INTRODUCTION By Sri Swami Sivananda
Sadhana is spiritual movement consciously systematized. Sadhana is the purpose for which we have come to this place.
Abhyasa and Sadhana are synonymous terms. The object of Sadhana is to release life from the limitations with which it is bound. Sadhana is a lifelong process. Every day, every hour, every minute, is an onward march. Obstacles are innumerable in this great voyage. But, so long as you hold God as thy guide, there is nothing to worry about. You are sure to reach the other shore.
Some people have curiosity for the spiritual line. They have no real thirsting for liberation. They think that they will get certain powers or Siddhis (psychic powers) if they do some Yogic practices. When they do not attain the powers, they lose patience and give up the practices, abandon the spiritual path, and pooh-pooh the Yogis and Yoga.
Mere curiosity will not help you to attain any spiritual progress. Curiosity-mongering is more abominable than mischief-mongering. Introspect. Analyze your thoughts and find out whether you have real spiritual hunger or mere curiosity-mongering. Transmute curiosity-mongering into real thirsting for salvation by constant Satsang (association with the wise), study of good religious books, prayer, Japa, and meditation.
You must have interest and liking in your Sadhana. You must understand well the technique and benefits of Sadhana. You must select a Sadhana that is suitable for you. You must have the ability and capacity to do Sadhana. Then alone you will have joy in do ing the Sadhana and full success in it.
ASPIRATION AND ACHIEVEMENT
Good intentions alone will not do. They must be backed up by good actions. You must enter the spiritual path with the best intention of attaining Atma-Jnana (Self-knowledge), but unless you are vigilant and diligent, unless you do intense and rigorous Sadhana, unless you guard yourself against lust, anger and egoism and selfishness, the good intentions alone will not enable you to achieve success.
Moral purity and spiritual aspiration are the first steps in the seeker’s path. Without a strong conviction in moral values, there can surely be no spiritual life, or even a good life.
Stern self-discipline is absolutely essential. Self-discipline does not mean suppression, but taming the brute within. It means humanization of the animal and spiritualization of the human.
You will have to break the virgin soil before you sow the seed. The seed breaks itself before it sprouts out as a plant. Destruction precedes construction. This is the immutable law of nature. You will have to destroy your brutal nature first before you develop divine nature.
The spiritual path is rugged, thorny, and precipitous. The thorns must be weeded out with patience and perseverance. Some of the thorns are internal; some are external. Lust, greed, wrath, delusion, vanity, etc., are the internal thorns. Company with evil-minded persons is the worst of all the external thorns. Therefore, shun ruthlessly evil company.
During the period of Sadhana, do not mix much; do not talk much; do not walk much; do not eat much; do not sleep much. Observe carefully the five ‘do-not’s’. Mixing will cause disturbances in the mind. Talking much will cause distraction of the mind. Walking much causes exhaustion and weakness. Eating much induces laziness and sleepiness.
DANGERS OF MIXING WITH WOMEN (OR MEN) AND WORLDLINGS
During the period of Sadhana, avoid the company of women (or men in the case of women). You must never mix with young ladies (or men), however strong you may be. Maya works through under-currents so stealthily that you may not be aware of your actual downfall.
Keep the mind fully occupied with spiritual pursuits. Keep yourself at the farthest distance from everything that would stir up your passions. Then only you will be safe.
Do not live with householders. Do not test your spiritual strength and purity when you are a beginner on the spiritual path. Do not rush into evil associations when you are a spiritual neophyte to show that you have the courage to face sin and impurity. It will be a serious mistake. You will be running into a grave danger. You will have a quick downfall. A small fire will be very easily extinguished by a heap of dust.
Mind has a great power of imitation. This is the reason why a spiritual aspirant is prohibited from mixing with householders. His mind will try to imitate the minds of worldlings. Downfall will ensue.
If an aspirant moves with rich people, Zamindars, and Rajas, his mind begins to imitate the luxurious habits of these people and, ere long, he gets an unconscious downfall. Certain bad habits creep in him unconsciously. And he finds it difficult to tear out or remove these bad habits.
An aspirant can live only for a short time in his native place if there is an urgent call. Yogic rules and laws cannot permit him to stay there for a sufficiently long period, however suitable the place may be and whatever may be the degree of Vairagya of the aspirant. The force of impressions is tremendous. Unless all the Samskaras are thoroughly burnt through Nirvikalpa-Samadhi, it is not safe for one to stay for a long time in one’s own native place. He is still within the danger zone.
THE SPIRITUAL PATH
The spiritual path may, in the beginning, appear to be very hard, thorny, precipitous and slippery. Renunciation of objects gives pain at the outset. If you struggle hard to tread the path, if you once make a strong determination and firm resolve, then it becomes very easy. You get interest and new joy. Your heart expands. You have a broad outlook of life. You have a new, wide vision. You feel the help from the invisible hands of the Indweller of your heart. Your doubts are cleared by themselves by getting answers from within. You can hear the shrill, sweet voice of God. There is an indescribable thrill of divine ecstasy from within. There is deep, abiding, everlasting joy and unruffled peace. There is ineffable, unabating, undiminishing, undecaying spiritual bliss. This gives new strength. The footing in the path becomes firmer and firmer. The Jivanmuktas, Yogins, Nitya-siddhas, Amara-purushas, and Chiranjivis lend their helping hands to the struggling aspirants. The aspirants feel this actually. The feeling of loneliness and of being neglected and forsaken vanishes entirely.
You are backed up at all times by a mighty power that works everywhere in the cosmos. Therefore you have nothing to fear. Take care of the details in Sadhana. The major factor will take care of itself.
Some aspirants leave Sadhana after some time. They expect great fruits quickly. They expect many Siddhis within a short time. When they do not get some, they give up the Sadhana. There are several ranges of consciousness between the ordinary human consciousness and the supra-consciousness of Brahman. Different veils have to be torn down on the way; many lower centres have to be opened up; many hurdles have to be crossed before the final goal is reached.
SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IS LIKE A SPIRAL
You have to plod on and scale many hills. You cannot climb the Everest in one jump. There is no jumping on the spiritual path.
Self-realization is not like a six-year post-graduate course. It is the result of intense protracted Sadhana.
There is no short-cut in the spiritual path. There is no royal road to the kingdom of immortal bliss. There is no half-measure in the divine path. Strict, hard discipline is wanted. Then alone you can conquer Maya. Only then can you control the mind.
Saints and Yogins will never think that they have controlled the mind. Only the deluded Sadhaka will imagine he has controlled the mind and get a terrible downfall. It is the very nature of life, mind, and Prakriti to be constantly in motion. When there is the idea in the mind that the highest goal is yet to be achieved, you will always move towards it. If you imagine that you have got to the top, you will anyhow have to move, and that movement will be downward. You will have a downfall. Aspire for higher realization till the breath ceases in the nostril.
Spiritual progress is slow, as the spiritual Sadhana is difficult and laborious. It is like the spiral. In the beginning, great striving is needed. Gradually, the circle becomes smaller and smaller. So also, the striving becomes less and less. The aspirant gains spiritual strength slowly. He marches faster and faster. Finally, he does not go by furlongs after furlongs. He proceeds by mile after mile. He gallops and gallops. Therefore, be patient; be persevering; be steady.
SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
The gradual inward progress is mostly silent and unseen, like the quiet unfolding of a bud into a flower in the hours of the night. Therefore, do not be dejected. Do not depress yourself with the idea that you are not progressing. Real spiritual progress is really and accurately measured by the peacefulness, serenity, and calmness that you manifest in waking state. You will have a healthy body and mind, the excretions will be scanty, the voice will be sweet, the face will be brilliant, the eyes will be lustrous. You will be ever calm, tranquil, and poised; you will be ever cheerful, fearless, and contented. You will be dispassionate and discriminative. There will be no attraction for the world. Things that used to upset you before will not upset you now. You will have an unruffled mind. You will have introversion. Things that used to give you pleasure produce disgust or a reverse effect now. You will have a one-pointed, sharp, subtle mind. You will be longing to have more meditation. You will experience lights, visions, divine smell, divine taste. The idea that all forms are forms of the Lord will get stronger and stronger in you. You will feel everywhere the presence of God. You will experience the nearness of God. You will have a very steady Asana. You will develop a burning desire for selfless service.
Watch whether you are stationary in the spiritual path, retrogressing, or advancing. If your Japa, meditation or Vedantic Vichara thickens your veil and fattens your egoism, it is not then a spiritual Sadhana. Remember this point well. It is only a kind of occult practice. Watch, introspect. Practice self-analysis and kill ruthlessly this formidable egoism. This is important Sadhana. Egoism will lurk like a thief and assume various forms like a chameleon or a Bahurupi (a dramatic actor).
Do not stop the Sadhana when you get a few glimpses of realization. Continue practice till you are fully established in Bhuma, the unconditioned Brahman. This is important. If you stop practice and move about in the world, there is every likelihood of a downfall. The reaction will be tremendous. Examples are not lacking. Numerous persons have been so ruined. A glimpse cannot give you perfect safety. Do not be carried away by name and fame. You can renounce your wife, children, parents, house, friends, and relatives. It is very, very difficult to renounce the intellectual pleasure, the pleasure from name and fame. I seriously warn you. A man who can draw happiness from the Atman within, will never care a jot for this trivial, paltry affair. The world is a mighty big thing for a worldly man. It is a straw for the Knower of Brahman. It is a mustard, a pin’s point, a dot, a bubble, an airy nothing for a Brahma-jnani (Knower of Brahman). Be circumspective. Ignore all these trivial things. Be steady with your practice. Never stop the practice till the final beatitude is reached. Never cease Sadhana till you can constantly dwell in full Brahmic consciousness.
Do not let failures discourage you, but go on doing your best. Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures, as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in future. Be cautious. Just think of the causes which led to your failures and try to remove them in future. Strengthen yourself with new vigour and virtues. Develop slowly your will-power.
Every temptation that is resisted, every evil thought that is curbed, every desire that is subdued, every bitter word that is withheld, every noble aspiration that is encouraged, every sublime thought that is cultivated, adds to the development of will-force, good character, and attainment of eternal bliss and immortality.
Every bit of Sadhana done is surely recorded without fail in your hidden consciousness. No Sadhana ever goes in vain. Every bit of it is credited immediately towards your evolution. This is the law. Think not negative thoughts, but calmly go on with the Sadhana. Be regular at it. Without missing a single day, proceed onward with your spiritual practices. Little by little, the power accumulates and it will grow. Ultimately, the cumulative force of all the continuous earnest Sadhana done perseveringly and patiently over a long period of life has its inevitable grand consummation at the supreme moment when it bears fruit in the form of blissful Realization.
Let the Sadhana be regular, continuous, unbroken, and earnest. Not only regularity, but also continuity in Sadhana and meditation is necessary if you want to attain Self-realization quickly. A spiritual stream once set going does not dry up, unless the channel-bed is locked, unless there is stagnation. Be vigilant eternally. Meditate regularly. Annihilate the under-current of Vasanas.
OBSTACLES TO SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
Sometimes the aspirant gets stuck up. He cannot proceed further in his path. Sometimes he is side-tracked through Siddhis. He loses his way and walks in some other direction. He misses the goal. Sometimes he is assailed by temptations and various oppositions. Sometimes he gets false contentment. He thinks he has reached his goal and stops all Sadhana. Sometimes he is careless, lazy, indolent. He cannot do any Sadhana. Therefore, be eternally vigilant, like the captain of a ship, like the surgeon in the operation theatre.
The spiritual path is full of hurdles. If you conquer one obstacle, another obstacle is ready to manifest. If you control the sense of taste, another Indriya is simply waiting to assault you with redoubled force and vigour. If you remove greed, anger is waiting to hurl you down. If you drive egoism through one door, it enters through another door. Great patience, perseverance, vigilance, and undaunted strength are needed.
Be frim, steady, and steadfast. People will mock at you; be silent. People will insult you; be silent. People will spread evil rumours about you; be silent. Stick to the spiritual path. Do not swerve. Seek the truth wherever it may lead you to, and whatever be the cost and sacrifice.
START SADHANA NOW
Act now. Live now. Know now. Realize now. Be happy now.
Every death is a reminder. Every bell that rings says, “The end is near”. Every day robs off from you one part of your precious life. Therefore, you should be very earnest in plunging yourself in constant Sadhana.
Never fall a victim to fruitless regret. Today is the best day. Today is the day of your new birth. Start Sadhana now. With folded palms, bid good-bye to past mistakes and faults. You have learnt your lessons. March forward now with new hope, determination, and vigilance.
Waver not. Fear not. Doubt not. Do something substantial in the path of Sadhana instead of wasting your time in idle pursuits and lethargy. You have infinite strength within you. There is a vast reservoir of power within you. Therefore, do not lose heart. Obstacles are stepping stones to success. They will develop your will. Do not allow yourself to be crushed by them. Defects remind you of perfection. Sin reminds you of virtue. Chose the positive path.
If you think, “I will take a bath when all the waves of the sea subside”, this is not possible. The waves will never subside and you will never take a bath. Even so, if you think, “I will start spiritual Sadhana or meditation when all my cares, worries and anxieties cease, when all my sons are fixed up in life, when I have ample leisure after retirement”, this is not possible. You will not be able to sit even for half an hour when you become old. You will have no strength to do any rigorous Tapas when you are in advanced senility.
You must start vigorous spiritual practices when you are young, whatever your conditions, circumstances and environments may be. Then only you will reap a rich spiritual harvest when you become old. You will enjoy the everlasting peace of the Eternal.
H. H. Sri Swami Sivananda was the founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh and Guru of Sri Swami Satchidananda Reprinted from the Divine Life Society’s online publications.