Concentration meditation (samadhi) explained

Here's my attempt to clarify concentration meditation in my own mind. This is in contrast to an earlier post on mindfulness meditation. I won't try to explain all the different techniques you might use to get concentrated as this would take too long, so I'll focus on using the breath and deep relaxation.

The first thing to understand about concentration meditation is that it has very little to do with everyday concentration as we know it, i.e. focusing on a task intently, thinking hard about something. It has more to do with tranquility and letting go of contraction and allowing a new kind of experience to arise - altered mind states known as jhanas. The intention is to generate a unity of body and mind.

Anyway, first things first. We begin concentration meditation by placing attention on a single object, such as the breath, using mindful awareness. We use mindfulness as a technique to stabilise our attention (this is probably why people get confused between mindfulness and concentration meditation). As in all meditation, during this initial phase we are engaged in a struggle between remaining mindful and being distracted by thoughts (in the guise of the five hindrances). Each time we get lost we simply return to the object of our attention - the breath. We can use various techniques to remain interested in the breath such as breath counting or repeating phrases as we breathe in and out.

Once we have stable attention, we then use the breath to purposefully relax the body and tranquillise any tension that we might be holding. At some point we will notice pleasureable feelings arising in the body and we can then switch attention to them. We abide with these pleasurable sensations and allow them to expand so that we become fully drenched in them. These feelings envelope us and, as we stay with them, we notice a great contentment being felt. We follow the contentment and this, in turn, gives way to an easeful stillness. People seem to disagree about the naming of these states, but I'd say that this is access concentration.

At this point we are still 'ourselves' and we might be able to recognise the five so-called jhanic factors pulsing round our system:

- initial application of attention
- sustained application of attention
- rapture/joy
- happiness/contentment
- one pointedness or singleness of mind.

Any stray thoughts that may arise at this time will be of little interest and easily let go of.

So, onwards. The next stage is to dwell in the singleness of mind with all our senses working with the mental experience of the breath. Our intention is to let go and surrender our mind. At some point, if we stick with the breath, a switch happens and the mind is liberated from its normal operations and we feel profoundly different - we are in jhana. There are no stray thoughts here anymore and if we do think we immediately fall out of the jhanic state. The jhanic states continue as we go deeper into them until it all goes very bizarre indeed.

I think that will do for now. Hopefully I've illustrated the difference in approach between continuous mindful awareness and concentration meditation.

The difficulty with concentration meditation is letting the positive mental states dominate us totally - that's why it's best to limit the distractions in our life and generate goodwill for everything.