Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #6 – The Art of Traction

February 5th, 2024

Years ago, I showed a short TED Talk called “The Art of Distraction” during a japa seminar.[1] It featured Apollo Robbins, the world’s most expert pick pocket, explaining and demonstrating his art. His premise was that perception is based on attention and as the mind can focus on only one sense at a time, if you can distract a person from the feel of touch in their pocket to some other sense—perhaps touching them someplace else—you can pick their pocket without them knowing it. He was so expert at the art of distraction that he was able to pick the pocket of a person brought on stage right in front of the audience with neither the person nor the audience noticing it.

This principle—that perception is based on attention—is more deeply described in ṅkhya when discussing the two main qualities of the mind as anutvam (atomic) and ekatvam (it can only focus on a singular object at one time).[2] Using these terms, for example, “the art of distraction” can be translated as deliberately moving or distracting the atomic and single focused mind away from something someone really wants, in this case a focus on the things in their pocket for the purpose of taking them without notice. It doesn’t take much to understand how this principle of perception based on attention can be applied to japa meditation, for if one doesn’t take precaution to concentrate on hearing the holy name by at least creating a time and space for chanting free from distraction, our perception of, and therefore taste for, the holy name will probably be compromised. I would like, however, to couch this discussion in just a slightly different way, which I will aptly call “the art of traction”—consciously moving the atomic and singular focused mind toward something we want, in this case the sense of hearing, so that we can perceive (hear) Krishna’s holy name during our japa meditation.

There are two ways that the mind can be focused in japa meditation by “the art of traction”. We can do this by bringing the atomic mind to a single focus on hearing the holy name by consciously awakening an understanding that we should do so (traction by intelligence) or awakening an attraction to do so (traction by the heart).

Of course, the most powerful connection with an object is through traction by the heart, or an emotional connection, in the case of japa meditation by a love for Krishna and thus an attachment to His holy name. Most of us, however, either do not have a profound attraction for Krishna or are too distracted at the beginning of our meditation to immediately access such devotion. Here are just some ways in which I try to gain traction for meditation, at least at the beginning of my chanting.

There are no hard and fast rules for gaining traction for the holy name. This post is more about explaining a principle than outlining a definitive guide. To demonstrate the “art of traction” I will therefore share two ways I have used recently to gain traction in meditation, and then I will share a link to some other ways that I have previously described.

An example of traction by intelligence

Focusing on one couplet of the mantra: I especially consciously focus on pronouncing one couplet of the Hare Krishna mantra, usually the first. At the beginning of our meditation the mind may wander even during one mantra. By bringing the mind to the first couplet with special concentration on pronouncing it helps fix the atomic mind (anutvam) back to singular focus (ekatvam) on the whole mantra. I was inspired to do this by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Bhajan Rahasya.[3]

An example of traction by the heart

Reading and chanting: The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and books based on the Bhāgavatam describe and imbibe devotion for the person (Śrī Krishna) whose name you are chanting. The combination of imbibing the mood of the Bhāgavatam and chanting the holy name can help one gain focus in japa meditation, especially when done together. This was the example of Śrī Caitanya in the Gambhīra. During His bhajan, He both chanted the holy name and listened to the songs and stories of the person of the name He was chanting (Śrī Krishna) recited by His confidential associates Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya and Śrī Svarūpa Dāmodara. Following His example, sometimes before chanting and after every eight rounds or so I read a few pages of Krishna Book.

Other examples of the art of traction

In a post from over ten years ago I mentioned five ways in which I gained traction for chanting, both from the intelligence and heart. For example, I mentioned how Śrīla Prabhupāda told us to chant like a child crying for his mother, which is a powerful technique to gain traction in meditation by the heart.


We should not be surprised that meditation is not always easy for us. The Bhāgavatam predicts that people today will always be disturbed and distracted.[4] I thus found it helpful to understand “the art of distraction” and apply “the art of traction”.



[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

[2] I first heard this concept of the mind in a discussion with Bhakti Vijnana Goswami about ayurveda and mental health. I assumed it is from the school of Sāṅkhya but never confirmed it.

[3] I first was inspired to do this by reading Bhajan Rahasya by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He described advanced techniques to connect each couplet of the holy name with a stage of devotion and with a period of time in the day of Krishna’s pastimes. I am not referring here to such an advanced meditation, but reading this did spark in my mind that this was also a technique for mechanically focusing the mind. In our dīkṣā mantras there also is a seed mantra before each mantra that helps refocus brings the mind back to our mantra before each repetition of it.

[4] Bhag. 1.1.10


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