The Sense of Spiritual Direction
Sri N. Ananthanarayanan
This article is from the book What The River Has Taught Me.
To profess a faith is easy. To live by the professed faith is difficult. To prattle is easy, to practise is much more difficult. Saying is easy. Doing is difficult. What is expected, what is required, of the spiritual seeker is not merely doing, but doing rightly, doing wisely and doing incessantly. The Upanishads give the clarion call: “Arise! Awake! And stop not till the Goal is reached”. At no stage should the seeker slacken his efforts. “Stop not!” are the words. He should be at it, he should be doing Sadhana all the time. Till when? Well, till the Goal is reached. When will it be reached? God only knows. It may be reached in six days or six million births. This is where the virtue of patience comes in. A spiritual seeker is expected to have that infinite patience of the bird which started to empty the ocean, drop by drop, with its beak.
You must have Viveka. Viveka is spiritual wisdom. It is the wisdom which asserts that the Spirit alone is real and that matter is unreal. It is the knowledge that lasting bliss can be had only in God and not in the transient things of this world. It is the right understanding which leads you to the conviction that life in this world, this phenomenal existence, is fraught with endless misery, that this world is a valley of tears, a temple of misery. It is the power of discrimination which enables you to understand, to grasp, the full import of Sri Krishna’s unequivocal, unqualified and emphatic declaration in the Bhagavad Gita that this world is “impermanent and a place of unhappiness”. Once you have this Viveka, and only when you have this Viveka, will your spiritual life have a comparatively smooth run. Only then will your progress be safe and steady. If you proceed in your Sadhana without the backing of Viveka, you may trip, or you may get confused and befuddled and break. It will be like building a structure without a foundation. Not only should you have Viveka, but it should be lasting. You cannot afford to lose it, part company with it, even for a second. It is so important. You see, when the seeker launches on his spiritual journey, it is like entering a path in darkness. A torch is necessary. Viveka provides the torch. Sadhana or spiritual practice is the actual walking.
The settled conviction that this world holds only misery and that God only is the true source of blessedness is very necessary for one very important reason. As a spiritual seeker, you will find yourself cut off or isolated from the rest of the world. True it is that lots and lots of people profess faith in God and religion, but few practise the tenets of religion. Few people practise spirituality. Even among those who practise, many do so out of a desire to gain something or the other and not for the sake of God alone. True spiritual seekers who strive in the spiritual direction for the sake of God and only God are few and far between, and except for those few, you will find the rest of the world walking in one direction and yourself walking in the opposite direction. When you are faced with this spectacle, doubts will slowly begin to creep in your mind–and this, despite all your book-learning, all your theoretical knowledge, all the instructions of your Guru. And you will begin to falter. You will begin to wonder: “Am I right? Or, are they right?”. In its more explicit form, the question will assume somewhat the following shape: “Am I making a fool of myself? If only I struggled in the worldly direction, how much more prosperous, more talented, more powerful, will I be than most of these people? Oh! What all have I sacrificed! Ah! To think of all the possibilities of success in various directions I might have achieved!”. In truth, to think on these lines is an exercise in foolishness.
It is a trick of the mind. Mind deludes. It is in the nature of the mind to imitate. Mind is the handmaid of Maya. Maya has her seat in the human being in the shape of the mind. You have to gain conquest over this lower mind, over this deluding mind, by the power of your higher mind, the discriminating mind, the mind which possesses Viveka. You should never once lose the sense of direction in spiritual life. The sense of spiritual direction is very, very important. The distinction between the Sreyo Marga (path of ultimate good) and the Preyo Marga (path of immediate pleasure) should never be lost sight of. There should be no turning back in spiritual life. If you have once turned your back on the world, never again retrace your steps. If you have once felt, and felt for sufficient reason, that worldly pleasures are worthless, never again be deluded, be fooled into thinking that they are worthwhile. Do not try to eat vomited food. Do not try to grasp things which you have rejected. Do not walk to and fro. Do not pace back and forth. You will never reach your destination. Learn to walk in one direction. You will reach somewhere.
If worldly pleasures hold too strong an attraction for you, have legitimate enjoyment. You will soon realise the worthlessness of those mundane pleasures, and with this realisation, spiritual wisdom will dawn on you. The spiritual spark will be lighted in you. Only then will you be able to take firm steps and purposeful steps on the spiritual path. Only then will you be entitled to the name of spiritual seeker or Sadhak.