To control attention is to control life7 min read

Attention means fixing the mind voluntarily on something and keeping it there as long as we like. Attention is the key to the real life. All love, all study, all pursuit of the good depends on attention.

It is easy to fix your attention on what is interesting : you can look at a moving picture for three hours with fixed attention if you find it interesting, pleasing and restful. But the art of attending means fixing it on what is valuable, helpful and inspiring and adds to the creation of good for others. ‘ In time of spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love ’ says the poet ; but fancy can be commanded, evaluated, and fixed and removed according to the standard of your judgement of the value of the object. To let the attention run wild, out of control, and to forget whether it promotes the moral and spiritual love is madness. Sex-love is often a malady of this kind. A case in point is the love of Napoleon for Josephine : he fixed his attention on a woman who was utterly unworthy of it.

To control attention is to control life. On a pilgrimage in the deep Himalayas you often come to a most charming spot; green hills, waterfalls, pines, fields full of fragrant blossoms, singing birds, greet you; but you pass on, as your goal is the holy temple of Kedar. If you stayed at a charming spot you would be a loser of time and your attention.

Amusement is not always helpful or elevating : sensations are not the essence of life. To cultivate the sense of attention and control it is the real inner life. Attention is creative. You can modify your life by giving attention to what is good, useful, morally elevating and spiritually tranquillising. An artist does not paint mediocre objects : he selects carefully what he has to paint and then devotes his whole attention to it. So we must do in life. We must give our deep and abiding attention to what is good, enduring, elevating and helpful in creating beauty in our conduct and in other forms.

Attention is controlled by will. To apply will on the due themes you have to be mentally awake. Most of the people in this civilisation are mentally fatigued, restless, wavering in their attitude, and live in sensation and excitement.

This is wrong, very wrong. Let us be masters of ourselves and control our will and attention. The dictum of the Katha Upanishad must be remembered : ‘ The good is one thing ; the pleasant another. Life must have a standard in which dharma (spiritual duty) predominates : likes and dislikes must be controlled, and life lived according to a pattern. It is the moral and spiritual side of the pattern that concerns us, and not the trivial details.

This is the most important principle of life. It is dangerous to have the ambition of Julius Caesar and his disregard of moral principles ; nor is it useful to live like a Nelson, in slavery to passions.

Attention will teach you how to live. To give attention to truth, to virtue, to shanti (spiritual peace) and to creation of spiritual light within, is to live rightly ; whether we have pleasure or pain is not at all important. Attention to the external object is good, but not in excess. The inner life needs more of our attention. To pay fixed attention to a spiritual principle with a view to make it an enduring feature in our life is to live as a Yogi. Inner attention to the good, to the elevating, to what expands the heart in virtue and knowledge, is called meditation. Close your eyes as often as you can and fix your mind on God ; this is the way to avoid fatigue in daily life.

Enjoy the external beauty of nature, but with your attention on the unity in the variety, and with your mind fixed on the One who appears as many. Give up all ideas of personal enjoyment and do not try to possess what you like. The world belongs to God : to fix your attention on this principle is to be restful.

Detachment is the result of cultivation of attention. Everything in the world is interconnected : how can you be attached to anything, even to your own body ? ‘ God abides in all beings’: this is the central theme of the Gita. Then take refuge in Him; give thy mind in love and in quest, and also thy soul and thy heart, to the infinite good and beauty—this is the highest phase of life. We enjoy the forms and colours of the clouds, but we do not expect them to continue to be the same.

The eternal is real : it is the Self. All beauty, all good, all light and peace is in the Self. Meditate on it with fixed attention and you live a real and good life.

Why live for a Hitler or a Stalin or a Marx ? It is inner slavery. Live for the light infinite and peace enduring, the Self; give attention to the Self; listen, cogitate, and give sustained attention to its contemplation : this is real life.

It could be said that man has two eyes—a pair of external eyes which give him a vision of the sense-objects; and the inner eye, which reasons, discriminates, compares and judges what is right and what is wrong. If the external eyes are too open, the inner eye is not so open. Unless man learns how to withdraw from the external world and focus his attention on the inner vision of duty, beauty of conduct, benevolence and discrimination, the external eyes serve little moral and spiritual purpose.

In the process of meditation we make a serious attempt to close the external eyes, and to open, widely, the inner eye of imagination, peace, love of God and devotion to duty. This is the chief value of attention.

In the love of sense-objects, which creates a craving of the external eye—as in the case of Romeo—the inner eye is dulled. It thus loses the property of discrimination. The external attention has a limited range; the internal attention has an almost infinite range. Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci and Herbert Spencer are examples of inner attention and of the service it can do to the world. The outer attention, to be true, must lead the mind to the inner attention.

When the great Chengiz Khan was puzzled in his life and did not know what to do, he listened to the cry of a bird, which meant ‘ Look within ’, and he did so. Unless the sight of a rose, a rainbow, a glorious sunset, or a curly dimpled tiny lunatic set our minds on the inner truth and beauty, we do not take full advantage of our external attention. What heart is not moved and introvertive on seeing a performance of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin ’ ?

One of the values of the objects of the world is symbolic. To learn what the dawn and the sunset, the king-stag and the little robin in the bush symbolise, is real wisdom and the way to true life. Temporal value, which strikes the senses only, is no value at all. The cowherd boys saw in the little Krishna only a prince and cow-farmer, but the Gopis saw in Him the Lord of heaven and earth.

Attention will become creative in the higher sense if it is well directed within on a text of the Veda or on a verse of the holy philosopher Shankaracharya. Listen to the inner silence and see the vision of truth within. Enjoy the peace of the spirit through attention, well cultivated, and you will not run after the dewy objects of the senses and cry when they disappear. What did Emperor Napoleon see in Saint Helena ? Reality of the evanescence of his entire glory. And the Venerable Bede ? He welcomed death because his attention was set on the inner glory of the Self. By right inner attention the whole world will become a mirror showing the glory of the Sat Chit Ananda (Existence- Consciousness-Bliss). Shri Shankara teaches transcendence.

The man who advises you to doubt and doubt and so to know the truth is not a reliable teacher. With Shraddha (faith) look within and without to have a vision of ‘ All is God.