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Thread: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

  1. #1

    Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Hi, All,

    "Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Some people do not know the difference between "mindfulness" and "concentration." They concentrate on what they're doing, thinking that is being mindful. . . . We can concentrate on what we are doing, but if we are not mindful at the same time, with the ability to reflect on the moment, then if somebody interferes with our concentration, we may blow up, get carried away by anger at being frustrated. If we are mindful, we are aware of the tendency to first concentrate and then to feel anger when something interferes with that concentration. With mindfulness we can concentrate when it is appropriate to do so and not concentrate when it is appropriate not to do so.


    -- Ajahn Sumedho, in Teachings of a Buddhist Monk"

    Food for thought?

    Many Blessings,
    Lora

  2. #2

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by lora
    We can concentrate on what we are doing, but if we are not mindful at the same time, with the ability to reflect on the moment, then if somebody interferes with our concentration, we may blow up, get carried away by anger at being frustrated.
    Hi Lora,

    Thank you for the quote -- I struggle with this daily. One thing I've noticed is that, for me, concentration starts to become pathological when an activity is not going well; i.e, am stuck on a problem, no flow, no breakthrough, mounting frustration. It's at that point that I'm most likely to feel angry about an interruption. And yet it's exactly at that point that an interruption is most sorely needed, as a way of returning to awareness. Ringing telephone as meditation bell? Well, maybe that would be a stretch (especially with telemarketers on the other end). Still...

    I'm new here, btw. Good to meet you!

    Rob

  3. #3

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Hi,

    We recently had a thread or two on "mindfulness". My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, rightly comments that the word "mindfulness" is bandied about a bit too much in the Western Buddhist world, and is overplayed. People have a very idealistic, unrealistic image of "mindfulness" in Zen practice.

    "Mindful" can have a couple of different meanings in "Zen-glish". Some folks think it means (1) just to be aware of what they are doing in that moment, doing one action at a time. Some folks even think that the point of our practice is to be "mindful" of our every single activity all through our waking day, perhaps trying to live by doing one task at a time (when you eat, just eat ... when you walk, just walk). It is "being in the moment", and aware of the moment, one moment at a time.

    Some folks think that it is (2) to develop an awareness of our motivations, psychological reactions and emotions in each situation.

    Both those are good skills for Buddhists, and I do not mean to say that we should not develop such abilities. But, on they other hand, they are only tools on our toolbelt, to be pulled out for use sometimes when appropriate. We are not to be that way 24/7, in each and every moment and situation.

    I recently wrote the following on the subject of "mindfulness" ... I had just come back from hiking in the mountains near here with our Sangha member Hans ...

    Hi,

    As I was walking down Mt. Tsukuba with Hans yesterday, on a really steep incline of small muddy stones, I had to be mindful of what I was doing right there ... all to avoid falling on my butt in the mud

    That's when I started thinking, "ah, yes, this is a time of mindfulness (type 1), there is balance of bodymind and I am present in this moment ... and I must tell the Treeleafers about it!" At which point, so filled with such wonderful thoughts was I, that I became distracted ... and slipped in the mud. (Fortunately, not enough so that butt hit stone). ops: ops:

    I think that there are times to be mindful in our practice in that way, and great lessons are to be learned there ... drinking a cup of tea as the only and perfect act in the whole universe of that moment, the same for "Oryoki" meals during a Sesshin, "just being" in the moment, when washing the floor "just washing the floor". I think it does have the simplicity that Will and Alberto describe, and I think it is much like the "Mindbodyfull-ness" that Harry coined ... Harry is a musician, solo-ing on stage and all that, so he knows something of the topic.

    But the one point I really really really wish to emphasize to folks is not to be too idealistic about what "mindfulness" is, or set it up as some unrealistic goal. I described it recently when I said this ...

    [Folks encounter lots of Zen teachings like the one mentioned by Master Seung Sahn, "when you eat, just eat. When you sleep just sleep..."] But I think that Master Seung Sahn's phrasing, like many Zen books and expressions, can sound rather idealistic if it implies that we must be "mindful" or in "Zen Mind" 24/7. My view is more balanced I think, namely, "when mindful of one thing, just be mindful of one thing ... when distracted, overwrought and multi-tasking, just be distracted, overwrought and multi-task". There is a time for everything, and we cannot be "mindful" each minute. All of it is life.

    However, one of the great fruits of our Zen Practice is that, even when we are distracted, overwrought and multi-tasking, feeling completely miserable and off balance ... and even when "Zen Mind" feels very far away ... we can still know it is 'there' even if we do not feel it at that moment [the blue sky always behind the clouds]. So I say, when feeling completely "miserable and off balance", just be "miserable and off balance" in that moment ... it too is a temporary state of mind.


    So, in other words, have a balanced and realistic view of life ... even a balanced view of sometimes or frequently being unbalanced, overworked, distracted and such.

    When falling on your butt in the mud because you were thinking about "mindfulness" ... JUST DO THAT! IT TOO IS A PERFECT ACT IN THAT MOMENT!!
    Let me mention, before we go, the other common meaning of "mindfulness" in Zen-glish that, I believe, is perfectly valid (type 2). That is to develop some recognition and awareness of the causes and conditions of our mental states, the arising and passing of the various thoughts and emotions that pop in and out of mind. For example, developing a sensitivity to feelings of anger as they begin to arise within us, and before they grab hold of us.

    I think that this is also a fundamental practice of Buddhism, right back to some of the first words out of the Buddha's mouth in Jetta Grove. It enables human beings to have some control over being prisoners of our thoughts and emotions, and we can more easily find balance and moderation, some self-control. So, it is a good awareness for a Buddhist. We come to see our experience of the world as largely a bit of theatre created by whatever emotions and ideas are floating through the brain at a given moment.

    However, this too (in our Zen view) is not to be taken to extremes. Mindfulness of this type is a useful skill, but only sometimes. Most of the time we can just think and feel without having to be particularly analytical about it, or focused on being aware of it. There is a time for everything.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Thanks Jundo
    I found that helpful - especially as I have the "back to work blues" today, all of which thoughts are just theatre in my head, as probably it won't be that bad tomorrow.
    Kind regards
    Jools (sigh)

  5. #5

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    We recently had a thread or two on "mindfulness". My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, rightly comments that the word "mindfulness" is bandied about a bit too much in the Western Buddhist world, and is overplayed. People have a very idealistic, unrealistic image of "mindfulness" in Zen practice.
    Jundo,

    Thanks. I came across Nishijima Roshi's comments earlier and was initially taken aback. But then I started to see what he was getting at. Bookstores now have entire sections devoted to "mindfulness". All that's needed now is a line of tea products.

    When I first became interested in Zen, I was under the impression that the goal was to banish discursive thought from my head. So there I was, driving around, playing with the kids, making dinner or whatever, and trying as hard as I could not to THINK. The only result was that by bedtime I was exhausted and grumpy.

    Let me mention, before we go, the other common meaning of "mindfulness" in Zen-glish that, I believe, is perfectly valid (type 2). That is to develop some recognition and awareness of the causes and conditions of our mental states, the arising and passing of the various thoughts and emotions that pop in and out of mind. For example, developing a sensitivity to feelings of anger as they begin to arise within us, and before they grab hold of us.

    I think that this is also a fundamental practice of Buddhism, right back to some of the first words out of the Buddha's mouth in Jetta Grove.
    It seems to me that part of this is the awareness of consequences (or "drawbacks" as the Buddha refers to it in the early texts). If I react in such and such a way to my friend, it may have such impact on our relations. If I'm not being attentive, I might drive too fast over a speed bump, or trip over a step, or send the wrong e-mail to the wrong person. The beauty of this is we don't have to moralize or idealize; as you say, all these things are part of life and we have to be realistic. But recognition might help us live more skilfully.

    Gassho,
    Rob

  6. #6

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Genjo Koan

    To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

    Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realization, who are in delusion throughout delusion.

    When buddhas are truly buddhas they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas.

    When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illumined the other side is dark.



    To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.
    In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.
    Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is grasped by your consciousness. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge.



    W

  7. #7

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    Everything we do is an expression of the ultimate Dharma: reality.

    We can act with due reverence to the fact that everything we do is an expression of the ultimate dharma.

    In other words; everything we do is the realisation of the entire universe throughout time; the actualization of everything/ everyone who has gone before or who will come.
    Yes, yet does that mean that we can rape, pillage and plunder thinking "this is just an expression of ultimate Dharma, reality"? I know you don't mean that.

    Thus we have the Precepts, which guide us gently into directions that ... as best as we can judge in the moment ... avoid harm to ourself and others (not two, by the way) ... and guide us into actions healthful and helpful to ourself and others.

    The Precepts are not laws, not commandments from Heaven. There are few "black & whites", and many grays (although some actions ... child abuse or acting out of pure racial hate, for example, are certainly black and never justified). But for the rest, we are guided to stay within the framework, within the fence and borders ... and choose as best we can. Actions within the hazy borders are often case by case, many ambiguities ... rarely will a single action have but good or bad effects, be simply "black" or "white".

    So, all is the universe. But it is a universe which ... through our words, thoughts and deeds ... we make largely into what it will be and how it will be experienced, by ourself and others (not two).

    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Deleted

    Gassho

  9. #9

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    The Precepts are not laws, not commandments from Heaven. There are few "black & whites", and many grays (although some actions ... child abuse or acting out of pure racial hate, for example, are certainly black and never justified). But for the rest, we are guided to stay within the framework, within the fence and borders ... and choose as best we can. Actions within the hazy borders are often case by case, many ambiguities ... rarely will a single action have but good or bad effects, be simply "black" or "white".
    Even if one wanted to view the precepts as "laws", wouldn't it be impossible to honour them fully? We can't avoid killing some forms of life, simply by our physical presence on earth -- who knows what havoc is unleashed just by walking out in the yard. To use another example, earlier this summer we had an ant problem in our kitchen. A large colony had burgeoned outside and was using us as its food source. Preferring non-violent means, we put vinegar on the floors and stashed away everything away in the fridge or in sealed bags. Then (coincidentally) we went away for three weeks. When we came back, no ants -- we had deprived them of food, and they starved. Didn't we kill them? Sure. Am I glad they're gone? You betcha.

    Issa once wrote:

    "All the time I'm praying to Buddha,
    I keep on
    killing mosquitoes"

    Gassho,
    Rob

  10. #10

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by robert
    Even if one wanted to view the precepts as "laws", wouldn't it be impossible to honour them fully?
    Yes, there are few black & whites, and one volitional act may have any number of foreseeable effects ... a mixed bag of harm and benefit. Sometimes, we can only put our finger in the wind and hope for the best.

    We will talk about this more during our "Precepts Study" class for the Jukai, starting in the next week. But we also faced this when Treeleaf Japan ... a completely wooded building ... was infested with termites ...

    A Google search on the subject turned up the fact that (as I suspected), infested wooden Buddhist temples will take countermeasures ... though sometimes followed by a memorial service or the like for the little lives taken (and although some claim not too, and that good chanting is enough to chase the bugs away ... I tried that, no luck.) ... A typical reaction was this:

    In the area of prohibitions against killing, one laywoman asked, "What should we do if there are mice and termites at home?" Dharma Master Heng Lyu answered, "You first post a notice asking them to leave. Next, you use insect repellants to chase them out. Avoid insecticides because you want to avoid the karma of killing."

    One layman asked, "How do you avoid harming living beings while mowing the lawn?"

    Dharma Master Heng Lyu said, "You would first post a notice to let the small creatures know that it's best to move, then mow the lawn. While you're mowing the lawn, recite the Great Compassion Mantra at the same time."

    Excerpted from the article, "The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Holds First Transmission of the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts in the New Millenium", on page 49 of the October 2000 issue (volume 31, series 73) of the Vajra Bodhi Sea.
    And, of course, this is the famous "Dalai Lama and the Mosquito" video ...



    But perhaps we can hold off detailed discussion of these issues until we start our Precepts study discussion group in a few days ... otherwise, we might have nothing to talk about!

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    Robert,

    I agree that we cannot keep the precepts perfectly; all the Masters realised this.

    I see following them realistically as more of an 'aligning myself in the less harmful/more helpful general direction' than any absolute sort of 'right'.

    This makes for some tough decisions; like your ants. Its good though that we don't take these things lightly, but we've just gotta do what we've gotta do sometimes.

    Regards,

    Harry.
    Harry,

    Maybe it also depends on the person -- some might find it helpful to observe a code of conduct in a very rigorous way, with absolute prohibitions, etc. It could help give them a needed sense of order in their life, or a clear benchmark.

    For me, this approach tends to be more of a hindrance, because -- as you say -- it's not really possible to be perfect. And we could end up causing more damage by attempting to be.

    Gassho,
    Rob

  12. #12

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    ]You would first post a notice to let the small creatures know that it's best to move, then mow the lawn. While you're mowing the lawn, recite the Great Compassion Mantra at the same time."
    Jundo,

    Might try the mantra reciting next time I mow the lawn. I'll let you know how it goes.

    But perhaps we can hold off detailed discussion of these issues until we start our Precepts study discussion group in a few days ... otherwise, we might have nothing to talk about!
    Thank you -- looking forward to it.

    Gassho,
    Rob

  13. #13

    Re: Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB

    Unfortunately we have to enact 'raping, pillaging and plunder' as an expression of the Ultimate Dharma in our Sitting Zen practice. But that's quite different from us 'raping, pillaging and plundering', or advocating or allowing 'raping, pillaging and plundering' that we could otherwise cause to stop... well, you did bring it up!
    Now you lost me. :| :?: Can you explain?

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