Mindfulness, Concentration, and Meditation

Acknowledgment: The following extract is taken from Judy Cosgrove's edited transcript of a discussion with his students led by Kobin Chino Otogawa Sensei on Thursday, August 30, 1973. The transcript is from a series of Thursday morning dharma discussions. Judy publishes on her website Thursday Morning Discussions with Kobun.


X: Sensei, would you say something about concentration and mindfulness?

Kobun: Oh, that’s a big, big matter.... I feel concentration is like breathing. I’m not talking about concentration on breathing. Concentration is like breathing, itself. Inhalation is concentration of energy towards yourself. Exhalation is concentration of your energy to the outside. In inhalation and exhalation the movement is towards the center, like this (demonstrates). And the result of this concentration is a basic thing surrounding your existence. It is totally giving your energy away to the close circumstance. So mindfulness is the exact thing to do. By doing it your energy gets the right scattering. Concentration is not just mental activity or some psychological process, or situation of mind. When you are reading some novel, your whole body is reading the book. Even when you are drinking a cup of tea, the cup of tea is involved in reading. Everything is in one direction. What is actually happening is in your world of the novel. You are one of the participants of the novel. But when you stop reading, you find yourself in reality. If you go back and forth quickly, you cannot be in the novel, you cannot be in reality. This kind of very interesting thing happens when you watch your way of concentrating. How you choose the things to do, and how you do them, becomes very important. When you do too many things a day, everything you do will be done with very little concentration. When you choose very few things and for a short time concentrate very deeply, even when you spend only one hour, you can satisfy.... Concentration relates with intuition, insight, and polishing abilities and skills. The feeling of concentration is very harmonized energy, a harmonious, pleasant feeling. Artists, including sewing, ironing, the narrower meaning of artist, includes this very good custom of concentration. And you see the result of your concentration producing something and benefiting people. It not only satisfies you, but many people have a very good feeling about what you are doing.

X: Is there a problem in that when we concentrate on one thing that we are not so aware of other things?

Kobun: Yeh, that is how different concentration is from meditation. Meditation is million billion concentrations gathered in one point, so that we have to keep very straight body and very strong body to accept all concentrations. Concentration cannot work on five senses all at once. Always one sense is emphasized and other senses support and follow it. Like when you are drawing a picture your very deep concentration is supported with very deep meditation. Like cooking. When you cook something your attention is not on something particular. Concentration is more like blindness, but clear blindness. In it you are acting. When your work is done, food is there. If you think, “I’ll cut this squash real nice way,” you cannot move your knife so well. If you forget the idea, “I’ll do a good job,” and just let it go.... The blindness is blindness of surface consciousness, but a very intuitive, very clear order of sense is always working. So you know when you start and when you stop the fire, when you stop cooking you naturally know. Practice and repetition of training are always needed for concentration. Meditation is very different. Many times people mix up meditation and concentration. You cannot control yourself to do meditation. If you try to control yourself, you never get into meditation. So you have to ask your meditation, “Please, please come to me,” otherwise you chase it to get it, but it never comes to you. You don’t get it if you think you can do meditation every time, everywhere. So it is very, very serious whether we can meditate or not. My feeling is whether I can be accepted by it or not. When my mind attitude is wrong, I cannot be accepted by meditation. If I have so many worries, so many things to do, even though meditation is always covering me, accepting me, whatever I’m doing, I don’t feel it. Recognition of feeling of meditation is like feeling of inhalation and exhalation. Air is everywhere and you just breathe a very little amount of it. But when you inhale, your whole life is exhaled by the air. If you exhale, you are inhaled by the whole air. It is this kind of relation. So there is no conception of small and big, as in, “I am small and meditation is big,” or, “Meditation is small and I am big.” And there is no inside and outside, no sense that meditation is inside of me or outside of me. Many times I have experienced when I meditate inside my body, “Where is the inside of my body?” The feeling is that the inside of me is not meditating but the whole outside of me is meditating, and helping the inside of me to meditate. That is my feeling. The whole world is meditating, moving and meditating, and its reflection is within me. Every moment is just a reflection of it. Twenty-four hours a day the whole world is in meditation and when I sit regularly that is a great opportunity to really reflect and feel it.


Concentration is when two or three elements are communicating within the big world of meditation. When you meditate the elements become the whole, the unity within you, without you. Even though it is very chaotic, very complicated, sometimes the form is confused. Even if you don’t feel the right feeling, the peaceful feeling, of meditation, even though from beginning to end you suffer, you do meditate within. Even in a time when you feel pain for forty minutes, that can be called meditation, real meditation.


Mindfulness is a very sincere concern, maybe dropping of selfish desire from within you, dropping of selfish idea from object, and trying to communicate in a real way. That is mindfulness. Sometimes it appears as a job, sometimes it appears as the relationship of people, sometimes as little jobs for the whole society. Sometimes it is just listening to people and society. Sincerity, mindfulness, and real honesty, these attitudes of mind are always working together. The action of mindfulness always calls feelings of gratitude from both sides, from your side and from the other side. This is how you know whether this action was real mindfulness or not. Real honesty reaches to correct understanding. When something appears, you express how it appeared and what it is, and people will see that it is right. Honesty needs a very strict attitude toward yourself... because misunderstanding and mis-speech becomes honesty, too. There are stages and degrees of honesty. Like there are various colors of red: strong color, very faint color, dark kind of red, light kind of red, there are various degrees of honesty.


Right understanding causes a feeling of stability, a very certain feeling about yourself, your existence. Right understanding becomes courage when you decide what to do. You don’t hesitate or ask, “Is this right or wrong?” You just go on and do it, and doing so, a feeling of certainty and right feeling follows. Mindfulness is a very important attitude to develop, especially when we live with other people.


I feel that all beings touch my being: Air, water, warmth or coldness, darkness or light, all touch, taste of food, feelings and impulses of people. Mindfulness is like the border of concentration in meditation. It is total awareness of what you are doing and where you are doing it. If you concentrate on every direction, that will be described as meditation. You do not do it, but it happens when you are ready to accept it, or when you are ready to be accepted by it, it happens.


Over and over I say meditation, concentration, are matters of our living life, itself. It is not just brain activity, it’s whole body and mind. When you think, “What is Twentieth Century, 1973, August 30?” recognition of this date is maybe like concentration. But what it is, is in the great one time. There is no such length of time. This is, right now, the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The Twentieth Century is the whole phenomenal condition and the whole nomenal condition which accepted this whole phenomenal condition. And let it move, let it maintain, let this whole thing maintain. That is the, so-called it, present moment.


So in the present moment, actually, the ancient time is contained, and the endless future is contained. And the sense of the present, when you really recognize that the present exists, it is very pleasurable. There is grateful recognition, “Oh, this exists. Not only I, but everything exists in this way.” Various one-sided views and beliefs, and few-sided views and beliefs, make people’s idea of life. There are many, many different appearances of people. To listen to everyone and to make an effort to accept them, and try to feel whether you are accepted by them or not, this is a very important point.


Last night our conversation was about ego. It’s a very big topic. “Ego” is a very practical and very present term. It has strong independence, individuality. In an ethical sense it has a very negative feeling and a very positive feeling. When people lose their ego it’s like a melting, ice melting and becoming water, becoming warmer and evaporating. Ego can be seen as self-insistence, insisting on our being as an individual one. There is a process of formalization, actualization, of individuality. If everyone becomes independent, it must be a fantastic world. It’s like a forest of trees, very straight trees. A little tree appears and grows straight.


But when I speak of a little negative side of this egoistic life ... this aloneness goes to loneliness, like warmth goes toward cold, like the process of water becoming very, very cold, and freezing. Unfortunately, in the present time, egoism and nihilism are in a very chaotic state – a state of many ideas. Once everyone’s mind becomes very egoistic, very nihilistic, many people are recognizing it’s impossible to continue to live in an egoistical way, always insisting on one’s opinion, comparing and competing which is the better way. It’s like racing. There is a very positive way and a very negative way to race. Competition is making our gap of generations. When you compete, ancestors forget you. The energy of competition relates with age. In the competing world, a high school boy and an old woman don't compete. Competition involves same, similar generation. Depths of age and experience make very strong, nice competition. Naturally these sliced gaps of generation appear, and it’s very hard to have empathy between one generation and another generation. Understanding of generations doesn’t help to solve emotional relationships. It’s hard to find a feeling of unity.


Fortunately, zazen is a process which opens both ways. If you are too cold, you open yourself up to melt. If you are too hot, your meditation opens up the possibility to get cooler. Meditation is such a set-up, such an opportunity.


Thank you.



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