Right Concentration

Tranquillity Meditation

However, there is also Right Concentration in the area of meditation: in other words, both in the area of tranquillity meditation and in the area of insight meditation.

You use the techniques of tranquillity meditation to bring the mind to stillness. When you make the mind still, firm in skillful qualities, that’s one aspect of Right Concentration. If the mind isn’t firmly established in skillful qualities, it can’t grow still. If unskillful qualities arise in the mind, it can’t settle down and enter concentration. This is why, when the Buddha describes the mind entering concentration, he says, “Vivicceva kamehi”: Quite secluded from sensual preoccupations. The mind isn’t involved, doesn’t incline itself toward sights that will give rise to infatuation and desire. It doesn’t incline itself toward sounds that it likes, toward aromas, tastes, or tactile sensations for which it feels infatuation through the power of desire. At the same time, it doesn’t incline itself toward desire for those things. Before the mind can settle into concentration, it has to let go of these five types of preoccupations. This is called vivicceva kamehi, quite secluded from sensual preoccupations.

Vivicca akusalehi dhammehi: Quite secluded from the unskillful qualities called the Five Hindrances. For example, the first hindrance is sensual desire. When you sit in meditation and a defilement arises in the mind, when you think of something and feel desire for an internal or an external form, when you get infatuated with the things you’ve seen and known in the past, that’s called sensual desire.

Or, if you think of something that makes you dissatisfied to the point of feeling ill will for certain people or objects, that’s the hindrance of ill will. Things from the past that upset you suddenly arise again in the present, barge their way in to obstruct the stillness of your mind. When the mind gets upset in this way, that’s an unskillful mental state acting as an obstacle to concentration.

Or, sloth and torpor: a sense of laziness and inattentiveness when the mind isn’t intent on its work and so lets go out of laziness and carelessness. It gets drowsy so that it can’t be intent on its meditation. You sit here thinking buddho, buddho (the word represents the awareness and wisdom of the Buddha), but instead of focusing the mind to get it firmly established so that it can gain knowledge and understanding from its buddho, you throw buddho away to go play with something else. As awareness gets more refined, you get drowsy and fall asleep or else let delusion overcome the mind. This is an unskillful mental state called sloth and torpor.

Then there’s restlessness and anxiety, when mindfulness isn’t keeping control over things, and the mind follows its preoccupations as they shoot out to things you like and don’t like. The normal state of people’s minds is that, when mindfulness isn’t in charge, the mind can’t sit still. It’s bound to keep thinking about 108 different kinds of things. So when you’re practicing concentration you have to exercise restraint, you have to be careful that the mind doesn’t get scattered about. You have to be mindful of the present and alert to the present, too. When you try to keep buddho in mind, you have to be alert at the same time to watch over your buddho. Or, if you’re going to be mindful of the parts of the body — like hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin — you should focus on only one part at a time, making sure that you’re both mindful and alert to your mindfulness, to make sure you don’t go being mindful of other things. That’s how you can cut off restlessness and anxiety.