The Art of Concentration

Bodhinatha shares a lesson from "Living With Siva" on The Art of Concentration. He then gives his bhashya on Gurudeva's teachings and indicates how Gurudeva's approach may differ from the standard approach to meditation.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Thought this morning I would share some of Gurudeva's Lesson for the Day with some commentary. This is from the "Living With Siva" portion of today's lesson. It's on exercising concentration.

Gurudeva begins:

"There are many faculties of the superconscious mind just waiting to be tapped by you. Only by tapping into and opening your superconscious, creative powers, will you ever come to know and realize your real Self. It is not difficult, but in order to open the higher or inner consciousness, you have to gain a perfect control of the thinking faculties of the mind.

Concentration has to be practiced and perfected before meditation can begin. If you find that you are sitting and trying not to fall asleep for a half hour, you have only accomplished sitting and trying not to go to sleep for half an hour -- and perhaps refraining from scratching your nose when it begins to itch. But that cannot be called meditation. Meditation is a transforming state of mind, really. A person once said to me, 'Well, I concentrate my mind by reading a book, and when I'm reading, I don't hear a thing.' This is not concentration, but attention, the first step to concentration. Concentration is thinking about one definite thing for a given length of time until you begin to understand what you are thinking about. What should we concentrate upon? Start with any solid object. "

So, this is my bhashya.

So this is an important part of Gurudeva's teachings and I'm not aware if it's stressed elsewhere, but Gurudeva's idea is this, what we call external concentration. Focusing on an external object. In other words, the reality of meditation is many people sit and if they don't have this problem of falling asleep, their thoughts aren't really focused. Thoughts are going here and there. They didn't really manage to direct the thought force effectively during the meditation period. It's a common experience. We sit to meditate and we really aren't able to control where our mind goes -- what we think about. So there's a couple of keys for being able to do that. One of them is this external concentration and the idea is very simple, that if we focus our mind on an external object, say like this basket here, and we think about the basket that's what Gurudeva calls external concentration. So the idea is keep thinking about the basket and when the mind goes away, thinks about something else, we bring it back; we start to think about the basket. And, when we're thinking about the basket intensely enough we start to understand it in a way we hadn't before and we start to get some sense of how it was made and what it's made of. An understanding we hadn't really thought about before; before it was just a basket, it's a place to put flowers. But by concentrating on it we start to gain a new understanding of it. And that process of thinking about an object and when the mind wanders bringing it back, sounds very basic, but it helps us increase our concentration ability in a very tangible way. Cause one of the problems of sitting and trying to concentrate internally is it's harder to see how well we're doing. The whole landscape of what's inside of us is much vaguer than a basket. So, it's easier to gain good concentration externally. And it's one of the points as we were talking about that differ; you know makes Gurudeva's approach to meditation different than the standard approach.

The standard approach in everyone's ready to jump in to meditate. You know no preparation is needed. But Gurudeva says: Wait a minute, wait a minute, we want to be successful at this. You know we need to accomplish certain other tasks first before we sit down and we try to meditate. So this is one of them. We want to be able to have good external concentration. A good example of this concept came up. I had an interesting group about, guess five adults. Five adults who were yoga teachers from different parts of the world, very international group. And they were asking me a group of very astute questions. In fact the questions were so astute I thought I should write down my answers cause I'd never been asked the question before, you know. This is an interesting question and a challenging answer. So one of the questions they asked is well: "What is your mantra?" You know, what is the main mantra you utilize? And of course we said: "Aum Namah Sivaya." And then one of the lady teachers asked: "Well do you chant that all day as you're doing your various tasks?" And I said: "Absolutely not. You know that would split the mind. We'd be doing two things with the mind at the same time, right?" But that is a common practice. That while we're doing things we're doing something else. We're doing two things at once. But it's not Gurudeva's approach. Gurudeva's approach is we do one thing. If we want to repeat our mantra, let's sit down and repeat our mantra. And do it with the full mind. If we're going to do another task like work in the garden, let's work in the garden but with our full mind. Let's not split our mind into two or three parts on any task. Splitting the mind, doing multiple things at the same time, is not conducive to increasing our ability to concentrate. So doing one thing at a time and doing it well, that's as Gurudeva says, in fact doing it to the best of your ability even better than you thought you could, because you're concentrated on it; that's Gurudeva's concept of what's really useful as a preparation for meditation. Not just doing two things at once: chanting your mantra inside and kind of doing what you're doing with half your attention. That's not the course that Gurudeva recommends. So they were surprised with that answer, but I thought about it afterwards and I said: "Well that's definitely you know part of Gurudeva's approach is we concentrate the mind; we just do one thing at a time." And in that way we also can bring through insights or new knowledge in about what we're concentrating on and that's what Gurudeva considers meditation. Meditation is new knowledge about something. Brought through because we were concentrated upon it.

So of course the other, well let's continue Gurudeva's thought here, so, the last word from Gurudeva was: "What should we concentrate upon? Start with any solid object. Take your watch, for instance. Think about your watch. Think about the crystal. Think about the hands. Let your mind direct itself toward the mechanism of your watch, and then observe how your mind, after a few moments, begins to wander and play tricks on you. You may start thinking about alarm clocks or a noise in the street. Each time your concentration period is broken by a distraction, you must start all over again. Breathe deeply and coordinate all the energies of your body so that you are not distracted by an itch or a noise. Direct your awareness once again to your watch. Before you know it, you will be thinking about a movie you saw four weeks ago and living through all the fantasies of it again without realizing that ten minutes of your time has gone by. Be careful and gentle with your awareness, however. Bring it back to the object of your concentration in a firm, relaxed manner and say to yourself, 'I am the master of my thought.' Eventually, your awareness will begin to do just what you want it to.

Once you are able to direct your awareness, without wavering, upon one object, you will begin to understand what you are concentrating upon, and you will find that this state of understanding is the beginning of your meditation. You are more alive in this state than you were in the noisy condition of your mind before you began to concentrate, and you come forth from your meditation a little wiser than you were before you went in.

The next state of consciousness, which is attained when meditation has been perfected, is contemplation. In the contemplative state of awareness you will feel the essence of all life pouring and radiating through your body and through the object you have been meditating upon. When contemplation is sustained, the final step is samadhi, and that is finding or becoming your true Self, which is beyond all conditions of your mind, all phases of consciousness. Only after you have attained samadhi can you answer the question 'Who am I?' from your own experience. Only then will you know that you are all-pervasive, and finally, in the deepest samadhi, that you are causeless, timeless, spaceless and that you have been able to realize this through a balance of your awakened inner and outer consciousness, a bringing together of the forces of your mind in yoga, or union."

Very nice. So there's one other area and many of you have heard me read this before but, a number of you haven't so I thought I'd read it this morning. The other area in which Gurudeva focuses that many don't focus on is the yamas and niyamas, the restraints and observances, the first two practices of yoga. So again, lots of yoga teachers skip that and start right out with posture or asana which is actually the third level of practice. So, Gurudeva wrote in great detail about each of these twenty principles and again you don't find such detailed explanations of any of them anywhere else that I've ever seen. You see them mentioned and explained in a very simple way. But Gurudeva goes on at great length about each one and therefore, gives you insights into it that you might not otherwise attain, so we publish that, which is in "Living With Siva." We also published it as a separate book to try and get it out there further into the mind. And the book of course is called "Yoga's Forgotten Foundation." Then this is a review of it from a bookstore in Canada that I came across as part of my Canada trip. So this is their review of the book.

"A strong read for serious yoga practitioners, meditators and anyone deeply involved with transformative spiritual life. "Yoga's Forgotten Foundation" delves into the integrated approach to yoga as taught by the great masters of India. It is a cogent reminder to those who want to start at the end of the spiritual path that there is an essential beginning, the neglect of which portends failure and disappointment. With full color Indian art it explores the traditional foundation of yoga; twenty little known guidelines on personal ethics, self control and religious practice, called the yamas and niyamas. The yamas and niyamas have been preserved through the centuries as the first and second stage of the eight staged practice of yoga. They provide the essential foundation to support our yoga practice so that attainments in higher consciousness can be sustained. The modern exponent of hatha yoga B.K.S. Iyengar cautioned: 'Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics. Yama and niyama control the yogis passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with his fellow man.' This book begins with a foreword by the author's spiritual successor Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami and takes the reader step by step through non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual purity, patience, contentment and other facets of virtue. Grounded in a traditional Hindu point of view yet relevant to us all, the book discusses some of the toughest issues and challenges of modern life including: promiscuity, domestic abuse, child rearing, overeating, gambling, vegetarianism, violence, injustice and pornography, relating them all to progress on the yoga path. It also explores essential practices including charity, worship, chanting mantras, austerity, and scriptural study."

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