A Brief Outline of Sadhana
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 1: The Necessity for Sadhana

The word sadhana has several meanings. Literally it means an instrument of action, a means of operation, a methodology in any kind of procedure, or any effort towards the achievement of a purpose; but understood as a spiritual exercise, sadhana means the total effort on the part of an individual in the direction of the greatest of all purposes in life – namely, the attainment of God.

Why should there be so much effort in achieving a spontaneously accepted reality, which is God’s existence? Is it such a hard job that we have to struggle in order to make any progress in that direction? When we move downstream along the current of a flowing river, there is no necessity to put forth any effort for movement along the waters of the river, because the current takes us with its impulsion of movement. But effort is necessary if we try to swim cross-current, upstream, against the natural flow of the water of the river.

Here is a very deep truth behind the very meaning of life itself. Is life not a struggle? Are we not busy, from morning to evening? Is not all our life, every day, an effort? Is it not an endeavour on our part to meet oppositions of every kind, from any corner of our life? The moment we wake up in the morning, we face the opposition in the form of people and the world outside. We are in conflict with the world; otherwise, there would be no necessity to put forth tremendous effort to meet the world and its demands. We are in conflict with people in general; that is why we are cautious even to speak to people, lest we may be taken amiss. The adjustment of oneself with people is a great effort psychologically, ethically, morally, and emotionally. The world of nature stands, as it were, in opposition to our personal psychophysical inclinations, and it does not appear that the world is ready to grant us everything that we want.

There are types of opposition in the achievement of a purpose. The opposition can be from within one's own self, from people, and from the world of nature, in different ways. We hear it said in cosmological descriptions of the scriptures of the world that when God manifested Himself as this universe, He projected Himself as a triple reality, a threefold ramification of His own Being, so that each of these three forms of manifestation were made to feel a difficulty of self-adjustment with others. This is a cosmical internality of conflict.

There are two types of interiorisation of experience. One is our own personal introverted attitude psychologically – the alignment of the inner components of our personality. The other is the difficulty in even understanding what it could be when it is told us that there is an interiority in the whole universe. The inwardness of the psyche of a human individual opposes the most misunderstood and unintelligible interiority of cosmic inwardness. No one can ever believe that the world is an internalised reality, that it has a selfhood of its own. For us, the world is an outside object. The three ways in which God is supposed to be manifest in creation are known as the adhyatmika, the adhibhautika, and the adhidaivika principles. The presence of the transcendent God is mightily felt immanently, both in the adhyatmika side and the adhibhautika side.

The perception of the world by a human individual, or any living being whatsoever, involves a subtle operation of interiorised interconnection, which is always missed in the perceptional procedure of daily life of a person. We can know that we are looking at the world, but we cannot know how it is that we are able to look at the world. The world is openly external to our perceptional faculties. An externally existent, separated, isolated entity cannot become an object of internal experience. This means to say, we cannot know that the world exists at all if it is true that there is a segmentation between the perceiving individual and the perceived object.

On the one hand, we are sure that we are totally independent. We can walk on the road unobstructed, and nobody can say anything to us. “I am a free individual; I can go anywhere I like.” This is the feeling of every person. This kind of assumed freedom on the part of the individual opposes the role played by the world forces, even in the permission granted to us while walking on the road.

We are falsely and vaingloriously patting ourselves on the back that we are free, even while we are engaged in such simple acts like walking on the road. Where is the complication in it? It is such a simple thing. Every day I go for a walk. But it is not such a simple thing as we imagine. The world has to permit us to walk; otherwise, our feet will not be lifted from the ground. The gravitation of the Earth should be of such a proportion that it should not compel our feet to stick to the ground, as if by a glue; so there is a proportionately permissible and tolerant quantum of gravity exerted by the Earth, so that we can smoothly walk on the road. But if, on the other hand, this gravity was not to pull us down to the Earth, we would be flying in the air. So, how compassionate is the Earth, we can imagine.

Mother Earth is very kind. We cannot even walk on the road without this compassion of the divine Mother Earth. It cannot pull us too much; then we will not lift our legs. And it cannot pull us too little; otherwise we will fly in the air. So, how carefully the arrangement is made that we are given the foolish permission to feel that we are free people! Human individuality is vainglorious, basically, and very egoistic, wrongly. We can be egoistic rightly, sometimes; but if the ego is manifest wrongly, and in a foolish manner, it loses every sense.

These are the oppositions in front of us. No person is opposing us. The world in its material form as mountains and rivers is also not opposing us in any way. The opposition causing conflict and requiring effort on our part arises due to an inscrutable relationship that obtains between us and the world outside. We cannot know whether the world is outside us or it is not outside us. We are so much involved in the operations of the world – not only in the operations, but also in the constituent factors of the world – that there is no good reason to believe that we can stand outside the world. To such an extent is this dependence of the individual on the world that it may look that we are inseparable from the world. This is the truth on one side of the matter.

If we are totally inseparable, then we cannot deal with the world, just as we do not have to deal with our own selves. Here again a mystery is before us. The word maya that is used in scriptures is just this much – an inscrutability, and a difficulty operating, an inexplicability of the relation of the appearance of things to the reality of things. The relationship between appearance and reality is so unintelligible, inexplicable, philosophers have used the word maya, which does not mean somebody sitting there on our head; it is sitting inside our mind only.

In our sadhana, in our practice of spiritual exercise, we have to put forth effort in the direction of the solution of this peculiar conflict arisen due to the inexplicability of the circumstances in which we are placed in this world. It is a total onslaught of the total individual in respect of the total operation of the cosmos. The whole of us is ready to commence the battle of life, if one would like to call it so, in confronting the totality of the opposition in the form of this inscrutable pheno­menon known as the world. If there has been a thing called the Mahabharata war, we are facing it here every day.

We have studied the epic called the Mahabharata. There were two camps of opposing forces, called the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Neither of them was adequate to the purpose. The world by itself is inadequate; the individual by himself or herself is also inadequate. The Pandavas could not have won victory by them­selves. Firstly, the Kaurava forces outnumbered the Pandavas. Not only that, mighty warriors on the side of the Kaurvas were arrayed against the Pandavas. The Generals and the Commanders in Chief of the Kaurava forces, such as Bhishma, Drona and Karna, were invincible. Equal to them, there was none on the Pandavas’ side. Yet, the Pandavas won victory.

In one of the commentaries on the Upanishads, Acharya Sankara tells us – or perhaps the Upanishad itself tells us – that the demons are larger in number than the gods. The idea is that the externality of operation is apparently larger in its size than the internality of individual operations. The world is bigger than every one of us. The Kauravas are bigger than the Pandavas. How could a smaller number overcome the power of the larger number? The adhyatma and the adhibhauta were two terms which I mentioned just now as practically opposed to each other. Call these two camps as the individual and the world, or the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the subject and the object, the perceiver and the perceived, consciousness and matter, or whatever be the nomenclature of the situation. Yet, the Pandavas won victory. How did they win victory? It was not by their personal strength. They had no strength in the teeth of the opposition.

A third element entered invisibly, which was the cause of the victory of the Pandavas. We cannot oppose the world with all the might and mane that we may wield. An individual cannot easily conquer the world. The Pandavas cannot win victory against the Kauravas, but it is possible for them when they attune themselves to a third element altogether which ranges beyond the operation of both the subjective side and the objective side. Above the Pandavas and Kauravas there was Krishna, who stood above both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. This is the adhidaiva principle. It does not do anything, but its very existence is enough.

The planets are actively roving in space, but the Sun does not move. All these dramatic actions and movements of the planets, the incessant activity of these heavenly bodies, is caused by the Sun, who himself is keeping quiet. A great war took place between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, but the third element never did anything.

The whole world is busy with inconceivable activity, but this activity is con­trolled by the operation of the Sun in the sky, in a manner no ordinary person can understand. Our breath, the operation of our lungs, our heart, our digestive organs, our health, our prosperity, and everything, is related to the way the Sun exerts influence upon the Earth and all individuals. This is by not doing anything physi­cally; no hands and feet are working in the glorious Sun.

This adhidaivika principle in the Mahabharata context was the very existence of Krishna. The division of forces as arranged earlier concluded with the proposal on the part of Krishna that each party could choose either his army or himself. The difference was that Krishna’s army was an invincible operative force, if anyone wanted to choose it; but on the other hand was the silent Krishna, who would do nothing. If anyone wanted that idle individual who will only eat and keep quiet, they could choose that, also. Duryodhana thought, “What is the good of this individual sitting quiet and eating my food, and doing nothing for me? I will take your army, Master.” But the sensible Arjuna chose that which never did anything.

We have an inveterate habit of convincing ourselves that the value of life consists in activity. This is a disease in the mind of individuals. Life means work. If we do not work, we are not a meaningful individual at all; but nobody can understand that there is a workless, actionless existence which is much more than all the totality of actions. This is the adhidaiva principle.

When the adhyatma or the adhidaivika takes the assistance of this great principle, an overwhelming inclusiveness of support emerges from a source which cannot be conceived by either side. Principally, in the spiritual exercise called sadhana, what we are expected to do is to draw the attention of Krishna in this cosmic adhyatmika and adhibhautika conflict, without which there could be no hope of any kind of advancement in spiritual life, or victory anywhere.

Yato krishna, tato dharma; yato dharma, tato jaya: Wherever is Krishna, there is righteousness; and wherever there is righteousness, there is victory. Yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (Gita 18.78): “Where the individual and the supremely transcendent Krishna join together, being seated in one chariot, and drive forward in the operation of the cosmos, victory is certain," says the concluding verse of the Bhagavadgita.

This chariot may be this body; it may be the whole human society; it may be the entire nature. The whole universe can be considered as the chariot. In all these levels of manifestation of the Ultimate Being, these forces of the adhyatmika side and the adhibhautika side operate. Effort, which is the connotation of sadhana, is actually the energy of the soul calling the attention of that which is above itself, and above the world. Intensely active people that we are, we require the help of One who does not do any work at all. An Actionless Being is the source of the victory of all people who are filled with activity. It is a great contradiction, indeed, even to think like that. Busy people require the help of someone who is not busy at all. All movement is explicable only in terms of that which is not moving at all. If everything starts moving without anything that is not moving, the concept of motion itself becomes inexplicable.

Spiritual sadhana or practice is not an easy job, though a routine of daily ritual is good enough, in one sense of the term. We practise japa, read scriptures, go to temples, offer arati, take baths in the holy river, and go on pilgrimage. It is wonderful, but they have to be charged with the force of the surrender of the individual spirit to that transcendent spirit which is above both the world and the individual.

We cannot forget the world even in our sadhana. The idea of renouncing the world and going some other place so that we can be free from the torments of life is highly misconceived. No one can move away from the world. We cannot renounce the world. Are we going to stay in the sky after renouncing the world? We are in the world only.

So, unnecessary enthusiasm of an emotional type is not called for here. Things are not so simple as they appear on the surface. The renunciation of the world means renunciation of oneself also, because one's own self cannot stand outside the world. When I go, the world also goes; but when I continue to be a hard-boiled egoistic individual and cannot be renounced at all, then the world also cannot be renounced. Self-abnegation is the same as world-abnegation.

Another aspect of spiritual practice is that the whole of the person is to seek the great achievement. It is not the psychological organ, the thought process, that is actually operating here. In spiritual sadhana, it is not the mind that works; it is rather the soul that operates. When the soul acts, we are pulled up from our very roots, as an elephant plucks a large tree from the very root itself.

We rarely have an experience of the total operation of the spirit in ourselves. The whole of us is not present in anything that we do. We give partial attention to even the most important kinds of work that we are performing. Part of the mind is in the family, part is in the work, and part is in some other direction – all which are plenty in number. We cannot understand what it is to think wholly, because we have never been trained to do that.

A fraction of an individual can achieve only a fraction of victory. A finite effort can yield only a finite result. "I want everything, but I will do very little," is not going to be our attitude. Sadhana is the spiritual effort towards God-realisation. God is a total in every sense of the term. As there cannot be anything outside God, there cannot be any other thought in the mind external to the concentration of the mind on this purpose in sadhana. Ekagrata, or one-pointedness, here means the whole-souled operation of the spirit inwardly in the direction of the whole-souled encompassing reality, which is God Almighty.

It is necessary to have an amount of self-purification even to comprehend the meaning of this wholeness. An impure mind, filled with tensions of every kind, with turmoil in the emotions and attachments of different kinds, cannot practise this sadhana. Sincerity, of course, pays. In that sense, we may say, whatever little practice we do daily, even as a kind of routine, may bring some result. In the Bhagavadgita, there is an assurance of the Lord. Svalpam apy asya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt (Gita 2.40): “A little bit of exercise, a little effort in the right direction along the lines of God-attainment, will free you from great trouble, great fear.” The fear of death itself will be mitigated by a sincere endeavour on our part in wanting, and only wanting – really wanting, and wanting one-hundred percent – that which we are seeking.

Actually, there is nothing that we cannot achieve, if we really want it. Really is the word. That is, our whole being should want it, and it will come; but if we have scant respect for even asking, “Let me try, if it is possible; if it comes, well and good,” then, it will not come. No one can experiment with God. “If He is there, let Him come. If He is not there, all right; it does not matter.” This will not work.

Spiritual exercise, sadhana, is not a question of observation and experiment, such as physical science, chemistry, mathematics, etc. Here, the soul operates. We have difficulty in understanding even the meaning of the soul. What is the meaning of the soul? Is there something sitting inside us? There is nothing sitting inside us. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the soul is inside you, because if the soul is inside you, you will be outside it. You know the consequence of thinking like that. Are you outside your own soul, which consequence will follow by saying that the soul is inside you?

“So, I am different from the soul.” A foolish consequence follows again. “If the soul is inside me, I am different from the soul, and I am existing outside the soul. The soul is not me.” Can there be a greater stupidity than to conceive the soul in this manner?

It is not inside; it is yourself. You yourself are the soul, and it is not something that is inside you. Do not bring the question of inside and outside, because it is spaceless. The soul is not located somewhere in space. It is the concept of space that brings in the idea of inside and outside. There is no space in this indivisible spark of divinity called the soul; therefore, it cannot be called something existing inside or outside. It is the existence. You yourself are the soul. Do not say that the soul is inside you, because if it is inside you, you will be standing outside it – a very mischievous thought.

With this determination to understand the poignancy involved in this effort and the amount of effort that is necessary to face the situations presented by the world of operations outside, a daily session for meditation is necessary. It is not a thinking process of “Let me get it; let me get it.” The whole of what you are boils up. There is a welling up of energy from yourself, as if you are lifted up. You will feel as if you are lifted up from the very ground itself in a spiritual sense, and inundated by a power that is neither on your side nor on the world's side, but on the total side.

Remember this analogy: Krishna never belonged to anybody. He was a totally independent person. That which is totally independent belongs to all sides. It is only what is dependent that belongs to one side. Therefore, try to catch hold of the feet of that which is totally independent.

This mighty independence of cosmic spirit operates as the independence that we are experiencing in our own selves when we say we are free. The little modicum of freedom that we seem to be exercising every day is a reflection of this inscrutable, mighty, transcendent, invisible independence which is what religions call God Almighty. Independence is the nature of God. Independence is the nature of every person, but dependence seems to be controlling the daily operations of the individual on account of the obsession of the feeling of there being an externality which is called the world, and a third thing called God beyond both oneself and the world.

This is like a circus feat, to some extent. If we make a little mistake, we will fall down; and on which side we will fall, we cannot say. It may be forward or backward, or downward, or anywhere. An ardent longing is the qualification required. The greatest of qualifications is supposed to be asking for freedom. That is mumukshutva; all other qualifications are secondary. When the soul asks, it has to be given. But the soul should ask, not the waking mind, the conscious mind, which is a paltry expression of the psychic total which is buried inside us. In meditation it is something more than the psychic total that is operating. Say, “I am engaged in meditation”; do not say, “My mind is meditating.”

You are the most blessed centre of this spiritual activity called meditation sadhana. Here in this great effort, you are guided by nobody except by that inde­pendent Actionless Being gazing at you from all sides, and ready to be of assistance to you. Suhṛdaṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati (Gita 5.29). There is one friend for you. That friend is an actionless friend. That friend will not shake hands with you; he will not speak to you. But he will do everything for you.

Towards that end, we must adjust our life’s activity also in a manner of total operation, which virtually means no operation at all. A total action is no action. This is what the Bhagavadgita tells us again and again. A total action is no action; it is non-binding. A particular action is binding, but total action cannot bind because it is equally no action. In this action, one sees actionlessness. Anything that is total is not anything that is particular and, therefore, no particular reaction can follow from that; yet, it is all things.

A human mind cannot understand all these things. It requires dedication, and satsanga with great souls, saints and sages. Satsanga is the word. No scripture, no book, no tirtha yatra, no conference can be of any assistance here. The company of mighty masters who have delved into the spirit and lived this life of self-contentment inwardly and outwardly and transcendentally is satsanga.

There are great souls even now in this world. The world is not dead to them. They may be not visible to the eyes always, but they are still there. Dharma is not dead yet; it is still alive. Saints and sages are still alive. Great masters are still operating. It is up to you to find where they are.

Wholeheartedly, go forward. March onwards continuously, without any hesitation, and you shall succeed.