Primary Principles of Sadhana And Their Perversions
Sri Swami Sivananda
This article is a chapter from the book Sadhana.
The path of the spiritual aspirant verily lies through a bewildering jungle of difficulties and dilemmas of problems and paradoxes. One of such vexing paradoxes is that your mind is both your best friend as also your bitter enemy. Mind becomes a true friend only after being gradually trained to be so. Mind begins to be really helpful after the aspirant has progressed sufficiently in spiritual Sadhana. Until then it should be regarded as a troublesome and treacherous enemy inside us. It is extremely diplomatic, cunning and crooked. It is an arch-deceiver. One of the master-strokes of the mind’s artfulness is to make the aspirant feel and smugly imagine that he knows his mind perfectly well and cannot be led away by it and at the same time to delude him totally. The mind has the knack of making the unwary aspirant confidently think himself its master, while it makes a hopeless fool of him. Its deceptions are subtle.
You have heard the saying, “The devil can quote scriptures for its purpose.” Similarly the mind can use a virtue to indulge in a vice. It has an inborn inclination to perversion. It can even take the support of a perfectly good principle seemingly to justify the most unprincipled sort of action. Unless it is scrutinised dispassionately its tricks are never fully discovered.
Certain of the perversions usually noticeable are described below. This will be valuable to sincere aspirants who are eager to study their minds and eliminate defects and shortcomings. These are extremely useful tips specially in the working field, for aspirants engaged in active Seva in the midst of other people.
Sadhakas are told, “Keep up Matri-bhava or Devi-bhava when you move with women.” This is a grand principle to safeguard your purity and spiritual progress. But this does not tell you, “Move with women;” nor does this advice mean that if you try to have this attitude then you may go on freely mixing with the opposite sex without any limit or restraint. The mind will ask, “Why not? What if I do? To retreat from their presence is sheer timidity. No fear when you do so with Devi-Bhava!” Beware, O Aspirant, beware of this tendency! Divine Bhava is not a licence to throw away all restrictions of the Sadhaka’s path. The permanent injunction for Sadhakas is to totally eschew all contact with the opposite sex. When unavoidably such contact becomes necessary, then, “Have Matri-bhava; have Devi-bhava” etc., are prescribed. Also this is to caution the aspirant not to hate women or become a misogynist. Women should be reverenced but from a safe distance. Let not Devi-bhava, etc., be taken to mean that you should be all the time in the midst of them. Watch your mind!
Then there is the advice which says, “You may hiss but not bite.” This safe counsel was given to a fabulous snake which in a too extreme excess of piety became so totally docile and harmless that it got severely man-handled by a set of mischievous urchins. It was given as an example to over-timid householders and people struggling in the very midst of the harsh realities of competitive ‘Vyavaharic’ life. Here an overdose of ‘Avanty-brahmin’–like humility might well make life impossible amidst the Asuric elements abounding in the world. Therefore, just an outward show of pugnacity may be countenanced in so far as this does not affect your basic goodness and brotherhood. But this policy is not for the spiritual aspirant in the path of Sadhana and Nivritti. Definitely no. Let aspirants take heed of these words. The Sadhaka is neither to ‘bite’ nor is he to ‘hiss’ even. This ‘hissing’ business will soon become a part of your nature. You will soon find yourself hissing for everything, at everything, at everyone, in and out of season. This hiss will include every variety of rudeness ranging from hot argument, sharp retort, curt reply to angry glaring, shouting and abuse. Thus, short of physical violence and fight, every type of verbal brutality will be put into the “hissing” category. This will ultimately lead to spiritual ruin. The mind is ever waiting to take advantage of even the least concession shown to it. Its natural tendency is to go downward. O Aspirant, do not bite or even ‘hiss.’ Be humble, be sweet, be gentle. Be firm but be soft, polite and courteous. If you wish to ‘hiss’ then ‘hiss’ at your own mind. Thrash the ego. Fight the Shadripus. Watch the mind!
Another victim to perversion is the piece of advice: “Be resolute. Stick to your principles. Never budge an inch”–the best possible advice to a sincere Sadhaka, but unfortunately often made the basis for the worst possible trait, i.e., obstinacy. This is a Tamasic trait. But the mind will make believe that you are manifesting Atma-bala or a divine determination. This is its work–to make him cling tightly to his ego. Hence this deception. But the careful aspirant must discern the difference between Sattvic Nishtha and sheer stubbornness. Atma-bala is not a cheap commodity to be got without a great deal of earnest struggle, discipline and will-culture. Determined adherence is advocated in respect of truly high and noble principles and not of self-conceited notions. By all means stick to spiritual Yogic Niyamas but avoid becoming obdurate in nature. Do not be deceived. Watch your mind!
“Speak the truth always. Be frank.” Thus is the Upadesa. This means when you are required to talk then speak only the truth. It does not at all mean that you must go about telling everyone to his face what exactly you think of him or her. This is unwarranted behaviour. Under the garb of frankness to give free expression of opinions without caring for other peoples’ feelings is not ‘Arjava’ or frankness or straightforwardness. At the least it is thoughtlessness; at its height it is sheer brutality. It does not bespeak well of an aspirant. The same teacher who tells you “Speak the truth; be frank!” also tells you to have “Mita Bhashana, Madhura Bhashana” moderate and sweet speech. Mind can even make you utilise frankness in order to express mild insult. An unpleasant truth is better left unsaid. If it becomes absolutely necessary and unavoidable then say it sweetly and with humility. “Not to hurt and wound others’ feelings” is as equally important as speaking truth. Satya and Ahimsa must go together. Study thyself. Watch the mind!
Then there is the truism i.e., “Vairagya is really a mental state, mental detachment.” The mind takes hold of this definition to justify a heedless sensual life without self-restraint or principle. The argument will always be, “Oh, I am not attached to all this. I can rise above it in a moment. I enjoy it as a master. Mentally I am detached.” Contact with Vishayas has toppled down even Tapasvins like Visvamitra. Therefore, do not take Vairagya lightly. Cultivate Vairagya diligently. Safeguard your Vairagya carefully. Be vigilant. Watch the mind!
The caution not to go to extremes in Tapasya also gets a like fate. Man’s normal nature is sensuous. The mind wants comforts and hates austerity. The indiscriminating aspirant conveniently ignores the qualifying adjective “extremes” in the advice quoted above and views all ‘Tapasya’ with disfavour. The result is to degenerate into luxury, lose even the minimum Titiksha and become a slave to a hundred wants. The warning is against foolish extremes but to a Sadhaka in the early stages a certain degree of austerity is essential for development. The mind will suggest so many justifications. It will bring the Gita to its side and show that Lord condemned Tapas. O aspirant, the Lord condemned ‘Tamasic Tapas’. He recommended Sattvic austerity of body, speech and mind. Reflect carefully. Always watch the mind!
“Take care of essentials. Do not pay too much attention to non-essentials.” The above too serves as a handle for the mind to deceive the aspirant. If you have to follow this advice, first try to understand what is essential and what is non-essential. The idle nature of man is to loath following any sort of Niyama and set-lines of Sadachara. Therefore, everything is dismissed at a stroke as ‘non-essential’. Then what remains, God only can say. The only ‘essential’ would seem to be to do what the mind likes. The Sadhaka must think what a spiritual instruction really means and then why it is given. Moreover essentials and non-essentials vary according to the stage of development of the spiritual aspirant. What may be unnecessary for an aspirant at a later stage may well be essential to him now. Do not throw away precious grain with the chaff. Watch the mind!
Finally the most dangerous deception played by the mind is in connection with Sadhana itself. The very Sadhana that is adopted by the aspirant to transfigure and divinise his life is converted into a prop and a field for the play of ego and senses. It is very difficult to break out of this ensnaring net without great earnestness and sincere endeavour. It is this vitiation of Sadhana that keeps the Sadhaka ‘struck’, as it were, on the path, arresting progress for years together. For example a youthful Sadhaka with sweet voice and musical talent naturally takes to Kirtan and Bhajan as his Sadhana. Art always attracts admirers. He is in demand at all auspicious functions. He gets popular amongst Satsangas. The subtle mind now spreads the net. The Kirtan becomes sweeter day by day. New songs and tunes are added to his musical repertory. Without his being aware the Kirtan has become a means to attract others to himself and to maintain the popularity. Thus the Sadhana becomes double-purposed–primarily for God’s Darshan and side by side for worldly attraction. The result is the extraordinary phenomenon of the Sadhaka caught in his Sadhana and instead of Mochana (liberation) the quality of Sadhana becomes Bandhana (bondage). Maya is wonderful, indescribable. Her ways are mysterious and inscrutable.
Take Nishkamya Karma Yoga. Serving and helping others for no return is something unheard of in the purely Vyavaharic world. Naturally the disinterested Sevak is regarded as an exceptional being. All doors are open unto him. Many bring their troubles to him, open their hearts and freely confide even intimate problems. They, of course, take it for granted that the spiritual aspirant is perfectly pure in every respect. Here the Sadhaka walks upon the ‘razor-edge’ of life. The mind is the devil. Through the very intimacy of contacts in the Seva field, pleasure-centres are created and sensuousness gets scope in this Seva ‘Sadhana’. Vanity and carnality get catered to and the aspirant appears to take a keen interest in the Nishkama Seva. But a ruthless search of the mind will reveal that the keenness and interest in the Karma Yoga Seva is as much for the sense-indulgence to be had in the Seva, as for the Seva itself. So the mind destroys the Sadhana.
Aspirants practising Titiksha many a time stick on to the Titiksha for similar subconscious reasons. His endurance will earn for him a reputation. He will be regarded as extraordinary. So even after the Titiksha Sadhana has served its purpose he will keep on with it for continuing the status it has granted him. Another Sadhaka will under the idea of being indifferent towards the body and its needs, neglects to shave even. This will be quite sincere and bonafide in the beginning. But the long hair and beard that results out of this ‘Udasinata’ will prove the instrument for Maya to lay hold of the aspirant. The hair will be found to beautify his appearance. He loathes to part with it. Thus the former ‘Udasinata’ will be replaced by careful combing of the hair, application of oil, peeps into the mirror, dressing to suit the style of the hair, new mannerisms, etc. Thus in a trice will delusion spring upon you and overpower you like the tiger does its prey. Likewise Hatha Yogic exercises get misused to sustain gluttony; Vajroli is used for Vyabhichara and Yoga is made to serve Bhoga. All these perversions arise out of the mischief of the unregenerate mind. Therefore watch the mind.
The most extraordinary part of all this is that the mind will not allow you to take the above lessons seriously. It will still say, “O you are all right. This is not meant for you. Don’t mind all this. Carry on as you are.” O aspirant, do not listen to it. Non-cooperate with the rogue. Take the lessons to heart.
To know where exactly one stands on the path is very difficult. The tricks of the mind are most subtle. Only constant Vichara will keep you alert and safe. Deep introspection alone can reveal a little of the mysterious workings. Probe and probe into the mind. Do not be lenient to the mind. The mind will try to compromise with you. Relentlessly hunt out its hidden motives. Subject yourself to keen self-analysis every day without fail. Oust all sentiments in this process. Become an intelligent, serious and earnest self-C.I.D. Carry on a ceaseless search and a vigorous enquiry inwardly. Put your mind on the dissecting table of Vichara. Pray for the Grace of the Guru who alone can vanquish the mind and enable you to master it. Pray to the Lord to illumine your intellect with the light of knowledge. Watch the mind. Watch and pray. Thus alone, through introspection, analysis, discrimination, vigilance and prayer can you understand the subtle jugglery of this wonderful thing called ‘mind’ and transcend its deceptions and tricks.