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The Basics of Concentration

April 18, 2020

 

Concentration is described under the heading of “consciousness” in the phrase “develops consciousness and understanding”. It should be developed by one who has taken his stand on virtue that has been purified by means of the special qualities of fewness of wishes, etc., and perfected by observance of the ascetic practices. But that concentration has been shown only very briefly and so it is not even easy to understand, much less to develop. There is therefore the following set of questions, the purpose of which is to show the method of its development in detail:

 

  • What is concentration?
  • In what sense is it concentration?
  • What are its characteristic, function, manifestation, and proximate cause?
  • How many kinds of concentration are there?
  • What is its defilement?
  • What is its cleansing?
  • How should it be developed?
  • What are the benefits of the development of concentration?

 

  • Here are the answers:

 

(i) WHAT IS CONCENTRATION? Concentration is of many sorts and has various aspects. An answer that attempted to cover it all would accomplish neither its intention nor its purpose and would, besides, lead to distraction; so we shall confine ourselves to the kind intended here, calling concentration profitable unification of mind.

 

(ii) IN WHAT SENSE IS IT CONCENTRATION? It is concentration (samádhi) in the sense of concentrating (samádhána). What is this concentrating? It is the centring (ádhána) of consciousness and consciousness-concomitants evenly (samaí) and rightly (sammá) on a single object; placing, is what is meant. So it is the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered, that should be understood as concentrating.

 

(iii) WHAT ARE ITS CHARACTERISTIC, FUNCTION, MANIFESTATION, AND PROXIMATE CAUSE?

Concentration has non-distraction as its characteristic. Its function is to eliminate distraction. It is manifested as non-wavering. Because of the words, “Being blissful, his mind becomes concentrated”, its proximate cause is bliss.

 

(iv) HOW MANY KINDS OF CONCENTRATION ARE THERE?

  • (1) First of all it is of one kind with the characteristic of non-distraction.
  • (2) Then it is of two kinds as access and absorption.
  • (3) Likewise as mundane and supramundane,
  • (4) As with happiness and without happiness, and as accompanied by bliss and accompanied by equanimity.
  • (5) It is of three kinds: as inferior, medium and superior.
  • (6) Likewise as with applied thought and sustained thought.
  • (7) As limited, exalted, and measureless.
  • (8) As of difficult progress and sluggish direct-knowledge.
  • (9) As limited with limited object.
  • (10) According to the factors of the four jhánas.
  • (11) As partaking of diminution.
  • (12) As of the sense sphere.
  • (13) As predominance.
  • (14) It is of five kinds according to the factors of the five jhánas reckoned by the fivefold method.
  •  Herein, the section dealing with that of one kind is evident in meaning.

 

In the section dealing with that of two kinds, access concentration is the unification of mind obtained by the following, that is to say, the six recollections; mindfulness of death, the recollection of peace, the perception of repulsiveness in nutriment, and the defining of the four elements, and it is the unification that precedes absorption concentration. Absorption concentration is the unification that follows immediately upon the preliminary-work because of the words, “The first-jhána preliminary-work is a condition, as proximity condition, for the first jhána”. So it is of two kinds as access and absorption.

In the second dyad mundane concentration is profitable unification of mind in the three planes. Supramundane concentration is the unification associated with the noble paths. So it is of two kinds as mundane and supramundane.

In the third dyad concentration with happiness is the unification of mind in two jhánas in the fourfold reckoning and in three jhánas in the fivefold reckoning.

Concentration without happiness is the unification in the remaining two jhánas. But access concentration may be with happiness or without happiness. So it is of two kinds as with happiness and without happiness.

 

In the fourth dyad concentration accompanied by bliss is the unification in three jhánas in the fourfold and four in the fivefold reckoning. That accompanied by equanimity is that in the remaining jhána. Access concentration may be accompanied by bliss or accompanied by equanimity. So it is of two kinds as accompanied by bliss and accompanied by equanimity.

 

In the first of the triads what has only just been acquired is inferior. What is not very well developed is medium. What is well developed and has reached mastery is superior. So it is of three kinds: inferior, medium, and superior.

 

In the second triad that with applied thought and sustained thought is the concentration of the first jhána together with access concentration. That without applied thought, with sustained thought only, is the concentration of the second jhána in the fivefold reckoning. For when a man sees danger only in applied thought and not in sustained thought, he aspires only to abandon applied thought when he passes beyond the first jhána, and so he obtains concentration without applied thought and with sustained thought only. This is said with reference to him.

 

Concentration without applied thought and sustained thought is the unification in the three jhánas beginning with the second in the fourfold reckoning and with the third in the fivefold reckoning. So it is of three kinds as with applied thought and sustained thought, and so on.

 

In the third triad concentration accompanied by happiness is the unification in the two first jhánas in the fourfold reckoning and in the three first jhánas in the fivefold reckoning. Concentration accompanied by bliss is the unification in those same jhánas and in the third and the fourth respectively in the two reckonings.

 

That accompanied by equanimity is that in the remaining jhána. Access concentration may be accompanied by bliss and happiness or accompanied by equanimity. So it is of three kinds as accompanied by happiness, and so on.

 

In the fourth triad limited concentration is unification on the plane of access. Exalted concentration is unification in profitable [consciousness, etc.,] of the fine material sphere and immaterial sphere. Measureless concentration is unification associated with the noble paths. So it is of three kinds: limited, exalted, and measureless.

 

In the first of the tetrads there is concentration of difficult progress and sluggish direct-knowledge. There is that of difficult progress and swift direct knowledge. There is that of easy progress and sluggish direct-knowledge. And there is that of easy progress and swift direct-knowledge.

 

Herein, the development of concentration that occurs from the time of the first conscious reaction up to the arising of the access of a given jhána is called progress. And the understanding that occurs from the time of access until absorption is called direct-knowledge. That progress is difficult for some, being troublesome owing to the tenacious resistance of the inimical states beginning with the hindrances. The meaning is that it is cultivated without ease. It is easy for others because of the absence of those difficulties. Also the direct-knowledge is sluggish in some and occurs slowly, not quickly. In others it is swift and occurs rapidly, not slowly.

 

Herein, we shall comment below upon the suitable and unsuitable, the preparatory tasks consisting in the severing of impediments, etc., and skill in absorption. When a man cultivates what is unsuitable, his progress is difficult and his direct-knowledge sluggish. When he cultivates what is suitable, his progress is easy and his direct-knowledge swift. But if he cultivates the unsuitable in the earlier stage and the suitable in the later stage, or if he cultivates the suitable in the earlier stage and the unsuitable in the later stage, then it should be understood as mixed in his case. Likewise if he devotes himself to development without carrying out the preparatory tasks of severing impediments, etc., his progress is difficult. It is easy in the opposite case. And if he is not accomplished in skill in absorption, his direct knowledge is sluggish. It is swift if he is so accomplished.

 

Besides, they should be understood as classed according to craving and ignorance, and according to whether one has had practice in serenity and insight. For if a man is overwhelmed by craving, his progress is difficult. If not, it is easy. And if he is overwhelmed by ignorance, his direct-knowledge is sluggish. If not, it is swift. And if he has had no practice in serenity, his progress is difficult. If he has, it is easy. And if he has had no practice in insight, his direct-knowledge is sluggish. If he has, it is swift.

 

Also they should be understood as classed according to defilements and faculties. For if a man’s defilements are sharp and his faculties dull, then his progress is difficult and his direct-knowledge sluggish; but if his faculties are keen, his direct-knowledge is swift. And if his defilements are blunt and his faculties dull, then his progress is easy and his direct-knowledge sluggish; but if his faculties are keen, his direct-knowledge is swift.

 

So as regards this progress and this direct-knowledge, when a person reaches concentration with difficult progress and sluggish direct-knowledge, his concentration is called concentration of difficult progress and sluggish direct-knowledge; similarly in the cases of the remaining three. So it is of four kinds as of difficult progress and sluggish direct-knowledge, and so on.

 

In the second tetrad there is limited concentration with a limited object, there is limited concentration with a measureless object, there is measureless concentration with a limited object, and there is measureless concentration with a measureless object. Herein, concentration that is unfamiliar and incapable of being a condition for a higher jhána is limited. When it occurs with an unextended object, it is with a limited object. When it is familiar, well developed, and capable of being a condition for a higher jhána, it is measureless. And when it occurs with an extended object, it is with a measureless object. The mixed method can be understood as the mixture of the characteristics already stated. So it is of four kinds as limited with limited object, and so on.

 

In the third tetrad the first jhána has five factors, that is to say, applied thought, sustained thought, happiness, bliss, and concentration, following suppression of the hindrances. The second has the three factors remaining after the elimination of applied and sustained thought. The third has two factors with the fading away of happiness. The fourth, where bliss is abandoned, has two factors with concentration and the equanimous feeling that accompanies it. Thus there are four kinds of concentration according to the factors of these four jhánas. So it is of four kinds according to the factors of the four jhánas.

 

In the fourth tetrad there is concentration partaking of diminution, there is concentration partaking of stagnation, there is concentration partaking of distinction, and there is concentration partaking of penetration. Herein, it should be understood that the state of partaking of diminution is accessibility to opposition, the state of partaking of stagnation (þhiti) is stationariness (saóþhána) of the mindfulness that is in conformity with that [concentration], the state of partaking of distinction is the attaining of higher distinction, and the state of partaking of penetration is accessibility to perception and attention accompanied by dispassion, according as it is said: “When a man has attained the first jhána and he is accessible to perception and attention accompanied by sense desire, then his understanding partakes of diminution. When his mindfulness that is in conformity with that stagnates, then his understanding partakes of stagnation. When he is accessible to perception and attention unaccompanied by applied thought, then his understanding partakes of distinction. When he is accessible to perception and attention accompanied by dispassion and directed to fading away, then his understanding partakes of penetration”. The kinds of concentration associated with that [fourfold] understanding are also four in number. So it is of four kinds as partaking of diminution, and so on.

 

In the fifth tetrad there are the following four kinds of concentration, that is to say, sense-sphere concentration, fine-material-sphere concentration, immaterial sphere concentration, and unincluded [that is, path] concentration. Herein, sense sphere concentration is all kinds of access unification. Likewise the other three are respectively profitable unification of mind associated with fine-material, [immaterial, and path, jhána]. So it is of four kinds as of the sense-sphere, and so on.

 

In the sixth tetrad: “If a bhikkhu obtains concentration, obtains unification of mind, by making zeal (desire) predominant, this is called concentration due to zeal. If … by making energy predominant … If … by making [natural purity of] consciousness predominant… If … by making inquiry predominant, this is called concentration due to inquiry”. So it is of four kinds as predominance.

 

In the pentad there are five jhánas by dividing in two what is called the second jhána in the fourfold reckoning, taking the second jhána to be due to the surmounting of only applied thought and the third jhána to be due to the surmounting of both applied and sustained thought. There are five kinds of concentration according to the factors of these five jhánas. So its five-foldness should be understood according to the five sets of jhána factors.

 

What is its defilement? What is its cleansing? Here the answer is given in the Vibhaòga: “Defilement is the state partaking of diminution, cleansing is the state partaking of distinction”. Herein, the state partaking of diminution should be understood in this way: “When a man has attained the first jhána and he is accessible to perception and attention accompanied by sense desire, then his understanding partakes of diminution”. And the state partaking of distinction should be understood in this way: “When he is accessible to perception and attention unaccompanied by applied thought, then his understanding partakes of distinction”.

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