Focused Attention & Investigation as Paths to Success

In previous blogs I have included explanations of the first two ‘paths to success’ (iddhipāda), namely, wholesome enthusiasm (chanda) and effort (viriya). One of the readers of this website recently requested that I include explanations of the remaining two factors. As before, these descriptions are contained in Ven. Phra Payutto’s chapter in Buddhadhamma on concentration.

Taming the Elephant

Focused attention (citta): the mind is focused on an object or an activity; it does not release the object of attention or become distracted. If one’s mind is intently focused on something, one will pay no attention to anything else. If another person mentions another subject one will take no interest in this discussion, but if one’s favoured subject is brought up one will immediately take a special interest. Occasionally one may be so immersed in an activity that one pays no attention to one’s physical needs and attire, loses track of time, and forgets to eat and sleep. Things may happen in one’s surrounding environment of which one is completely unaware. This focused attention gives rise to concentration, which is called concentration arising from focused attention (citta-samādhi). The mind is established on an activity, possesses power to engage with it, and is accompanied by supportive effort.

Investigation (vimaṁsā): the application of wisdom; contemplation; reasoning; reflection; an examination of the imbalances, shortcomings, or defects of one’s actions; an ability to experiment and to search for ways to adjust and improve oneself. Here, wisdom guides concentration. Inquisitive people like to analyze and try things out. Their examinations are of this nature: ‘What is the cause for this result?’ ‘Why have things happened in this way?’ ‘This factor has produced this result; if we remove this factor the result will differ; if we add this other factor instead things should unfold in this way; if they don’t happen as planned why is this so?—how can we adjust this?’

In Dhamma practice they reflect in the following manner: ‘What is the meaning and purpose of this spiritual quality? On which occasions should it be applied? How is it connected to other qualities?’ ‘My spiritual practice is not progressing; which spiritual faculties are too weak and which in excess?’ ‘People in today’s age live under these conditions. Which spiritual qualities are they lacking? How can I instil these qualities in them? What aspects of these qualities should I emphasize?’

Such analysis and examination helps to compose the mind, which constantly keeps close track of the matter at hand. This leads to concentration, which is called concentration arising from investigation (vimaṁsā-samādhi). The mind is absorbed in that activity; it is strong; it does not wander or waver. This concentration is accompanied by supportive effort, similar to the other factors leading to success.

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