Dhanurdhara Swami May 23rd, 2016
About three years ago a friend sent me an eight-minute talk by Apollo Robbins called the art of distraction. Apollo Robbins is arguably the world’s greatest pickpocket and his demonstration showed why. I watched in awe as he pickpocketed a man on stage in front of hundreds of people, with neither the man nor audience having a clue when he did it. After Apollo finished he rewarded the man for good sportsmanship by giving him a beautiful watch, the man’s own! The man was shocked. He then proceeded to return the man’s wallet, credit card, and so on before an incredulous audience. And for a finale, he pointed out to the audience that he was wearing a different shirt from the one he started the show with. One could almost hear the audience sigh in collective astonishment, “How in the world did he do that!” Unbelievable? Just watch the video at the end of the article to witness it for yourself.
In his presentation, Apollo explained the art of distraction. His basic premise is that perception is not just based on the senses, but our attention. Stop reading this article and hear the sounds around you. Why are you hearing them now, and not when reading this article? It wasn’t because the sound vibration wasn’t in the air, but because your mind was focused someplace else, hopefully on what I am saying here. In a similar way, Apollo described and demonstrated that by manipulating a person’s attention, an expert pickpocket can rob one before their very eyes, and in this case before a packed audience.
There is such a forceful and clear point made here, a point that almost seemed to jump out of Apollo’s demonstration as a mantra:
Perception is dependent on attention
This concept is a little challenging. If perception is dependent on attention, do I actually hear or perceive the holy name when inattentive? Apollo indirectly dealt with that question also.
At the beginning of his short talk, Apollo put on an overhead screen an illustration about what constitutes actual perception. He projected a picture of the outline of a head with little man inside operating a control panel that could choose and direct the acceptance of different perceptive apparatus such as microphones coming from the ear and cameras coming from the eyes and so on. Behind him within the head was a storeroom representing the memory. He showed, for example, that when one is asked to remember something and scroll one’s memory, the little man in the head (representing one’s focus or attention) would turn around to do so, no longer giving direct attention to accepting input from the other sensory apparatus one directs. In the same way, when daydreaming and scrolling our memory it can be questioned if we actually hear the holy name. Hearing the holy name is not only about hearing the sound vibrating within our auditory apparatus. It is also dependent on the man in our head who focuses our attention on the sense of hearing, allowing the sound into our consciousness.
There is another important lesson learned by the relation between perception and attention. Just as there is very little effect from engaging with objects of devotion when we are not attentive, when we focus with concentration the effect can be exponentially profound. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī illustrates this point in his commentary on the second verse of the Bhāgavatam.
The second verse states that by hearing the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam just once the Lord is captured in our heart immediately without delay. Śrī Jīva then raises an interesting question. Why doesn’t this happen to us? His answer adds another dimension to the question of what causes distraction, or on the flip side facilitates attention. His answer is simple: We don’t hear messages when we don’t like those messages. Thus when we don’t like the message of the Bhāgavatam, which is to fully surrender to guru and Kṛṣṇa, we can’t hear it, nor experience Kṛṣṇa in the pages of the Bhāgavatam, as the message of the Bhāgavatam is Kṛṣṇa incarnate (according to the Bhāgavatam itself). If that is true, then what to speak of Kṛṣṇa being captured in the heart, at once and without delay. Śrī Jīva then gives us hope. By hearing it again and again, Śrī Jīva informs us, we become gradually purified and eventually hear it with acceptance and full faith. Kṛṣṇa then appears in the heart by just once faithfully accepting that message.
Another dimension here has been added to this discussion of the art of distraction, or conversely the art of attention. Our perception is not only affected by our attention, but by our attitude or faith. The faith or acceptance of an object of devotion as non-different from Kṛṣṇa inspires our focus and allows the divine to touch our heart, just as ignorance or doubt closes our heart to the same experience. That’s why the śāstra informs us that whether it’s Kṛṣṇa in the form of the Bhāgavatam, his Holy Name, or His mahā-prasāda, when taken with full faith just once, sinful reactions are removed and divine love awakens.
When I begin these Monday Morning Greetings I have no idea where they can take me. This week my subject is opening up to practically a whole book, so I will stop now and summarize.
If we are distracted even if objects are before our senses then we don’t perceive them. In the practice of bhakti, attentiveness and faith thus allow the objects of devotion to enter our senses and awaken the heart. Let me leave this Monday Morning Greeting with two mantras:
Perception is dependent on attention.
Attention is based on faith.
Please check out this video and you will understand why I become inspired with these points:
Apollo Robbins: The Art of Misdirection