Attaining Yoga or Union:

Attaining Yoga or Union:
Yoga or "Union" is attained by first training, balancing, and purifying each of the aspects of our being individually, and then systematically receding attention inward through those levels, expanding so as to experience the state of Union, Yoga, Samadhi, or Turiya.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mindfulness and Concentration in Yoga Meditation


Swami Jnaneshvara

Mindfulness OR Concentration

It is very common for teachers of meditation to describe one of two
general types of meditation, and to recommend one as being superior
to the other:

CONCENTRATION: In this approach, one intentionally focuses the
attention on only one object, such as breath, mantra, a chakra
center, or an internally visualized image.

MINDFULNESS: In this approach, one does not focus the mind on one
object, but rather observes the whole range of passing thoughts,
emotions, sensations, or images.

Students of meditation often find themselves confused by having to
decide which is best, having to practice only one or the other of
mindfulness or concentration. To cause further confusion, mindfulness
is often described as coming from one religion or tradition, while
concentration from another religion or tradition.

Mindfulness AND Concentration

To the sages of the Himalayas, both methods are used in Yoga
meditation. In fact, they are not seen as different choices at all.
Mindfulness and concentration are companions in the same one process
that leads inward to the center of consciousness.

If one stays only in the shallow, beginning levels of meditation,
then choosing between one or the other can seem to make sense. But if
you go deeper in meditation, you will find that both processes are

If one practices only mindfulness, the mind is trained to always have
this surface level activity present. Having this activity constantly
present may be seen as normal, and the attention simply does not go
beyond the mind-field. Attention can "back off" from experiencing
deeper meditation and samadhi so as to remain in the fields of
sensation and thoughts.

If one practices only concentration or one-pointedness, the mind is
trained to not experience this activity of thoughts, sensations,
emotions, and images. The activity is seen as something to be
avoided, and the attention may not even be open to the existence of
these experiences. Attention can "back off" from the deeper aspects
of the mind field, and thus prevent deeper meditation and samadhi.

By practicing both mindfulness and concentration, one is able to
experience the vast impressions, learning the vital skill of non-
attachment, while also using concentration to focus the mind in such
a way as to be able to transcend the whole of the mind field, where
there is only stillness and silence, beyond all of the impressions.
Finally, one can come to experience the center of consciousness, the
Absolute reality.

To the sages of the Himalayas, mindfulness can be emphasized at one
time, concentration emphasized at another, and the two can work

When exploring the mind, mindfulness may be emphasized, while
remaining focused. Then, if a particular thought pattern or samskara
is to be examined so as to weaken its power over the mind,
concentration is the tool with which this examination is done. This
allows an increase in vairagya, non-attachment.

When settling the mind, trying to pierce the layers of our being,
including senses, body, and breath, concentration carries the
attention inward through the layers.

When attention moves into that next deeper level of our being, then
concentration and mindfulness once again work together to explore
that layer, so as to once again move beyond, or deeper.

Integrating the Stages of Practice

In the Yoga meditation of the Himalayan tradition, one systematically
works with senses, body, breath, the various levels of mind, and then
goes beyond, to the center of consciousness. The qualities of
mindfulness and concentration dance together in this journey.

When dealing with the senses and body, there is emphasis on exploring
and examining, being open to all of the thoughts, emotions, and
sensations. One systematically moves attention through the parts and
aspects of the body, fully experiencing the sensory impressions. This
is quite similar to what is sometimes recommended by those who
exclusively teach mindfulness meditation.

When dealing with the breath, there comes a stage wherein one
experiences the energy or prana level alone. This is beyond, or
deeper than the mechanical or gross breath, and does not involve the
thought process of passing images. It involves solely concentrating
on that level of our being. There is definitely a mindfulness of the
play of energy within that level, and it is done in a concentrated,
non-attached way.

When attention goes further inward, there is the mind field itself.
In this stage of practice, the senses have been withdrawn, and there
is no longer any sensory awareness of the body, nor of the physical.
One is now fully in the level of mind itself. Here is still another
form of mindfulness, exclusive of bodily sensation, and once again,
concentration is its companion.

Finally, one comes near the end of the mind and all of its associated
thoughts, emotions, sensations, and impressions. Concentration is
essential at this stage. As Patanjali notes in the Yoga Sutras
(4.31), there is then little to know as the experiences have been
resolved into their causes.

Three Skills go Together

By working with both mindfulness and concentration, it is easy to see
three skills in which the mind is trained, and how these go together:

FOCUS: The mind is trained to be able to pay attention, so as to not
be drawn here and there, whether due to the spontaneous rising of
impressions in meditation, or due to external stimuli.

EXPANSION: The ability to focus is accompanied by a willingness to
expand the conscious field through that which is normally
unconscious, including the center of consciousness.

NON-ATTACHMENT: The ability to remain undisturbed, unaffected and
uninvolved with the thoughts and impressions of the mind is the key
ingredient that must go along with focus and expansion.

Yoga Meditation is Already a Whole Science

While speaking here of integrating the practices of mindfulness and
concentration, it is useful to note that, in a sense, integrating is
not quite the right word.

The science of Yoga meditation as taught by the Himalayan sages is
already a whole, complete science that has been torn into smaller
pieces over time. Individual parts have been cut out from the whole,
given separate names, and then taught as unique systems of meditation.

Using mindfulness and concentration is not really a process of gluing
together two systems. Because of various teaching lineages pulling
them apart and creating the appearance of separateness, it can now
seem that we are integrating two systems. It is only an appearance.
Mindfulness and concentration have both been part of the same, one
process of meditation for a very long time.