Why Do Sadhana?


Sri N. Ananthanarayanan

This article is a chapter from the book What The River Has Taught Me.

Sadhana Cannot Be Forced
How Many Can Realise?
The Excuse of Difficulty
God-Realisation Has a Price


We want the best food for the body, but we do not care about all the base thoughts and ideas with which we feed our mind. We want to remove all the corns, pimples and blemishes from our skin, but we are not perturbed in the least over the thorns and weeds of jealousy, anger, lust and other vices in the ground of our heart. We are worried about the whitening hair on our head, but we develop no concern if our finer feelings and sentiments get blurred and blunted as we go through life.

We care for the superficial outside and not for the real inside. The real self is the inner Self. True culture is the culture of thoughts, feelings, sentiments, motivations. Culturing of the Bhava is the greatest culture. Bhava is one’s feeling, one’s attitude, one’s inclination towards the world and fellow-beings. The man with the noblest Bhava is the best man in the world. But the, ordinary man who is choosy in so far as material objects are concerned is quite indifferent when it comes to higher values.

The student who passes out of school seeks admission in the most prestigious college in town. The grownup youth wants the best girl for his marriage partner and the young lady pines for the best boy in her area. When a person goes shopping, his eyes naturally alight on the best suit-length, the best sari, the latest camera, the most fanciful sun-glasses. You always want to eat the most delicious food, read the most interesting novel and see the most exciting picture. Whether you can afford it or not, all your desires are coloured by this strong yearning for the highest and the best…in so far as material and down-to-earth objects are concerned.

But talk about finer sentiments, noble thoughts, higher feelings, ethical and spiritual values. Only a few in a thousand care for these richer values, because only a few in a thousand have that introspective vision capable of comprehending and appreciating these extramundane values.

All the material objects of this world are but the shell; the kernel is God. The kernel is the Spirit. The average man of the world may think that he has done the wisest thing in buying the best car or acquiring the best cottage. But the car and the cottage are only the best among the shell pieces. They are shell, after all. They are the husk.

The kernel, the grain, the substance is elsewhere. This the ignorant man does not realise. The Substance, the Spirit, lies deep within man. It can be attained only by removing all the dross that keeps It buried. Removing the dross is Sadhana. Sadhana is nothing but the exercise of inner purification. But, before a person commences Sadhana, he should know the purpose of doing Sadhana.

Sadhana Cannot Be Forced

A group of friends were discussing the utility of Yogasanas when one of them asked, “The heart is already pumping blood to all parts of the body. It is already sending blood to the head. Why should I stand upside down to increase the supply of blood to the head?”. Many people ask questions in similar fashion while discussing Yoga and spiritual practice: “Why should I do Japa? Why should I meditate? Why should I go to a temple?”. They do not ask, “Why should I shave my face every day? Why should I cut my nails and hair? Why should I apply skin cream and hair lotion?”.

Each man has his aims and ambitions in life. The ambitions of most people are earthly, and naturally enough, their activities are earthly. For the average man living a humdrum life, it is certainly not necessary to send extra blood to the head or to do Japa, or to meditate or to visit a temple daily. He can dispense with all these and still live an apparently successful life in his limited sphere of activity. Yoga is not necessary for him. Spiritual practice is not an absolute necessity for him.

Yoga is not essential for all, though it is open to all to practise. Yoga is not compulsory for the worldly person, though Yoga can be helpful even in the pursuit of material aims. Yoga and Sadhana are especially meant for those few among mankind who aspire to become supermen and God-men. Sadhana is meant for that person who wants to get at the Truth of things, who wants to become a saint, who wants to realise God. Sadhana is intended for those who want to become the cream of humanity, the elite of mankind.

Sadhana cannot be thrust upon anyone. No one can be compelled to do Sadhana. You may be made to work or slave, but you cannot be forced to do selfless service. You can be robbed, but you cannot be dictated into doing charity of your own free will. You may be compelled by the law of the land to live in peace with your neighbours, but you cannot be compelled to love all with cosmic compassion and purity of motive. Society and circumstances may force you to desist from immoral actions, but they cannot prevent you from indulging in immoral thoughts. In other words, external compulsion cannot make you do Sadhana or practise Yoga. Sadhana is a purely personal affair and can arise only out of your own individual volition and free will. Before embarking on a course of Sadhana, before entering spiritual life, you should yourself feel the necessity to do Sadhana, you should feel that your life is a void without Sadhana. You should be missing something without Sadhana. If this precondition prevails in your life, then only your Sadhana can get off to a good start.

How Many Can Realise?

Even those people who believe in God and religion, when they hear a discourse on the need for Sadhana and God-realisation, begin to express grave doubts and ask, “After all, how many can realise God? Perhaps one in billions. Who knows if I will be that one?”. The same persons who talk in this fashion take on a totally different attitude in respect of worldly pursuits.

When a person buys a raffle ticket, he always hopes to win the first prize. Every one of the thousand and odd applicants for a single job applies in the hope that he might be selected. The participants in the annual Wimbledon or the Davis Cup round is encouraged by the thought that some day he might win the crown. When King Janaka announced the Svayamvara of Sita, every king and vassal who came to Janaka’s court was surely hoping to win the hands of the pretty princess.

Man is moved by hope. It is hope which sustains life and aids human effort.

Ideals are many and different. The effort needed to attain different ideals also differs. The time and energy and skill needed to climb a small hillock is not comparable to the large-scale preparation and gigantic effort required to scale the summit of Everest or Kanchen Junga. The reward is always in proportion to the effort involved. The greater the effort, the larger the reward. God-realisation is the greatest goal and the highest attainment. There is nothing higher than that. Quite naturally, the highest attainment demands the greatest effort. The difficulty of the task should always be viewed and judged against the richness of the reward. Seen in perspective, even a lifetime of Sadhana is no high price to pay for the priceless reward of God-realisation. The person whose mind is set on the highest will not be deterred by the difficulty of the task.

And then, in Sadhana, the slightest effort is not wasted. All men may not realise God, but all true Sadhaks will certainly register progress on the spiritual scale, commensurate with the individual effort put in by them. The participant in the Davis Cup round is no loser even if he does not win the singles final. He may win many matches on the way. Similarly, the struggling Sadhak can scale many spiritual heights even if he does not succeed in realising God. Each little effort brings its own reward.

An hour of meditation brings in its own mental quiescence. A round or two of Pranayama practice effects its own purification of the Nadis or astral tubes. Listening to an hour’s Sunday spiritual discourse will keep the mind occupied with elevating thoughts for the rest of the week. Even a few Malas of Japa adds to one’s inner spiritual strength.

The Excuse of Difficulty

Refusal to do Sadhana on the score that it is difficult is just making a lame excuse. The loser is the person who refuses. It betrays a lack of will. It betrays a total lack of appreciation of the wholesome and immense benefits which flow from Sadhana.

Nothing is difficult. “The word impossible is not in my dictionary” said Napoleon. “What one fool can do, another can” says an anonymous proverb printed in the students’ calendar of a Madras college. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Is not life itself difficult? And what does life yield for all the worldly effort? Misery. And what does Sadhana yield? Health and peace. What does sustained spiritual effort yield? God.

Yes, Sadhana is difficult, but practise you must. You cannot write sugar on a piece of paper and lick it. Don’t you struggle to keep your health? To earn money? To win your girl? You are not ashamed to say, “Yes, sir. No, sir” in the office. You go to the airport to receive the wife of your office boss. You do so many despicable things to keep yourself in saddle, but when it comes to the question of doing Sadhana, you yawn and gape and drawl, “Oh…hh… it is dif…fi…cult”.

To earn money, man slogs in field and factory all day long. To please the woman at home, he slaves all the time. To earn name and fame, he strains himself to the last drop of his energy. Even to get a Secondary School Leaving Certificate, the youngster has to put in hard work at school for eleven or twelve years.

Nothing comes by chance. Nothing is gained by accident. “No pain, no gain” says Swami Sivananda. How true!

God-Realisation Has a Price

In this world, everything has got a price-tag attached to it. If you want something, you must be willing to pay the price for it. You cannot get something for nothing. It is against the Law. If you say, “I can steal, I can rob”, even there, you must be willing to pay the price of robbery, the risk of arrest and punishment. They say that in Malaysia, if you want to marry a Malaysian Muslim girl–and they have a reputation for their looks–and if you happen to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Buddhist, you must first get converted to the Muslim faith before you can marry her. Under the Malaysian law, this is necessary. In other words, you can get your girl if you can pay the price of your religion.

It is an old tale how King Edward VIII of England gave up his throne to marry his commoner wife.

It is recent history that the people of Bangladesh obtained their political freedom with the blood of thousands of martyrs, with the chastity and family happiness of their girls and womenfolk.

I once read the real-life story of how in Africa, in a certain tribe, a girl declared that she would marry only that man who brought her the milk of a tigress and how a certain youth who was mad after her fought with a tigress, grappled with it and secured a couple of ounces of the animal’s milk, a creamy, yellowish liquid. The girl married him, because he had paid her price.

Similarly, God-realisation has a price-tag attached to it. The price of God-realisation is total sacrifice of everything. Sacrifice of all. Nothing can be kept back. Everything has to be given up. All that you hold near and dear have to be sacrificed. You have to give up friends, give up relatives, give up name and fame and wealth and everything. You have to sacrifice your ego. That is the essence of it. You have to give up your particularised individuality. Now you are Mr. So-and-so. If you want to realise God, if you want to assert your true position as God, you must cease to be man. You must be willing to throw aside, to shake off, this cloak of a human being. You must cease to be Mr. So-and-so. When the little ‘I’ in you ceases to exist, the God in you will shine in unclouded splendour.

To win a school certificate is not very difficult. More difficult it is to get a degree in college. Still more difficult it is to secure a research degree. Yet more difficult it is to win the coveted Nobel Prize. Infinitely more difficult it is to acquire the badge of God-realisation.

So you have to struggle. So you have to practise. Maybe for a few years. Maybe for a thousand Janmas (lifetimes). But you have the consolation that you do Sadhana, that you undergo these difficulties for your own sake, not for anybody else’s.

Yes. You do not practise Sadhana for anybody’s benefit except your own. You are not doing a favour to any saint by following his teachings. God does not require you to build temples and churches to enhance or heighten His grandeur. His grandeur cannot be enhanced. It is perfect, full, Purnam, absolute. Your spiritual activities are for your benefit.

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