Attention vs. Concentration

A friend of mine had sent me the following quote from Shri. J. Krishnamurthy (JK):

In the cultivation of the mind, our emphasis should not be on concentration, but on attention. Concentration is a process of forcing the mind to narrow down to a point, whereas attention is without frontiers.” — J Krishnamurthi

I thought he was splitting hairs. I sent out a mail with that remark of mine and asked my friends to respond with their thoughts. Several did so. I am grateful to them. Some of them were very thought-provoking. I will cite two here:

Excuse me” said the ocean fish, You are older than I. So, can you tell where to find this thing they call ocean?”
” The ocean” said the older fish, is the thing you are in now”
“Oh! This? But this is water. What I am looking for is the ocean” said the disapointed fish  and swam away searching  for the ocean elsewhere.
Second one:
In ‘meditation/meditating’ people often allude to a process of single-minded focus which then becomes a desperate/futile attempt to prevent extraneous thoughts from barging in. When one pays attention one is in concentration, but beyond mere concentration, since there is a larger positive aspect to the attention when I perceive/realise/feel. Concentration implies effort- keeping thought out. Attention is inclusive. One can pay attention only when there is no thought, just direct perception. And, JK has always talked about ‘thought’ being the primary culprit in not being able to perceive reality as it is.
If attention can happen only when there is no thought and if concentration is keeping thought out, then is concentration a pre-requisite for attention? Well, I am splitting hairs here 🙂
Now, I must confess that, for the most part of my life, I have had difficulty understanding JK. I continue to do so. This particular quote was one of the relatively less difficult ones to understand. So, it could be taken at face-value without having to look at the context in which the remark was made and other such considerations.
For the evolution of the mind, both are needed. Perhaps, attention (as defined in the quote) is needed more than concentration. I do not know. The way ‘attention’ and ‘concentration’ are defined, people would prefer to vote for ‘attention’ rather than for ‘concentration’. ‘Attention’ is broad, without frontiers and inclusive. ‘Concentration’ is narrow and exclusive. These are values-laden descriptions. We all like exclusivity but would prefer to be known for our inclusiveness!
Hence, the way these two words have been defined or described, the game is over before it began.

One thought on “Attention vs. Concentration

  1. Same words are used to mean differently by masters for expression of the most subtle and the “inexpressible” … adding to our bemusement. In JK’s famous words : “The word is the not the thing. The description is not the described”

    What the words ‘concentration’ and ‘attention’ mean .. are world apart… literally , as what we mean by ‘world’ is just an expression of our perception only and meaning of these two words differ in the ‘aspect’ of perception.

    Concentration is focussing On a point From a centre. Attention is neither. Concentration requires effort , has motive , includes process of exclusion, involves resistance ….It can expressed as an attribute….. , whereas attention is none of these. Attention is not a trait but describes a state where there is neither the thinker nor the thought. The former could be expressed directly as what it is , but the latter is better expressed as ‘what it is not’.

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