Mindfulness vs. Concentration

Magnifying Glass

Mindfulness versus concentration. This is how Mindfulness in Plain English describes the fundamentally different but closely related ways of thinking that was mentioned in the previous post. Mr. Gunaratana is obviously biased towards mindfulness, but does say that concentration is necessary for peace of mind. I disagree with the way he frames the relationship. He places too little importance on concentration. But his interpretation of the mindfulness and rational thought relationship is interesting and worth reviewing.

All the following quotes come from Chapter 14.

“Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them is definite and delicate.”

“Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once developed, it retains some of that forced flavor.” It seems as if the author does not necessarily like this fact. But I think force can be very useful and is necessary in everyday life.

Gunaratana uses a lens as a great metaphor for concentration: “Parallel waves of sunlight falling on a piece of paper will do no more than warm the surface. But if that same amount of light, when focused through a lens, falls on a single point, the paper bursts into flames. Concentration is the lens. It produces the burning intensity necessary to see into the deeper reaches of the mind.”

But in the very next paragraph he belittles concentration by calling it a tool. “The real problem is that concentration alone will not give you a perspective on yourself. It won’t throw light on the basic problems of selfishness and the nature of suffering.” And that is where he loses me. Why should concentration be considered just a tool and mindfulness be something more than that? Is it because concentration does not expose the fact that all life is suffering? That is not too convincing for me.

Even though Gunaratana does not treat the two ways of thinking as equal, he does convey the important fact that they are symbiotic and essential to peace of mind. Rational thought can be used to burn into the deep recesses of the mind. Mindfulness can be used to understand the big picture.

Photo courtesy of spacepleb 


  1. Hi,

    Thank you for posting this. I am currently reading mindfullness in plain English which has prompted me to search for some differences in concentration and mindfullness. I am still new to my meditation practice and am working to develop a more detailed and nuanced understanding of what “meditation” really is. I have in the past practiced a bit of pranayama meditation, which seems to me to be a form of “concentration” meditation, or at least a form of meditation which involves active control of the breath…

    I realize you posted this 4 years ago, but wanted to write to say thank you and you have given me something to think about.

    Kellen Chase

  2. It does not feel like 4 years! Thanks for commenting. I am glad that you found my post interesting.

    How do you like the book? I read it years ago and I still go back to it to remind of what mindfulness is all about.

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