The great epic of India, the Mahabharata, provides various illustrations of concentration in the recounting of the actions of Arjuna, who was the pre-eminent archer of the time and whose actions led to victory. The first example was provided during his youth as he, and his siblings and cousins were being trained by the renowned teacher, Drona. They were each asked to focus on the eye of a particular bird in a tree at some distance, with the idea that they should be able to shoot an arrow through that extremely tiny target with the proper concentration. Each in turn was asked what he observed, and they all recounted seeing the sky, the tree, the bird, the bird’s eye. That is, until he got to Arjuna, who indicated that all he saw was a “dark spot”, representing the center point of the actual eye of the bird. He had successfully blocked out all extraneous focus to concentrate his sole attention on the target. Later in life, he went to a kingdom to participate in the choice of a groom for the princess Draupadi. All of the greatest warriors of the land were in attendance and the task set before them was to shoot a moving target above while looking down into a reflecting pool of water. Through his power of concentration he was able to succeed where everyone else failed.

Concentration represents a power of knowledge and action. Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga describes concentration as providing complete absorption on the target of the concentration and it brings with it various powers as well. Concentration varies from meditation in that it is a highly focused activity on a particular point, whether an external object or an internal state of awareness, while meditation may be a casting of the general status of the awareness into a certain stream or direction without the kind of focus found in the state of concentration.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Concentration, for our yoga, means when the consciousness is fixed in a particular state (e.g. peace) or movement (e.g. aspiration, will, coming into contact with the Mother, taking the Mother’s name); meditation is when the inner mind is looking at things to get the right knowledge.”

“Concentration is a gathering together of the consciousness and either centralising at one point or turning on a single object, e.g., the Divine; there can also be a gathered condition throughout the whole being, not at a point. In meditation it is not indispensable to gather like this, one can simply remain with a quiet mind thinking of one’s subject or observing what comes in the consciousness and dealing with it.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Meditation and Concentration in the Integral Yoga, pp. 149-153

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.