The Need for Both Dispassion and Practice


Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

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

The normal way of thinking about the spiritual life is that the individual soul has taken birth after birth and needs to be liberated from this round of births and death. But the scriptures tell us that we are already what we are seeking: That thou art… You are the Atman, ever-free, ever-pure.

If that is so, then where is the question of any bondage or any liberation in reality? The scriptures explain that it is the mind that is the cause of both bondage and liberation in the human being. In other words, it is an illusion that the mind believes in, and, therefore, how to control the mind, how to correct the mind, how to purify the mind, becomes our task.

This gives special significance to Lord Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna in the sixth chapter of the Gita. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to sit for meditation in order to control the mind. Arjuna protests: “It’s easier to control the wind than to control the mind.” Lord Krishna doesn’t say that it is easy, but He does say that it can be done through dispassion and practice.

So if bondage and liberation are both in the mind, and we need to learn to control the mind, then perhaps the words dispassion and practice contain the essence of the spiritual life. Dispassion means dispassion for thinking that we can get permanent happiness from anything of this world be it physical or mental, and practice is the practice of the presence of God.

As seekers it is important for us to realise that we require both dispassion and practice and usually a judicious balance between the two. It is possible to develop dispassion for the world, to see how fickle our own mind is, how impure our intellect, and thus develop true dispassion for everything about the world including ourselves, but if we haven’t developed the practice of the presence of God, it will be impossible for us to truly understand what liberation means. On the other hand, if we ignore dispassion and only practise the presence of God, we may experience the liberated state, understand liberation, but ultimately the pull of the world will make us unable to sustain that bliss and understanding. The mind will continuously pull us down by telling us that there is happiness to be had in the things of this world.

Therefore, the importance of following both of Lord Krishna’s instructions. We must develop dispassion and at the same time practise the presence of God. And as both bondage and liberation are in the mind, this combination of dispassion and practice will ultimately allow us to see through the illusion and to recognise that we have ever been free.

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