughts.

      If one practices only concentration or one-pointedness, the mind is
      trained to not experience this activity of thoughts, sensations,
      emotions, and images. The activity is seen as something to be
      avoided, and the attention may not even be open to the existence of
      these experiences. Attention can "back off" from the deeper aspects
      of the mind field, and thus prevent deeper meditation and samadhi.

      By practicing both mindfulness and concentration, one is able to
      experience the vast impressions, learning the vital skill of non-
      attachment, while also using concentration to focus the mind in such
      a way as to be able to transcend the whole of the mind field, where
      there is only stillness and silence, beyond all of the impressions.
      Finally, one can come to experience the center of consciousness, the
      Absolute reality.

      To the sages of the Himalayas, mindfulness can be emphasized at one
      time, concentration emphasized at another, and the two can work

      When exploring the mind, mindfulness may be emphasized, while
      remaining focused. Then, if a particular thought pattern or samskara
      is to be examined so as to weaken its power over the mind,
      concentration is the tool with which this examination is done. This
      allows an increase in vairagya, non-attachment.

      When settling the mind, trying to pierce the layers of our being,
      including senses, body, and breath, concentration carries the
      attention inward through the layers.

      When attention moves into that next deeper level of our being, then
      concentration and mindfulness once again work together to explore
      that layer, so as to once again move beyond, or deeper.

      Integrating the Stages of Practice

      In the Yoga meditation of the Himalayan tradition, one systematically
      works with senses, body, breath, the various levels of mind, and then
      goes beyond, to the center of consciousness. The qualities of
      mindfulness and concentration dance together in this journey.

      When dealing with the senses and body, there is emphasis on exploring
      and examining, being open to all of the thoughts, emotions, and
      sensations. One systematically moves attention through the parts and
      aspects of the body, fully experiencing the sensory impressions. This
      is quite similar to what is sometimes recommended by those who
      exclusively teach mindfulness meditation.

      When dealing with the breath, there comes a stage wherein one
      experiences the energy or prana level alone. This is beyond, or
      deeper than the mechanical or gross breath, and does not involve the
      thought process of passing images. It involves solely concentrating
      on that level of our being. There is definitely a mindfulness of the
      play of energy within that level, and it is done in a concentrated,
      non-attached way.

      When attention goes further inward, there is the mind field itself.
      In this stage of practice, the senses have been withdrawn, and there
      is no longer any sensory awareness of the body, nor of the physical.
      One is now fully in the level of mind itself. Here is still another
      form of mindfulness, exclusive of bodily sensation, and once again,
      concentration is its companion.

      Finally, one comes near the end of the mind and all of its associated
      thoughts, emotions, sensations, and impressions. Concentration is
      essential at this stage. As Patanjali notes in the Yoga Sutras
      (4.31), there is then little to know as the experiences have been
      resolved into their causes.

      Three Skills go Together

      By working with both mindfulness and concentration, it is easy to see
      three skills in which the mind is trained, and how these go together:

      FOCUS: The mind is trained to be able to pay attention, so as to not
      be drawn here and there, whether due to the spontaneous rising of
      impressions in meditation, or due to external stimuli.

      EXPANSION: The ability to focus is accompanied by a willingness to
      expand the conscious field through that which is normally
      unconscious, including the center of consciousness.

      NON-ATTACHMENT: The ability to remain undisturbed, unaffected and
      uninvolved with the thoughts and impressions of the mind is the key
      ingredient that must go along with focus and expansion.

      Yoga Meditation is Already a Whole Science

      While speaking here of integrating the practices of mindfulness and
      concentration, it is useful to note that, in a sense, integrating is
      not quite the right word.

      The science of Yoga meditation as taught by the Himalayan sages is
      already a whole, complete science that has been torn into smaller
      pieces over time. Individual parts have been cut out from the whole,
      given separate names, and then taught as unique systems of meditation.

      Using mindfulness and concentration is not really a process of gluing
      together two systems. Because of various teaching lineages pulling
      them apart and creating the appearance of separateness, it can now
      seem that we are integrating two systems. It is only an appearance.
      Mindfulness and concentration have both been part of the same, one
      process of meditation for a very long time.

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