CHAPTER 15 Right Concentration
(from "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" by Thich Nhat Hanh)
1. The practice of Right Concentration is to cultivate a mind that is one-pointed. The Chinese character for concentration means, literally, "maintaining evenness," neither too high nor too low, neither too excited nor too dull. Another Chinese term sometimes used for concentration means "the abode of true mind."
2. There are two kinds of concentration, active and selective.
(1) Active concentration (effect of mindfulness?)
In active concentration, the mind dwells on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as it changes. When we practice active concentration, we welcome whatever comes along. We don't think about or long for anything else. We just dwell in the present moment with all our being. Whatever comes, comes. When the object of our concentration has passed, our mind remains clear, like a calm lake.
(2) Selective concentration (mindfulness + looking deeply?)
When we practice "selective concentration," we choose one object and hold onto it. During sitting and walking meditation, whether alone or with others, we practice. We know that the sky and the birds are there, but our attention is focused on our object. We abandon everything else and focus on the object.
3. We concentrate to make ourselves deeply present. When we walk, stand, or sit in concentration, people can see our stability and stillness. Living each moment deeply, sustained concentration comes naturally, and that, in turn, gives rise to insight.
4. Right Concentration leads to happiness, and it also leads to Right Action. The higher our degree of concentration, the greater the quality of our life.
5. There are nine levels of meditative concentration. The first four are the Four Dhyanas. These are concentrations on the form realm. The next five levels belong to the formless realm. When practicing the first dhyana, you still think. At the other eight levels, thinking gives way to other energies. Formless concentrations are also practiced in other traditions, but when they are practiced outside of Buddhism, it is generally to escape from suffering rather than to realize the liberation that comes with insight into our suffering. When you use concentration to run away from yourself or your situation, it is wrong concentration.
6. To practice samadhi is to live deeply each moment that is given us to live. Samadhi means concentration. In order to be concentrated, we should be mindful, fully present and aware of what is going on. Mindfulness brings about concentration. When you are deeply concentrated, you are absorbed in the moment. You become the moment. That is why samadhi is sometimes translated as "absorption." Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration lift us above the realms of sensual pleasures and craving, and we find ourselves lighter and happier. Our world is no longer gross and heavy, the realm of desires (karma dhatu). It is the realm of fine materiality, the realm of form (rupa dhatu).
7. In the form realm, there are four levels of dhyana. Mindfulness, concentration, joy, happiness, peace, and equanimity continue to grow through these four levels. After the fourth dhyana, the practitioner enters a deeper experience of concentration — the four formless dhyanas — where he or she can see deeply into reality. Here, sensual desire and materiality reveal their illusory nature and are no longer obstacles. You begin to see the impermanent, nonself, and interbeing nature of the phenomenal world. Earth, water, air, fire, space, time, nothingness, and perceptions inter-are. Nothing can be by itself alone.
8. In the world of non-perception, the seventh (manas) and the eighth (alaya) consciousnesses continue to function as usual, and our ignorance and internal formations remain intact in our store consciousness, and they manifest in the seventh consciousness. The seventh consciousness is the energy of delusion that creates the belief in a self and distinguishes self from other. Since the non-perception concentration does not transform our habit energies, when people emerge from that concentration, their suffering is intact. But when the meditator reaches the ninth level of concentration, the stage of arhat, manas is transformed and the internal formations in the store consciousness are purified. The greatest internal formation is ignorance of the reality of impermanence and nonself. This ignorance gives rise to greed, hatred, confusion, pride, doubt, and views. Together, these afflictions produce a war of consciousness called manas, which always discriminates self from other.
9. When someone practices well, the ninth level of concentration shines light on the reality of things and transforms ignorance. The seeds that used to cause you to be caught in self and nonself are transformed, alaya is freed from the grip of manas, and manas no longer has the function of making a self. Manas becomes the Wisdom of Equality that can see the interbeing and interpenetrating nature of things. It can see that others' lives are as precious as our own, because there is no longer discrimination between self and other. When manas loses its grip on store consciousness, store consciousness becomes the Wisdom of the Great Mirror that reflects everything in the universe.
10. When the sixth consciousness (manovijñana) is transformed, it is called the Wisdom of Wonderful Observation. Mind consciousness continues to observe phenomena after it has been transformed into wisdom, but it observes them in a different way, because mind consciousness is aware of the interbeing nature of all that it observes — seeing the one in the many, all the manifestations of birth and death, coming and going, and so on — without being caught in ignorance. The first five consciousnesses become the Wisdom of Wonderful Realization. Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body that previously caused us to suffer become miracles that bring us to the garden of suchness. Thus, the transformation of all levels of consciousness is realized as Four Wisdoms. Our wrong consciousness and wrong perceptions are transformed, thanks to the practice. At the ninth level of concentration, all eight consciousnesses are functioning. Perception and feeling are still there, but they are different from before, because they are free from ignorance.
11. According to the Lotus Sutra, we have to live in the historical and ultimate dimensions of reality at the same time.
(historical dimensions: body and mind in phenomenal world)
(ultimate dimensions: consciousness in noumenal world)
Thích Nhất Hạnh