In the Light of ...|Sep 30, 2005 11:08 AM| by:

Pitfalls in Sadhana (III)


    We observed that the first pitfall is mistaking the means for the end.  What is a process, a way, tends to be confused with the goal.  We saw how without the right attitude, work becomes labour, reading becomes learning and rituals become an obsession.  We observed that everywhere we must keep a sense of proportion and we warned ourselves against the danger of ego, including the spiritual ego, which borders on elitism.  We noted also the common mistake of confusing the emotional centre with the psychic which is deep within.

Next we come to detachment.  It has been a watchword of all disciplines of yoga, all lines of sadhana.  We must not be attached, we must be detached; we are asked to cultivate a stern detachment from people, relationships, objects, habits. A very wise counsel, no doubt, but in the process of detaching ourselves, we often slip into a more dangerous alley.  Very religiously we practise detachment from people around us: ostentatiously we cut off family relations, worldly relations and friendships.  We escape from our responsibilities, duties, under the plea of getting detached.

But that is not the end of the story.  While detaching ourselves from others, many of us develop attachment to our own selves.  “My views, my habits, my preferences, my assessments, my needs”, — to these we attach too much importance, because the normal avenues of occupation of serving others, of pouring our energies for others, are closed to us and those energies are diverted to ourselves.  This attachment to ourself becomes inordinate.  I develop attachment to everything about me.  If I give up my family relations, if I refuse to meet them, if I refuse to attend to their letters, I devote double time for cleaning my bicycle, for cleaning my shaving blade.  Now, this involvement with myself is a typical pitfall in the process of getting detached from others.  Our detachment from others is not genuine, it is often a cover for selfishness, for selfish pursuits of my own interests.  And in this attachment to myself, to my ways of living and my so-called needs, I develop obsessions.

In the absence of family responsibilities, one tends to develop some time-consuming habits, viz. cleanliness, neatness.  One washes hands ten times, four times with soap, three times with cold water, then wipe three times.  This becomes an obsession.  Care of books is another compulsive pastime.  One does not get satisfaction till one takes out each book every day and dusts it.  So much of time, so much of energy, is being spent on these things.  Small elemental beings, mischievous forces take advantage of such situations to ride over you, to sit on your back and point out, ‘you have not done this, you have not done that, you have not cleaned this.’  We have known of people having nervous breakdowns because of such obsessions.  You shave yourself, the blade needs to be used four times on one side and four times on the other.  In the middle you forget whether you have done it thrice or twice.  Once again it starts.  You become a prisoner of an alien agency.  So this obsession with cleanliness is an exaggerated preoccupation, which totally removes you from the path of sadhana.  I have known a person who, when he discovered that he was becoming a victim to this habit, deliberately cultivated the opposite habit, of living with dust, of letting books gather dust, sitting on a chair with dust, without dusting it, till he became indifferent.  That was the only way he could escape from the clutches of this kind of obsession.

Similarly, people who diet: they give such excessive importance to these things that, instead of the divine consciousness, they are full of calorie-consciousness.  Their mind always dwells on that.  These are illustrative of the petty little obsessions that develop into huge dangers swallowing up all your time.  So, next time anything of this type happens, please remember that this is a kind of possession by the lower forces who try to hold you and restrain you from proceeding further in your sadhana.  Nothing should become an obsession, in everything there should be a balance, there must be a sense of proportion.  Nobody asks us to live in a shabby way.  Decent cleanliness, a balanced neatness, but not an obsessive cleanliness.  That becomes a disease.  Rituals, habits, should never be allowed to take possession of us.  They are meant for our living.  We are not meant for them.  This is to be kept in mind.  Never become a prisoner of habits, of conventions, of obsessions.

Speaking of detachment, it is enough if, whenever you do a thing or are asked to do a thing, you do not get involved personally.  Do to your best capacity, not perfunctorily, do it as well as you can but do not lose yourself totally in it.  If you lose yourself in any work totally, involve yourself completely, you are lost.  The witness-position, what Mother calls stepping-back, stepping back and watching, is lost.  Some portion of your being must be always aloof, aloof enough to observe, ‘Am I doing the right thing, have I spoken the right words, am I reacting in the right way?’  You cannot do that if you are totally involved.  Something must always be above, above your nature, above the mind and vital, because when you are so above, you are nearer the soul, nearer the Self.  This tact of doing things well, but at the same time keeping something of yourself above the movement, observing it, must be cultivated.

It is a very very common weakness to dwell too much on one’s defects.  All human beings have plus points and minus points.  Observe your weak points, observe your defects, but do not dwell upon them too much.  Note, make up your mind to get over them.  But to dwell upon them, to always think of them, to let them overpower you, make you feel small — well, that is to play into the hands of the wrong forces by indulging in them negatively.  What happened ten years ago, what happened when you behaved badly with someone, all these things have a way of confronting you when you feel nice, peaceful.  From where do they come?  You can say they come from the subconscient, where they were waiting, as it were.  Things which happened twenty years ago suddenly come alive.  Somebody wrote the other day in a very picturesque language how he was taught to mediate.  Well, summoning all his devotion, he sat near his God’s portrait and he had a very warm feeling.  Suddenly he started weeping bitterly.  Now what happened?  Some thought it was out of devotion, an emotional outburst, but no.  All the wrong things, or allegedly wrong, that he had done in his life crowded before his mind’s eye, making him feel guilty; he realised he had been mean, lamentably selfish and was struck with remorse.  He wept uncontrollably.  After that, of course, he had some relief.  But if you let such things repeat themselves, they will haunt you all the time.  So do not dwell too much on defects.  The past is past, do not allow the negative past to interfere with your progress into the future.  Even the present should not be vitiated by such remembrance of the past.  The past should be remembered just enough to keep you from repeating past wrongs.

It is understood that none of us here believes any longer in the superstitions of punishments and rewards.  God does not punish.  It is we who punish ourselves.  God does not reward.  It is our karmic reactions.  It is in our hands to try to atone for the past wrongs — whether it is a moral wrong, or a spiritual or a social one.  Again and again recalling it and feeling sorry for it is not the way.  Mother pointedly says that once you feel sorry, once you make up your mind that it will not happen again, that is enough.  That is enough atonement, that cancels the karma.  Only you must be sincere in not allowing it to happen again.  So, do not dwell too much on defects, to do so is a negative indulgence.  Instead of a positive indulgence which we all recognise, it is a negative exercise whose real character is concealed.

And last about surrender.  Surrender is a big word.  It contains a whole life-time of sadhana in itself.  But what we understand normally by surrender is the decision to leave everything to the Divine.  Crudely, this concept of surrender has been understood as surrender of physical possessions.  Whatever resources one has, one gives it all to God or to one who represents God.  But this does not always end there, as it should.  Slowly a claim sets in, albeit unconsciously: the person feels that having surrendered, it is the responsibility of the Divine to attend to him.  It is an implicit claim.  But this external surrender, Sri Aurobindo points out, is only symbolic, only a sign of readiness to give what you have and are to the Divine.  It has to be worked out in detail.  External possessions are not very difficult to give, but it is the internal possessions, habits, preferences, desires, emotions, that are more difficult to surrender.  They have to be surrendered one by one.  They cannot be surrendered in a lump.  This detailed working out of surrender in life is consecration.  In thoughts, in feelings, in actions, at every step to consider: is this consistent with the higher will of God?  Tune your will to that, surrender your choice at every moment to that will.  That is surrender, and it requires a long long time to work it out in one’s self on all planes of the being.

Desires are to be surrendered.  Sri Aurobindo speaks of pulling out desire from its bleeding roots.  Each desire that is pulled out leaves a painful feeling of regret in the vital.  But desire has to be rejected.  Here again we conveniently deceive ourselves by confusing desires with needs.  We say it is a need, not a desire.  Now who is to decide what is a need, what is a desire?  Many have put this question to the Mother.  The central point is that if a need, a genuine need, is there and it is submitted to the Divine, it is always granted.  If it is not granted, take it that it is not your real need.  It is only a seeming need.  A desire, if it is not fulfilled, leaves a lot of agitation, disappointment, frustration, but a need does not, because when it is a real need you are content to wait, saying that He knows the hour, He knows whether you really need it or not.

These are some of the pitfalls that are fairly common among most of the sadhanas and we can never be too much warned against them.  If our last three sessions have awakened some sense of vigilance against these possibilities, I would think our labours have been sufficiently rewarded.

M.P. Pandit

(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.)