In the Light of ...|Aug 30, 2005 7:28 AM| by:

Pitfalls in Sadhana (II)


We were speaking of pitfalls in sadhana.  Let us be clear that pitfalls are different from downfalls.  When there is a downfall there is no mistaking it.  The person who is affected knows it, everybody else knows it too.  But in pitfalls, the danger is, the person concerned may not often realise that he is in a pit.  Very frequently he thinks he is in a very high state, that he is doing something great.  In Indian mythology there is a story of Lord Vishnu taking the form of a pig and wallowing in the gutter; he would not return to his Vaikuntha.  When Narada comes to him to remind, he says he is happy where he is.  It takes quite a while for Narada to make Vishnu aware of the state he is in and he is ready to go back.

So pitfalls are very deceptive.  One does not know that one has got stuck in a pit. Illustratively, we spoke of how work can become a prison. Without fulfilling the conditions of detachment, disinterested offering, elimination of the motive-force of ego and desire, work becomes an obsession and one is apt to bulldoze through the collectivity, hurting others, disregarding others, developing one’s self-importance, in all ways becoming very unspiritual.  Such work loses its spiritual character. But the person involved may not know that he is acting that way; he tends to feel that others lack the spiritual perspective to appreciate him.

Then we went on to consider the question of reading literature, books, scriptures, shastras and saw how reading, which is intended to enlarge the mind, broaden the consciousness, can become something narrowing, limiting and we can lose sight of the purpose for which we study.  We tend to limit ourselves to a particular philosophy, a particular doctrine and shut our eyes to what else may be there.  Mother used to recollect how her brother, when he was 16 or 17, was once crossing a bridge over the River Seine at night when he heard a voice say very clearly, “Do you want to become a god?” He started and said, “No, I want to help humanity.”  And Mother says he had his way.  He went to Africa, became the Governor General and helped the backward races, but he lost the destiny that was offered to him.  And that was because his mind had become narrow.  To help others, to help humanity, that had become his obsession; humanism blinded him to greater pursuits.

Indeed you must have a central knowledge but you cannot shut your mind to other vistas of knowledge.  Knowledge grows, knowledge is never static.  You should always be ready to look at the other’s point of view.  It will not do to condemn without knowing what you are condemning.  Sri Aurobindo even goes to the extent of saying that it is a sign of wisdom when you not only have knowledge of a thing but are also prepared to acknowledge that the opposite also can be true in its own conditions.  Now this shows the broadness of mind, a fragment of which at least, we can assimilate: to know that there must be some truth behind what we may not agree with, what we may not accept.  That truth may be relevant to certain people, to some order of humanity.  You must have a plastic mind and even a pragmatic one.  You must be always ready to apply your knowledge to your life-situations and cast your daily life in its mould.  Otherwise you shut yourself in a box and preen yourself on your possessions — ultimately at your cost.

Another common pitfall is rituals, bhajans, ceremonial worship. When these were started in every religion there was a significance and symbolic value.  They were intended to awaken the senses, the outgoing faculties towards some higher reality.  Gradually the inner significance was lost and people started paying attention to the little, minute details of the ceremonial pageant, — the way the flowers are arranged, the way the lamps are lit, the way the āratis are done, the way the idols are kept, etc.  All energy, all attention was centred on surface details and on repeating the formulae.  Now most of us do not indulge in these rituals but the external aspect of paying homage, a kind of worship, affirming our adoration, that itself can become very mechanical.  And we may be very satisfied that we have done something.  We begin to go through the ritual mechanically, even wrongly, e.g. when some people turn the lighted joss-sticks anticlockwise.  Without being conscious we may be drawn into repetitions of such mechanical movements.  When the external aspect preponderates, our mind may be elsewhere, it may be busy with something else while the hand goes on moving.  Rituals have value only when they are done with full awareness and attention; otherwise they turn into a trap.

Similarly bhajans, music as an aid to raise the finer emotions towards God; that is the purpose but instead of being spiritual movements, movements of the soul, very often they tend to become vital movements.  That is why bhajans as such were not encouraged here because the participants in bhajans, as they go on, turn it into vital movements; they enjoy the vital swing, they enjoy the surge of vital emotions.  The rush of tears is cathartic to begin with, but at some point there is the danger of public display of these emotions.  These manifestations of excitement are often mistaken for spiritual inspiration, spiritual intimacy.  And then there is dancing.  I had thought that they were our special contribution from India, but when I visited the West, I saw they too have their share in these dramatic turns of finer emotions.  For hours together they would dance; somebody would beat drums, some would have drugs and it would go on and on.  Now a spiritual dance is never made to order.  It is a spontaneous play of movements which correspond to an inner change of consciousness.  But how many of us are conscious of this impulsion?  This danger of vital movements being mistaken for spiritual movements is very much present in ritual dances, collective bhajans, public worship.

Japa is a very effective and potent means but when it is done mechanically, when the mind roves but you go on telling the beads it is a fruitless exercise.  To concentrate on numbers, one lakh, two lakhs, three lakhs, etc. becomes mechanical.  The purpose of communion with God, communication of your emotions and prayers to God, is forgotten.  That is why, Patanjali, the master of yoga says: tad japah tadartha bhāvanam, that is japa where you dwell on the meaning; you are conscious of what you utter, Om Anandamayi, Chaitanyamayi, Satyamayi, Parame: each time you pronounce Anandamayi, you feel how she is full of ananda; Chaitanyamayi, how she is full of consciousness and so on.  It does not matter if you do it three times or seven times, you need not do a hundred times, but it has to be a living japa.  The moment you allow the external mechanism to take possession, you lose contact.

Speaking of emotions, it is very important to note that in the chest there is a place where there is a surge of emotions, good or bad, or what the tantrics call the anāhata chakra and what Sri Aurobindo calls the emotional centre.  When there is a movement of love, movement of prayer, surrender at the emotional level, men often think it is a psychic movement; there are many who tell you that their psychic is active.  But to attain the psychic is a very great achievement.  It is a capital step which cannot be easily arrived at.  Mother used to say that it takes nearly thirty years for an earnest seeker to get the psychic realization.  But, perhaps seeing the effect that her statement had on all of us, she said that it is not so in everybody’s case; there is the Grace, one may be ready and it can come any time.  But the message went home.  We have to do our homework, we have to satisfy the conditions of psychic realization.  Psychic feeling is different, psychic experience is different, psychic realization is different.  Psychicisation is still more different.  It does not come so easily.  When there is the feeling of love, which is the character of the psychic, we must really examine ourselves to see whether it is a mixture, whether it is self-referring or other-referring, whether it is something that has nothing to do with our selfish ego, our demands, our desires and is a spontaneous movement of self-giving.  If it is that without reference to the subject, irrespective of whether it is recognized or not, then it is the result of a wave from the psychic.  Note that the psychic being is behind the emotional centre.  Most of us have not even cleansed our emotional being.  Our emotional being is a sea of mixed, turbid emotions, waves of positive and negative emotions.  We have to first sift the negative ones from the positive ones, stabilize the positive ones and then use that as a spring-board to go deeper to feel the psychic in itself.  This is another tempting mistake that many do in taking the emotional centre for the psychic centre.

In all our movements there has to be a sense of proportion.  The sense of proportion is the beginning of what is called beauty in aesthetics.  Beauty is the right proportion of everything, all elements justly combined to produce a harmonious whole.  What is normally mistaken for beauty is attraction, anything that strikes the eye, but the secret of beauty is something deeper.  It does not lie in colour, it does not lie in form but in the consciousness that vibrates in a thing and for that we must have a sense of proportion.  Everything has its place, anything out of place is discordant.

That has been the ruin of India in following the path of asceticism.  All the God-given beauty, all the joy and harmony of Nature is rejected, thrown aside and ugliness is given a premium.  Barrenness, ugliness, denial — denial of food, denial of apparel, denial of sleep — self-denial is lauded and the ego preens itself over it.  But this kind of denial of the things that should be accepted, organized and beautified, leads to a false sense of self-importance and fattening of the ego.  Asceticism for its own sake is again another trap.  Mother says: “Be a saint without appearing to be a saint.”  When you want to appear a saint, it is a falsehood.  Why do you need the appurtenances of sainthood?  Be natural to your state of being, state of consciousness.  This sense of superiority based on self-denial has been the ruin of many spiritually promising people.  The Gita speaks of asuric tapas.   Beware of it.

The sense of elitism that I am superior, my teaching is the highest, my teacher is the one avatar, has been the curse of many seekers or even movements.  Some are foolish enough to show this one-upmanship, some are clever enough to conceal it.  But their attitude towards the commonalty is highly unspiritual.  The Jews have paid for centuries for this sense of elitism.  Brahminism in India has been paying for it dearly.  This false sense of superiority, spirit of elitism has been the ruin of many collectivities.

And it is most inexcusable in a spiritual community.  People who are rich may have their ego of wealth; they are very patronizing, they are philanthropic because they enjoy lording it over others through their charity, wanting people to feel grateful to them.  That is another kind of elitism which cancels whatever good karma their deeds may forge.  Economic elitism, political elitism, scientific elitism are some other types, we do not speak of them here.  We are concerned with spiritual elitism which is the most inexcusable because spirituality itself requires a basic attitude of equality, oneness with all.  The moment we start feeling superior, higher than others, that is the end of spirituality.  So we need to remind ourselves of this frailty because, as I have noted elsewhere, wherever I have been in different countries, people have not lost an opportunity to tell me that we here have an insufferable sense of elitism.  Even the most ignorant person has this sense of superiority over the rest.  This is a very big pitfall.  Whenever you feel superior to others, that you have something which others do not have, please think twice, examine yourself once again why the feeling has come.  Do not forget you are in somebody’s boat.

Speaking of the psychic I pointed out the common mistake of taking the emotional for the psychic.  The psychic itself is deep inside in the cave of the heart.  There are beautiful descriptions in the Upanishads, in Mother’s utterances.  Sri Aurobindo has left no room for doubt in his very precise definitions.  Now, the fount of love is in the psychic, the nature of the psychic expression must be one of harmony, beauty, joy.  Whenever we touch it even for a second, we feel the world to be something different.  There is an outflow of unself – regarding love towards all.  That is a promise, an assurance that you are capable of Love.  But a lot of homework has to be done before that becomes more frequent, becomes a permanent factor in life.  That needs expression in our human relations.  Our love cannot be a matter between ourselves and God alone.  Remember Sri Aurobindo saying that your love for God is incomplete unless you love God in all.  So this love has to flow out and you have to express it in your relations with everyone around, with your colleagues, with relatives, with your students, with your servants, with everybody.  You must learn to function from that basis.  You can no longer be self-centred.  A mental belief that you are equal to all is not enough.  It has to come spontaneously.  Human relations are the field where you prepare the ground for the psychic climate.  A psychic climate has to be built up, made natural, before the psychic can emerge forward again and again and influence our life.  For that one has to denude oneself of all that is unpsychic, of all that is rough, ugly, of all that is mean and selfish.  If Mother disliked any particular quality in human beings, it was selfishness.  We tend to justify it in some form or other.  It is inexcusable, whether it is spiritual selfishness or a social selfishness, it is all the same from a higher level.  Selfishness has to go and selflessness has to take its place.  It is only when this preparation has gone far enough, when the ego-self is given the go-by, that the true Self can be induced to come forward.  Otherwise the psychic elements get mixed up and misused and exploited by the ego for its own aggrandisement.


(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.)