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Concentration of the Heart - Meditation in First Century Galilee

From: Dan Washburn 
Subject: Concentration of the Heart - Meditation in First Century Galilee
Date: Tue, 08 Feb 2000 22:37:37 -0500

Sweetie, this very inetersting post ran in the SL-list but should be
archived in your Esoteric Archive's meditation section (or mystical
christianity section? -- please read it and then you can decide!)

Below is the content of a web page that I have been working on.  It
would be out on my Lost Secrets of Early Christianity site if I could
ever get the publication feature of my boody Front Page 2000 to work

I gotta say that I think it is a major step forward in our understanding
of the origins of Christianity and the methodology for following in
Jesus' footsteps.

I.  Concentration of the Heart

The method of deep meditation used in First Century Galilee was called
'concentration of the heart.' Let us review some of what I have
already said about it on the Jesus Meditation page.

>From Jewish writings we know about several miracle-working holy men who
lived around the time of Jesus. These include Hanina ben Dosa, Honi the
Circle-Drawer, and Honi's two grandsons Hanan and Hilkiah.  Hanina ben
Dosa lived in Galilee during the first century A.D. in a town about ten
miles north of Nazareth, Honi lived during the first century B.C.
These holy men are connected with Jesus through their miracle working,
their sense of being beloved sons of God, their use of the title 'son of
the house' for their relation to God, and their use of 'Abba,' Father,
as the way they address God.  No one else in Rabbinic literature
addresses God as Abba.  Jesus also was a miracle worker, he had the
sense of being a beloved son, he was called the 'son of God,' and he
called God 'Abba,' which translates to 'Daddy,' the informal mode of
address of a child to his or her father.

Hanina ben Dosa was famous for his miraculous healings.   He was also
famous for the intensity of his spiritual practice.  He is reported to
have spent an hour in practicing 'concentration of the heart' before
prayer.  One day a poisonous reptile bit him but it did not break his
trance.  Later, on-lookers found the snake dead at the opening of its
hole. When they told Hanina about it, he said that in the concentration
of his heart he had not even felt the bite.

(See Geza Vermese, Jesus the Jew, pp65-78, 118-21, 206-213; John
Crossan, The Historical Jesus, ch 8; Ben Witherington III, The Jesus
Quest, ch 4)

In order to understand 'concentration of the heart,' let us compare it
with Buddhist meditation.  This is not to say that I believe the holy
men of first century Galilee were influenced by Buddhist teachings.  I
am using Buddhist meditation here only as a model for understanding what
goes on in meditation.

II. The Visuddhimagga -

Daniel Goleman writes in his book The Meditative Mind: Varieties of
Meditative Experience (Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1988, p1.):
"In the fifth century A.D., the monk Buddhaghosa summarized [portions of
Buddhist teaching] about meditation into the Visuddhimagga, the "Path of
Purification" ...

The Visuddhimagga was for centuries part of an oral textbook of Buddhist
philosophy and psychology that aspiring monks memorized verbatim.
Because it is so detailed and complete, the Visuddhimagga gives us a
comprehensive picture of a single viewpoint regarding meditation. As
such, it will give a good background and basis of comparison for
understanding other kinds of meditation..."

III. The Path of Concentration

Goleman, pp 8-9:

"The essence of concentration is nondistractedness...the meditatorÝs
work is to attain unification of mind, one-pointedness. The stream of
thought is normally random and scattered. The goal of concentration in
meditation is to focus the thought flow by fixing the mind on a single
object, the meditation topic. In the later stages of concentrative
meditation, the mind is not only directed toward the object but finally
penetrates it; totally absorbed in it, the mind moves to oneness with
the object. When this happens, the object is the only thing in the
meditatorÝs awareness.Any object of attention can be the subject for
concentrative meditation, which is simply sustaining a single point of
focus. But the character of the object attended to has definite
consequences for the outcome of meditation. The Visuddhimagga recommends
forty meditation subjects:

´ ten kasinas, colored wheels about a foot in circumference: earth,
water, fire, air, dark blue, yellow, blood- red, white, light, bounded
space
´ ten asubhas, loathsome, decaying corpses: for example, a bloated
corpse, a gnawed corpse, a worm-infected corpse, etc., including a
skeleton
´ ten reflections: on the attributes of the Buddha, the Doctrine, the
sangha, peace, one's own purity, oneÝs own liberality, oneÝs own
possessions of godly qualities, or on the inevitability of death;
contemplation on the thirty-two parts of the body or on in-and-out
breathing
´ four sublime states: loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of
others, and equanimity´ four formless contemplations: of infinite space,
infinite consciousness, the realm of nothingness, and the realm of
"neither perception nor non perception"; the loathsomeness of food
´ the four physical elements: earth, air, fire, water as abstract forces
(i.e., extension, motility, heat, cohesion)

Each of these subjects has specific consequences for the nature, depth,
and by-products of concentration; meditation on a corpse, for example,
becomes very different from contemplating loving-kindness. All of these
subjects are suitable for developing concentration to the depth
necessary for attaining the nirvanic state. ... Apart from the depth of
concentration produced by a given meditation subject, each has distinct
psychological by-products. The meditation on loving-kindness, for
example, has several results: The meditator sleeps and wakes in comfort;
he dreams no evil dreams; he is dear to all beings; his mind is easily
concentrated; his expression is serene; and he dies unconfused.

The Buddha saw that persons of different temperaments are more suited to
some meditation subjects than to others. His guidelines for matching
people to the best meditation subject is based on these main types of
temperament: (1) one disposed to hatred; (2) the lustful, deluded, or
excitable; (3) one prone to faith; (4) the intelligent.
Subjects suitable for the hateful type are: the four sublime states and
the four color kasinas; for the lustful, the ten corpses, the body
parts, and the breath; for the faithful, the first six reflections; and
for the intelligent, reflection on death, the loathsomeness of food, and
the physical elements.  The remaining subjects are suitable for
everyone."

IV. Access - The Beginnings of  Concentrative Meditation

Goleman, pp 11-12:
"In the early stages of meditation, there is a tension between
concentration on the object of meditation and distracting thoughts. ...
With much practice, a moment comes when these hindrances are wholly
subdued. There is then a noticeable quickening of concentration. At this
moment, the mental attributes, such as one-pointedness and bliss, that
will mature into full absorption simultaneously come into dominance.
Each has been present previously to different degrees, but when they
come, all at once they have special power. This is the first noteworthy
attainment in concentrative meditation; because it is the state verging
on full absorption...

This state of concentration is like a child not yet able to stand steady
but always trying to do so. The mental factors of full absorption are
not strong at the access level; their emergence is precarious, and the
mind fluctuates between them and its inner speech, the usual ruminations
and wandering thoughts. The meditator is still open to his senses and
remains aware of surrounding noises and his bodyÝs feelings. The
meditation subject is a dominant thought but does not yet fully occupy
the mind. At this access level, strong feelings of zest or rapture
emerge, along with happiness, pleasure, and equanimity. There is also
fleeting attention to the meditation subject as though striking at it,
or more sustained focus on it, repeatedly noting it. Sometimes there are
luminous shapes or flashes of bright light, especially if the meditation
subject is a kasina or respiration. There may also be a sensation of
lightness, as though the body were floating in the air."

V. Full Absorption - The First Level of Concentrative Meditation.

Goleman, p13:
By continually focusing on the object of meditation, there comes the
first moment marking a total break with normal consciousness. This is
full absorption... The mind suddenly seems to sink into the object and
remains fixed in it. Hindering thoughts cease totally. There is neither
sensory perception nor the usual awareness of oneÝs body; bodily pain
cannot be felt. Apart from the initial and sustained attention to the
primary object, consciousness is dominated by rapture, bliss, and
one-pointedness. These are the mental factors that, when in simultaneous
ascendance, constitute [full absorption]....Rapture at the level of
[full absorption is] likened to the initial pleasure and excitement of
getting a long-sought object; bliss is the enjoyment of that object.
Rapture may be expenenced as raising of the hairs on the body, as
momentary joy that flashes and disappears like lightning, as waves
showering through the body again and again, as the sensation of
levitation, or as immersion in thrilling happiness. Bliss is a more
subdued state of continued ecstasy...
...The first taste of [full absorption] lasts but a single moment, but
with continued efforts, the [full absorption] state can be held for
longer and longer intervals.  Until [full absorption] is mastered, it is
unstable and can be easily lost.  Full mastery comes when the meditator
can attain [full absorption] whenever, wherever, as soon as, and as long
as he wishes.

VI. The Meaning of Concentration of the Heart

Using our model from the Visuddhimagga, let us now try to understand
more fully what Hanina ben Dosa was doing when he practiced
'concentration of the heart.'

The name of the method itself implies concentrative meditation.  From
another reference to Hanina ben Dosa we know that he had taken a vow not
to be distracted by anything during his spiritual work, including the
arrival of the king at his door.  The struggle against distraction is a
hallmark of concentrative meditation.

Because this is concentration of the 'HEART,' the subject matter of the
meditation was likely to be akin to one of the four sublime states:
loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, and equanimity.

Because Hanina did not feel the bite of the snake, did not even know
that he had been bitten, and did not have his meditative trance broken
by the event, we can conclude that he had reached the state of full
absorption.   In full absorption there is neither sensory perception nor
bodily pain.  Full awareness of ones body has disappeared.

If you meditates on loving-kindness or compassion to the point of full
absorption with its accompanying rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness, it
is very likely that you will begin to feel like a beloved son of God.

Hanina lived in a village ten miles from Nazareth at roughly the same
time in history as Jesus.  If Hanina or someone like him taught Jesus
'concentration of the heart,' the source of Jesus' teachings on
boundless love and forgiveness become much easier to understand.  God is
the Loving Father and our objective is to become like him in our
abilities to love and forgive.  Unfortunately we have lost the way to do
this.  Perhaps the recovery of concentration of the heart can  point the
way to the same path that Jesus followed.

VII.  Higher Levels of Concentrative Meditation

Goleman (p15) says that the Visuddhimagga discusses seven higher levels
above the first level of full absorption.  Below is a chart that he
gives that provides a brief description of each of the levels.  You
should start from the bottom and work up.  Its levels are a map to the
states that the early Christians may have attained in their practice of
'concentration of the heart.'

8th LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
NEITHER PERCEPTION NOR NONPERCEPTION. EQUANIMITY
AND ONE-POINTEDNESS.

7th LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
AWARENESS OF NO-THING-NESS.
EQUANIMITY AND ONE-POINTEDNESS.

6th LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
OBJECTLESS INFINITE CONSCIOUSNESS
EQUANIMITY AND ONE-POINTEDNESS.

5th LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
CONSCIOUSNESS OF INFINITE SPACE.
EQUANIMITY AND ONE-POINTEDNESS


4th LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
EQUANIMITY AND ONE POINTEDNESS. BLISS.
ALL FEELINGS OF BODILY PLEASURE CEASE.

3rd .LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
FEELINGS OF BLISS. ONE-POINTEDNESS AND EQUANIMITY.  RAPTURE CEASES.
2nd LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
FEELINGS OF RAPTURE, BLISS. ONE-POINTEDNESS.
NO THOUGHT OF PRIMARY OBJECT OF CONCENTRATION
.
1st LEVEL OF ABSORPTION
HINDERING THOUGHTS, SENSORY PERCEPTION, AND AWARENESS OF PAINFUL BODILY
STATES ALL CEASE.
UNBROKEN SUSTAINED ATTENTION TO PRIMARY OBJECT OF CONCENTRATION.
FEELINGS OF RAPTURE, BLISS AND ONE-POINTEDNESS

ACCESS STATE
HINDERING THOUGHTS OVERCOME. OTHER THOUGHTS REMAIN. AWARENESS OF
SENSORY INPUTS AND BODY STATES. PRIMARY OBJECT OF CONCENTRATION
DOMINATES THOUGHT. FEELINGS OF RAPTURE, HAPPINESS, EQUANIMITY.
INITIAL AND SUSTAINED THOUGHTS OF PRIMARY OBJECT. FLASHES
OF LIGHT OR BODILY LIGHTNESS.

VII.  Deeper Mysteries of Concentration of the Heart

For reasons that I won't go into here, I believe that the meditative
object during concentration of the heart was not only one of the sublime
states--loving kindness, compassion, joy in the joy of others, or
equanimity--but also a geometrical figure, either the vesica piscis, the
interlaced triangles of the hexagram, or the sacred cube.  These were
used to embody the sublime state or to embody the content of one of the
higher levels of absorption, such as infinite space.

Dan Washburn -- Feb 8, '00

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