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Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight
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Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight (37 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
December 7, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

Tonight I wanted to talk about mindfulness, concentration, and insight and how they really cannot be separated. They are really a part of each other, but just for teaching purposes, we will explain a little bit of the difference between mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Before I do the teaching, I just want to share something. When we practice mindfulness and concentration regularly, insight arises, and it happens every few weeks or months for me. I had an insight into an understanding about Christianity in the last week or so. So it is interesting, because you don't always just have Buddhist insights. You have very interfaith insights, just insights into life, right?

So I will share just very briefly, just to kind of give you a little teaser for this Saturday's Christian meditation service. I realized that for so many centuries all these wars between the different denominations of churches—you know, Catholic versus Orthodox versus Protestant versus the Pentecostals versus the metaphysical New Thoughters or whatever—it is like they do not see the value in each other because they think that there is only one true church. But it came to me in just this revelatory insight during meditation, well, how many Gospels are there in the New Testament? Four Gospels. There is only one Gospel, it is said, but yet that one Gospel is manifested as four Gospels.

So in the same way, there may be only one church or one body of Christ, but that one body is manifested in four different styles, major kinds of styles of being church. So there is a formal Gospel and there is a formal church, and it is symbolized by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So Matthew is the most liturgical of the Gospels. You can tell the author is very Jewish. He knows all about the law and the customs and the liturgy, so for me, Matthew represents the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the church, very liturgical. And it can even include Anglicans, because they are very liturgical as well.

And then Mark is the short, sweet, to-the-point Gospel, no frills. That is very much like the Protestant Reformation that was like, "Okay, let's not do all this additional fancy stuff, and let us just come down to the core basics. Grace alone, faith alone, truth alone." You know? Simplify things, not all of these statues everywhere, but just simple. So that would be like the mainline Protestant or evangelical branch of the church. And also Reformed.

And then Luke. Now, Luke's Gospel is in two parts. There is Luke and Acts. They kind of go together. But Luke is one of the more international writers of the Gospels, and he in fact may have been the Greek physician, so he is coming from a broader perspective, and he emphasizes a lot on the empowerments of the Holy Spirit. The example, in the Book of Acts, that is when you have the Pentecost and the Holy Spirit empowering everyone and giving them gifts and speaking in tongues and healings and all of that. So Luke is very much about the power of the spirit. So that to me is represented by Pentecostal charismatic churches.

And then John. John is the most poetic, mystical, and metaphysical of the Gospels. It is very esoteric and the inner life of the inner Christ lives within all of us. It is a universal Christ spirit within all, the I Am, the way, the truth, and the life. You see? The universal I Am that Christ embodies and represents, which is in all of us. So to me, John represents then all those different churches that maybe are mystical or metaphysical or transcendental, such as the Unity Church and Center for Spiritual Living and maybe even some Unitarian Universalist denominations, which has some roots in the transcendental movement.

So there you have it. I don't know why the spirit just does that to me once in a while. I mean, it's like I'm doing Buddhist meditation, and all of a sudden I have a revelation on Christianity. But hey, you know, it's all good. So when we look at this template on the four Gospels, we realize that true unity is not about saying, "My church is the only true church." It is about seeing the value in the different perspectives. They all have value.

And one thing I like about the present Pope is I think he really sees that. I think he understands that. You know? I mean, Francis spoke to this whole giant Pentecostal conference, televised, and told them that, "You are my brothers and sisters, and we are sorry that we persecuted you in the past." So that is historic, you know? That is historic.

So hopefully all the other kinds of churches will start to see this unity in diversity and realize that they all have a wonderful gift, you know? I love the Catholics because of that liturgical aspect. I like the Protestants, too, because sometimes I need to just kind of keep it simple. I definitely like the charismatics. I just love the dancing and the spirit. I just love that, singing. But of course my favorite I guess is the mystical and the metaphysical and the meditative and contemplative and the unity and the New Thought and all of that.

So anyway, for whatever it is worth. Maybe someday I will write a book on this. I am thinking who can I tell about this? Like, should I tell the Pope? Maybe I should write to the Pope and let him know this came to me from the Holy Spirit. But anyway, we will see what happens.

Okay. So tonight, what I really want to talk about is mindfulness, concentration, and insight—and especially mindfulness—as it relates to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. So what is the difference between mindfulness and concentration? Well, mindfulness and concentration really cannot be too separated because there is an aspect of mindfulness that needs concentration to exist, and there is an aspect of concentration that needs mindfulness to exist. It is more about mindfulness is a little bit more emphasis on the mindfulness part of the mindfulness/concentration entity, and concentration is a little bit more emphasis on the concentration aspect of the concentration/mindfulness entity. And of course, true mindfulness and concentration always lead to insight. So if insight is not arising in your practice, then it may not be full, complete mindfulness and concentration.

So, to illustrate a little difference between mindfulness and concentration, I am going to be putting two circles here. Mindfulness is like being anchored and centered and concentrated in the here and now, and then from that concentrated place, you let your awareness be expansive. You include everything in your consciousness. So you're not trying to stop anything. You're not trying to stop the sounds or stop the thought or stop the sensations. You're just allowing. It is a very spacious allowing. You're just mindful. You're just aware. So you are breathing in and breathing out, sitting there, and then you hear someone cough. You hear it, and you are breathing in and breathing out. And you hear a honk from a car. You hear it, and you also still hear your in-breath.

So mindfulness is different from kind of distractedness, because in distractedness, you will hear a sound, and then you go right to it. You start thinking thoughts about it and everything. You get all upset about it, or you start having things like, oh gosh, an itch. And you don't even remember that you are breathing in and breathing out, so that is more of a distractedness, whereas mindfulness, you can hear a sound. Your neighbor can cough. Someone can be snoring next to you, and you just allow it, and you just let it be. So mindfulness is spacious. It allows. It is expansive, and that is non-judgmental. That is the key. Distractedness is judgmental. Mindfulness is not judgmental.

And so when we practice mindfulness—and it takes a while to really get the hang of it, right, because even though mindfulness is really our true self, but we have been practicing at pretending not to be our true self for so many years and other times, it doesn't feel natural to us anymore, even though it is our natural state of mindfulness. So, we have to practice that, to let it be more natural that we become aware without judging. So non-judgmental awareness.

That there is another aspect of mindfulness, which is not just non-judgmental awareness. That was sort of the passive aspect of mindfulness. There is an active part of mindfulness, which is to remember, to recollect, to come back to your intention, so you can remember, ah, I am meditating right now, and I am remembering that my intention is to come back to my breath, come back to my affirmation or mantra, come back to the here and now or whatever your chosen object of meditation is. So you just gently smile at the clouds of thoughts, clouds of sensations, and you just come back to your intention and remember and come back. So that is mindfulness.

Concentration, on the other hand, requires awareness of course. You point all your awareness to one point. You bring your awareness to a concentration focus. So obviously you need to be aware to be focused, so there is a bit of mindfulness in concentration. The basic energy movement it is much more about—rather than expansive, it is focused. It is inward. It is concentrated. So concentration is about being able to stay anchored on your breath, stay anchored in the present moment, in the here and now. Staying anchored on your mantra or whatever it is your practice is, just to stay anchored and centered, even as different things are happening all around you, staying anchored.

So, as you can see, you need both, mindfulness and concentration. You can't really have mindfulness without concentration, and you can't have concentration without mindfulness. They work together. But they do have a little bit of a slight different emphasis.

Now, the Buddha actually put a lot of emphasis on mindfulness because concentration was already taught by the spiritual teachers of his day. But there was not enough emphasis on mindfulness, according to the Buddha. So the Buddha actually spent a lot more time on mindfulness and concentration because concentration was already known by everybody. Concentration, though, by itself can lead to such concentration and samadhi that you feel like everything else disappears and that you are just completely absorbed into your object of meditation. I've even heard some masters that are so concentrated in their samadhi that they stay like that for several hours a day and people can like poke them with needles and they don't even know it's because they are just completely in a very deep state of consciousness.

Now the Buddha did see value in developing concentration of course. However, he saw it is also a danger if you focus only on the blissful absorption and shutting out everything else and just being in that samadhi, in that concentration. Once you come out of that state of consciousness, then what? It does not always transform the deepest levels of your inner life. You might temporarily be able to reach a state of samadhi or concentration, but then once you come out of that state, do you still yell at your neighbor? Are you still easily angered by your family or whoever? Are you still reactive?

And this was the problem that the Buddha saw. He realized concentration alone, having a blissful state once in a while, it is nice, but it is not really enough. True enlightenment requires a mindfulness that is also able to lead with concentration to insight. So insight is very important. In other words, you need to have a true, deep insight into reality. So don't use concentration as an escape from reality because that is not the point of our practice. You know, don't just bliss out on a mountaintop ignoring everybody else in the whole rest of the world. Our real purpose and our practice is actually to get to a place where we can actually be more helpful, be more beneficial, be of service. So if you think that just blissing out on the mountain and being all awake and everything else is the point of your practice, you are limited in your understanding of the true practice of spiritual practice.

We want to have concentration. We want to have peace. We want to have joyful experiences of course, but that is only to empower us to do our work in the world effectively, you know? Because it is hard. It is hard to serve. It is hard to go into the valleys of a society and the darknesses and the places of difficulty. But when you have the joy of the practice with you, then you can go, and you will not be drowned by all of this suffering. You can go in without being drowned by it. That is the point.

So the point is not to create all this inner joy just to have it for yourself. You have it so that when you do go into the darkness and the suffering, they will not drown you. Do you see? Do you see the difference? It is a very different purpose. So just be careful that you're not trying to practice spirituality and meditation and other things that are good for you simply just to benefit only yourself and to feel good about yourself and just have stress reduction just for yourself. That is not the point, but it is helpful of course, and you need to do it. I mean, if you're never feeling peaceful and if you are always stressed out, you need to get to that place of peace and reduce the stress.

But anyway, mindfulness and concentration—mindfulness has two aspects, samatha, which is much more of the concentration aspect, and vipassanna, which is much more of the insight aspect. So mindfulness has concentration and insight in it, and samatha is more of the concentration aspect, and vipassanna is more the insight aspect. Samatha basically means to calm down, to be at peace, to cool off, to be still, and stop all of the craziness and just be still. There is actually a beautiful Bible verse in the Psalms: "Be still and know that I am God," right? So that is a really beautiful illustration of samatha and vipassanna, because samatha is the be still part, and the vipassanna part is to know, to really deeply know the divine reality. So be still and know the divine reality. See? Calm and insight, concentration and insight.

So we want to develop our calmness, our concentration, and our stillness, and our serenity. We do that by just kind of letting go of all the different things that are stressful and just coming back daily on a regular basis, just for a few minutes. The reason why we do this every day is not just because we want to only be spiritual for those 20 minutes during that one part of our day. No. It is so that when we have that 20 minutes every day—or however long that you practice—it affects the whole rest of the day. You see? Because it makes it easier to come back to that calm and inner stillness throughout the rest of the day when you have time to practice that. It just makes it easier.

Of course, sometimes there are people who can do it without that formal time, but even they, if they would just do formal time, too, it would make it easier and even better I think. The universe is very creative, so sometimes people just don't have that formal practice, and that is okay. There are other ways the universe invents to help people to get to that place of center. That is fine. But if you are here tonight, that means spirit wants to encourage you through the form of practice, too. That is why you are here and you are listening to me. It is your karma that you are here tonight listening to me about this. Okay. So meditation is important.

Now once we get to that place of calm, breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out, and we are no longer reactive, but just rather allowing and being and responsive in a healthy way to whatever is happening. We can then take that concentration energy and stillness, serenity energy and then just bring our consciousness into an insight on reality. We want to bring our mindfulness and concentration on to reality. What is the nature of suffering? What is the nature of impermanence? What is the nature of the self? What is the nature of reality?

So you do not have to use your logical left brain to meditate on this. You just allow your whole being to just rest in this openness to insight, and the insight will arise in its own time. You do not need to force the insight. Sometimes it may take a few years before a major insight breaks through, and that is okay. I guess I waited two years before I had my first major insight. Of course you can have a little taste of it along the way before you have the major ones, but you don't force it. It is like a flower. You don't need to like take the flower and pry open the petals. You will ruin the poor flower. So you don't need the force insight out of your practice, okay? Oh my gosh, I need to force some insight out. I need some guidance now.

No, no. You do not need to do that. You just practice. You just allow. It is just like planting your seed in the soil. You don't dig it up right away to see what the seed is doing. Are you done yet? You just practice. You do your regular practice every day and then over time you practice with the community, which is extremely important if you want to accelerate growth. It is important to have a community that you practice with also. Practicing by yourself is great, but if you can also practice with a community, it accelerates your path, so just know that. And today there are so many problems in the world, it is getting to a very critical crisis point. We cannot afford any more Lone Ranger spiritual practitioners. We have to be community practitioners. We have to practice for the sake of the world and not just for ourselves.

Now what was I saying? Oh yes. It's a flower. So you just plant your seed and just allow it to take fruition. It takes time for it to make sprouts and make some leaves and make some flowers and fruits and all of that. So just allow. Just allow the insight just to awaken and arrive in its own natural time.

So, what are some insights that we gain from mindfulness? The Four Foundations of Mindfulness. So they are mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of mind, and mindfulness of the dharmas. Now, over the centuries, of course, there have been different ways of understanding the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. There are a little bit of different interpretations by the different schools of Buddhism, and that is okay.

I am just going to give you my particular interpretation and my angle, which is basically mindfulness of the body basically means when you are walking, you really know that you are walking. When you are sitting, you really know that you are sitting. When you're lying down, you know that you are lying down. When you are standing still, you know that you are standing still. You can just be aware of your body. You can also be aware of the different parts of your body.

You can also just practice being with your body as it is, because most of us, we just ignore our body. But one major way that we practice with the body is through our breath. But actually the breath is the combination in a way of mindfulness of the body and feelings because you are feeling your breath, and it is a more physical sensation. Feelings have two categories, physical and then mental. But when you are mindful of the breath, it is more the physical aspect of feeling.

So you are aware of the breath, and so breath is one of the most major practices in Buddhism for mindfulness, mindfulness of the breath, in and out, feeling the breath without trying to change it or control it necessarily, just being with it as it is and then allowing it to just deepen and slow down by itself. And you can learn a lot about your body and reality just from the breath, you know? The energy of the universe is contained in the breath, receiving and giving is the universal reality, and it is right there in the breath, yin and yang.

And also, when you are mindful of the breath, you realize that who you are is not just inside this body, but it is also outside this body, isn't it? Because the breath, which makes you able to exist like this, it is not just in your lungs. It is also in the air, so you see, just by meditating on the breath you start to realize this non-separation with the rest of the universe, that there is no inside versus outside, your true nature, your true self is much more interconnected.

So then there is also mindfulness of feelings, the physical feelings and mental feelings, the physical sensations, cold, hot, wet, dry, whatever, and the mental feelings—you know, when you kind of have an emotional feeling, but it is really more about seeing how we respond or react to sensations and to our environment, to stimulus. So we want to practice with these three things: what is pleasant, what is unpleasant, what is neutral. So we want to notice what things in our awareness that we consider and label as pleasant. We want to be mindful about, okay, what do I consider unpleasant? And what do I consider neutral? Like I don't really care. It is just neutral, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, or just a mixture of both.

But see, here is the key. Not only do we need to be mindful of how we label something as pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, but in the second part, how do we react or respond to that label because it is one thing to consider something pleasant. It is another thing then how you start to act toward that which you label as pleasant. The moment it is now labeled pleasant, all of a sudden, what do you do? You start to grasp at it, and you crave it, and you obsessively compulsively want to possess it, to have more of it. Right? Notice that. That is what mindfulness means, awareness. Notice. Notice how you do that.

The reason why that is important is because not everything pleasant is necessarily healthy for you, right? And if you keep just automatically subconsciously grasping onto that which you label as pleasant, watch out, right? I always give this illustration. I don't know why, but I used to love Braum's peppermint ice cream, and one time I just loved it so much that I was kind of depressed, and I was watching lots of movies, and I ate a whole gallon of peppermint ice cream. It was my favorite. I loved this ice cream, but I was so sick of it after that. I couldn't eat it for many, many weeks or months. It was no longer pleasant. Definitely I could feel it wasn't good for me, even though initially it felt pleasant.

The same is true of unpleasant. Notice what you label as unpleasant, and then notice what you do, how you react or respond to what is labeled as unpleasant. Do you completely reject it? Do you have this awful feeling of resistance? Because you see, the reason why we need to notice that is because not everything unpleasant is bad for us. Like for example, exercising is not necessarily pleasant. It takes hard work, and your muscles kind of ache after little while, right? But you know it is good for you to do some little exercise. So you have to overcome that label of it as unpleasant, and you have to overcome that initial subconscious reaction to just push away and resist, because there's so many things in life that we resist, yet there can be jewels there in those things that we resist.

So we don't want to go through our whole life ignoring all of the wonderful things in life because we are resisting it. And of course, that is true with the neutral. Notice what you deem as neutral to you, and then notice how you react to that. Basically most of us when we label something as neutral, we do not care about it. We ignore it. It doesn't matter to us. It is as if it didn't exist. And think about all the different things in life that you may have labeled as neutral and that you are missing out on. You've never explored it. You've never opened yourself up to it because it is neutral to you, and you react by just, "It is not important." And so we do that.

In fact, that is actually most of our unmindfulness, our forgetfulness. So many times we just go through life like ghosts because we are not really fully living in the present. We pass by those beautiful flowers, never really appreciating them. We take for granted our loved ones and our family and friends and community. We take for granted the Center being in existence. We take for granted our teachers, like Thich Nhat Hanh. He's not going to be with us forever in physical form, so we do not want to take things for granted anymore. That is part of our mindfulness of what is neutral. Don't take things for granted so much. Be present to things as they are because there are a lot of gifts in the things that we usually just ignore.

So then, that leads us quite naturally to mindfulness of the mind, to be mindful and aware of our thoughts, our mind states, to just notice when we are in an angry mind state or a pleasant mind state or a mindful mind state or an insightful mind state or just an I don't care mind state, an I am just tired mind state. Just notice the states of your mind throughout the day. You don't have to analyze it every second, but just be aware and see the patterns.

In fact, when you have a lot of mind states of, let's say, anger or sadness or jealousy or unforgiveness, notice how many times it crops up and what it seems to be associated with because as you are mindful with it, you realize underneath my agitation is some unforgiveness and underneath that is some anger about something and underneath that, this was triggered by a memory of somebody 10 years ago. This person that is triggering it has nothing really to do with it. It is just he reminds me of something from 10 years ago. It is not his fault. You see what I'm saying? But you are much more able to pick that up and understand what your mind is doing when you practice mindfulness and meditation. You are able to see more clearly, more quickly what these different mind states and emotional states and thought states are made of.

Because a lot of times we just say, "I am angry," and that is it. There is no insight from that. We are just angry, but through mindfulness, anger now becomes beneficial and helpful because you can use it to investigate mindfully and examine mindfully what is really going on and then to transform it, you see? And you can't transform something that you do not understand and that you are not present to. So again, don't push away unpleasant mind states. Learn from them and then transform them.

So then the last one, mindfulness of the dharma. Dharma means the truth. It also means the teaching of the enlightened teachers like the Buddha, and it also means all phenomenon. The reason why it also means all phenomenon is because all phenomenon are truly happening things and events, so it is truth expressed. So the whole universe and all phenomenon are happening, that is the truth and the reality of it is. So that is why it is connected to truth, truth's teachings, and then reality, which is truly happening.

So there are many interpretations of this. What I want to give you is an interpretation of this as the teachings and practices of our enlightened teachers, the dharmas. So in other words, be mindful of the teachings as it applies to all phenomenon in your life. As you go through your day, take the teachings of the focus point, like a lens or sunglasses. Use it as binoculars or whatever you call it. Just use it as a way of looking throughout your day and investigating. For example, you can have the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Five Hindrances, etcetera, etcetera—different teachings on the Seven Factors of the Mind.

You can use one of those, such as, okay. Let us look at the teaching on suffering. For the rest of the day, I am just going to go through my day looking at everything that happens to me from the point of view of suffering, the teaching of suffering. Am I suffering? Am I causing suffering? What is lending itself toward the suffering? What is lending itself toward the not suffering? So you can use that as a way of understanding the teaching of suffering by applying it throughout the rest of the day, or you can apply the dharma about your energy levels, whether you are feeling sloth or restlessness, the opposite. Kind of a lazy feeling or a restless worried feeling. Notice when you are feeling slothful and what causes that.

Notice when you're feeling worried and restless. See what is causing it. See the cause and relationship between all things. Really, that is what the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of the Buddha boil down to is just the cause and effect. It is because we do not see cause and effect that we just let things run rampant in our lives untamed. But when we see the cause and effect and the relationship between our thoughts and reality of our choices and reality of our responses or reactions and reality, then we can start making changes.

OK. I think that's good enough teaching for tonight. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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