Over more than three decades, Bhaktan Eberle has kept a sadhana chart—a daily log of his Yoga practice—that he sent to Sri Gurudev Swami Satchidananda every month. Bhaktan Bhaktan says, “The sadhana chart is the one practice that yields the most dramatic results for the time invested, but almost no one keeps a chart.” In the first of a two-part article, Bhaktan shares his experience, along with advice from Sri Gurudev and tips on how to develop the foundation of a chart that will work for you.
Swami Satchidanandaji and Swami Sivanandaji—and most success-motivation experts—recommend keeping a daily record of what we are doing to accomplish our goals. In Sanskrit, these practices are called our sadhana. No one can reach a goal that he or she does not have. The spiritual journey is much like trying to sail from New York to London: You will never get there unless you know where you know where you are, know where you are headed and keep moving in the right direction.
In the spiritual life we are trying to find God, or peace or enlightenment. What we are looking for is everywhere around us all the time, so, in theory, we shouldn’t have to do any thing to find it. In practice, however, only a tiny handful of totally dedicated people find God. This is because only the pure in heart ever see God—half-hearted dedication won’t even get you through medical school, let alone into the presence of the Supreme; even though that presence is here all the time, you won’t be able to see it.
When I took initiation from my Guru, Swami Satchidananda, in 1973, I received a booklet that included a sample sadhana chart, some suggestions on how to fill it out and what to do if I fail. I tried keeping this chart for a little while, but it didn’t work for me at all. Years later, after I had followed his advice to refine my vision of what I was trying to do, I was able to develop a chart that served my purpose and was therefore very easy for me to keep. Because of this experience, I believe your sadhana chart will be relevant and helpful to you only if it’s tailored to your purpose and goal. The contents of your chart must be tuned to your purpose and goal. There are hundreds of thousands of practices. Without a goal, how are you going to know what to practice?
Even though I had set my spiritual goal some time before I met my Gurudev, I spent about five years waiting for him to tell me what my goal should be and how to reach it. Not only did he never tell me—he never allowed the slightest opening to talk about it.
While I was waiting for him to give me specific instructions I nearly killed myself trying to do every practice he recommended at once.
In the middle of all this, I heard Sri Gurudev say on a tape: Every morning and evening you should answer the following:
- I want this achievement: __________
- To attain this, what should I do?
- Pitfalls to avoid: ____________
- What am I now doing?
- What got me here?
- What did I come here for?
- Am I getting it?
So I set out to answer these questions every morning and evening. After a year or two I turned the practice into a goal statement, which I refined over the years. Let me focus on questions 1 through 4. Remembering these four every morning and evening is the first thing on my chart.
- I want this achievement: _____________
Put simply, your purpose in life is what you would do with your life if you had no limitations of time, resources or the demands and opinions of others.
Every one of us knows his or her life’s purpose intuitively. To succeed, this purpose must become the conscious driving force in your life. For your purpose to become the motivating force in your life, you will have to shut your ears to all other voices, get your purpose out onto the surface and think about it—a lot. You must be strong and very courageous, because religious tradition, society, relatives, friends and enemies will probably all conspire together to make your life’s purpose seem either unimportant or unattainable.
- To attain this, what should I do?
Once you’ve established your purpose, you must set a practical goal. The purpose is abstract; the goal is practical. Your purpose could be anything from: “not being broke all the time” to “experiencing the Changeless Reality.” But no matter what your purpose is, and how clear you are on it, it will never happen by itself. You must set a practical goal, the means to achieving your purpose. For example, if your purpose is,“not being broke all the time,” you need to develop a practical plan to increase your income, cut your expenses and be more generous. If your purpose is to, “experience the Changeless Reality,” your goal might be to sit motionless for three hours. (Such a goal cannot be directly achieved; you will have to break this extremely difficult task into many small steps over years or decades, as you gradually shift your gaze from changing things to the Changeless.)
The many things you do to reach your goal will go on your chart, therefore your chart will be constantly changing over time. Your goal and purpose will remain essentially unchanged until you either attain them or subsume them into a greater vision.
- Pitfalls to avoid?
In reaching any goal and fulfilling any purpose, you will run into obstacles or pitfalls. For example, I once resolved to make fasting a regular part of my sadhana. From my chart I eventually learned that I wouldn’t be able to be regular in fasting if I fasted more than one day a week; although more fasting seemed theoretically beneficial, my chart proved that fasting more than one day per week increased my fascination with food and thus was an obstacle for me.
In this way, keeping the chart taught me that discipline is a two edged sword. One edge is: “I will do this.” The other is: “I will not do more than this.” This was radically different from my original idea of doing as much as possible. Today I look upon doing more than I set out to do on any particular day (just because I might feel especially enthusiastic or pigheaded) as an obstacle. I’ve come to define discipline as “harnessing enthusiasm for the sake of practicing at a sustainable level.” From my charts, I know that, for me, at this point, instead of producing the hoped-for breakthrough, a long fast would build pride (ego) at the expense of real discipline and I would end up actually fasting fewer days this year instead of more. (Keeping the chart also proved to me that great breakthroughs—unless they come unbidden—rarely produce lasting results.)
- What am I now doing?
So now you know your purpose, you’ve set your goal, you’ve made a plan and you’ve identified the pitfalls. You still need to know exactly where you are on your path to keep from being too lax and from rushing ahead. In sailing from New York to London, you need to know where you are and where you are going. When you get blown off course you need to accept it, figure out exactly where you ended up and then correct your course. I use the question, “What am I now doing?” to keep in touch with exactly what I am currently doing toward my goal. This keeps me from wasting energy on sidetracks and overexertion.
Answering these four questions every morning and evening is the most important item on my chart. I’ll explain the rest in the next issue.
Once you’ve identified your purpose and goal in life, do yourself a favor: Get serious and start keeping a sadhana chart. It will give you a continuous, accurate monitoring of your sadhana. It will provide you with exact knowledge of your capacity, enabling you to gradually replace the superficial trappings of spirituality with humility, determination and resolution. It will teach you exactly which obstacles are most troublesome to you, and it will show you clearly what it’s going to take for you to reach your goals. No one else can supply you with this priceless information. With this information, you will be able to develop a program based on your interests and your capacity instead of on someone else’s or on what you read in a book. Ultimately, the sadhana chart will take you to a place where what you are doing in life can neither be understood by the human mind nor recorded on any chart.
About the Author:
Bhaktan Eberle, a disciple of Swami Satchidananda since 1972, has been meditating on Jesus since 1983. He has been teaching Yoga for 35 years and lives at Yogaville with his wife Prema, their four children and two grandmothers. The book of his epic poem, “Spirit of Fire: The Power of Jesus’ Name,” and the CD, “Spirit of Fire One,” combined with music, are both available from SpiritOfFire.com.
From Integral Yoga Magazine, Fall 2011