Right Concentration

Five Mental Factors

Initial application of mind does the work of directing the mind to the object. It takes the mind, lifts it up, and drives it into the object the way one drives a nail through a block of wood. This done, sustained application of mind anchors the mind on the object, keeping it there through its function of examination. To clarify the difference between these two factors, initial application is compared to the striking of a bell, sustained application to the bell’s reverberations. Rapture, the third factor, is the delight and joy that accompany a favorable interest in the object, while happiness, the fourth factor, is the pleasant feeling that accompanies successful concentration. Since rapture and happiness share similar qualities they tend to be confused with each other, but the two are not identical. The difference between them is illustrated by comparing rapture to the joy of a weary desert-farer who sees an oasis in the distance, happiness to his pleasure when drinking from the pond and resting in the shade. The fifth and final factor of absorption is one-pointedness, which has the pivotal function of unifying the mind on the object.

When concentration is developed, these five factors spring up and counteract the five hindrances. Each absorption factor opposes a particular hindrance. Initial application of mind, through its work of lifting the mind up to the object, counters dullness and drowsiness. Sustained application, by anchoring the mind on the object, drives away doubt. Rapture shuts out ill will, happiness excludes restlessness and worry, and one-pointedness counters sensual desire, the most alluring inducement to distraction. Thus, with the strengthening of the absorption factors, the hindrances fade out and subside. They are not yet eradicated — eradication can only be effected by wisdom, the third division of the path — but they have been reduced to a state of quiescence where they cannot disrupt the forward movement of concentration.

At the same time that the hindrances are being overpowered by the jhana factors inwardly, on the side of the object too certain changes are taking place. The original object of concentration, the preliminary sign, is a gross physical object; in the case of a kasina, it is a disk representing the chosen element or color, in the case of mindfulness of breathing the touch sensation of the breath, etc. But with the strengthening of concentration the original object gives rise to another object called the “learning sign” (uggaha-nimitta). For a kasina this will be a mental image of the disk seen as clearly in the mind as the original object was with the eyes; for the breath it will be a reflex image arisen from the touch sensation of the air currents moving around the nostrils.

When the learning sign appears, the meditator leaves off the preliminary sign and fixes his attention on the new object. In due time still another object will emerge out of the learning sign. This object, called the “counterpart sign” (patibhaga-nimitta), is a purified mental image many times brighter and clearer than the learning sign. The learning sign is compared to the moon seen behind a cloud, the counterpart sign to the moon freed from the cloud. Simultaneously with the appearance of the counterpart sign, the five absorption factors suppress the five hindrances, and the mind enters the stage of concentration called upacara-samadhi, “access concentration.” Here, in access concentration, the mind is drawing close to absorption. It has entered the “neighbourhood” (a possible meaning of upacara) of absorption, but more work is still needed for it to become fully immersed in the object, the defining mark of absorption.