2020-04-06: Samādhi (1 of 5) Concentration as Centering and Letting Go Into
11:24PM Jun 19, 2020
Good morning again. This is the morning of the fourth week, where each week I'm talking about one of the five faculties. And the first three were faith, effort and mindfulness. And this week it's about samādhi, concentration. Samādhi is often translated into English as concentration. It's a fine translation. But I think the word concentration limits the full meaning of what samādhi means in the practice we do.
Samādhi has two basic meanings. One is as a faculty, which is as a particular capacity function of the mind, that becomes stronger and is utilized for the purposes of practice or really for anything. And the other meaning of samādhi is when that faculty is fully engaged and strongly present, then we have samādhi is a state. I think of it as a state of being, some people might call it a state of mind. It's an overall state in which we're abiding or feeling -- or it's it's existing through us, in us, is what our beingness is: a state of wholeness, integration, deep stability, and steadiness -- a kind of radiance of presence that's quite wonderful.
To be centered in the state of samādhi is to find almost like a sacred temple in which we live or exist. To engage the faculty of samādhi, in the simplest language, is to be focused on what we're doing. So to really use our ability to focus and exactly how we focus, there's many different choices of focus and what it might mean. So we have to be a little bit careful not to assume that if I use the word focus that I mean exactly what you would.
For now, I'd like to play a little bit with the English word concentration. To think of samādhi as a faculty is the ability to become for the attention to center itself on something. So rather than focusing on something, it centers itself on something. And the difference is that for some people focusing is constricting, or straining to really look or be present. We're centering ourselves, at least in my use of the word I imply, the idea that we're resting in something, or we're abiding in something, or we're standing in the middle of something. And we're centered in it.
This whole whole body sense of standing in the middle of some experience -- in middle of something -- but we don't necessarily have to strain at it, or necessarily with the mind's eye look at it, but rather, we abide in it. We're really present for it in a full way.
So this idea of focus or being centered, has a lot to do with being wholeheartedly engaged in what we're doing at the moment. And if what we're doing is using attention, using mindfulness to see what's happening samādhi brings to mindfulness, a sense of wholeheartedness. Like just this. Just let's be centered on this right now. So if we're if we're doing mindfulness of breathing, then as a partner to mindfulness, concentration is taking mindfulness and really wholeheartedly centering ourselves in the experience. A big part of what goes along with centering ourselves in experience is letting go.
That was one of the first lessons I received when I studied Buddhism in Thailand. For the first days I was there, I was staying at a monastery and I met a monk, who was talking about concentration. And he said concentration is what you like, like into deep states of concentration is what is attained by just letting go. Just letting go, letting go. He wanted to differentiate that from mindfulness as a clear knowing of what the experience is. But for him, anytime you let go thoroughly, you end up in a state of concentration. And that's because if we really letting go of distractions, let go of how we get fragmented, of how we the mind goes off in all kinds of directions -- as we let go, there is a kind of letting go into this moment, just here with this. And as we let go into the moment, letting go more and more here, we're centering ourselves more and more.
Centering ourselves at the bottom of a bowl, and as the balls, the marbles, get quieter and quieter, they center at the middle. That's the center of the bowl. So letting go is not the same thing as samādhi. But letting go is one of the means of becoming concentrated in a way that's relaxed -- in a way that we're not straining to get concentrated. It's more like we're allowing the mind's capacity to be focused, to arise or to manifest because we're getting rid of all the distractions, all the things that interfere with it.
So there are these two aspects of samādhi practice, of this faculty that supports it. One is the idea of focusing or being centered on the experience. And the other is to let go of the things that interfere with that. If we don't let go, then there's a tendency for people cultivating samādhi to want to override the distracting forces by straining more, being stronger, and working harder, focusing concentrating harder.
Certainly concentration factors, the faculty can become stronger over time. And so the strength of it makes distractions less and less attractive, or less and less of an issue. But until the mind is strong, to try to use our strength to get focused and concentrated, can often be counterproductive. It can create a lot of strain and tension. A variety of things can go a little bit wrong for people if they're trying too hard. So this idea of relaxing, relaxing and letting go into the breathing, into what we're focusing on.
So whatever we're centering ourselves on, sometimes just means the present moment. We're centering ourselves in the present moment. We're also letting go of what takes us away. We're relaxing, and relaxing into this moment. Not just relaxing tension, but relaxing into, settling into. And one of the principles of samādhi to keep in mind is that a mind that is concentrated is a soft mind. So, the idea is moving towards softer and softer, or more pliable, or malleable.
Another thing is when the mind is concentrated, it's bright. There is a lot of clarity and calm in that mind. And so the very means by which we try to get concentrated, hopefully would have some of those qualities in it. We'd have softness, malleability, calm, and brightness or clarity as part of it. This is a lot of ideas to incorporate all together. But I hope that it gives you a little bit of sense or idea of what is meant by samādhi and concentration -- and that the beginning process of using this faculty and engaging in it, and becoming concentrated is this capacity to be centered on experience.
There is an initiating step in concentration, to center oneself on something, or to focus if you prefer that kind of language. And then to let go of what gets in the way of it. The mind goes off, and we center ourselves again here. Centering is a little bit different than mindfulness in that mindfulness is to know and stay present in a knowing way. Concentration is to come back and not necessarily know the experience, but to rest and the experience. To be centered in the experience that we have. And we do that over and over again: come back. And hopefully every time we come back to being centered, we've figured out how to do that.
The whole process of coming back, letting go, relaxing, centering, being focused -- that whole process. As we initiate the process of getting concentrated, it's important to experiment with how can you do that whole process so you enjoy it? How can you be very forgiving, very allowing? One of the ways to do that is to have a very low expectation that you're getting going to get concentrated. Don't try to be fast, or hold on, or cling. Give yourself lots of time. Be very relaxed.
I think of the state of concentration, when it occurs for me, as a gift. I'm not measuring myself, or trying to attain it in a tight way, or an engineering way to make it happen. I do my practice. I get centered. I stay present. And I let go into the experience more and more. And with time, there's a state of being settled and concentrated that occurs. And that feels like a gift, a wonderful gift.
I hope that is a nice initial discussion about this faculty of samādhi. And then we'll continue with this over the next four days. May you find many ways today to find yourself centered in your experience, in yourself, and may you enjoy that centering in yourself.
Thank you so much, and I look forward to tomorrow. Bye bye.