Concentration, Attention, and Awareness – Vimala Thakar

Mount Abu; July 12, 1973

Let us begin our inquiry by considering concentration, attention, and awareness. Concentration is attention that is limited by motive, by direction, and by time duration. Motive gives direction and thereby creates the boundaries of attention. Concentration is attention that has chains on its hands and feet as it were.

You can have a motive in relation to known things: things that are known to you, to your family, to your community, to your fellow countrymen, or to the human race at large. You can have a motive in relation to things that have been experienced by people all over the world. But a motive in relation to the unknown is impossible. You can have a motive in relation only to that which has been known, experienced, measured, evaluated, and judged, either by you or by your family or community, and so on, and so on. That is how we have been brought up.

Now, divinity (call it divinity, call it God, call it reality, call it the universal intelligence, call it cosmic consciousness, call it the totality of existence: give it any name) is not in the category of the known, the experienced, the compared, the evaluated, and the judged. The human race has inhabited the globe for millions of years, but there are things that have not been adequately verbalized yet, like truth, beauty, love, and freedom. And silence has not yet been measured. It has not been grasped by the mind and put into the framework of time and space. So in relation to the known, there can be motives. Concentration is an activity always in relation to the known. Either you want it or you want to give it up.

There is another kind of mental activity that is called attention. Attention is the involuntary reflex action of the brain, of the cerebral organ. When your eyes are open, they see things. You may not look at things, but the involuntary action of the eyes is to see objects; the involuntary action of the ears is to hear sounds; the involuntary action of the nose is to smell odors, scents, perfumes, fragrances. The involuntary action, the action built into the very structure of the skin, is to feel the touch, the hot, the cold, the pleasant, and the unpleasant. In the same way, the human brain has been made sensitive in such a way that its built-in action is to attend to things, even without a motive.

Concentration, which is based upon motive, gives direction and limits attention. Attention is an involuntary cerebral activity. You can’t change it, you can’t suppress it, you can’t inhibit it, unless you use violence against yourself. You use violence in many forms. Either you dull the brain with medicines, with drugs, or you dull the brain by repetition of certain words, chanting them over and over again so that the brain moves in a channel and can’t move outside of the channel. It is the built-in action of the brain to attend to things. Your eyes are closed and there is a bird chirping somewhere on some branch of some tree and the brain attends to it. Being a cultured and civilized human being, your brain immediately distinguishes the sound of the horn of a car from the sound of the call of a bird: it says, that is the horn of a car. A person who has lived in deep jungles or forests somewhere in Africa or in Australia will not be able to recognize the noise of the jet plane flying over a city. It may not be possible for the person living in a village to distinguish the sound of a transistor, a tape recorder, a radio, and so on. So civilization has developed certain powers, cultivated certain powers, and now they are built into your brain and my brain. That is our inheritance. The cultivated brain is our inheritance, and people living in countries where science and technology have advanced to a very considerable extent have very sophisticated brains.

So the brain attends to a sound. And what does “attending to” imply? Recognizing. First, cognition: there is a sound. The brain cognizes. Then recognition: the brain recognizes, that is to say, it identifies and gives the sound a name, distinguishing it from others. That is what naming implies. You give a name to distinguish one thing as separate and independent of the other, separate from the other. There is a car passing by, there is a child shrieking, and so on. So attention means cognition, identification, recognition, and naming.

All this goes on and I don’t think it is bondage. The naming and the indentifying process in the brains of cultured and civilized people is a very harmless, innocent cerebral activity. It goes on. The brain attends to it. It is not concentration. The mind has not come into play to focus all the brain’s energy on a certain purpose in order to gain something from it. It is just simple, innocent, bare attention, which is bound to go on as long as you and I are alive. And I think that is the beauty of human life. Attention is different from concentration, and yet it is an activity of the brain.

Now from attention we move to awareness. Awareness is the nature of intelligence. It has nothing to do with the brain, with intellect, with naming, with identifying. So first of all, when one sits down in silence, one plunges into an unconditional relaxation. One comes face-to-face with this deep-rooted habit of concentrating on things. One says, I am sitting down in silence, but the bird disturbs me. The bird won’t disturb me unless I concentrate upon it. I attend to it and call it a disturbance the moment I judge it, evaluate it, the moment I have concentrated upon it. So I say, It disturbs me, it distracts me. The moment I say that it distracts me or it disturbs me, it indicates that I have been resisting.

Resistance is inverted concentration. Resistance as a form of concentration has got to be unmasked. Before one can proceed toward meditation, it is absolutely necessary to unmask various activities. Resistance is a form of concentration: otherwise, why should it disturb me? The fact that it disturbs me implies that I have formed a relationship with it, a relationship of resistance. It is as if the bird is singing in order to disturb me, as if the car is passing by in order to distract me. I relate myself in that way. Resistance implies relationship. A relationship that has the friction of resistance leads to disharmony.

I wish that you could see the beauty of this. Unless you form a relationship of resistance, there cannot be disturbance and distraction. And one speaks this out of personal experience. For the past thirty or forty years that one has lived, one has not come across things and individuals who could disturb, who could distract. To be disturbed or distracted by something means it irritates me, it annoys me. I want to do something, and it does not allow me to do it. You build up a relationship with disturbance or distraction.

When you are attending—that is to say, when the brain is attending—to objects and there is no resistance built up by the mind, due to certain motives, for certain purposes, the attention burns as brightly as a flame. This is again a cerebral activity. This is a habit of the brain to attend to things. In that state of attention, whatever flows is allowed to flow, allowed to come in and move out, allowed to come up from within and subside. Thus in the mirror of attention it becomes possible for you to look at yourself: the feelings, the thoughts, the sentiments, and the emotions. You are looking at yourself. When you stand before the mirror you are looking at yourself. There seems to be the other, and yet there is no other. There is only you yourself and there is the mirror and there is the activity of looking at yourself.

This metaphor is very important for what we are going to talk about. We have to deal with things invisible, intangible, and so we will need the help of metaphors without stretching them too far, without making them ugly. So attention enables you to be in a state where thoughts, experiences, and memories are looked at. Yet you are looking at them, but not concentrating upon them. The moment that you begin to analyze them, you are concentrating upon them. The moment that you compare and evaluate them, you slip from the state of attention into the state of concentration.

It is a slippery ground between attention and concentration. If, for the fun of it, you sit before a mirror and look at your hands, nose, clothes, and the shape of your body, you are looking at particular parts of yourself. The relation is in duality. But you can look at your own body—you see your image, you see your reflection—but you are not looking at particular parts of your body. You are not looking at the clothes, the feet, the hands: it is just seeing and not looking. Then you are aware. When you are not looking at particular parts of the body, you are aware of the shape of the mirror, you are aware of things that are behind you getting reflected into the mirror. You are aware of the light of the sun coming through the window toward the mirror, and of the play of the light and the dance of the light in the mirror and in the room: you are aware of the whole room. The moment that looking at particular parts of the body is over, you are in the state of seeing. Seeing enables you to be aware of yourself, of the reflection, of the mirror, and of the ceiling, do you see? Frontiers are widening, horizons of attention begin to widen.

Concentration is a relationship with the particular, and attention is a relationship with the whole. And then, as before, your seeing goes on widening and widening and you are aware. It is not a cerebral activity any more. As long as you were looking at it, it was a cerebral activity, but later on you see the mirror, the walls and the reflection. You are not looking at anything. You are just seeing. And the seeing changes into being aware.

Awareness is the nature of intelligence that vibrates in the universe. Awareness is the purest movement of energy. We have talked about the physical, we have talked about the cerebral, and now we come to awareness, which is a movement of intelligence contained in your whole being. When you listen to music, you do not hear only with the ears. First of all, you listen with the ears to the melody, the notes, the volume, the frequency of sound vibrations. Then the listening widens into hearing. You are aware of the notes, the overtones, and the undertones: the whole person is singing. You are aware of the movement of singing in the person and the movement that music has brought about within you. So listening grows into awareness: awareness of the musician, awareness of the listener, awareness of the surroundings. So awareness is a movement of the sensitivity, of the intelligence, that is vibrating in the whole of you. When you are near a forest, mountain, hill, lake, beautiful field, or seashore, your whole being becomes aware of the scenery. Those who look only with the eyes will get bored with the mountains, the river, or the Himalayas in no time. Because they look only through the eyes, and hear only through the ears, they do not allow the looking and listening to grow into awareness. Concentration and attention and then unresisted attention—unmutilated attention—develops into awareness. It is no longer a cerebral activity: it has become the movement of your total sensitivity, of your intelligence, of your whole being. It is a happening in your totality. And yet I say that this is not meditation.

Awareness has a movement, the movement of intelligence, which is the nature of energy outside you and within you. This is not yet meditation. But it leads you to the threshold of the state of meditation. Intelligence is the movement of energy. It is the purest form of movement, not contaminated by the cerebral structure, the thoughts, the feelings, the sentiments, the habits, the values, or ideologies. It is untouched by the human mind, and yet it is a movement of energy. Tomorrow morning we will see how energy is the property of matter. But even the movement of intelligence, even the state of awareness, is not the state of meditation, because you are still in the field of very subtle matter. Energy and movement go together; energy is the property of matter. Movement is an indication that we are still in the field of matter. We are proceeding very slowly and very gradually, because we are dealing with meditation, which is a new dimension of consciousness. The whole human race is struggling emotionally and intellectually to grow into an entirely new dimension of life. So this is not a game of words; this is not speculation; this is not sentimentalism. This is something that you have to explore within the laboratory of your own mind and body.

From concentration you move to attention. In the state of attention, there are no frontiers; there is no direction; there is no motive; but still there is you looking at yourself, which is a cultivated duality, a conceptual duality. From attention you grow into the state of awareness, where there is no “I” and “it,” there is no “me” and “you”: there is only a movement of intelligence vibrating. The person is living and therefore vibrates with intelligence. That is the sensitivity contained in his or her body. Concentration involves mind, memory, experience, and energy. Every attention involves the habit pattern of the cerebral organ. Awareness implies and involves sensitivity of the totality and yet there is movement. And wherever there is movement, there is energy. Energy is the property of matter, and therefore a person living in the state of awareness of the totality is not yet in the state of meditation.

Those of you who have been with me in Norway, the Netherlands, or California know very well that I am interested in this subject from an educational point of view, that is, the education of the human psyche, the human race trying to educate itself and grow into a new dimension. So I deal with meditation as far as words can carry us rationally, scientifically, and sanely. As long as the brain can work, we have to move with the brain. If you deny the brain, then there will be an inhibition and every inhibition is an intrusion and is an obstruction. If you go against the brain, if you deny the brain, if you deny yourself, or if you deny sentiments, the emotions, then every suppression will lead to a psychosomatic obstacle. So we are not going to do that. We will go with reason as far as it takes us. This helps the inquirer to maintain his freedom, his initiative, and his balance of mind.

If you surrender your freedom and expect everything to be done for you by others, then you give up your initiative and you give up the balance of your mind. Man has struggled for freedom in the political and economic field. He should be careful not to throw away his psychic freedom. There will be exchanges, there will be communications, there will be discussions with persons who have made the inner journey, but the exchanges will be in the atmosphere of friendship and not in the atmosphere of authority. Man has struggled for freedom for so many centuries: witness the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Indian Revolution under Gandhi, The African-Americans struggling for freedom under the guidance of Martin Luther King Jr., the Africans struggling under the leadership of Kenneth Kuanda and Jomo Kenyata. So if you value economic, political, and social freedom, don’t give up your psychic freedom in a minute in exchange for a few shabby experiences. Those who say that without the relationship of authority, spiritual exploration cannot take place, are doing damage to the human mind. I say to you, it is possible. It has been possible. If it is possible in the life of an average person—Vimala, who sits before you—then it can happen in your own life. It can happen provided there is an inquiry, provided the inquiry is correlated with your whole life, and provided the inquiry is allowed to grow, blossom, and bring about changes in your life.

This is something very serious that I am communicating every day. Bit by bit, step by step, we will go into the deeper regions of the human psyche.

– Vimala Thakar

from Blossoms of Friendship. Motilal Banarsidass, 1973. Rodmell Press, 2003.

Here you can find Vimala’s talk on the next day The Movement of the Mind.

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