The factor of one-pointedness unifies the mind and its other concomitants in the task of cognizing the object, while it simultaneously exercises the function of centring all the constituents of the cognitive act on the object.
One-pointedness of mind explains the fact that in any act of consciousness there is a central point of focus, towards which the entire objective datum points from its outer peripheries to its inner nucleus.
A gourmet sitting down to a meal, an assassin about to slay his victim, a soldier on the battlefield -- these all act with a concentrated mind, but their concentration cannot be characterized as samadhi.
Even then its range is still narrower: it does not signify every form of wholesome concentration, but only the intensified concentration that results from a deliberate attempt to raise the mind to a higher, more purified level of awareness.
The two salient features of a concentrated mind are unbroken attentiveness to an object and the consequent tranquillity of the mental functions, qualities which distinguish it from the unconcentrated mind.
This freedom from distraction further induces a softness and serenity which make the mind an effective instrument for penetration. Like a lake unruffled by any breeze, the concentrated mind is a faithful reflector that mirrors whatever is placed before it exactly as it is.
Concentration can be developed through either of two methods -- either as the goal of a system of practice directed expressly towards the attainment of deep concentration at the level of absorption or as the incidental accompaniment of the path intended to generate insight.
Both paths share certain preliminary requirements.
For both, moral discipline must be purified, the various impediments must be severed, the meditator must seek out suitable instruction (preferrably from a personal teacher), and must resort to a dwelling conducive to practice.
If the meditator has a qualified teacher, the teacher will probably assign him an object judged to be appropriate for his temperament. If he doesn't have a teacher, he will have to select an object himself, perhaps after some experimentation.
The meditation manuals collect the subjects of serenity meditation into a set of forty, called "places of work" (kammatthana) since they are the places where the meditator does the work of practice. The forty may be listed as follows:
ten unattractive objects (dasa asubha)
ten recollections (dasa anussatiyo)
four sublime states (cattaro brahmavihara)
four immaterial states (cattaro aruppa)
one perception (eka sanna)
one analysis (eka vavatthana).
Thus an earth kasina would be a circular disk filled with clay. To develop concentration on the earth kasina the meditator sets the disk in front of him, fixes his gaze on it, and contemplates "earth, earth."
A similar method is used for the other kasinas, with appropriate changes to fit the case.
This subject appears similar to the contemplation of bodily decay in the mindfulness of the body, and in fact in olden times the cremation ground was recommended as the most appropriate place for both.
In the mindfulness exercise stress falls on the application of reflective thought, the sight of the decaying corpse serving as a stimulus for consideration of one's own eventual death and disintegration.
In this exercise the use of reflective thought is discouraged.
The ten recollections form a miscellaneous collection. The first three are devotional meditations on the qualities of the Triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha; they use as their basis standard formulas that have come down in the Suttas.
The four sublime states or "divine abodes" are the outwardly directed social attitudes -- lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity -- developed into universal radiations which are gradually extended in range until they encompass all living beings.
The four immaterial states are the objective bases for certain deep levels of absorption: the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.
When such a variety of meditation subjects is presented, the aspiring meditator without a teacher might be perplexed as to which to choose. The manuals divide the forty subjects according to their suitability for different personality types.
Thus the unattractive objects and the contemplation of the parts of the body are judged to be most suitable for a lustful type, the meditation on lovingkindness to be best for a hating type, the meditation on the qualities of the Triple Gem to be most effective for a devotional type, etc.
Mental distraction caused by restlessness and scattered thoughts is a common problem faced by persons of all different character types; thus a meditator of any temperament can benefit from a subject which promotes a slowing down and stilling of the thought process.
The subject generally recommended for its effectiveness in clearing the mind of stray thoughts is mindfulness of breathing, which can therefore be suggested as the subject most suitable for beginners as well as veterans seeking a direct approach to deep concentration.
the meditation on lovingkindness may be used to counteract anger and ill will, mindfulness of the bodily parts to weaken sensual lust, the recollection of the Buddha to inspire faith and devotion, the meditation on death to arouse a sense of urgency.
The ability to select the subject appropriate to the situation requires skill, but this skill evolves through practice, often through simple trial-and-error experimentation.
To enable our exposition to cover all the stages of concentration, we will consider the case of a meditator who follows the entire path of serenity meditation from start to finish, and who will make much faster progress than the typical meditator is likely to make.
There he assumes the correct meditation posture -- the legs crossed comfortably, the upper part of the body held straight and erect, hands placed one above the other on the lap, the head kept steady, the mouth and eyes closed (unless a kasina or other visual object is used), the breath flowing naturally and regularly through the nostrils.
Once the initial excitement subsides and the mind begins to settle into the practice, the five hindrances are likely to arise, bubbling up from the depths. Sometimes they appear as thoughts, sometimes as images, sometimes as obsessive emotions: surges of desire, anger and resentment, heaviness of mind, agitation, doubts.
However, when activated by the work of meditation, these five factors pick up power, link up with one another, and steer the mind towards samadhi, which they will govern as the "jhana factors," the factors of absorption (jhananga).
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 favourable 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.
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.
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 colour, in the case of mindfulness of breathing the touch sensation of the breath, etc.
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.
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.
Thus the mind in this stage is compared to a child who has just learned to walk: he takes a few steps, falls down, gets up, walks some more, and again falls down. But the mind in absorption is like a man who wants to walk: he just gets up and walks straight ahead without hesitation.
The second four also form a set, the four immaterial states (aruppa). The eight have to be attained in progressive order, the achievement of any later level being dependent on the mastery of the immediately preceding level.
And what, monks, is right concentration? Herein, secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a monk enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by initial and sustained application of mind and filled with rapture and happiness born of seclusion.
Then, with the subsiding of initial and sustained application of mind, by gaining inner confidence and mental unification, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which is free from initial and sustained application but is filled with rapture and happiness born of concentration.
With the fading out of rapture, he dwells in equanimity, mindful and clearly comprehending; and he experiences in his own person that bliss of which the noble ones say: "Happily lives he who is equanimous and mindful" -- thus he enters and dwells in the third jhana.
With the abandoning of pleasure and pain and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which has neither-pleasure-nor-pain and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.
Moreover, two of its factors, initial application and sustained application, appear in time to be rather coarse, not as refined as the other factors.
In the second jhana the mind becomes more tranquil and more thoroughly unified, but when mastered even this state seems gross, as it includes rapture, an exhilarating factor that inclines to excitation.
The four attainments are named after their respective objects: the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.
Instead, he simply directs mindfulness to the changing states of mind and body, noting any phenomenon that presents itself; the task is to maintain a continuous awareness of whatever enters the range of perception, clinging to nothing.
This fluid, mobile concentration is developed by the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness, taken up along the path of insight; when sufficiently strong it issues in the breakthrough to the last stage of the path, the arising of wisdom.
1. In what follows I have to restrict myself to a brief overview. For a full exposition, see Vism., Chapters III-XI. 2. See Vism. IV, 88-109. 3. Some common renderings such as "trance," "musing," etc., are altogether misleading and should be discarded. 4. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, pp. 80-81.
see alsoRight concentration