Focused Attention & Investigation as Paths to Success

In pre­vi­ous blogs I have includ­ed expla­na­tions of the first two ‘paths to suc­cess’ (iddhipā­da), name­ly, whole­some enthu­si­asm (chan­da) and effort (viriya). One of the read­ers of this web­site recent­ly request­ed that I include expla­na­tions of the remain­ing two fac­tors. As before, these descrip­tions are con­tained in Ven. Phra Payutto’s chap­ter in Bud­dhad­ham­ma on con­cen­tra­tion.

Taming the Elephant

Focused atten­tion (cit­ta): the mind is focused on an object or an activ­i­ty; it does not release the object of atten­tion or become dis­tract­ed. If one’s mind is intent­ly focused on some­thing, one will pay no atten­tion to any­thing else. If anoth­er per­son men­tions anoth­er sub­ject one will take no inter­est in this dis­cus­sion, but if one’s favoured sub­ject is brought up one will imme­di­ate­ly take a spe­cial inter­est. Occa­sion­al­ly one may be so immersed in an activ­i­ty that one pays no atten­tion to one’s phys­i­cal needs and attire, los­es track of time, and for­gets to eat and sleep. Things may hap­pen in one’s sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment of which one is com­plete­ly unaware. This focused atten­tion gives rise to con­cen­tra­tion, which is called con­cen­tra­tion aris­ing from focused atten­tion (cit­ta-samād­hi). The mind is estab­lished on an activ­i­ty, pos­sess­es pow­er to engage with it, and is accom­pa­nied by sup­port­ive effort.

Inves­ti­ga­tion (vimaṁsā): the appli­ca­tion of wis­dom; con­tem­pla­tion; rea­son­ing; reflec­tion; an exam­i­na­tion of the imbal­ances, short­com­ings, or defects of one’s actions; an abil­i­ty to exper­i­ment and to search for ways to adjust and improve one­self. Here, wis­dom guides con­cen­tra­tion. Inquis­i­tive peo­ple like to ana­lyze and try things out. Their exam­i­na­tions are of this nature: ‘What is the cause for this result?’ ‘Why have things hap­pened in this way?’ ‘This fac­tor has pro­duced this result; if we remove this fac­tor the result will dif­fer; if we add this oth­er fac­tor instead things should unfold in this way; if they don’t hap­pen as planned why is this so?—how can we adjust this?’

In Dham­ma prac­tice they reflect in the fol­low­ing man­ner: ‘What is the mean­ing and pur­pose of this spir­i­tu­al qual­i­ty? On which occa­sions should it be applied? How is it con­nect­ed to oth­er qual­i­ties?’ ‘My spir­i­tu­al prac­tice is not pro­gress­ing; which spir­i­tu­al fac­ul­ties are too weak and which in excess?’ ‘Peo­ple in today’s age live under these con­di­tions. Which spir­i­tu­al qual­i­ties are they lack­ing? How can I instil these qual­i­ties in them? What aspects of these qual­i­ties should I empha­size?’

Such analy­sis and exam­i­na­tion helps to com­pose the mind, which con­stant­ly keeps close track of the mat­ter at hand. This leads to con­cen­tra­tion, which is called con­cen­tra­tion aris­ing from inves­ti­ga­tion (vimaṁsā-samād­hi). The mind is absorbed in that activ­i­ty; it is strong; it does not wan­der or waver. This con­cen­tra­tion is accom­pa­nied by sup­port­ive effort, sim­i­lar to the oth­er fac­tors lead­ing to suc­cess.

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