Aids to Spiritual Progress
SRI SWAMI SIVANANDA
Seeing God In All
Importance of Discipline
First Steps First
While sincerity is a fundamental requisite on the spiritual path, its misapplication could be dangerous. Sincerity without right discernment is of little use, and right discernment or discriminative understanding could come only through experience, study, meditation and company of the wise.
After having read a few Vedantic texts or the Tao Te Ching, some aspirants tend to become megalomaniacs, and immediately put up granite walls on the path of progress.
Beholding God in all, or feeling His presence everywhere, is a perpetual experience of the realised souls alone (and one could hardly find a single one of them in tens of millions). It can only form a part of One’s spiritual endeavour, but when the aspirant becomes puffed up with the notion that he is seeing God in all, he, in fact, experiences his inflated ego.
When there is so much of impurity in the heart, when the mind is so very confused, when selfishness is the ruling whip, it is absurd to talk of beholding God in all. Without scaling the foothills, you cannot climb the Everest.
As the purity of mind increases, and when the senses are withdrawn, one could momentarily be aware of the presence of God within and without, but that is only a transitory experience, the duration of which depends on the extent of sadhana, but as soon as the mind descends upon the physical plane, as it must, dragged down by the force of its karmas, one cannot help acting in accordance with their characteristics.
Spiritual disciplines, therefore, are of fundamental importance for every single aspirant. It is ludicrous to talk in terms of the absolute Reality when the savage within jumps up at the slightest provocation. It is equally fantastic to say, “I am neither man, nor woman; immortal soul am I,” when one is not even a human being within, but a ferocious animal, ruled by strong likes and dislikes, morbid self-centredness, hate and infatuation.
Never forget the importance of self-discipline. It does not mean suppression, but taming the brute within. It means humanisation of the animal, and spiritualisation of the human. It means cleansing of impurities, sublimation of the lower urges, not their repression.
Patanjali did not begin his Yogasutras with lessons on samadhi or superconsciousness. Do not forget that. He did not even talk of concentration and meditation (dharana and dhyana) without having laid emphasis on pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses from external objects. He did not think of pratyahara without steadiness of posture and regulation of breath (asana and pranayama). He did not think of spiritual life without yama and niyama. Never forget that.
Vedanta does not ask you to think in terms of Sivoham (I am Siva) or Soham (I am He), if you do not possess the “four means” or the Sadhana-chatushtaya. These “four means” constitute a vast part of sadhana, after which alone one could regard oneself as a Vedantin.
The path of devotion does not stress on para bhakti (a state in which the meditator and the meditated upon are one), unless one has achieved a great deal by purifying the heart through the repetition of the Lord’s name, steadying the mind through meditation on His form, and cleansing the impurities through divine worship and service.
Without yama and niyama, or the “four means,” or prayer, recitation of the divine name, meditation, service and cultivation of virtues, it is just nonsense to talk in superlative terms of Self-realisation, or say that you are neither a man nor a woman or that you love the Self in all beings equally.
Never forget the importance of yama and niyama. Yama means self-restraint, taming the animal within. Patanjali cites five yamas or restrains. They are: (1) abstinence from injury in any form; (2) truthfulness; (3) continence; (4) abstinence from depriving others of anything that is theirs; and (5) abstinence from avariciousness (ahimsa, satya, brahmacharya, asteya, aparigraha).
Self-restraint is basic to Yoga. You cannot have balance of mind without restraint and sublimation of the lower urges. There is so much of violence in life–in thought, word and deed. Not a single day passes when one does not hurt another in some form or other. A single act of injury destroys a good deal of one’s sadhana.
Even in saints violence is inexcusable. You can only call such rare lapses in them as temporary loss of spiritual balance, as Dr. Radhakrishnan says when referring to Jesus Christ’s act of whipping the money-lenders. In individual relationship, to take recourse to violence in order to justify a so-called spiritual reason, is inexcusable.
It is a different matter when one has to act in self-defence, or when there is danger to life, or when one has to fight for defending one’s country, but to justify violence in the name of spirituality is outrageous.
Truthfulness does not mean spewing the truth in a mechanical way. One may speak the truth and yet follow the path of untruth. Truth-speaking, when it brings harm to another, or hurts the feelings of another, becomes a contradiction of truth by effecting violence. Truthfulness covers integrity, abiding by the ideal of justice, never swerving from the path of honesty. The path of truth is an austere path.
Continence does not merely mean physical celibacy. It is mainly indicative of the purity of life that is dedicated to God (brahmacharya). The heart must be pure, free from ill-will and hate. The mind must be free from impure thoughts. The sex-urge should be intelligently disciplined. There should be no repression, but sublimation.
For a sannyasin, brahmacharya means a life-long vow of celibacy; for a householder it means regulation and discipline of his vital urges, and fulfilling them to the extent necessary, while not being their slave.
You would yourself know the importance of the different kinds of restraints and their benefic influence on your life, in general, as you progress on the spiritual path.
Yama and niyama go together. Niyama means observance–any kind of observance directed to help spiritual unfoldment. Patanjali cites five observances: (1) internal and external purity; (2) contentment; (3) austerity; (4) study of scriptures; and (5) worship of God or self-surrender (saucha, santosha, tapas, swadhyaya, ishwara-pranidhana).
The body and mind must be kept clean. If the thoughts are pure, only then could there be mental poise. If the body is dirty, the mind also will be slovenly. Contentment is a result of mature understanding, not a state of resignation. The heart should be peaceful, and the hands active in the service of God, which means service of one’s fellow-beings.
Austerity, not only means discipline of the body to heat and cold to a certain extent, but balance of mind in pleasure and pain. Austerity, like asana and pranayama, is only a means, and should not be made a fetish.
It is not necessary to detail the importance of widening the horizon of one’s knowledge through study, observation, meditation and the company of the wise. Worship of God means any form of worship suited to one’s temperament. Cultivation of the qualities associated with God, such as mercy, compassion, forgiveness, justice, tolerance, and so on, is one of the finest forms of worship.
Self-surrender does not mean irresponsibility and inertia, but offering of oneself to the Divine, which indicates a complete process of self-cleansing (you do not offer a soiled flower in worship) and freedom from egotism, vanity and pride.
The four means, on the path of Jnana Yoga, embody in them many of the principles of yama and niyama. Viveka or discriminative understanding is given the first importance; then vairagya or dispassion for sense-objects. Without these, spiritual life is just a mockery.
The third means is termed shat-sampat, or six-fold virtues, namely, shama, dama, uparati, titiksha, sraddha and samadhana.
Shama is tranquillity of mind effected through eradication of cravings, renunciation of mundane desires. It is interrelated with dama which means control of the senses.
Uparati is satiety, born of discriminative understanding; it means a state of self-withdrawal, in which the mind does not function through the means of external objects.
Titiksha, or austerity–physical and mental–has already been referred to. The practice of the formula, “Adapt, adust, accommodate; bear insult, bear injury,” is a great titiksha.
Sraddha means faith, which is like a keel that balances the boat of life, while viveka corresponds to rudder, and mumukshutwa, or desire for liberation, to propeller. Faith in God, faith in oneself, faith in the Guru, faith in the wise teachings, faith in all that is good and noble, is the sap of life.
Samadhana is the result of the five of the six-fold virtues, which means “self-settledness,” a state of perfect balance, an unruffled state of mind, free from likes and dislikes, love and hate, doubt and despair. It is also independent virtue which must be cultivated by patient practice, and, however momentarily one might experience it, one should try to attain it during meditation and at other times, too.
Mumukshutwa means intense longing for freedom from the cycle of births and deaths, a burning desire for Self-realisation. It is the motive-power in all sadhanas, the propelling factor that pushes you along the path. If this is lacking, sadhana becomes static.
Remember these aids to spiritual progress. Never underestimate them. Do not delude yourself. Let no one call you a symbol of vanity or an egotist, for there could be nothing worse than spiritual vanity or egotism justified in the name of spirituality. Take care of the details, and the major factor will take care of itself. 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.