In the Light of ...|Jul 30, 2005 6:11 AM| by:

Pitfalls in Sadhana (I)


All of us are admittedly interested in sadhana which for us means a dedicated pursuit of the Divine in our daily life.  You might ask why there should be pitfalls, let along downfalls, in a quest of this type.  After all, it is something very scared, a purposeful moving towards God, and there is no reason why there should be pitfalls.  A very legitimate question, but the facts are that this world, the whole universe in fact, is organised at present on a basis of ignorance and its extreme consequence, falsehood.  We are in the mid-stage of the evolutionary movement and emerging as we have done from Inconscience, Unconsciousness, there is a great hold of Ignorance and its brood over us.  And Nature, by which we mean Nature in Ignorance, takes good care to see that her creatures do not go beyond her.

Nature has implanted in everyone certain qualities, habits, which stand in the way of exceeding her, going beyond her reign as it stands. These are called sentinels of Nature.  All around us there are these sentinels guarding this territory for the forces of Ignorance, blocking the onward, upward movement.  For instance, take conservatism.

Whether it is individual life or social or political life, whenever any measure of lasting benefit is proposed, there is always a resistance from some quarter or other, resistance to change, resistance to progress.  We always want to hold back under the plea of the stability of the society, not going too fast and stumbling.  There will be specious reasons.  Similarly, among individual seekers doubts will arise.  Great experiences come, new truths are presented, but the mind asks, “How do you know that they are true?  This could be imagination, or even hallucination.”  So, there is a doubt and doubt is, as you know, a very corroding element.  It will allow you to accept nothing, even concrete proofs.  It will always raise a question, a note of skepticism.  Take any progressive measure, any discipline that seeks to improve the lot of man; there will always be skeptics who will say, ‘let us see, it is not going to work’.  Now this kind of unintelligent blind resistance to progress is seen not only in the wide world outside, but, as you would have seen, even in our individual spheres.  For any ameliorating measure there are always doubters, skeptics and even ill-wishers.  These are the sentinels of Nature to guard this kingdom for the lower gods.  That is why you will find everywhere traps, pits, and the Mother points out that the greatest tests are not on big occasions, they are hidden in small details.  We are always prepared, — at any rate those of who are well endowed, — to meet the tests on a larger scale, but when these tests hide behind daily circumstances, apparently insignificant turns of life, we are caught unawares.  And they are the pitfalls we tend to ignore.  They are the pitfalls into which we find ourselves when we least expect it to happen, because they do not draw our attention.  We take many things for granted.  When temptations arise, we know.  We know also what are unspiritual things, we are prepared for them.  But when things are hidden around us, we trip.

To begin with, there is a great confusion between means and ends.  Means are measures we adopt in order to reach a definite objective.  So, means is one thing, end is another.  In this effort everybody starts well, but a stage comes when we are so much lost in the process, in the means, that we forget the purpose for which we engage ourselves in it.

For instance, meditation.  Meditation is not an end in itself.  Meditation is a means to put yourself in tune with a higher or a deeper consciousness. You withdraw your attention from outside and turn it inwards so that you are for the time being freed from external compulsions and you get an opportunity to experience what goes on about you on a higher or a deeper plane.  So, meditation is a technique, a very healthy one, to arrive at a state where you are perfectly in tune with the higher consciousness and you no longer need to meditate.  There is a state in the life of the seeker, where meditation becomes so natural that he does not need to sit for meditation. The attitude of meditation is in-built in the being, in the outlook, and things go on within a meditative frame. Meditation has served its purpose.  Thereafter one does not need to sit for meditation.  But it is common to see persons giving undue importance to meditation, even exclusive importance, and meditating for hours and hours together.  Mother always warned one not to meditate for hours unless one could not help it, one were captured by a higher movement and had to let oneself go.  Be vigilant, never allow yourself to be lost.  With many people who meditate for hours, four hours, five hours, nothing changes outside; they luxuriate within themselves, indulge in what is called rasāsvāda, taste of bliss, but there is no effect on their nature.  Particularly in a yoga like this where change of nature is of prime importance, a stagnant meditation where you just sit and allow things to happen has no meaning.  So many lose themselves, lose the direction, but they do not know it.  They live under an illusion.  Mother calls for brief periods of dynamic meditation in which aspiration and vigilance are active.

Similarly work.  Work occupies a very important place in our path.  Before Sri Aurobindo, it was the Bhagavadgita that raised the value of work investing it with a spiritual importance.  The Gita points out how work which normally produces karma, a binding chain, loses that feature and becomes a means for spiritual liberation, if it is done in a disinterested manner, as a sacrifice to the Divine.  Well, Sri Aurobindo and Mother take up from that point and develop it further as a dynamic factor for inner change.  Work is the body’s worship of the Divine.  But what is this work?  It is work done without the desire and ego-motive, work done consciously with a spiritual poise, solemnly offered as worship.  What do we do when we worship?  For the moment we shed all lower movements, baser attractions.  Even the bath that you take is a symbol, a confirmation that you have cleansed yourself of all unspiritual elements.  And you lose yourself in worship.  You commune with God and pour yourself in a flow of your being.  If work is to play this role, it has to be done in that manner.  Work devoid of a spiritual attitude, spiritual basis, becomes labour.  Mother underlines that it becomes just a physical labour.  It has consequences of fatigue and the like.  Work becomes competitive, a means for aggrandizement, for exploitation, or mechanical, like work done in a factory.  But in a spiritual set-up, work has a spiritual significance only if it is constantly accompanied by a relentless consecration, an offering to the Divine, regardless of any other object.  Your attention is always on the work, the purpose for which the work is done and why you are doing it.  You do not care what will be the result, it is left to the Divine.  You do not worry about what others think of you, what are the reactions of those around you.  All that you do is to maintain a spiritual attitude, a spiritual concern for the Divine in humanity, when you do the work.  Work should be a means for communicating your level of consciousness to those with whom you work and to those to whom the fruits of your work are to go.  So the usual worldly considerations cannot exist here.  Otherwise work becomes a trap.  Work is spiritual as long as the right consciousness is there.  You do not think of position, high or low, subordinate or superior.  You do not do work to get kudos, to get appreciation from anyone.  You do not do work to get a foothold in an organisation but as a privilege, as a valuable aid in the journey.  I remember how in the very early days of the Ashram, work was the one thing that was most prized next to the Mother’s touch.  The moment one took up work given by Mother one felt launched.  She always said that when she gave a work she also gave the capacity to carry out the work.  I do remember how, though the office hours were fixed in line with the labour laws, sadhaks themselves worked much longer.  They would bring the papers home, they would work outside the regular hours and yet they would be always fresh, there would be no sense of fatigue.  Mother was to explain later that the onset of fatigue in work is a sign that there is some vitiation in one’s attitude to work.  Work is meant, among other things, to raise the levels of your consciousness by learning to exert yourself without ego, without motive, which are the normal compulsions for work; in a collective organisation it is intended to bring in human relations a spirit of harmony, an atmosphere of love, mutual caring, each one helping the other.  Here starts the key to brotherhood.  Fraternity does not happen merely by thinking of it, but through actual exertion.  If you can identify yourself with the collectivity, participate in the struggles of others, forgetting yourself for the while, you have entered into the right spirit of work.  Now, each one of us has to ask himself, am I doing this work as part of sadhana, or as a routine of daily life or for some extraneous considerations?  Work loses its sacred character if it is tied up with other considerations, work remains work.  Further we may tend to develop an attachment to work.  There are people who want to do the same thing all the 365 days, they will not accept a change which may be necessitated by the interests of the general community.  There is an instinctive preference to stick to the same thing.  Work becomes a trap.

Work is sacred, work is great, work is spiritual, but it has to be accompanied by the right consciousness, otherwise it becomes a snare.  We have seen people working for sixteen hours, eighteen hours, and they will boast of it:  I am working eighteen hours, these others hardly work for four hours, they go away one hour before the bell rings and so on.  By the very utterance of such a statement you lose the value of the work.  You are no longer a worker for the Divine.  You develop a complex of self-adulation and depreciation of others.  This is one illustration of how we mistake the means for the end.  Work by itself is not going to take us to the goal.  But it prepares the conditions for our advancement, progress on the path, provided it is done in the right spirit.

Similarly, reading.  Our masters have written so much.  Mother hardly ever wrote, but whatever she spoke, has run into fifteen volumes and more.  Now reading is meant to enlighten the mind, culture the mind, bathe the mind in the vibrations of great thoughts, higher truths and create in you the aspiration, the zeal to acquire the same experience.  It is meant to inspire you, prod you, to educate you.  But reading by itself has no spiritual value.  Reading has to be related to your daily life.  What you read has to be lived.  What you study is to be translated into practice.  Philosophy, metaphysics, are not spirituality.  I may know in great detail the argument in The Life Divine; another person who may not know English may be more advanced spiritually than I am, because I am lost in the academic knowledge.  I have a complacency that I have read The Life Divine, maybe ten times, twelve times.  But there is no gainsaying that it is only an intellectual acquisition and that too, provided I have really understood what Sri Aurobindo has written, and made it a part of my mental equipment.  Well, it is a learning.  It is what is called knowing the Shastra, but unless it is communicated to the various parts of my being and moulds their movements, it has no direct significance, it has no spiritual value.

There are many in our Ashram who do not know English, who have not read anything.  But I have known Sri Aurobindo certifying to the capital realisation of some of those sadhikas.  He said of one that she had an Upanishadic realisation.  She did not know a word of English.  She had only opened herself to Sri Aurobindo.  The pride of reading, the vanity of learning is a calamity.  People think of the Māhāvākyas in the Upanishads, tat tvam asi, — That thou art, — sarvam khalvidam brahma — All this is Brahman, ayam ātmā brahma — This self is Brahman.  Sri Ramana Maharshi, the sage of Arunachala, points out that these are only conceptual formulations; they are a mould for your mind to work with but you do not stop there; if you are satisfied with only a mental impact, it stops there.  By saying I am He, I do not become He.  Once my mind accepts the truth that I am He, I have to use it as a key to open the lock of the inner realm.  It should be a starting point, a springboard; then alone does reading become an integral part of sadhana.  Otherwise mere reading is irrelevant to spiritual progress.  We have known so many professors, learned people discussing the fine points of Advaita and the like, of Shankara, Ramanuja; men like Kant, Hegel, Russell discussing many more fine points, but are they spiritual?  They are not.  They are mental.  Their lives may well be unspiritual.  If you stop with reading, if you are satisfied with it and do not make an effort to make it a living knowledge, you are a prisoner of what you read.  And that is another trap.  When you read, when you study, you have to see how it can influence your life.  Each reading must be a step forward in changing the quality of your life.

For instance: if there be a quarrel with somebody today, do not remember that quarrel when you meet that person tomorrow.  Give him a chance, that person may have changed.  He may be different another day.  Now this is a very beautiful idea, one feels very nice when one reads it, but am I going to follow it tomorrow?  If somebody insults me today, and I have occasion to meet him tomorrow, will I forget today’s insult?  If I do not, what I have read has no value.  It remains in the theory drawer of my mind.

Thus reading has to be constructively utilized to better my life.  There must be a balance between my study and my activity.  What I read must be integrated with the rest of my life.  Reading by itself becomes an obsession and works as a trap.

(M.P. Pandit came to the Ashram at a very young age. He is the author of a large number of books and articles on Integral Yoga and the Indian spiritual tradition. He was the Chairman of World Union International.)