Concentration is spoken of in the Katha Upanishad (2:3:11) where it is explained by Yama, the Lord of Death, to Nachiketa, a young seeker:

“The firm control of the senses and the mind is the Yoga of concentration. One must be ever watchful for this yoga is difficult to acquire and easy to lose.”

The word ‘concentration’ means one-pointedness. Just as we need a sharp pencil to write with or a sharp knife to cut with, the mind also must be sharpened through the practices of concentration. We cannot cut with a dull knife or write with an unsharpened pencil, because the pressure applied is spread over too large an area. It is not concentration. The importance of a concentrated mind in everyday life is widely recognized, but the ordinary mind is not functioning in a concentrated way. It is dissipated, also spread over too large an area and covering too many points. Therefore, we are not able to utilize even a fraction of our potential mental power.

We know many things in life, about our work, our families, our society, our environment, history, science and politic, but we do not know how to willfully control and direct the mind. The power of concentration has not been developed in most of us as part of our early teaching. As we grow older the mind becomes more and more dissipated as the tensions and worries mount. This results in increasing loss of mental acuity, wrong decisions, ineffective management, poor memory and finally senility.

We may be masters of technology and of the external word but we are not masters of the mind. Somehow that inner technology which gives us control over the mental functions is eluding us completely. Control over a machine means that are able to start it, speed it up, slow it down and stop it whenever needed. The same thing is also required of a disciplined mind. The disciplined mind is one which thinks only when you will it and about what you decide. If you want it to think fast or slow or stop thinking altogether, it immediately complies. The thoughts which enter a disciplined mind are immediately organized and directed. They have no power to sway the mind in one way or another.

If we examine the lives of yogis, sadhus, sannaysins, saints and mystics, we will see that they all have one thing in common. They lead intensely one-pointed and concentrated lives, dedicated totally to the ideal or purpose which they regard as the highest goal. They gain control over themselves and their minds by regular, steady practice. Through their power of concentration they gradually merge the mind into their prayer or meditations until they are able to achieve a state of perfect mind control. Usually on meeting such a person, our first impression is one of deep inner peace, steadiness and self-control.

The ability to concentrate is the root of all higher qualities in man and it requires strenuous effort. To develop a concentrated mind is harder than earning a degree. The average person is not born with the ability to concentrate, so it is necessary to change our nature in order to create something which was not there before. This is different to studying concepts of philosophy from books and lectures. Concentration is something which must be practiced and discovered personally to gain full benefit. The essential thing for developing concentration is regularity in practice. However, before we start practicing concentration, we must develop an idea of the broad range which this stage of mental development covers. The practices of concentration and meditation are codified in the yogic and upanishadic texts. This is a subject which should be studied and researched to obtain the best results. Concentration is not a superficial practice. It involves diving deep into the inner dimensions of the mind and consciousness, in order to do this we need three things: (1) correct method, (2) correct guidance and (3) correct understanding.

Extracted from “Dharna Darshan” by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati