Buddhist Philosophy

~ February 19, 2018 ~

Focusing the Mind: Impossible Task?

Buddhist Philosophy • video

Focusing the Mind

As we begin to practice meditation, many of us experience doubts. One of our biggest questions is, “How can I concentrate? My mind gets distracted so easily!” We may blame the hectic pace of modern life, but Buddhist teachers have been talking about the “monkey mind” for two millennia.

In this video clip, a student in Taiwan asks a version of this question. Is focusing the mind an impossible task? Phakchok Rinpoche responds with very practical advice.

Surprisingly, Rinpoche begins by questioning our assumptions about focusing the mind. Can we pay attention to our favorite movie? Think about this seriously for a moment. What is he challenging in this question?

He says that the question occurs to us when we start to meditate. Why can’t we focus on the breath when we sit down to practice?


Focusing the Mind: What Does Karma Have to Do with It?

Our minds don’t really listen to what we want or plan to do. Rinpoche warns us that this situation is very dangerous. We see from our experience that our mind flies away from us.

Have you ever heard Buddhist people say that they don’t know where they will be reborn? They might say their karma is so strong they have no control. We experience some proof of this lack of control when we sit to meditate. We can’t control our minds, can we?

Sometimes we receive teachings about karma, but we don’t really know how to understand. When we sit to meditate, we understand that our karma affects everything. If we observe our minds at this time, then we see how unstable our minds are.

Three Things Preventing Focused Mind

  • Emotions: these are like a violent robber. Emotions are so strong that we are completely overwhelmed.
  • Thoughts: are like a thief. We think we are meditating, but soon we start thinking and we follow the thoughts.
  • Subtle thoughts: are like a very skilled and sneaky thief. We drift slightly away, and we may not even realize we are thinking.

How strong is our karma, the karmic wind? If our minds are constantly thinking, then we can’t stay for even one second.

Focusing Requires Practice

After a little bit of time, however, we realize we can sit for 3 seconds. Slowly, we can build up the amount of time. Then gradually, the robbers and the thieves stop coming. Focusing takes time.

Rinpoche’s main advice is try to practice everyday. We really have only one way to succeed. The only choice is to try.


It is like learning to drive. In the beginning, we have to consciously remember so many things and we are very stressed. But over time, driving becomes easy, almost automatic. Similarly with meditation, we need practice. You need to use trial and error and that is the only way to improve. Keep trying! That is how you get better.


Tools to Help Focusing

Finally, we can rely on useful tools. Making supplications, setting our motivation, accumulating merit through offering, and confessing all can help our meditation practice.

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