Avadhana, The Art of Concentration

A documentary by Aurofilm / Sri Aurobindo Society



It is a fact which has been proved by minute experiments that the faculty of observation is very imperfectly developed in men, merely from want of care in the use of the senses and the memory. Give twelve men the task of recording from memory something they all saw two hours ago and the accounts will all vary from each other and from the actual occurrence. To get rid of this imperfection will go a long way towards the removal of error. It can be done by training the senses to do their work perfectly, which they will do readily enough if they know the buddhi requires it of them, and giving sufficient attention to put the facts in their right place and order in the memory.

[…] attention to a single thing is called concentration. One truth is, however, sometimes overlooked, that concentration on several things at a time is often indispensable. When people talk of concentration, they imply centering the mind on one thing at a time; but it is quite possible to develop the power of double concentration, triple concentration, multiple concentration. When a given incident is happening, it may be made up of several simultaneous happenings or a set of simultaneous circumstances, a sight, a sound, a touch or several sights, sounds, touches occurring at the same moment or in the same short space of time. The tendency of the mind is to fasten on one and mark others vaguely, many not at all or, if compelled to attend to all, to be distracted and mark none perfectly. Yet this can be remedied and the attention equally distributed over a set of circumstances in such a way as to observe and remember each perfectly. It is merely a matter of abhyasa or steady natural practice.

[A System of National Education CWSA 1:403-404]


Avadhana-Kala (Art of concentration)

The development of multiple concentration skills seems to have a long history in India. According to Sampadananda Mishra, a Sanskrit scholar at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the emphasis on multiple concentration began in the context of the transmission of Vedic scriptures. Vedic scholars were notoriously averse to transmitting the scriptures through the written medium. Instead, they would induct young disciples who would spend years orally memorizing the scriptures through recitation. As part of this memorization process, the disciples had to perfect and display various feats of concentration. Later, these avadhanas (feats of concentration) were incorporated into the poetic tradition and became a literary activity or sport. In an avadhana, a person is expected to simultaneously cogitate and answer questions on a variety of topics related to literature, music, astronomy, medical science and more.

A few ancient practitioners who have been identified from various scriptures are Pradhayamatrudu(13-14thC.E.), Cherugundu Dhmanna (16th C.E., Ramarajbhusanadu (1557 C.E.), Rambhadramba (1520 C.E.), Chintapalli Chhayapati (1650 C.E.), Prativadabhayankara Raghavacharya (1760 C.E.). During the 19th century, the art of avadhana flourished with practitioners such as Mandavasri Kashi Krishnacharyalu (1807-1873), Vasishtha Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni (1878 to 1936), a disciple of Ramana Maharshi, and Shri Raichandbhai Ravjibhai Mehta (1867-1901) who was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

There were many types of avadhanas which have been developed, depending on the number of examiners and the types of questions which are posed to the subject. If there are eight examiners, it is called ashtavadhana (ashta = eight in Sanskrit). In one test, bells of different metals and sizes are used to test the ability of concentration of the subject. By listening to the sound of the bells, the avadhani has to point out the bell which was rung. In another test, the movements of hands, eyes and snapping of the thumb are the means used by the questioners. He shows his hands or eyes in a particular way to convey a particular meaning. The subject must follow the movements and recount at the end that which was expressed by the questioner. Similarly in chotikavadhana, everything is expressed by the snapping of the thumb. In the case of natyavadhana the avadhani is asked to compose dialogues describing a particular scene and then to enact them. caturangavadhana is concerned with chess, ganitavadhana deals with mathematics and in sabdavadhana different sounds are taken for the feat. Other tasks include composing verses with or without certain letters, non-stop versification at high speed, playing chess, counting the irregular rings of the bell or the number of flowers thrown on the back.

Unlike the studies conducted by psychologists, no scientific testing has as yet been conducted to quantify the cognitive challenges exerted during these multi-tasking activities.

[The above is a fragment of the article by Sandeep Joshi, full text of which can be found HERE ]

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