Question: If, as you say, “Truth is one and paths are many, must the paths be prescribed, or can one gain the truth through independent Self-realization?

Swami Satchidananda: Well, if you know the way, you don’t have to ask anybody. Nobody has to prescribe to you. If you don’t know the way, ask somebody. You may say, “I don’t believe in asking anyone. I want to find it myself.” Okay, you can. Some people may come to the ashram and they start early in the morning, arriving only late in the evening, because they have been going round and round, not knowing the way. They arrive eventually, no doubt, but an intelligent person will ask for directions beforehand, follow the route and arrive easily.

Nobody is going to force their idea or opinion on you. If don’t want to ask, that’s fine. Even in our Integral Yoga practice, nobody forces you to practice. In fact, the scriptures, such as the Upanishads, advise people not to give knowledge that is unasked for. The Bible says, “Ask and it shall be given, knock and the door will be opened.” Why? By asking, you show that you are hungry to know. Then, when the knowledge is given, you will relish it. If you are not hungry, even if you are given delicious food, you won’t be able to enjoy it. So, wait for the hunger.

It’s easy to learn how to get somewhere from a person who has already gone that way. Intelligent people will always learn from others. And again, others can only show you the way; they cannot take you there. If all the great sages and saints could have done that, the world would be a heaven today. They only tell people, “This is the way. If you like it, do it. If not, go do whatever you like.” They are all like signposts on the road: twenty more miles to reach your destination. If you see that signpost, bow down, circle around it with flowers, will you arrive at your destination? Sometimes we do that. We worship books, without even reading what is inside. Many so-called “spiritual” people put a book on the altar and leave it there, worship it. It’s just like worshiping a signpost. So, you have to do it yourself. You have to follow what is said.

Even God can only tell you what to do. You have to do it and follow it yourself. And when will you follow it? Only when you feel the thirst. Suppose I tell a child who wants to put their finger in the flame, not to. Normally, they don’t listen to that. They’ll wait for you to leave, and then try it. The best way to teach them, is to take their finger, slowly bring it close to the flame, and when you are almost there say, “Okay, touch the flame now.” The child will say, “Oh no, it’s too hot, I won’t do it.” You have to experience these things yourself.

That’s why when I hear people say, “Oh, life is so troublesome, I’m sick and tired of the whole thing,” I become super happy about that. Why? Because if they are sick of things, they won’t look for the same thing again. That’s why I say, first you have to become a sicker and then a seeker. Mother Nature herself makes us sick in every way. Wherever we run, whatever we do, thinking we can be happy always, the Mother creates problems for us. You are not happy always; maybe a little bit, but, before and after you feel unhappy. So you run, run, run, looking for the happiness, and then get tired of it. It’s like running after your own shadow. As you run after it, you will never catch it. But, turn around and walk away, saying, “I don’t want you anymore, I’m tired of chasing after you,” and then if you look behind you, you will see someone following you. It’s your shadow, chasing after you! When you stop running, the surprise is, that everything runs after you.

The Bible tells us to “Seek the Kingdom first.” Once you have found that, everything will be added unto you, whether you want it or not. Everything comes to you—people, possessions, money, property—because you don’t want it. You can try that approach. But you have to prove that you really don’t want anything. It won’t work if you are thinking, Oh everything will come to me if I don’t want things so I’ll try that and get everything. You will be tested to see if your, not wanting is really genuine. So, stop running after things. The joy and happiness is in you always. Nothing and nobody can make you happy always. A little bit, yes, but not a permanent happiness. That is always found within.

There are many paths, but only one Truth. There is not only one way. People don’t all have the same capacity. So, choose a path according to your own particular taste and temperament. The only problem is that sometimes, when you select a path, you might think, Ah, my path is the only path; your path is wrong. We should not get into that. All the approaches are to be accepted, as long as they have the same one goal: Truth. If you keep the one goal in mind, you can take any route that you want.