Testing 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 normal in human life that if we put a lot of time and effort into any endeavour, we want to be able to measure our progress. Whether it is studies, professional life, or business, we want to know in some way what our score is, how well we are doing. The same seems to apply to the spiritual life. After we have put in sufficient effort, sufficient time, there is a factor in us that wants to know whether we are getting proper results.

Normally that inclination is discouraged in the spiritual life, and it is discouraged for three reasons. First of all, scriptural. “Yours is the effort. The result is up to God. Leave it to Him.” The second reason is a very practical one. There is no practical way that we can judge whether we are being freed from egoism, lust, greed, hatred, anger and jealousy or whether divine virtues are developing in our heart. If we try to keep score, it will normally be a matter of self-deception. Rather, as Pujya Swami Chidanandaji once said, “From time to time you discover what changes have come about. Sometimes, this can be a pleasant discovery. Sometimes it can be rather a shocking one–some negative factor that you thought had long ago disappeared suddenly comes to life again. Therefore, any judging we do on our progress should be left to discovery rather than to analysis.

But there is a third reason that we’re discouraged from trying to keep score on our spiritual life. And that is that the ultimate spiritual life is at a level deeper than virtues and vices. One teacher has said that there are only two things, finally, in this universe: one is love; the other is fear. This love, of course, is not the normal type of love, but rather a divine love that has no object. It is just love or perhaps more correctly, it is described as universal goodwill. The other factor, fear, is also not fear with an object, but rather an underlying sense of fear that at any moment can light upon an object such as death, old age, ill health, loss of money, security etc. Therefore, in the final analysis the only way our spiritual life can be judged is to the degree that universal goodwill and trust has replaced that nagging feeling of uncertainty or fear in the depths of our being.

How do we bring about this ultimate change? There is no other way than a total letting go and trusting in God. That is why Lord Krishna told us that the only way we can cross samsara is by taking refuge in Him alone. And even more specifically, in the last teaching verse of the Gita, He tells us to abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Him alone.

Therefore, we cannot really judge our spiritual life by normal measurements. Ours is to make the effort; the results are in God’s hands. From time to time we discover whether we have made progress or not, and ultimately the only real test is the degree of total surrender in the depth of our heart, which means that universal love has replaced all fear.

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