Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – Mindfulness vs Concentration

Extracts from Chapter 14

Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them is definite and delicate. … 

Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once developed, it retains some of that forced flavor. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. These two are partners in the job of meditation. … 

We might use the analogy of a lens. Parallel waves of sunlight falling on a piece of paper will do no more than warm the surface. But the same amount of light, when focused through a lens, falls on a single point and the paper bursts into flames. Concentration is the lens. It produces the burning intensity necessary to see into the deeper reaches of the mind. Mindfulness selects the object that the lens will focus on and looks through the lens to see what is there. … 

Concentration can be used to dig down into deep psychological states. But even then, the forces of egotism won’t be understood. Only mindfulness can do that. If mindfulness is not there to look into the lens and see what has been uncovered, then it is all for nothing. Only mindfulness understands. Only mindfulness brings wisdom. … 

The development of concentration will be blocked by the presence of certain mental states which we call the five hindrances. They are greed for sensual pleasure, hatred, mental lethargy, restlessness, and mental vacillation. … 

Mindfulness is not dependent on particular circumstance, physical or otherwise. It is a pure noticing factor. Thus it is free to notice whatever comes up–lust, hatred, or noise. Mindfulness is not limited by any condition. … 

Mindfulness has no fixed object of focus. It observes change. Thus it has an unlimited number of objects of attention. It just looks at whatever is passing through the mind and it does not categorize. … 

You can’t develop mindfulness by force. Active teeth gritting willpower won’t do you any good at all. As a matter of fact, it will hinder progress. Mindfulness cannot be cultivated by struggle. It grows by realizing, by letting go, by just settling down in the moment and letting yourself get comfortable with whatever you are experiencing. … 

Mindfulness is cultivated by a gentle effort, by effortless effort. The meditator cultivates mindfulness by constantly reminding himself in a gentle way to maintain his awareness of whatever is happening right now. Persistence and a light touch are the secrets. … 

There is no ‘me’ in a state of pure mindfulness. So there is no self to be selfish. On the contrary, it is mindfulness which gives you the real perspective on yourself. It allows you to take that crucial mental step backward from your own desires and aversions so that you can then look. … 

You pierce right through the layer of lies that you normally tell yourself and you see what is really there. Mindfulness leads to wisdom. … 

Mindfulness is a broader and larger function than concentration. It is an all-encompassing function. Concentration is exclusive. It settles down on one item and ignores everything else. Mindfulness is inclusive. … 

Mindfulness is more difficult to cultivate than concentration because it is a deeper-reaching function. Concentration is merely focusing of the mind, rather like a laser beam. It has the power to burn its way deep into the mind and illuminate what is there. But it does not understand what it sees. … 

We are ignorant. We are selfish and greedy and boastful. We lust and we lie. These are facts. Mindfulness means seeing these facts and being patient with ourselves, accepting ourselves as we are. That goes against the grain. We don’t want to accept. We want to deny it. Or change it, or justify it. … 

Too much awareness without calm to balance it will result in a wildly over sensitized state similar to abusing LSD. Too much concentration without a balancing ratio of awareness will result in the ‘Stone Buddha’ syndrome. The meditator gets so tranquilized that he sits there like a rock. Both of these are to be avoided. … 

Mindfulness provides the needed foundation for the subsequent development of deeper concentration. … 

The two factors tend to balance and support each other’s growth quite naturally. Just about the only rule you need to follow at this point is to put your effort on concentration at the beginning, until the monkey mind phenomenon has cooled down a bit. After that, emphasize mindfulness. … 

This is not a race. You are not in competition with anybody, and there is no schedule. …

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