How to develop concentration

Swami Amba talks about developing mindfulness through observing our thoughts and concentration through repeating mantras.
A murthi of Ganesh with vibhuti and a candle

Temple satsang by Swami Amba – 1st December 2020

Divine friends, for the last few days, some of the Swamis have been exploring the idea of watching your mind in order to keep it under control. Watching your mind is not an easy task, but it is an absolutely necessary requirement to advance on the spiritual path.

There is a point within our mind where all thoughts that we generate cross paths; where the subconscious and the conscious mind meet. Thoughts emerge from those depths and it is at that point that we need to watch; just like a security camera or a security system watches a point where danger can happen.

It’s really, really important to take this on board because it’s not possible to have sustained concentration without watching what you are thinking about. So, this aspect of consciousness is vital if we want to take on board mindfulness. It’s quite interesting once you start to get into the habit of it.

This is very different from concentration

This is just something I wanted to point out. Sometimes we can be doing an activity and we are completely focused on that activity. It is normally something that we really, really enjoy; it could be watching a film, it could be watching a video, it could be doing any type of computer game which can last for hours and hours, but there is a complete focus.

Does this mean that you have that faculty of concentration? That you have this mindfulness? That you have got your senses under control? It doesn’t.

Absorption in a subject that you like is not evidence of your ability to concentrate, your ability to focus, or your ability to watch your mind – because absorption in the things that we like and love is a natural phenomenon.

It’s natural to be absorbed in thinking about somebody that we love, it is natural to be absorbed in thinking about family and our loved ones. So, we have to fight against the current, as it were, to undertake this process of starting to watch our own minds.

Learning to watch the mind

What is it that we are trying to achieve?  It’s really very, very simple. I want to take the discussion away from any religious kind of idea, or any spiritual kind of idea and put it this way to you.

Through watching the mind, we begin to harmonise the whole structure; the body, the senses, the emotions and the psyche. They start to work together instead of against each other, and through this harmonising, we become one unit.

One unit now. Not in some distant future – where we are floating as little angels, full of smiles and everything. No, we are one unit now – as we are.

And this is what is so important in empowering a human being – for them to use every grain of power that they have right now, it is necessary that this whole instrument works in tune with itself. And in order to make that a reality you have to watch your mind.

Watching your mind is actually a strain because that part that watches is like a muscle; it needs to be developed and it needs sustained usage. If you don’t use it, it will waste. If you use it, it will develop. So this is a very, very important part of the teachings of Guru Sri Subramanium. It is in fact a master key and it is absolutely a necessary part of Bhakti Yoga that you are watching your mind during a Puja.

A high resolution picture of Lord Ganesh with vibhuti and garland during Ganesh Chaturthi festival

Gaṇeśa Mantra

oṃ eka dantāya vidmahe |
vakra tuṇḍāya dhīmahi |
tanno tundī prachodayāt ||
|| oṃ gaṃ gaṇapataye namaḥ ||

To make this discussion practical, let’s use the Ganesh Mantra. We keep our mind poised on that ‘oṃ eka dantāya’. We start at that point – it’s like taking a breath, like a musical phrase or sentence.

We have a destination, we have a point where we have to sustain our concentration and watchfulness over this mantra, for the duration. So we don’t want to have our mind wandering during this one repetition of the mantra.

It might be that if you are just starting to get used to this idea, or that you have got a lot of discordant thinking going on, that you are only going to keep your mind on one-third of that chant, or on 50%. It doesn’t matter.

The very fact that you are aware that your mind deviated and went to another thought is what we are trying to achieve. So we are not trying to achieve something which isn’t possible.

It is actually a sign of success that you are aware that you drifted off from the mantra and you were thinking something else. That is actually a success because there is some self-awareness there, there is some watchfulness there. So, this is the practical application of what I am talking about in terms of chanting.

What is extraordinary is that this process of watchfulness spontaneously makes love circulate, it makes love possible. Because it is the uncontrolled senses, the uncontrolled responses to sense objects, everything around us, which is creating the chatter, which is creating the confusion.

Just watching calms the mind down and allows love to manifest.

The mantras work, they absolutely work, but they need to be used correctly. The starting place is at the beginning of the mantra – making sure that your mind is there when we start and ensuring, to the best of your abilities, that your mind is present when we end.

It’s like a breath. You have to breathe in and you have to breathe out. And this is not a boring journey, it’s not a boring exercise, because the more you do it, the more you will see benefits, not just in your worship but in every field of activity.

Share this story:


Guru Sri Subramanium holding a young child

Balancing spiritual & material life

Guru Sri Subramanium taught us to be realistic and unpretentious. He explains the benefit of raising a family and the secret to finding fulfilment and purpose in daily life.

What is it like to be a monk?

Endless physical work and hardly any sleep, plus Guru piling on the pressure… In this authentic story of graft and grace, Swami Suryananda shares what it is like to be a monk.
Guru Sri Subramanium smiling, wearing a blue robe and mala beads

How the Divine Mother came to Skanda Vale

The history of Skanda Vale Ashram in Guru’s own words, with a special focus on the arrival of Divine Mother.
An exceptionally beautiful image of Lord Shanmukha with candles at Skanda Vale

The Lord Shanmukha story

A miraculous story of how Guru Sri Subramanium took Justin Sparrow and Sister Topsy on a spontaneous and inspired mission, through the Sri Lankan hills, in search of a sacred murthi of Lord Shanmukha.
Read More

Search Skanda Vale

First time visitor?