ENLIGHTENMENT FOR DUMMIES Newsletter – Issue #7 – THE NOBLE EIGHT-FOLD PATH – Step #7, Right Mindfulness and Step #8, Right Concentration
In issue #3 of this newsletter, I noted that although the universe is filled with nouns (things both natural and man-made), it’s verbs that are crucial to injecting life and meaning into those nouns. Likewise in the Buddhist world, the Holy Grail isn’t a thing but rather a number (8) of interconnected dimensions of being or what I call wise practices or if you prefer, enlightened psychological behaviors and actions.
When developed together, this leads to the end of one’s suffering. Here are the eight steps on the Noble Eight-fold Path:
1) Right View (or Right Understanding)
2) Right Intention (Right Thought)
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
Issue #6 on Step #5, Right Livelihood, and Step #6, Right Effort, will be published in the very near future. When I started writing the current issue, I thought I’d already published Issue #6. I apologize for any confusion. For now, I’m going to cover the last two steps, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
One of the recurring themes in this Buddhist-centric blog is “We make it up as we go along”. In keeping with that philosophy, instead of thinking of our Journey of Life as an endless series of trips that takes us from one place to another, one can, given the importance of truly being present in each moment, think of each moment not as a step leading to a far-off destination but as itself being a destination (albeit a temporary one).
Step #7: Right Mindfulness: per Wikipedia, Right Mindfulness means “Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness; being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.”
To me, this means one is able to resist the temptation to make everything about themselves. In any given situation, instead of first looking for ways to manipulate the perception of the situation to make themselves look better, the individual looks outward first. They honestly and genuinely examine the people, surroundings and the interactions (expressions of energy) amongst the people and with their surroundings. Cleansed of the ego’s “me” fixation and freed from the weight of having to live up to a preconceived, narrowly defined self-image, the individual’s significantly increases the odds they will correctly perceive the situation.
In addition, the last part Wikipedia’s entry, “without any craving or aversion”, indicates that a person with Right Mindfulness is able to conquer their own unenlightened, unwise tendencies and perceive the truth even though parts of their being obscure the true nature of whatever or whomever is involved.
A prime example is when a heterosexual male is around a really attractive or really unattractive woman. The tendency is for the male to place more value on the attractive woman and less value on the unattractive woman. The more attractive woman is likely to create a bias in the male’s mind that causes the man to attribute (on the whole) positive qualities other than beauty to that woman no matter what the actual evidence indicates. Conversely, the unattractive woman is likely to cause the male to attribute negative qualities (in addition to her physical appearance) that aren’t necessarily there.
But it’s not as straight-forward as that. Generally, males will presume, until there’s substantial contrary evidence, that really good-looking women aren’t that intelligent. The stereotypical “dumb blonde” is the most obvious example. Likewise, most males envision really smart women to have that “geeky” look, which is to say nerdy glasses, mousy hair, lack of obvious curves and outdated wardrobe. So it’s not all positivity that is lumped with attractive women but overall, it is. So the challenge in that instance is this: CAN THE MALE OVERCOME HIS CRAVING (FOR SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN) AND HIS AVERSION (TO SEXUALLY UNATTRACTIVE WOMEN) AND SEE THE TRUTH OF WHO THAT PARTICULAR PERSON (WHO HAPPENS TO BE FEMALE) REALLY AND TRULY IS.
That’s just one of many, many examples. The key is to remember that no matter how enlightened a person may be, since the nature of Life is that the only constant is change, and that it’s both each person’s great blessing and opportunity, the freedom that everyone enjoys also comes with responsibility to treat one another with the love and respect they deserve. Opportunity is synonymous with a double-edged sword. We can treat others as we would like to be treated as Jesus urged or we can go all judgmental and pick and choose who we deem good enough to merit our good treatment.
Step #8: Right Concentration:
Although Right Concentration, samma samadhi in Pali, is the “last” step, it’s important to realize that the eight steps on the Noble Eight-fold path work together simultaneously. Each step works with all the other seven steps. In general, Right Concentration means “to set the mind right”.
Right Concentration means the individual has developed a one-pointedness of focus that unifies the other mental aspects into the act of cognition. Not only the practitioner focused on the object at hand, he/she also practices wholesome concentration, which is to say the person develops elevated concentration with the deliberate purpose of raising one’s mind to a higher level of purity.
So while the gourmet sitting down to a meal, a rabid football fan watching his (her) favorite team playing on TV and a hit man preparing to dispatch their target all have one-pointedness focus, they do not possess samma samadhi.
Buddhist commentaries define samadhi as the centering of the mind and mental factors rightly and evenly on an object. As wholesome concentration, the individual collects the normally dissipated and dispersed mental states to bring about inner unification. The two primary features of a concentrated mind are unbroken attentiveness and the resulting tranquility of mental functions.
The Buddha compared an untrained mind to the fish that’s pulled out of the water and dropped onto dry land. It flops around from thought to thought, from idea to idea, without inner control. A distracted, untrained mind is also a deluded one. Overwhelmed by worries and concerns, it is easy prey to defilements, and sees things only in fragments because its view of the universe is distorted by random thoughts.
It is like a stormy sea, full of waves and fury. Conversely, a person with Right Concentration has a mind that’s like a calm lake, the surface accurately reflecting whatever is placed before it for consideration.
Methods for Developing Concentration
- DEVELOPMENT OF SERENITY: Deliberately honing and elevating one’s level of concentration.
- DEVELOPMENT OF INSIGHT: The incidental accompaniment while traveling on the path to general insight.
Both methods require individual to have certain prerequisites: A quiet place in which to meditate, an enlightened, trained mentor to guide you and a genuine desire to develop Right Concentration with the goal of reducing the suffering of human beings.
In retrospect, I should have probably included a section on Right Concentration in my book, “Overcome Any Personal Challenge, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, as the development of a calm, focused mind is a crucial part of deconstructing the ego. But even without addressing that issue, the book’s Seven Insights of Enlightenment and linking the ego’s strong connection to the Seven Deadly Sins and the taming of the ego in order to obtain the Seven Virtues provide a solid psychological framework for freeing one from the shackles of an egocentric mindset.
The book’s site is http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.
In “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego”, I present my unique Seven Insights of Enlightenment recovery system. The seven insights form a cognitive framework that can be used to minimize or eliminate any undesirable, harmful and obsessive behavior. To order and/or obtain more info, go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter.