Living with Spiritual Paradoxes


Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh

The spiritual life is full of paradoxes. One of the most puzzling of them is the scriptural declaration that if we want God-realisation we must make great effort, supreme effort. At the same time, they adamantly declare that we are already what we are seeking. Our common sense objects. If we are already what we are seeking, why do we have to make extreme effort? And indeed, there are some teachers who ridicule normal spiritual practices and say, “Just realise that you are already free.”

But that is not what, for example, the Yoga Vasishtha tells us to do. The whole first section of the Yoga Vasishtha is dedicated to self-effort. That’s not what Gurudev said. He constantly urged us to make effort. And in Pujya Swami Chidanandaji’s book, Ponder These Truths, 74 of the 75 talks urge us to make effort of one sort or another.

One morning here Swamiji suggested an analogy for this paradox. He said, “It is as if a poor man is living over a treasure. One day a sage tells him that ten feet under the small plot of land where he is sitting, a treasure is buried. That means that the poor man is actually very wealthy. But until he digs down those ten feet, he is as poor a man as he ever was. Even if he digs 9 feet 11 inches he is still poor. It is only when he has dug the full ten feet and puts his hands on the treasure that he is wealthy beyond his fondest dreams.

Other analogies speak about cleaning a window so that the light that is always there can shine through, tilling the soil so that the grain can grow. Swamiji also mentioned that Gurudev had a secret. Gurudev made extreme effort, yet at the same time he always knew that everything was happening by God’s will. “It was a secret,” Swamiji said, “that Gurudev kept to himself, because we being half-baked people, if Gurudev were to tell us that everything is happening by God’s will, we would stop making effort.”

Are we then just supposed to make effort without recognising that we’re already what we are seeking? That doesn’t seem to be the answer. Part of our sadhana should be a constant remembrance of the fact that we are already what we are seeking.

But how do we do this sadhana? We do it with everything that we have within us. We use our intellect to remember that the scriptures say that God alone is. We use our heart in devotion to God, recognising that He is everything to us. But above all, we must put it into practice. If God is all in all, if everything is happening by His will, then why is there this inner tension within me? Do I require an inner tension in order to do my spiritual practices? Why can there not be an inner relaxation–knowing that everything is in God’s hands–and yet I still do my duty, I still do my spiritual practices with all the earnestness that I can muster?

Indeed, if we will inwardly recognise that everything is happening by God’s will, that He is in charge, that we are already what we are seeking, we will also find that we will be able to see very clearly what we should be doing in our outer life, what is favourable to our spiritual life and what is not favourable. The spiritual life is full of paradoxes, and the real challenge is to be able to rise above those paradoxes and incorporate them into the fabric of our sadhana.

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