Concentration and Surrender- The Two Fundamental Aspects of Meditation

Awakening, Choice-less Awareness, Enlightenment, Featured Posts, Meditation, Non-duality

  Two aspects or dimensions of meditation can be found in most traditions in which the perennial wisdom flourishes. The two aspects have been called yin and yang, shakti and shiva, or energy and consciousness and many other names throughout history. These two aspects reflect the nature of the dualistic world in which we live. When unbroken presence and non-reactive equanimity are in balance they are like two wings of a bird that will take you to Samadhi. Although the words and names change, there is one universal experience of union common to all those who investigate their true nature, which transcends duality, language and tradition.

   Concentration and surrender are not two separate practices to be used sequentially or separately, but integral and complementary aspects of a single investigation into the source of one’s being. They are the fundamental tools used for purification of the self structure as it transforms through various stages of its evolution and growth. In many of the Buddhist traditions there are considered to be two fundamental aspects to meditation; vipassana and samatha. Samatha is usually characterized by concentration and tranquility, while vipassana or “insight meditation” is characterized by inner surrender and absorption leading to direct knowing or insight into reality as it is. Concentration techniques are often taught in the initial phases of meditation, and insight is often taught separately (often using different techniques) in later phases. Likewise in the yoga sutras of Patanjali we find dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditative absorption /insight), the 6th and 7th limbs of the eight limbs of yoga respectively. Dharana is the concentration aspect of meditation, while dhyana (or jhana in Pali, Zen in Zen Buddhism, Chan in Chan Buddhism) is the 7th limb of yoga, which refers to meditative absorption which leads to insight. It is important to see them not merely as separate techniques, but as aspects to be integrated into one’s meditation practice as well as one’s life.

   Dhyana, the feminine principle is deep surrender, or equanimity, which is not a doing but simply an allowing of everything to be as it is, or an inner state of non-resistance to what is arising in the present moment. It is a surrender or purification of conditioned patterns (sankaras or samskaras) which brings about a freeing of inner energy and an absorption into what is. Jhana absorption is not always necessary for an awakening experience or liberating insight to occur, since awareness can realize itself or “wake up” at any time. Yet it should not be thought of as something separate from concentration and presence, just as yin cannot exist without yang. Dhyana is an integral part of the attaining of more permanent stages of enlightenment. It is integral to the purification process within the self structure that unfolds through time, part of the loosening of the bonds that ensnare consciousness within the ego construct, and results in the freeing of prana from the old conditioning.

    The Buddhist traditions describe four jhana states of consciousness which are within body (the rupa or material jhanas) and four beyond the body (the arupa/ jhanas or formless jhanas). The four material jhanas are similar to Patanjali’s four stages of Savikalpa Samadhi. The four immaterial jhanas describe levels of non-dual awareness which unfold as one gets closer to Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or you could say they describe aspects of reality that become apparent as mind and body drop away. It doesn’t matter what tradition you belong to, or whether you are doing vipassana meditation such as a body scan, noting thoughts and sensations, whether you are doing a Samatha tranquility practice, or whether you are moving energy through the chakras and observing the inner lotus, or if you are “just sitting” as the Zen teacher Dogen taught. The technique (or lack thereof) really is secondary to your meditative absorption or jhana. The technique necessarily falls away as one reaches deeper jhana levels, getting closer and closer to a state of non-doing and resting as awareness (Samadhi). It doesn’t matter how you classify the experience or divide up the jhanas. What matters is the direct experience of a dropping away of the mind’s conditioning and merging or absorption of awareness into the pranic field as it becomes increasingly disidentified with conditioned patterns. When the pranic field is awake (living as conscious spirit/energy), it means you have merged with unlimited mind and the experience is one of satchitananda, or divine love, and it is a connection to or waking up as all that is. When prajna or wisdom awakens it is the realization of the emptiness or nothingness of this and all levels of mind, and this nothingness is primordial awareness which is exactly everything.

   Dharana, the masculine component in meditation, is unbroken, concentrated awareness and presence. There is a will or effort to simply be present, but it is not the effort of doing. No instruction can tell you how to be attentive to what is happening in the present moment, because if an instruction is given, one becomes attentive to the instruction and not to what is happening in the moment. Dharana is a penetrating of the veils (the koshas) of activity that the mind is already engaged in, or a penetrating of maya with pure presence. Krishnamurti said, “…if you are really awake during the day, watching every thought, every feeling, every movement of the mind…watching your reactions…being greatly aware of everything outside you, inwardly, then the whole of the unconsciousness, as well as the conscious, is opened up. Meditation is one of the greatest arts in life-perhaps the greatest, and one cannot possibly learn it from anybody. That is the beauty of it. It has no technique and therefore no authority. When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy – if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation.”

   It is possible to engage in presence and inner surrender simultaneously. When masculine presence and feminine energy/phenomena unite as one, it is Samadhi; a state of effortless effort.

    The Sanskrit word dharana is generally translated to mean “concentration”, but
what exactly is concentration? Concentration has two main components, which I will call “first attention” and “second attention”.

1- First attention is the attention of the limited mind. There is a narrowing of focus to one object, to the exclusion of other thoughts and sensations. You are choosing what the mind is focused on.

2- Second attention refers to awareness which observes the limited mind, or pure presence, which is choiceless.

So concentration can mean both focus when we are talking about the filter or reducing valve of the limited mind, and it can mean the unwaveringness or uninterruptedness of your presence.

   First attention is analogous to the aperture of a camera; it can be focused narrowly or widely. For example if breath is your meditation object you might observe the narrow breath limited to the area below the nostrils, or the rise and fall of the belly, and all other thoughts and sensations are ignored. Attention can be expanded wider and one can engage in observing the feeling of the breath spreading throughout the entire body, feeling a general expansion and contraction. Attention can expand beyond the body into higher or more subtle levels of mind. Whether the mind’s first attention is narrow or diffuse, one’s second attention can be present, or it can be lost in maya, obscured by thinking. It is the unbrokenness of awareness that is required for and inseparable from Samadhi.


“In deep meditation the flow of concentration is continuous like the flow of oil.” ~ Patanjali

 The self structure, like a camera operator, can choose what it wants to focus on. But awareness is always choiceless, simply aware of what is. Awareness has no job and engages in no doing. Pure awareness is without reaction, and without preference for one thing or another. It is the space within which all thoughts and all states come and go.

   When the limited mind is attentive to what is, then in that moment there is no unconscious reaction that entangles awareness or causes it to become identified with phenomena. It is only when the mind is inattentive that there is unconscious reaction, choice and egoic preference. When the mind wanders, producing thoughts out of an old habit pattern, there are two possibilities; either awareness remains aware of itself, or it gets obscured by mind. The thought can either arise and pass away as we remain aware of it, or there can be a break in the stream of oil (awareness), and awareness becomes entangled with mind.

   One of my favorite instructions is “be still and know”. Just as samadhi is inseparable from dharana and dhyana, yin and yang, Shakti and Shiva, stillness is not separate from concentration, nor is it separate from absorption into one’s meditation object. When the true nature of mind is realized as self-luminous awareness, one could say:

be in motion and know” just as one could say “be still and know”.

Or more succinctly, it is realized that stillness and motion are ultimately a duality created by the limited mind. From the absolute perspective, unlimited mind, no such distinction really exists. In Samadhi stillness and motion are realized as “not one, not two”. The “I AM” never moves from that still point that is everywhere and nowhere. We realize fullness as emptiness, stillness as movement, self as other, and understand that it is the limited mind that creates these apparent separations and distinctions.

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