The fifth Paramita is deep concentration, which includes the concentration levels practiced within the heavenly realms and beyond. The concentration of the heavenly realms is comprised of eight levels. If we succeed in our cultivation of them, we will be born into the higher heavens. Beyond the heavenly realms, deep concentration is found in the realms of Arhats and Mahayana Bodhisattvas. Finally, the highest level of concentration is that practiced by all Buddhas. The key to all methods of practice lies in deep concentration.
It is a mistake to think that only Zen Buddhism practices deep concentration. Pure Land Buddhism uses Buddha Name Chanting to concentrate the mind. Tiantai Buddhism practices tranquility and contemplation, which is another form of deep concentration. Tibetan Buddhism uses the Three Mystic Practices, the three karmas of body, mouth, and mind corresponding to those of the Buddha. So, although different schools use different terms, they all practice deep concentration. Therefore, in the Six Paramitas, concentration encompasses the above forms as well as all the phenomena in our daily lives.
What is this concentration? Being the master of our mind. We have goals, which will never be changed or influenced by the environment. Scientist succeed in their research because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by other concerns. So, they attain a scientific concentration. When we successfully practice the Buddha Name Chanting Method, we will attain the Buddha Name Chanting Samadhi, as did Master Di-Xian’s student. If we are able to endure, we will become patient and thus be able to persevere and progress and thus attain deep concentration, which is the essence of our practice.
In the Platform Sutra, the Sixth patriarch Master Hui-Neng explained that deep concentration was more than just sitting in meditation. He himself reached awakening upon listening to the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, all of his lectures were based on the principles in this sutra. He said that meditation is not being attached to any phenomena. Concentration is sustaining the mind of tranquility. In the Diamond Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni taught the proper attitude to have when encouraging others to practice Buddhism, “Do not attach to changing form, maintain the mind of stillness, do not be moved.”
The Flower Adornment Sutra tells us of the fifty-three visits of Sudhana. When Sudhana went to visit Yuxiang, a venerable sage who practiced deep concentration, the boy could not find the old man. Where was he? The sage was not found to be sitting in meditation at home or in the way place. He was found roaming around the market. What was he doing there? Maintaining the mind of tranquility by practicing deep concentration and the principle of not attaching to phenomena. He was not sitting cross-legged facing a wall for hours, a position we often admire and expect of a master. We often find ourselves looking down on the Master of deep concentration whom we see bustling around in excitement. We do not yet realize that such a Master has reached a much higher level of attainment than the practitioner we may see in the lotus position has. A higher level of deep concentration or Samadhi can exist in all acts.
Why is deep concentration so important? Why did the Buddha caution us to stay away from form and to remain unmoved in our hearts? Because all phenomena are illusory, like dreams, bubbles and shadows, unattainable. The Buddha sees through everything and urges us not to give rise to any discriminatory thoughts and attachments. If we can do so, then we will uncover our true self-nature and attain the Buddha’s understanding of all things in the universe. This is the Paramita of Wisdom.