Specific Concentration Vs Open Awareness

Namaste all

After the Tapasya, Suh Chien asked me some relevant doubts, which I think might be something concerning all students. The question is:

‘Would you advise me on how to progress; whether to continue with concentration practice on perception (touch, breath) or to look deeper in knowing the nature of the mind? Should I get bother about the quantity (amount of time) or the quality (seeing the purpose) for silent practice??

I doubt if there should be a purpose when it comes to meditation but I wonder if those who have been meditating do get insights from their meditation or in other words reverse those unwholesome thoughts after a practice’?

Both concentration capacity as well as an open non -reactive capacity has to be developed for steady growth of strength and wisdom of the student. In the beginning, it is important to develop concentration practice. That develops the mind muscle so as to say, to withstand against the restlessness of the mind; similar to holding your body still in an asana, as against falling for the fidgety tendencies of the body while being in an asana.

Now, a student commented while asking me doubts about the distracting powers of the mind, that I might not be able to answer clearly about the tricks of the mind, as I am always above it, and hence ignorant of the tricks. This kind of idealization is not the right view. Though respect for teacher is good, seeing the teacher asan embodiment of all ideal qualities is not required. Every entity has a mind, and mind has typical common qualities shared by all. So I will answer this question through my own experiences.

Initially I was into lot of concentration practice. Sushumna, ida, pingala, third eye, breath, foot, hand, and so on. Regular concentrative meditation on these kinds of objects has given different kinds of interesting experiences. Many of them, quite pleasurable, as mind gets dislodged off its usual preoccupations, it loses a sense of self, and then a distinctive peaceful joy dawns.

But then, concentration strength is something which can just sweep aside distractions, without really looking at them. And since I was not looking into the forces lurking behind the ability of concentration, I was not fully knowledgeable of the mind and its ways fully. Few years back I had a slight fall in concentration practice, and then the mind just started thinking on its own, and I fell right into it, becoming the thinker, the one who feels, reacts, worries, in short got a bit entangled in loops of thoughts.

It was an interesting experience for me to acknowledge the forces of the mind. Experientially realized what Patanjali says that cause of duhkha is samyoga, or getting identified with the thoughts and feelings which come up. And the only way to get freedom is to cut the tentacles of the mind which is clutching on to certain trains of thoughts. Which Patanjali says is all about practicing viveka (discerning seeing) continuously (aviplava).

So I started looking into the mind, just being aware. Since concentration practice was a bit difficult, practice became mainly looking at the dance of thoughts. And then, slowly slowly, different kinds of insights started to develop; which I then started to share from Lake Kenyir retreat onwards. This kind of open watching of thoughts, rather than controlling them or pushing them away, started to give a diff direction of experiences; especially once I stopped labeling myself as restless and simply related to the mind as that which is being restless and I am merely the watcher of it. Then the constantly rising thoughts, its power in evoking feelings, the fading of thoughts, start to giveexperiential ideas of impermanence of things, as well as the inherent non- satisfactoriness. You also see the nature of thoughts you indulge in, and have indulged in. Then you realize that mind is a neutral malleable substance. It is not that mind is a force which will make you do things. But rather, mind has got different powers, such as what we were talking about in Tapasya, capacity to align with jiva nature (i just named it jiva capacity), or capacity to align with atma nature (atma capacity). And your idle thoughts, however brief it had been, leaves its impressions, which then later becomes a force. So, if you were thinking in lines which limits, desires, worries etc, then you align with jiva capacity, which is all about getting limited, worried, anxious, discontented, confused etc. Same way, if you develop the capacity to just observe the jiva nature without getting caught up in it, slowly you will start to experience the atma capacity, which is a capacity to realize the inherent freedom, inherent clarity, equanimity etc.

So do practice both methods. The concentration practice to develop sitting endurance, that strong will. And once that power has been established, then incorporating the open awareness practice; letting go of specific objects; or, you can loosely hold on to a focus object, but really looking at the forces which are tending to take you away from it. Don’t label them as good thoughts, bad thoughts etc. Just thoughts, and just see them. Though Patanjali says to practice discerning seeing, this discerning wisdom cannot come from mind, which is what will happen if we start to label one as correct and other as wrong etc. From just seeing, after a while, discerning wisdom will start to spontaneously develop as that is an inherent natural capacity.

Remember, clayness permeates every bit of pot, as that is the satya of pot; though the pot only relates to the potness of it, which is merely a superimposition created in its ignorance. Once you look at the pot silently, the clayness of it will become evident. Similarly, once you look at the mind for a while, the mithya of mind-ness will reveal the satya of atma, which reveals as not a thing, but as wisdom, as the presence.

If you have time for 20 minutes daily sitting, then first 15 minutes you can do different techniques, such as deep breathing, breath observance etc, and then last 5 minutes open awareness where you move to and fro between getting caught up in reactions, and then recognizing and getting back to watching. Once the capacity to observe develop, eventually, 10 minutes concentration, and 10 minutes open awareness. And once open awareness is stable, putting it as a continuous practice, through out the day’s activities.