The Perfection of Concentration: Dhyanaparamita

Our minds are all over the place. Even when we try to focus on something, we’re constantly distracted by non-stop notifications from our smartphones, or dreaming up scenarios set in the future. Our emotions jump up and down, preventing us from focusing with any stability, especially when our minds are filled with anxiety, worries and fears. With the perfection of concentration, complete with mental and emotional stability, we’re able to use all our abilities successfully to complete any positive task.

Introduction

The fifth of the six far-reaching attitudes (perfections) is concentration or mental stability. With it, we’re able to stay perfectly focused on any object, for as long as we want, with a positive emotion and a deep understanding. Our minds are totally free from the extremes of mental wandering, flightiness due to disturbing emotions (specifically due to attraction to objects of desire), or mental dullness. With a sharp mind, our energies become concentrated and tamed, and no longer run wildly inside us. We come to experience an exhilaratingly blissful – yet also peaceful – feeling, both on a mental and a physical level. We experience the extraordinary clarity of mind that comes when it’s stripped of any distracting thoughts or extraneous emotions. Without attachment to this bare, clear and blissful state, we can use it for accomplishing any positive purpose we wish.

There are several ways to divide far-reaching mental stability – by nature, by type and by function.

Divisions According to the Nature of the Concentration

One way of dividing the different states of far-reaching mental stability is according to the level of attainment of the person who has it. We can differentiate the perfection of concentration of

  • An ordinary person – someone who has not yet attained non-conceptual cognition of emptiness (voidness)
  • Someone transcending the ordinary – a highly realized being (an “arya”) with non-conceptual cognition of voidness.

Those who’ve already experienced, even slightly, non-conceptual cognition of voidness, have rid their minds of some level of disturbing attitudes. Thus, they’re in less danger of being unable to apply far-reaching concentration in daily life because of emotional disturbances.


Divisions According to the Type of Concentration

This division refers to what we’re trying to achieve as we work to attain far-reaching mental stability. Our concentration can be oriented toward achieving:

  • Shamatha – a stilled and settled state of mind, totally free of flightiness and dullness, experienced with an exhilarating, blissful sense of fitness of body and mind that is able to stay focused in a positive state for as long as we want. It focuses single-pointedly on some object with a constructive state of mind – for instance, on one or more limited beings, with compassion or simply discriminating awareness – and with gross detection of the general characteristics of the object, such as its impermanence or its suffering nature.
  • Vipashyana – an exceptionally perceptive state of mind, likewise free of flightiness and dullness and experienced with the exhilarating, blissful sense of fitness that is able to perceive, with clear understanding, all the details of any object. Like the practice of shamatha, it focuses single-pointedly on some object with a constructive state of mind, such as compassion, but here with subtle discernment of all the specific details of the object, such as all the different types of suffering that beings undergo.
  • Shamatha and vipashyana as a joined pair – once we have attained a complete state of shamatha, we then work to join it with a state of vipashyana. An actual state of vipashyana can only be attained on the basis of already having attained shamatha. The joined pair then has both types of exhilarating blissful feeling – a sense of fitness to be able to stay focused on anything we wish and to perceive all its details – as well as gross detection and subtle discernment of all those details.

Divisions According to the Function Performed by the Concentration

Far-reaching mental stability brings about many results once we attain it. These are referred to as the functions that such concentration performs. Concentration functions to:

  • Place our bodies and minds in a blissful state in this lifetime – a state in which we experience an exhilarating, blissful sense of mental and physical fitness, and a temporary stilling of our disturbing emotions
  • Bring about good qualities – attainments shared in common with those striving just for their own liberation, such as extrasensory eyes and advanced awareness, powers of emanation, higher states of mental stability (the “dhyanas”) with temporary freedom from feelings mixed with confusion, and the depletion of disturbing emotions.
  • Enable us to benefit suffering beings – the 11 types of people to help that are also discussed in relation to far-reaching ethical discipline and perseverance.

Summary

It might not always seem evident, but we need concentration to accomplish even small tasks, like tying our shoes. Most of us are capable of concentrating on much more complex things, and we can perfect these skills to attain our spiritual goals. Joined with the other far-reaching attitudes and powered by a bodhichitta aim, our mental stability and concentration become so far-reaching they can bring us all the way to enlightenment.