A Barometer of Our Spiritual Life
Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda
Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh
It is well known that Gurudev wrote over 300 books on all aspects of the spiritual life. Included in his breadth of interest were books on health, plays, poems, and he used to from time to time write different versions of spiritual barometers, which normally took the form of asking questions: “How would you feel if ” And then he would list a number of outrageous things and conclude, “If none of these disturb you, then you’re 50% of the way to the goal.” In doing this, he was, in a sense, echoing Lord Krishna in the Gita, especially the end of Chapter two and Chapter twelve.
To compare our spiritual progress to the ideals set out by Gurudev and Lord Krishna has the very salutary effect of making us recognise that we have a long way to go, no matter how long we have been in the spiritual life or what progress we might have made. Indeed, they seem to create such a gap that we have a tendency to ignore them altogether. Actually, we can feel more comfortable with something like Gurudev’s spiritual diary. At least we can understand when he asks us how much time did you spend in meditation, how much time for japa, what time did you get up? This is something that we can relate to and more easily do.
However, is there another simple question that we could ask ourselves that could act as a barometer of our spiritual life and at the same time is doable for us? There may be many simple questions we could ask, but one that surely goes to the heart of our spiritual life is to ask ourselves, “How much am I prepared to let go of control of my life?”
This is not normally a question we ask ourselves. We assume that our life belongs to us, and we resent it if anyone else tries to control us, especially unless we’re getting something in return. If we’re getting protection from somebody else, we recognise we have to give up a certain amount of control. If we’re being paid by someone else, we recognise that we owe them a certain degree of obedience and control over our lives. If we’re deeply in love with someone, then that person has a certain control over our behaviour or we won’t have a relationship that will last. But other than that, where we perceive that we are getting something in return for giving up control of our lives, we don’t want to give up control for nothing in return. “This is my life” is an automatic assumption.
If we’re on the spiritual path though, we begin to gradually discover that thinking about ourselves, controlling our lives, being in charge is a route to unhappiness, confusion, misery. Letting go, even temporarily, is the path to peace, contentment, and happiness. In fact, the whole purpose of our spiritual life is to give up this individual sense of control. Indeed, our whole sadhana ultimately is one of surrender and trust, letting go and letting God.
Does this mean that we give up activity? This is a common error. What it means is giving up control and recognising that we have always belonged to God. We have never belonged to ourselves as an individual. That practice means that the ego is gradually being rubbed away. When the ego goes, peace remains. Therefore, one barometer, one test, of our spiritual life is how much are we prepared to give up control of our life and acknowledge that our lives now, always have been and always will be part of God.