This article is from the book What The River Has Taught Me.
An aspirant put this question once to the Holy Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram: “I have been practising Sadhana for so many years, but there has been no significant progress. Why?”. Said the Holy Mother: “Because you have not taken the spiritual plunge!”. To the same question put by different aspirants at different times, Gurudev Sivananda used to say: “You have not progressed much, because you have not given 100% of your mind to God, because you have not given your whole mind to God”.
It is the same answer given in two different ways. Most aspirants stand on the shore of the spiritual sea, deliberating whether to take the spiritual plunge or not. This deliberation, this hesitation, this vacillation, goes on for years. As long as this vacillation is there, there is little progress. Because, the mind is not made up. As long as the plunge is not taken, the lower mind retains its strong hold on the aspirant. The worldly Samskaras have their sway. The earthly Vasanas rule supreme. They put up a tough fight. In this tug-of-war which goes on in the mind of the aspirant, the lower mind exercises the stronger pull.
Vedanta proclaims that creation is an illusion, that the Creator is the only Reality. It asserts that the unseen rope is the only reality, that the snake that is seen is an illusion; that the cinema screen is the reality, that the picture is an illusion. At one time we can see either the illusion or the reality. We cannot see both. The mind cannot perceive both the screen and the picture at the same time. The mind cannot perceive both God and the world at the same time. As long as it sees the world, it cannot see God.
Think of a foolish child in a dark room which cries for light, while at the same time refusing to come out into the open. Identical is the position of the weak-kneed Sadhak who refuses to give his whole mind over to God, who refuses to take his feet off the world, who refuses to take the spiritual plunge, but keeps crying all the time that there is no light in his life, that there is no spiritual progress. How can the Sadhak have spiritual progress when he is refusing to enter the spiritual waters?
“You cannot have light and darkness at the same time. You cannot have nectar and poison in the same cup.” How many times has not Sivananda stressed this basic point that a person can have either this world or that, but not both! Yet, if you check on the generality of spiritual seekers all over the world, you will find that their feet are clinging fast to earth and things earthly, while a fraction of their mind is vaguely given over to God.
Now, who can take the spiritual plunge? Who will take the spiritual plunge? He will take the spiritual plunge who feels that the world is afire. He who feels suffocated in the world, who feels he is being roasted in the world as if in a furnace, will long with his full mind, with the entirety of his mind, to take an immediate plunge in the ambrosial waters, in the cooling waters, of the spiritual sea. He who is totally disgusted with the world will yearn to get away from it all by entering the spiritual path. He will not retrace his steps. He will not look back. He will not become a spiritual turncoat.
It is a phenomenon that we all know that only in a state of emergency we bring to bear all our resources on a given problem. The rushing of an injured patient to the emergency ward of a hospital, the hectic preparations of a student on the eve of his examinations or the extraordinary activity in a country on the eve of an invasion from outside are cases in point. These are instances of conscious whole-hearted action where undivided attention is paid to the winning of the object in view. The accident victim is rushed to hospital. The student plunges into his studies. The nation under attack throws itself headlong into the battle. In each case, there is a sense of urgency, of immediacy. There is no time for talk or discussion; there is need for urgent action, action to escape from a bad situation, existing or threatened. The accident victim has to escape current suffering and possible death; the student has to escape failure; the nation at war has to escape enemy occupation.
Even in normal day-to-day life, we do not generally act unless compelled by external circumstances or inner motivations. Very often, action starts only when it becomes inescapable or inevitable, only when it becomes a dire necessity. To cite a couple of common instances, the child in its cosy bed does not get up in the morning until it is time for school. The father does not think of his daughter’s marriage until she is grown up.
And if you look closely into it, all actions, even the most humdrum actions of daily life, are coloured by a sense of urgency in the moments immediately preceding those actions. In other words, it would appear that action results only from a sense of urgency. Thought or desire has to reach a state of urgency in order to precipitate into action, in order to materialise into action.
In the moment preceding any action, the desire to perform that action, the thought to perform that action; comes to a climax. Then only that thought results in action. This is the secret of action. Action is invariably preceded by a thought coloured by a sense of absolute urgency. Contrariwise, by whipping up a sense of urgency with regard to a particular action, we will make sure that that action will follow. That is why perhaps my revered Master Sivananda once told a visitor, with regard to a particular course of action, “Want to do it!”. “Want to do it!” was the sage’s simple advice. But, what a wealth of meaning! What deep psychological implications! Do you want to become a doctor? Join the Indian Administrative Service? Become a politician? Or a saint? Whatever your aspiration may be, want it. Wish it. Want intensely. Wish intensely. That is the first step to success in the required direction. Action follows desire. Desire ends in action. Desire culminates in action. Intense desire culminates in immediate action.
Buddha realised, because he sat under the Bodhi tree with the firm resolve: “I must realise God now“. In recent times, Sivananda resorted to Sadhana and the Swargashram jungle with the same resolve. And he too realised.
Ramana realised, because a sense of urgency possessed him to get out of the inscrutable fear that filled his heart. He had to find an answer to the question, “Who am I?”. And find out he did.
If this element of compelling urgency is not there in the life of a spiritual aspirant, his progress is bound to be slow, because complacent Sadhana is no Sadhana. Sadhana is a battle. And a battle is not fought with complacency. If it is fought so, it will end in defeat and regret.
Is Samsara burning you? If your answer is “Yes”, and on top of it if you are a practising Sadhak, there is every chance of your success. The Sadhak who is hard-pressed by Samsaric fire will act like the cornered cat. He will give battle and fiercely too.
So, the Sadhak should arouse in himself a powerful desire for immediate release from Samsara, a big thirst and a deep yearning for liberation from this birth-and-death cycle. Such a yearning is termed Mumukshutva in Vedantic terminology. Mumukshutva leads unerringly to Moksha. But Mumukshutva itself results from Viveka and Vairagya.
Are you feeling totally disgusted with the world? Are you feeling really fed up, really sick of the world? In other words, do you have genuine Vairagya or dispassion? If you have, you are fit for the spiritual path. Your Sadhana will fructify. You will take sure steps forward.
Whereas, if you do not have Vairagya, your half-hearted efforts and faltering steps will be of no avail and you will not move forward and onward in the spiritual path. Vairagya is the crux of the problem of spiritual life and spiritual progress. If you have intense Vairagya, your meditation may yield spiritual fruits in months and weeks, but if you have no Vairagya or your Vairagya is of a dull type, even years of meditation may take you nowhere.
Gurudev tells the story of a certain Chaubey who wanted to go from Mathura to Varanasi by boat and went on rowing all night only to find himself at the same point in Mathura the next morning. Bystanders pointed to the bewildered Chaubey that his boat was secured to the bank and he had not untied the rope. So, if you are tied to the world through kith and kin, through position and power, through desires and cravings of all sorts, then do not ever dream of going anywhere near God despite all the mechanical Sadhana you may do!
Ponder over the limited time at your disposal. Think of the enormity of the spiritual task. Think of the lasting benefits of a spiritual life. Think of the uselessness, the utter futility and frustration which result from the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Look into the mirror at the multiplying grey hairs on your head, at your shrinking skin, at the darkening curves beneath your eyes. Before you become completely old, before you become an ugly old man, an object of ridicule and contempt for others, before senility overtakes you, plunge into Sadhana. Think of God. Your efforts will be rewarded and the rewards will exceed your best expectations. Your body may grow old, but your spirit is ever young. Identify yourself with the Spirit within. Do Sadhana. Evolve. God will bless you. The world will respect you. You will be at peace and you will radiate peace. Do not delay. Waste not time. Be up and doing. Start the spiritual life today. Remember: IT IS AN URGENT TASK.