Testing One’s Spiritual Progress
Sri Swami Chidananda
This article is from the book Walk in This Light.
‘Essentially, each seeker should know “What am I aspiring for? Is my aspiration being fouled by the occasional reverse gear–if not frequent reverse gears or a permanent inbuilt reverse gear–or am I totally out of gear?” All the calls of the Gita to Arjuna are to stand up and shake off weakness. “Strive” is what all the scriptures say.
Some time back one of our Divine Life Society Branches printed a card with the title “Spiritual Barometer.” It was meant to show the progress a person had made upon the spiritual path, in spiritual qualities and in all the various dimensions of spiritual life. For example, how far had you moved towards maturity in your newly unfolded spiritual consciousness; how far are you gradually trying to become established in your native dimension of consciousness where nothing can affect you, where the changing conditions of the body, mind, emotions, fears, imaginations, memories and projections into the future have no place? Were the spiritual qualities such as endurance, patience, strength and unshakability present? So, this was the purpose of the barometer: to test oneself.
But it was by no means comprehensive. It was a very good thing and it tested a certain aspect of the individual’s spiritual progress, but there are other things that a Sadhaka needs to know about himself. For example, it would be a good exercise to know how really interested we are in our own progress, meaning thereby, “How much am I developing in the Jnana aspect, which includes right enquiry and discrimination, and arising out of right enquiry and discrimination a state of inner detachment and dispassion? How much am I progressing in Bhakti and the devotional path? Am I constantly in remembrance of God? Is God to me a higher value than anything else in the world? Is He central to my life, or are other things occupying the centre, and God is an also-ran? How far am I progressing in Karma Yoga, selflessness, keen desire to serve, enthusiasm in serving and expecting nothing in return? Then, how far am I progressing in Yoga and all that Yoga implies–concentration, Pratyahara and Abhyasa?”
Similarly, it is worthwhile asking the question, “How far am I really interested in my spiritual progress?” If a person is really interested in physical culture and in developing a good, strong body, look at the extent to which he will go! He will sacrifice everything and commit to a strict diet and exercise, and day and night he will deny himself. These are all indications of how someone behaves who is really interested in some type of development. In your own field, are you doing all that is necessary in order to progress upon your spiritual path? How to know the answer to this? You have to devise your own test. If a patient is really interested in getting well soon, he will cooperate hundred percent with the doctor and cut out all articles of diet which are not good for him, and he will do all the things he has to do to get better.
These are just two examples in other areas of life, but if these signs are not there in our spiritual life, are we then not deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are keen on our progress? Really deep within us there may be something else occupying us–not this spiritual progress, nor devotion, nor God-Realisation–something else that is unknown to us and therefore we are deceiving ourselves.
Gita contains the quintessence of the Upanishads–the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas–which is the very basis and foundation of the Hindu religion. It is the highest Vedanta, the highest philosophy. It is also the science of Yoga and spiritual development and realisation. It is a Yoga Shastra and Brahmavidya of a very high order. It was arising out of a dialogue between God Himself and His nearest devotee, Arjuna, who was a friend, relative and favourite of His. These were the Divine words of God Himself. Therefore, whatever is expounded through such a conversation would be of the highest order of Brahmavidya and Yoga Shastra.
There can be no doubt about it, because it was given by Lord Krishna Himself to someone very dear to Him. It is the highest word, and therefore it is said that it will bring you close to God. It is so very important, so very valuable, so very precise, and everything that is necessary to be brought to our knowledge in order to progress to the highest spiritual experience is provided. Even a little of that Vidya will save you from great sorrow. In this way it is lauded.
Are you really and truly interested in expanding in knowledge, in progressing in wisdom, Jnana, Bhakti and Brahmavidya through divine teachings? Or, are you more comfortable in Tamas? You see, the question is very simple, and I will also put it in a simplistic manner. A car has essentially four gears–three forward and one reverse–and the question is, can the car move forward if it is in reverse gear? There is no use pretending that you want to go forward if the car is in reverse! You may not be pretending; you may be sincere and very honest in telling yourself you want to go forward, but nevertheless, you have put your car in reverse gear.
The mind needs to be in the top gear, and a steady, unhampered movement forward is indicative of top gear. See whether the mind is in this gear, or is the mechanism sometimes in reverse gear? If you find it in reverse gear, you can ask yourself, “How can I expect to move forward if I have put this propelling mechanism into reverse gear?” At this important juncture, let us move forward in a steadily upward ascent, a ladder to heaven. Let each day be a new rung towards the ultimate supreme pinnacle. Strive to make it an actuality that each day is an upward-ascending stairway.
Has today found you one step higher than yesterday? That would be your consideration, not mine. My consideration is regarding myself and maybe things I am interested in, like the Ashram. I would like the Ashram to go up steadily in all dimensions and aspects. Has it done so, and am I doing everything I can to bring this about? It is a matter of not only being concerned about myself, but also my environment and the ground which supports my life. I look at both in similar terms, and in being part of what is needed here, that is my consideration.
Essentially, each seeker should know, “What am I aspiring for? Is my aspiration being fouled by the occasional reverse gear–if not frequent reverse gears or a permanent inbuilt reverse gear–or am I totally out of gear?” All the calls of the Gita to Arjuna are to stand up and shake off weakness. “Strive” is what all the scriptures say, and the Gita also says that in elaborate terms.
This sharing puts the ball now in your court. The sharing is yours to make use of; use it in whatever way you can. It has been shared; therefore, it is no longer mine, and it is for you to think in what way it can be made use of for your own highest good. When an essential topic is given for consideration, unless it is given in a fairly complete manner, one does not feel satisfied. So, I hope I have given you a complete idea of how not merely to make use of the spiritual barometer, but to also to devise your own more important test to see how much you are interested in your own spiritual progress and evolution.
This is not only to be applied to your spiritual life, but to your physical health, your ethical evolution, your intellectual development and your mind culture. This test, this questioning, should have relevance and significance in a comprehensive manner in all aspects of your total culture. Perhaps it would be better if it was done with emphasis upon the inner development, but inasmuch as the inner subtler aspect of life is broad-based and supported by the outer and grosser aspect of life, its importance cannot be underestimated. Is my life showing practical indication of my being deeply and keenly interested in my own upliftment? This is the question that has been placed before you today. Hari Om.