Concentration Is Not the Same As Meditation

There is considerable confusion about meditation and concentration. They are, however, not quite the same. Achieving a meditative state inwardly can aid in the development of concentration. Certain forms of meditation utilize techniques that lead to concentration. Yet meditation can be calm, relaxed and peaceful without being a concentrated state of awareness that focuses on a single point, which is the definition of concentration. It can be ‘blank’ of ‘content’. Certain forms of meditation let the mind rest quietly in a state of vast general awareness, which is not ‘concentration’. In the stillness that thus arises in the mind, concentration then becomes more possible and more effective, yet it needs to be directed at a single object, whether that is an external object, or an internal one, such as the fire of aspiration that directs the attention solely to the Divine.

One can distinguish the gathered, focused energy of concentration through its intensity and the amplitude of the waves of awareness from the broader waves with lower amplitude of the meditative state. Scientists can measure the difference of waves being generated and have assigned different letters of the Greek alphabet to certain waves that are prevalent in the state of meditation from those that arise in the concentrated state, thus validating from the scientific perspective the differences between the two.

A disciple asks: “I read in the Conversations (1956): ‘Concentration alone will lead you to this goal.’ Should one increase the time of meditation?”

The Mother writes: “Concentration does not mean meditation; on the contrary, concentration is a state one must be in continuously, whatever the outer activity. By concentration I mean that all the energy, all the will, all the aspiration must be turned only towards the Divine and His integral realisation in our consciousness.”

“To keep constantly a concentrated and in-gathered attitude is more important than having fixed hours of meditation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 71

How to Convert Mental Seeking into Living Spiritual Experience

Sri Aurobindo describes the first step to move from a mental seeking to a living spiritual experience as “the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself.” We ask what this means exactly. Some observation of our mental state discloses what we normally consider to be concentration. We focus on solving some issue or problem in our lives, or we focus on some experience, some opportunity, some relationship, some event. In each case, we turn our concentration outwards towards the external world and attach our focus to those external objects. If we are not concentrated on some specific outer circumstance, we are, for the most part, receiving sense perceptions, and moving more or less randomly through whatever presents itself to our senses, or rises up as a result of past impressions. We may experience hunger or thirst, desire or ambition of some sort, or may simply distract our attention through various forms of entertainment. We may be caught up in the idea of accumulating clothes, or technology or cars, or jewelry. These distractions do not involve much in the way of concentration generally and the mind jumps from one object to another when concentration is lacking. None of this however, represents the “concentration within oneself” Sri Aurobindo references.

When the seeker first attempts to understand and experience an inner concentration, he is immediately confronted with the almost endless distracting forces of sense perceptions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, and emotions. There is no settled peace in the mind and he may feel like it is an impossible task! Yogic science provides various guiding techniques to systematically prepare for an inward concentration. Regardless of the specific method chosen, with regular practice and patience, the mind eventually comes to a status of quiescence which is the basis for inward concentration. Some paths advise following the breath in and out to attain this initial stage. Others use the combination of a mantra with the breath to drive out thoughts or perceptions which can act as disturbances. Still others recommend putting the whole attention on creation of a mood that one becomes, such as deep aspiration, where nothing else can intervene and the entire being is focused on this aspiration. Focusing on a visualisation, or even on a single point of light can move one away from the surface being and eventually a point comes where one can lose track of time, space and circumstance and simply dwell in an inner space of light and calm. The experience,when it first arises, may occur without warning and without any form of expectation as the consciousness simply shifts away from all surface distractions. It may be helpful to create a space, and a specific time to quiet the mind and undertake the practice, as the regular process sets up a rhythm in the being. Once the inward awareness becomes quite regular, the seeker no longer need depend on such a formal practice or discipline to recreate the inner space of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “You have asked what is the discipline to be followed in order to convert the mental seeking into a living spiritual experience. The first necessity is the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself. The ordinary human mind has an activity on the surface which veils the real Self. But there is another, a hidden consciousness within behind the surface, one in which we can become aware of the real Self and of a larger deeper truth of nature, can realise the Self and liberate and transform the nature. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 70-71

The Power of Concentration is the Key to Realization in All Fields of Life

Every major accomplishment in human life involves some form of concentration. We live in a modern world that systematically distracts and disperses the mind, thus making it more difficult to achieve a state of concentration. Cell phones, internet surfing, music, flashing lights, entertainment, fast moving vehicles, powerful storms, news media gathering sensational reports to place before us 24 hours a day. It is a wonder that we can concentrate at all in the modern world! Those who achieve even a small modicum of concentration are able to achieve success in their field of focus far beyond that of most others who remain distracted and whose consciousness is confused, diffused and fragmented by falling victim to the distracting forces of modern day life.

For spiritual practitioners the development of the power of concentration is an important milestone in achieving spiritual realisation. Those who have a spiritual calling are frequently asked to avoid involvement with all the distracting influences, so they can focus on the object of their aspiration.

Some paths of yoga set forth intricate and highly detailed methods to train the concentration, such as the use of visualisation and the precise coordination and ordering of beings, shapes, colors and relationships. Mandalas, yantras, thangkas all represent methods that show or symbolize some force, event or relationship in the world of matter or the world of spirit. Disciples are asked to visualize these forms internally and to re-create them with utmost precision. This leads to a state of one-pointed concentration.

Raja Yoga also describes the processes whereby one attains “one pointed” concentration, which this path considers to be an essential aspect of the development of the super-conscient state characterized by the experience of samadhi.

Each of the major forms of yoga in the triple paths of knowledge, devotion and works, involves concentration on the respective objects of each path, whether it is light or some specific concept, a deity, a dedicated form of action, or some state of awareness to be developed and held intact, such as aspiration, devotion, surrender, etc.

The Mother observes: “… whatever you may want to do in life, one thing is absolutely indispensable and at the basis of everything, the capacity of concentrating the attention. If you are able to gather together the rays of attention and consciousness on one point and can maintain this concentration with a persistent will, nothing can resist it — whatever it may be, from the most material physical development to the highest spiritual one. But this discipline must be followed in a constant and, it may be said, imperturbable way; not that you should always be concentrated on the same thing — that’s not what I mean, I mean learning to concentrate. And materially, for studies, sports, all physical or mental development, it is absolutely indispensable. And the value of an individual is proportionate to the value of his attention.”

“And from the spiritual point of view it is still more important. There is no spiritual obstacle which can resist a penetrating power of concentration. For instance, the discovery of the psychic being, union with the inner Divine, opening to the higher spheres, all can be attained by an intense and obstinate power of concentration — but one must learn how to do it.”

“There is nothing in the human or even in the superhuman field, to which the power of concentration is not the key. … You can be the best athlete, you can be the best student, you can be an artistic, literary or scientific genius, you can be the greatest saint with that faculty. And everyone has in himself a tiny little beginning of it — it is given to everybody, but people do not cultivate it.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 69-70

An Inward Concentration Is Necessary for the Seeker of Knowledge

The ability to concentrate the mind allows us to function in the world in a coherent manner and to create results in whatever field the concentration takes up. Without concentration, the mind would jump from one perception, one impression, one idea to another randomly and instantaneously as new impulses arise. Everyone has had the experience of concentration, whether it be taking a test in school, or trying to excel at some skill or sport, or in taking up the study of music, art or even, reading a book and being absorbed in it. Sometimes we face a situation where we need to work through a series of steps or options and a period of time elapses as we systematically try to sort out those choices and make the right decision. We can also experience concentration in playing games, with the strategic game of chess being one of long-standing fame and world-wide acclaim as one of the ultimate games that promote the ability of the mind to focus, concentrate and exclude extraneous factors to achieve the result of checkmate. Of course, there are many forms of concentration that relate to specific ideas, thoughts, emotions, plans, feelings or physical situations.

More difficult for most people is a form of concentration that does not latch onto an external object and yet is not a dispersed or fragmented state of consciousness. Once the mind has been habituated to the practice of concentration, such as following a specific thought or idea through along its path, it becomes necessary for the seeker to shift the concentration inwards. The practices of Raja Yoga develop this into a science. Control of the breath, following and focusing on the breath, can become a first step in the process of detaching the concentration from an outer form. As the mind moves to stillness, concentration can be centered in a location such as between the eyebrows, or in the heart, or above the head, without specific ‘content’ other than the sense of the location of the concentration. Another option is to use a mantra or japa to drive out all other random thoughts and then let the consciousness focus so intensely that it no longer needs the japa to remain concentrated. Others focus on an external light, such as a candle flame, until awareness of the flame itself disappears.

Sri Aurobindo recounted a method he utilized to obtain silence in the mind. He observed the thoughts coming in and rejected them before they could take hold. After some time, he was able to obtain the concentrated status of the silent mind.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The mind is a thing that dwells in diffusion, in succession; it can only concentrate on one thing at a time and when not concentrated runs from one thing to another very much at random. Therefore it has to concentrate on a single idea, a single subject of meditation, a single object of contemplation, a single object of will in order to possess or master it, and this it must do to at least the temporary exclusion of all others…. The first step in concentration must be always to accustom the discursive mind to a settled unwavering pursuit of a single course of connected thought on a single subject and this it must do undistracted by all lures and alien calls on its attention. Such concentration is common enough in our ordinary life, but it becomes more difficult when we have to do it inwardly without any outward object or action on which to keep the mind; yet this inward concentration is what the seeker of knowledge must effect.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 69

Focusing on the Signal While Eliminating the Noise: Concentration and Purification

Consider briefly that you have a television set that receives all the available channels, but you cannot tune the set, so that all picture and sound from the entire frequency range come in at the same time and mix up with each other, along with the static that occurs between various station signals. Obviously such a system is chaotic and does not function properly. In order to receive, understand and utilize whichever channel you want to watch, you need to be able to tune to that specific frequency and exclude all the others. Whether you are looking for spiritual instruction, religious channels, educational teachings, dramas, comedies, or cooking channels or those catering to other desires, the ability to focus and tune and maintain the setting is essential.

Our conscious awareness functions in a similar manner. We have the capability of receiving vibrations across a wide range of frequencies, but we tend to have a stream of confusing and mixed up incoming perceptions and the responses they provoke unless we have the ability to concentrate and focus on a particular signal, and eliminate the static and the conflicting signals at the same time. We need to focus on the desired “signal” and eliminate the ‘noise” from our interaction. Thus, concentration and purification go hand in hand for us to successfully interact with the manifestation of which we are a part.

The seeker’s role is to systematically work to tune toward the desired frequency that supports the spiritual aspiration and growth, and then to systematically reduce, and eventually eliminate the interference from competing signals that distract or take us away from the focus.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Along with purity and as a help to bring it about, concentration. Purity and concentration are indeed two aspects, feminine and masculine, passive and active, of the same status of being; purity is the condition in which concentration becomes entire, rightly effective, omnipotent; by concentration purity does its works and without it would only lead to a state of peaceful quiescence and eternal repose…. The fault of our nature is first an inert subjection to the impacts of things as they come in upon the mind pell-mell without order or control and then a haphazard imperfect concentration managed fitfully, irregularly with a more or less chance emphasis on this or on that object according as they happen to interest, not the higher soul or the judging and discerning intellect, but the restless, leaping, fickle, easily tired, easily distracted lower mind which is the chief enemy of our progress. In such a condition purity, the right working of the functions, the clear, unstained and luminous order of the being is an impossibility; the various workings, given over to the chances of the environment and external influences, must necessarily run into each other and clog, divert, distract, pervert. Equally, without purity the complete, equal, flexible concentration of the being in right thought, right will, right feeling or secure status of spiritual experience is not possible. Therefore the two must proceed together, each helping the victory of the other, until we arrive at that eternal calm from which may proceed some partial image in the human being of the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient activity.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 68-69

Changing Outer Actions Is an Essential Aspect of Inner Development

When an action takes place in the world, it has a number of effects both in the world, and in the psychology of the individual carrying out the action. Each action creates a formation, a rhythm, or a solid result that tends to perpetuate and repeat itself on an ongoing basis. Thus, the more we carry out specific forms of action, the more difficult they are to change or remove. This is the secret of why habits, addictions and instincts are so hard to change.

For those individuals who wish to effectuate a real change, therefore, they must contend with the pressure that habits and concretised forms exerts upon them. Once brought into existence through action, these external formations have a momentum and a pathway to recreate themselves.

In any attempt to change, therefore, the importance of discontinuing support for and overt manifestation of outer actions cannot be over-emphasized. An addiction cannot be broken as long as it continues to be “fed”. This is the case whether one is speaking about a strong physical addiction such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs, or about other less dramatic issues one is facing, such as cravings, desires or habits which are otherwise deemed acceptable by society. It is also true that to overcome the force of such embedded outer manifestations, a will and an aspiration for change must be present, so the fact of changing the outer action implies changes to the inner forces that supported it in the first place.

It is of course not simple to change deeply entrenched habits of action. Outright suppression eventually can backfire if it increases the pressure and force of the suppressed action, which then returns with an increased power. To the extent possible, a process of redirecting the energy and the focus toward other things can be much more effective. We see this occurring naturally as a child grows and interests change, and thus, the child is able to leave behind childish acts and desires and the focus on childish games and toys, to redirect the attention to new occupations and interests. A strong spiritual aspiration has the power to effectuate in the seeker, a redirection of attention and focus away from those actions that are to be put aside or changed.

The Mother observes: “… you must never say: ‘I shall first purify my thought, purify my body, purify my vital and then later I shall purify my action.’ That is the normal order, but it never succeeds. The effective order is to begin from the outside: ‘The very first thing is that I do not do it, and afterwards, I desire it no longer and next I close my doors completely to all impulses: they no longer exist for me, I am now outside all that.’ This is the true order, the order that is effective. First, not to do it. And then you will no longer desire and after that it will go out of your consciousness completely.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 67-68

Setbacks in Sadhana Due to Incomplete Purification of the Nature

With careful observation we can understand that an individual’s greatest weaknesses and difficulties represent the opportunity and specific need for progress for spiritual growth. Each individual faces his own unique challenges. In many cases, the confluence of the soul’s pressure, the outer societal expectations and framework, the circumstances into which one is born, even physical hereditary factors, will create for the soul the specific focus that needs to be delved into for substantive, long-term progress to take place.

The progress has both its dynamic, developmental aspect and its integration and consolidation phase. The developmental aspect represents the spiritual experiences, the progress, the inner growth, the aspiration of the individual soul. The consolidation effort needs to incorporate the insights, the progress, the aspiration into the rest of the being and stabilise it there. This can only be done if the effort is made to review and clear out old habits, predilections, instincts and reactions from the outer being. This is the process of purification that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother describe.

The Mother writes: “I have known people (many, not only a few, I mean among those who do yoga), I have known many who, every time they had a fine aspiration, and their aspiration was very strong and they received an answer to this aspiration, every time, the very same day or at the latest the next day, they had a complete setback of consciousness and were facing the exact opposite of their aspiration. Such things happen almost constantly. Well, these people have developed only the positive side. They make a kind of discipline of aspiration, they ask for help, they try to come into contact with higher forces, they succeed in this, they have experiences; but they have completely neglected cleaning their room; it has remained dirty as ever, and so, naturally, when the experience has gone, this dirt becomes still more repulsive than before.”

“One must never neglect to clean one’s room, it is very important; inner cleanliness is at least as important as outer cleanliness.”

“Vivekananda has written (I don’t know the original, I have only read the French translation): ‘One must every morning clean one’s soul and one’s body, but if you don’t have time for both, it is better to clean the soul than clean the body.’ “

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 66-67

Trapped by the Social and Moral Code, or Beyond Good and Evil?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that certain individuals, by virtue of their innate status as superior beings, could not be bound by social rules or morality or ethics. While the implication may be understood to apply to those who have evolved beyond the ‘need’ for such contextual social rules, the actual understanding and application of his philosophy has made it clear that social norms were able to be trampled underfoot by those who declared themselves to be superior. We thus witness the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime which treated others, not members of their specific clique or, at the very least, their racial origins, as “subhuman” and thus, could be despised, controlled, enslaved, tortured and exterminated.

Dostoevsky explored this theme in Crime and Punishment. A college student, Raskolnikov explored in his mind (and in a paper he wrote and had published), whether a superior man could act with impunity and commit acts which would be constrained in the normal social sense. Such a superior man could justify the act as being the price of the higher benefit such a man could bring to society. He then determined to carry out a theft in order to maintain his ability to continue his education and make such a contribution as a ‘superior man’ beyond social conventions. In the course of the theft he murdered two people. The course of the book shows how he remained bound, in his mind, and in his being, to the social conventions, and therefore did not fit his own definition of the superior man. He was caught and tried for his crime as a result. He also gained the opportunity for reflection about his misplaced ideas of superiority.

Clearly, those individuals who arrogate to themselves a superior status that need not abide by the moral and social code of the society within which they live, face a real test of whether they are doing so by following a true higher law, or whether they are doing it as an excuse to carry out acts that lower the consciousness and demean their status in the human scale.

As the Mother points out, however, an even more difficult case in terms of spiritual growth and development lies in those who are extremely conscientious about their adherence to those social and moral codes, and reflect the arrogance of the ego in their outward superiority. They remain rigid and bound by that framework, and thus are not generally ready for, nor receptive to, the path of spiritual growth to move upward beyond the limits of their current level of understanding and knowledge.

The Mother notes: “Now, I may put you on your guard against something… about people who live in their vital consciousness and say, ‘I am above moral laws, I follow a higher law, I am free from all moral laws.’ And they say this because they want to indulge in all irregularities. These people, then, have a double impurity: they have spiritual impurity and in addition social impurity. And these usually have a very good opinion of themselves, and they assert their wish to live their life with an unequalled impudence.”

“Yet usually the people whom I have found most difficult to convert are very respectable people. I am sorry, but I have had much more difficulty with respectable people than with those who were not so, for they had such a good opinion of themselves that it was impossible to open them. But the true thing is difficult. That is to say, one must be very vigilant and very self-controlled, very patient, and have a never-failing goodwill. One must not neglect having a small dose of humility, a sufficient one, and one must never be satisfied with the sincerity one has. One must always want more.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 66

Purity from the Moral Standpoint or the Spiritual Standpoint

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna poses the question to Sri Krishna as to how to identify the realised soul, asking how does he act, how does he speak, etc. Sri Krishna responds that it is not through outer action that one can identify the liberated individual, as this is something that can only be understood from the inner state of consciousness of that individual.

Some people follow the moral precepts of their society or their religion in an exemplary fashion. Yet, inwardly they may be in a state of turmoil, under pressure, perhaps even lusting after things that they do not show outwardly. They are considered moral and leading lights of society. Yet from the spiritual standpoint they are struggling and unready for the deeper realisations. There may be others who outwardly seem to be lacking in the correct moral standpoint, at least within the framework of the social order within which they live, but who are free inwardly and hold a deep sense of spiritual purpose. These individuals will still be working out the challenges they face, but they do it with an orientation and focus possibly absent from the individual who strictly observes the outer forms while not solving the inner obstacles that arise.

The Mother observes: “For example, if you take your stand on a moral viewpoint — which is itself altogether wrong from the spiritual point of view — there are people who apparently lead an altogether perfectly moral life, who conform to all the social laws, all the customs, the moral conventions, and who are a mass of impurity — from the spiritual point of view these beings are profoundly impure. On the other hand there are some poor people who do things… who are born, for instance, with a sense of freedom, and do things which are not considered very respectable from the social or moral point view, and who can be in a state of inner aspiration and inner sincerity which makes them infinitely purer than others. This is one of the big difficulties. As soon as one speaks of these things, there arises the deformation produced in the consciousness by all the social and moral conventions. As soon as you speak of purity, a moral monument comes in front of you which completely falsifies your notion. And note that it is infinitely easier to be moral from the social point of view than to be moral from the spiritual point of view. To be moral from the social viewpoint one has only to pay good attention to do nothing which is not approved of by others; this may be somewhat difficult, but still it is not impossible; and one may be, as I said, a monument of insincerity and impurity while doing this; whereas to be pure from the spiritual point of view means a vigilance, a consciousness, a sincerity that stand all tests.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 65-66

The Concept of Spiritual Purity in the Integral Yoga

For most people, purity is connected with a moral precept, and for most, this has eventually been related to the question of sexual relations. The question of chastity, and withholding of sexual activity until the socially sanctioned relationship of marriage has been put in place, holds a central place in most cultural ideas of ‘purity’. The requirement of chastity, outside of the context of membership in a religious order, has mostly been placed on women, and it has been a force of social domination of women by men, who are not bound to the same rule in normal society. There are formal rules, such as the commandment against adultery, that technically are required for all, but women, even here, tend to bear the brunt of the social pressure for abandoning their “purity” of having sexual relations only within the scope of their formal marriage bonds.

In the context of religious devotion, the question of purity also adheres to the male devotees, and the concept of strict chastity and, in India, the concept of brahmacharya represent attempts to set up an external mode of purity. With brahmacharya however, we see that the basis for it is not so much a moral precept, but one that deals with the energy and the flow of that energy within the being, including the need to harbor the force that creates the sexual energy and redirect it upwards to higher energy centers, eventually reaching the union with the spiritual center above the head.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother look at purity from an entirely different direction, wherein the management of the sexual energy and its redirection is but a part of the larger question of purity. In their view, purity is the coherence between the spiritual aspiration and ideal and the thoughts, emotions, vital actions and physical responses. Anything which does not align with the spiritual aspiration and focus represents an impurity which needs to be examined and successively modified over time to create the direct correspondence between inner and outer, and spirit and human life. The alignment of the energy which normally goes to the fulfillment of sexual desire is but a small part of this larger concept of purity. To the extent that any thought, any emotion, any vital action or any physical response goes to the aggrandisement of the ego-personality or the fulfillment of desires, separated from the aspiration of the psychic being and the dedication to the Divine Will, it represents a form of impurity somewhere in the being.

The Mother writes: “One is truly perfectly pure when the whole being, in all its elements and all its movements, adheres fully, exclusively, to the divine Will. This indeed is total purity. It does not depend on any moral or social law, any mental convention of any kind. It depends exclusively on this: when all the elements and all the movements of the being adhere exclusively and totally to the divine Will.”

“Now, there are stages, there are degrees. For example, insincerity, which is one of the greatest impurities, always arises from the fact that a movement or a set of movements, an element of the being or a number of elements, want to follow their own will and not be the expression of the divine Will. So this produces in the being either a revolt or a falsehood. I don’t mean that one tells lies, but I mean that one is in a state of falsehood, of insincerity. And then, the consequences are more or less serious and more or less extensive according to the gravity of the movement itself and its importance. But these, if one sees from the point of view of purity, these are the real impurities.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 64-65