Category I concentration
In category I, the meditator is developing key meditative skills that will build on each other cumulatively. Regardless of the spiritual tradition of the practitioner, we guide the practice according to the mental qualities arising. In category I, we all start with our mundane mind and we typically will direct our attention to a certain experience, say, the breath. When we engage with an object and try to stay there, the natural tendency of the mind is to stray off into thinking or be irritated by physical pain and restlessness. These are common hurdles that anyone undergoing contemplative training will encounter. The main thrust of Category I is developing skill at identifying the hindrances, and effectively counteracting these hindrances. For practices to combat the gross forms of the hindrances, the chapters below are relevant.
In early training we want to develop whatever faculties we can using the concentration we already have. We want to emotionally invest in the practice in a skillful way, to propel us forward and remind us why we’re doing this practice. We want to awaken from our self-imposed limitations and suffering. We want to live more fulfilling lives with more love, more laughing, and more connection to our fellow beings. This is the type of emotional investment we want to nurture in ourselves. We are doing a compassionate thing, looking inward to find inner sources of nourishment. The practices of mantra and prayer and intentional ceremony are valuable tools to nurture the innermost compassionate wish to end our suffering and help others.
The basic flow of practice, basic template is to have a guiding intention, make that intention conscious and visualize that intention, notice suffering, bring the mind to peace, place another intention, observe, notice suffering, etc. This process of placing intentions and observing results is the basic flow of any effective meditation practice. Since all action flows from intention, and intentions can be verbalized and embodied, we can make a practice out of verbalizing our intentions and making them conscious. Prayer, metta, and other devotional practices help us guide our intentions. Ultimately we find that making a practice out of intention is a highly effective insight practice that directly propels a person toward awakening and uses the energy of the mental afflictions to fuel meditative investigation.
Since the attention skills are building in this category of concentration, we capitalize on repetition and the effect of repetition on building neural circuits in the mind. We identify the intention we have and we make a repetitive practice of eliciting that intention. This repetition-based principle is applicable to all forms of meditation- we are always eliciting intentions and observing the mind. We cultivate wholesome intentions and abandon unwholesome intentions. This concept of accumulative charge building is explained further here.
Category II is attained when the meditator can stay with their chosen = object of meditation without frequent detours into thought trains, and without falling into gross dullness. The meditator has learned some physical principles and energetic principles in Caqtegory I practice that allow them to sit with less pain, and the main problems that arise in this stage are subtler forms of the 5 hindrances.