The Mind of The Aspirant: A Psychological Study


Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book Sadhana.

One who seriously takes to the spiritual path and begins to do systematic Sadhana finds himself face to face with certain peculiar difficulties and disappointing experiences that at first tend to dismay and discourage the beginner. These problems and obstacles are common to the generality of aspirants and therefore it is important to know about them and to have a proper understanding of the methods of overcoming them.

The first is this. The Sadhaka or an aspirant starts upon his spiritual life with certain definite self-formed ideas about Sadhana, realisation, Guru, Upadesa and the like. Such cherished conceptions unconsciously get crystallised into firmly rooted bias. But actually true spiritual life is quite different from what individual imagination fondly pictures it to be. Very many things are found to be quite at variance with his mental picture of them. Realities turn out to be not merely contrary but at times absolutely contradictory to his old ideas that he had so fondly hugged to himself. All his preconceived notions receive a rude shock. What happens? More often than not the neophyte is unable to reconcile himself to these unexpected eye-openers and usually retraces his steps to land once again into the former deluded sensual life. This is the greatest blunder he would be committing. A peerless gem is grasped in the hand and then foolishly thrown away. A priceless opportunity is lost. The mind will once again pursue with vigour the same sensual grooves. What takes place is that the aspirant does not wish to let go off the long-cherished conceptions. His ego clings to them. He has for instance a certain idea of what constitutes Sadhana. He imagines that the one whom he accepts as his Guru would prescribe such Sadhana to him as will fit in with his idea. If not dissatisfaction makes its appearance. He thinks that a Guru should behave in such and such a manner. If the latter does not, then his loyalty wanes. To surrender to the feet of the Guru and then begin to doubt or dislike his conduct is the most awful and colossal error that an aspirant can ever commit. By this he lays a knife at the very root of Sadhana and spiritual life. And again the Sadhaka enters the path with a particular estimation of his own spiritual progress and the stage he has reached. But in fact God alone really knows where exactly he stands. Yet he will act according to his previous notion. When later events prove that he is wrong then he becomes disappointed and loses all enthusiasm. All this is totally harmful. To be preyed upon by a series of disillusionments and disappointments at the very start of spiritual life is a terrible handicap. It will cripple your capacity and urge for Sadhana. You will lose heart and be disgusted with spiritual life. Sadhana should be based and backed upon keen enthusiasm and joy.

Take up the life of Sadhana with an open mind. Be free of cramping preconceived notions formed out of your own egoism. Approach things spiritual with a sincere receptive attitude, with the idea to learn. Be prepared to sanely adapt yourself to them instead of foolishly wishing them to adjust themselves to suit your own mental pattern. Else disharmony will mark the very beginning of your Sadhana life. You will fall into dejection very hard to come out from. This will colour the entire course of subsequent Sadhana and valuable years will be wasted. This is the experience of countless aspirants of today. Tyaga of pet notions and peculiar ways of thinking is quite necessary if you wish to enter and proceed on the path smoothly. Then as you proceed you yourself will understand things gradually. They will become clear to you one by one.

The second thing that invariably vexes the beginner is the miscellaneous thoughts and ideas of duty. Curiously enough it will be found that as long as you are not doing any Sadhana or thinking of pursuing the spiritual path no such ideas of duty, etc., ever bother you. Most likely you will be indifferent and even negligent towards your duties or your kith and kin. Your parents may be daily urging you to find out some job and contribute to the upkeep of the family. You will be turning a deaf ear and enjoying cinemas and restaurants. Perhaps even if you get into a job then you will begin wearing tweed suits and silk neck-ties. But you would not mind your mother and sister washing and wearing the same pair of old sarees on alternate days. For, is not the mother’s maintenance the father’s responsibility? The sister, well she will soon be cared for by her future husband. So you will argue. But when the question of Sadhana and spiritual life comes then the mind will begin to say you have duties towards your family. You will fail in your duty to mother, brother, sister, etc. All these ideas occur only now, when you take to the path of Sadhana. You begin to waver, hesitate and weaken. Added to this there will be the dissuasion of friends and opposition of your own people to all things spiritual. “What is all this Japa, Dhyana and the wearing of Mala etc.? Such things have got their own proper time. You may attend to them when the time comes. Do your immediate duty first.” They will say. This will snuff out the little spiritual aspiration with which you start. This is a typical deception of the mind. Mind is Maya. Its function is to somehow or other prevent man from getting a glimpse of the Reality. It is that which ever seeks to veil up the Truth. You have therefore to be alert and continuously counter its moves at every step. Just when you seek to enter the Path the mind will create all these ideas of duty, responsibility, important undertaking etc., which never troubled you before. Be fully aware of this. You have different duties at different times. But to do Sadhana for Self-realisation is the most important and urgent duty that is present throughout your life right up to the last moment. You cannot afford to, nay, you should not postpone or delay it even for one single moment. Let this idea firmly sink into your mind. Do not waver. Start regular and systematic spiritual Sadhana from the second you read this line. Now put a bookmark in this page, close the book and sit silent, relaxed and straight with closed eyes. Think about the lofty purpose of life, how it is meant solely for spiritual Sadhana. Repeat the Lord’s Name for ten minutes. You have made a good beginning now. Enter the Path, proceed undauntedly. Push on with determination and vigour. Fix your mind once for all firmly upon the ideal to be attained. You will reach the Goal in this very life.

Once you actually make up your mind and start regular Sadhana you will perhaps be assailed by a host of difficulties and problems that you did not have before. You may find yourself beset at the start with obstacles on every side. You will begin to think that it is commencing Sadhana that started all the trouble and you were better off before. Do not be dismayed. There is a reason for it. Sadhana implies imposing certain restrictions upon yourself. Up to this time you had always followed the course of the senses. You never therefore came up against any opposition from them. Now you enter upon a path that is primarily one of discipline both, external and internal. This means coming into conflict with the unruly, self-willed sense-propensities. When you thus come into conflict you begin to feel their force whereas formerly they seemed to be comparatively quiescent to all appearances. When you are merrily cycling down the hillside everything seems to be wonderfully pleasant and smooth sailing. It is when you turn right about and try to climb upwards you begin to feel what a heart-breaking job it is. The calf and thigh muscles seem to crack under the strain. This is what happens when you take up Sadhana in right earnest. Sadhana is an up-hill task. It is a regular battling up-stream against the entire current of age-long Samsaric tendencies. It means the regaining of the height that you have lost in your unchecked downward descent into the abyss of gross worldliness. And in the beginning the neophyte is quite unused to this struggle, effort and strain. Such concerted onrush of troubles and difficulties confuses and unnerves him for a time. This is but natural. Do not be perturbed. Bear up with fortitude. These initial difficulties will soon vanish. You will gain strength day by day. If you just think about what a lot of troubles, trials and risks you ordinarily bear up with when it is a worldly matter of a little monetary gain, some business deal, an examination or a law-suit then you will readily put up with all the early difficulties you are faced with upon entering the Path bearing in mind the infinite, immeasurable and imperishable Atmic treasure you will attain ultimately. On the spiritual Path a little pain will bestow limitless gain. Success is sure to him who does a little sacrifice. Up till now the Sadhaka was moving in a petty circle, sacrificing some time and energy and getting some glittering metal, silky cloth and dainty dishes. He was merely sacrificing a portion of the finite to get another portion of the same perishable finite. Now entering upon the straight and glorious Path the Sadhaka, sacrificing the transitory finite things endeavours to obtain THAT which is Eternal and Infinite.

Enter now upon the Sadhana Marga with an open mind free of all prejudices, be fully aware of the onerous and indispensable duty of doing spiritual Sadhana and bear up calmly and cheerfully with all the initial trials and tests. You will inherit Eternal Life, Everlasting Splendour, Peace and Bliss!

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