In Thailand, when they translate “concentration” into Thai [from the Pāli], they translate it as being “firmly intent.” In other words, the mind is not simply still and quiet. There’s also a very strong intention to stay that way, to maintain this stillness.
Of course, to stay right here you need motivation. You have to understand that this is a good thing to do. And there’s so much out there that will pull you away and tell you that it’s not. In the world outside they say that lots of other things are much more worthwhile and interesting in life.
[The Buddha] was always encouraging people to get the mind concentrated. Jhana, right concentration, he said, was the heart of the path. When he told the monks to go meditate, he’d say: “Go do jhana.” This is the “doing” of the path.”
As Ajaan Lee points out, it’s one of the more difficult parts of the path to do. It requires the most work and the most intention. This may be one of the reasons why people like to find some way around it. In Ajaan Lee’s image, the three main divisions of the path—virtue, concentration, and discernment—are like the posts for a bridge over a river. Virtue is the post on this side of the river, discernment is on the other side of the river, while the concentration post is right in the middle of the river, where the current is strongest, so it requires the most work to get it in place. Be willing to give as much energy as you can, realizing that this is really what’s going to make all the difference.
You can read as much as you’d like about discernment, inconstancy, stress, not-self, emptiness, whatever, but it’s not really going to have a hold on the mind until the mind settles down firmly and can be still.
That’s one of the functions of concentration: to give us a better standard of pleasure, a pleasure that comes not from sensuality but from form, i.e., the body as you feel it from within. This pleasure doesn’t require that the world outside be a certain way. All it requires is that you pay attention to what you’ve already got here—which means that there’s a lot less unskillful activity involved in accessing this pleasure and maintaining it. It doesn’t require that you take anything from the world, and it doesn’t obscure your vision in the same way that sensual pleasures do.
Being in concentration is actually a lot safer than not being in concentration. When you’re not in concentration, you go back to your old fascination with sensuality.
So learn to cultivate this pleasure, this sense of well-being inside. Look after it. Care for it. It’s so important that the Buddha, when he talked about having respect for the threefold training, stepped back again and said: Have respect for concentration. It’s part of the threefold training, but it’s the part that tends to get overlooked, so he emphasized it again.
Realize that you’ve got something precious here. It may not seem like much in the beginning, but if you care for it, it grows.
These reflections by Ajaan Geoff are from the Dhamma Talks book, Factors for Awakening : Ten Dhamma Talks, “Concentration.”