The Threefold Essence of Sadhana – Part 2
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on April 21, 1974.)

The object of meditation was referred to as the ishta-devata. This word ishta means very dear. The object of your meditation is very dear to you, very beloved. You have got great affection for it, great love for it. That is why you call it ishta. You like it very much, better than anything else, the most beloved and dear object.

Now, a dear and beloved object is also a beautiful object. You cannot separate beauty from anything that you regard as very dear. There are various kinds of beauty. The beauty of a thing may be due to its value. A currency note also has a beauty of its own, but it is not the beauty of a painting, etc., which is quite different. This tape recorder has a beauty of its own: its shape, structure, and value. But there are some objects which look beautiful on account of the arrangement of their body, the colour, the shape, and so on. It is very difficult to understand what things are beautiful and why they are beautiful, though after a very deep investigation into this subject, you can to some extent know why anything is beautiful.

The object of your meditation is also a beautiful thing. That is why it is called ‘dear’. An ugly thing will not be dear. It must be beautiful – not an ordinary type of beauty, but most beautiful. This is what we have to remember in regard to the object of meditation. If it is comparatively beautiful or relatively beautiful, then the mind will not accept it as the ultimate object of meditation. It will say there are other beautiful things also, so why should I not go to them? Why only this? So the beauty of the object of meditation is not merely a relative beauty or a comparative beauty, it is absolute beauty. There cannot be anything as beautiful as this. Only then the mind will say, “All right, I will go only for this. I don’t want anything else because it is clear that nothing is equal to this.”

You always like the best. If you can have the best, you will not go for lesser things. Sometimes you go for lesser things, but that does not mean you do not want the best. If the mind cannot get the best, it is compelled to be satisfied with the lesser things, but it will still be hankering inside for that best. If you get the best, then, of course, there is no need to go for something else.

Now, there are two kinds of beautiful things in this world. There is one sort of beautiful thing, by seeing which or possessing which or enjoying which your senses get stimulated and stirred into intense activity, desire and passion for that object. This is called sensuous beauty. Any beauty that will stir your senses is sensuous beauty. The senses will start craving for it again and again, again and again: I want to see it, I want to see it, I want to see it. You will not be satisfied by seeing it once. You want to hear it and to touch it. All sorts of desires of the senses in various shapes and forms will manifest themselves when sensuous beauty is presented before the mind.

Generally or ordinarily speaking, all the beautiful things in the world are only sensuous beauties. They stir one of the sense organs. If something can stir all the senses at one stroke, then it will be impossible for you to live in this world without that, and you will go crazy. But those are very few. Most of the things stir one or two sense organs, but they will not stir them all.

There are five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Any object that can stimulate these sense organs into heightened activity and make them restless without that object sympathetically disturbs the mind also because the mind is connected with the senses. When the senses demand their object, the mind has to go along because the mind is always attached to the senses.

But there is another kind of beauty which is other than sensuous beauty. This beauty you cannot see in the world because this is a sensuous world. Because all objects of the world are objects of the senses, you are accustomed only to see sensory beauty, and any other kind of beauty is unthinkable to the mind.

The second kind of beauty is called spiritual beauty, moral beauty, and intellectual or rational beauty. These things are not accessible to the common masses, and the ordinary public cannot understand them. The beauty of morality cannot be understood by a sensuous person. The beauty of understanding, logical appreciation and rationality also cannot be appreciated by crude minds. The highest of all beauty is spiritual beauty, and this is absolutely impossible of access to people in this world.

God must be beautiful. Do you not think He is beautiful? Nothing can be so beautiful as God, but you cannot understand this. Many people have got this Old Testament idea of God: an old man with a beard. What beauty can He have? We also have ideas of Brahma, and so forth, as very old people. These old people cannot have any beauty, so what attraction they can exert upon us? God may be a huge judicial person, the judge of a court. They are terrible people, and you cannot go near them.

Nobody can understand how beautiful God can be from scriptures or discourses. We have got a wrong idea of God, and a wrong idea of beauty also. Spiritual beauty is different from sensuous beauty, and different from intellectual, rational, or moral beauty. It is superior to all these beauties. While sensuous beauty stirs the senses, spiritual beauty stirs the soul.

The soul is very rarely stirred. Mostly it is silent, or even sleeping, because nobody is listening to its voice. Nobody is caring for it. It is saying something, but nobody wants to listen to it, so sometimes it looks as if it is dead. When the senses are active, the soul becomes silent; therefore, in very highly or intensely sensuous people, the activity of the soul is completely hushed. But when the soul begins to act, the senses are hushed. When the one thing is there, the other thing cannot be there. As it is mentioned in one important verse of the Bhagavadgita, when it is night for one thing it is day for another thing. When it is day, brilliant, beautiful, glorious activity for the senses, it is darkness and night for the soul. When it is glorious manifestation of the soul, it is darkness for the senses, and they cannot see anything.

In meditation we are trying to rouse in our personality a spiritual consciousness, not a sensuous consciousness, gradually by degrees. The more are you spiritual, the more also will be the beauty of your life. The spiritual seeker has a beauty of his or her own, which is different from physical beauty or sensuous beauty. It will attract. Beauty always attracts, and wherever there is the spiritual substance, there will be the source of attraction. That attraction is different from ordinary sensory attraction. There will be an inward pull exerted upon everything by the spiritual substance that the seeker is. Everything will gravitate towards that because it is the soul. The soul pulls everything towards itself. It is the centre of gravity of everything. But when the senses become revolutionary, overactive, then the power of the soul is not felt in one’s life.

When you try to lead a life of spiritual meditations, you must see that you do not get entangled in attraction toward sensuous beauty, which is very dangerous. Inasmuch as every form of beauty is a reflection of the soul through the medium of space, time, and senses, it is difficult to resist the temptation of beauty. You cannot resist the temptation or attraction of beauty because it has some element of the soul in it. When it is externalised and shown on the screen of space-time outside, it appears as a sensuous beauty, but it is still only the soul manifesting. Therefore, it is irresistible when it is manifest. But you should not make the mistake of thinking that it is only a shadow of the soul that is cast. If even a shadow can attract you so much, what about the original?

One should be very careful to see that one is not in the midst of sensory attractions, so that the soul force can be generated inside. In the beginning a spiritual seeker should try to live in atmospheres of holiness and piety, free from attractions of sense. There should not be cinema theatres all around you making noises of a stimulating nature to the senses. There should not be anything which will engage your attention sensorily. Otherwise, the soul force will get stifled and your energy will leak out through the senses. You must guard yourself from getting tempted by any form of beauty, of any sense whatsoever, because that is the passage through which the energy of the entire personality is leaked. Whenever you are attracted towards an object, energy leaks out through the avenue of that particular sense in respect of that object. You become weak. But your intention is to become strong, not weak, so you have to conceive what spiritual beauty can be, transcending all sensual beauty.

The ishta-devata is spiritually beautiful. Let us not forget that it is also beautiful to the senses. God is not beautiful only to some people and ugly to some others. He is beautiful for everyone. People will go into raptures if such a vision is had. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is sometimes described in the Srimad Bhagavata and such scriptures by a peculiar appellation: sakshan manmatha-manmathah. He is the Cupid of Cupid. Cupid is the God of love, beauty, attraction, but Sri Krishna is so beautiful that he is the Cupid for that Cupid also.

That is, when you have a spiritually beautiful object before you, it does not mean that you have been cut off from other sources of beauty in the world. We are afraid of taking to spiritual life, to meditation, to a godly life because we have a subtle fear that the beauties and the pleasures of the world will be cut off, and we will be given some sort of imaginary thing. It may be a good thing, but we feel that we have lost something also. This fear is subtly lurking in our mind; therefore, we are unable to meditate. What is the use of reading books if the mind is not able to accept anything? It has got many doubts. Sometimes the doubts are subtle and will worry you from inside. This particular thing is a subtle, secret doubt. Whatever be the greatness and glory of God-realisation, it has to be accepted that when you go to the path of God-realisation, spiritual life, meditation, you are not going to get the pleasures of this world. But are they not worthwhile? Who can say that the beauty and pleasures of the world are not worthwhile? They are wonderful. People are running for them and jumping into them. The whole day and night you will be contemplating them. This world can simply drown you in inexpressible joys, so why should you leave all these things and go to a meditation hall where you see only a dark wall in front?

The mind will revolt: “This is not all right. I do not accept it! What is there in meditation? You are brooding over some foolish thing, leaving all the pleasures of life.” This is what the mind will say, and therefore, you are unable to concentrate. How can you concentrate and meditate when the mind is revolting from inside? It may not revolt outwardly, but it will revolt inwardly, and an inward revolt is more serious than an outward revolt. People who openly speak ill of you are not as dangerous as those who inwardly dislike you and stab you without your knowledge. So the mind can inwardly create a disturbance by a subtle deep-rooted fear that the joys of life are being lost.

Therefore, again I emphasise that a Guru is necessary. All these difficulties arise because you have no proper Guru. You have not been taught, instructed, advised or enlightened properly. You have got a child’s meagre understanding of things. What can a child understand about the mysteries of life? However much you may tell it, nothing enters its brain because it is a small baby. Likewise, your studies have not helped you and will not help you because your mind is still only a child’s mind. Whatever our physical age may be, we are thinking like children only.

While the joys of the objects of sense are seen, the joys of the spirit have never been even dreamt of, far from being seen. How can you go to that? For that, a threadbare analysis of the operations of the mind is necessary. The spiritual seeker should be a very good psychologist – not merely a student of psychology in an academic sense, but a student of psychology in the sense of being capable of analysing up to its very roots why you are what you are, why you are thinking what you are thinking. You must be able to understand these things. All these subjects are difficult, and that is why a Guru is necessary. He will tell you how to probe this problem.

The ishta-devata, to come to the point, is a spiritually beautiful object inclusive of all the sensuous beauties, not exclusive. This must give you some satisfaction and consolation. When you go to a spiritually beautiful thing, you are not going to be deprived of sensually beautiful things. You are going to have a greater beauty which is inclusive of all these things, not be deprived of them. Tell the mind again and again: “Foolish mind, you are thinking that you are going to be deprived of beautiful things and pleasures of the world. Nothing of the kind! These pleasures, these beauties of the world are only distorted shadows cast by the real pleasure and the real beauty of that which is spiritual. If the distorted shadow can give you so much pleasure and attract you with such beauty, what would be the pleasure you get from the original? How beautiful would the original object be?” How foolish this mind is! Tell this to the mind again and again. You are not going to be deprived of any valuable thing of the world. No beautiful thing of the world will be taken away from you because all those beauties of the world will be there in that spiritual beauty. It is the total of all beauty. It is not total merely in a quantitative sense, but also in quality it is superior to the beauties of the world.

The sun is seen reflected in water, but the quality of that reflection of the sun is not like the original sun. There is a tremendous difference in the quality. The sun reflected in the water will not burn you, will not produce heat, and will not give that energy coming from the original sun, which is also larger in quantity. Similarly, the ishta-devata is the representative or the representation of the supreme beauty of the spiritual reality that is God. God is not a man or a woman. There are so many difficulties when we take to the spiritual path. The moment you think of God, you will have some idea of a human being, and so the beauty connected with a human being will also be superimposed on that personality of God. If God is a man, what sort of beauty will He have? Is God an old man or a young man? How can we conceive of God? If He is a man, why should He be a man? Why not a woman? Now we think in terms of the very same thing that is compelling us to think in this world. We think in terms of man, woman, organic, inorganic, and so on, but these things do not apply there.

The word ‘God’ has been somehow or other associated with the qualities that we see in the objects of the world. God is not a man, not a woman, not a human being, but is the source of all that we regard as meaningful, significant, valuable, beautiful, pleasurable, and worthwhile in anything in this world, whether it is human, superhuman or subhuman. The ishta-devata is, therefore, not the conception of any anthropomorphic picture.

In spite of all this advice that is given to the mind, the old difficulties will not leave it easily. It takes a lot of time to get educated in a new line of approach. It may take years and years; sometimes the whole life is taken by this new type of inner education. The old problems will persist again and again. Much of this difficulty will be obviated if you do japa of a suitable mantra because the inner rationality will not help here. These forces of the world will simply flout the rationality of the intellect.. It will not be of much aid. The mantra shakti, the power of the mantra, gives a new protection against the onslaught of all these sensuous forces in the world. The mantra will be an armour that you put on. If you can live with your Guru, that is also a great protection. Those of you who can live with your Guru must do so, and then there is no fear because you have got the protector by your side. If any difficulty comes, go to that protector. But if you cannot live with your Guru, take to the mantra japa into which you have been initiated. It should be a very suitable mantra, and not any kind of formula that you may read from a book. You have to be initiated; again the point comes. You have to be properly initiated into a mantra which suits your personality, your temperament, and so on.

When this mantra is chanted properly for a continuous period every day, it will generate a force in you which will protect you from the attack of all these undesirable forces in the world. Therefore, mantra japa is essential. At least that much you can do, though you cannot conceive of the ishta-devata and Godhead. So I advise you to do japa every day.

You may say, “When I do japa, the mind is wandering.” Let the mind wander. At least you chant the mantra. Can you not at least chant it? Let the mind think anything. Even the mere chanting will produce an effect, and after some time the wandering will stop because the mantra, even when it is verbally chanted, will produce such energy inside it that the wandering of the mind will gradually be prevented.

Previously we discussed the three main aspects of spiritual sadhana, which are svadhyaya, japa and dhyana: study of scripture, japa of mantra and meditation. If possible, all these three may go together every day because any half-hearted approach in this path will not bring much result. Here the approach should be wholehearted, with the whole of your being in it. It is not merely a curiosity that is bringing you to this path, but a real necessity that you have felt in your inner life.

Daily study of a very elevating scripture is necessary, even if it be for fifteen or twenty minutes, or half an hour. Can you not devote half an hour for study of an elevating scripture? For half an hour every day you must study something which is conducive to the manifestation of soul force. Every day you have to do japa, at least for half an hour. Every day you have to do a little meditation also, even if it be for fifteen minutes, and you can increase the length of time according to your practice, your capacity, your circumstances, etc. So svadhyaya, japa and dhyana should be regularly practised, and this japa especially will protect you from the silly difficulties that you generally have in social life.

Although it is difficult, when you can properly conceive what this object of meditation is, the soul confronts the ishta-devata in meditation.  Once it is properly and wholly conceived in its entirety – underline the word properly – the mind will run to that object like a child running to its mother. There will be no distraction. The mind will never go to other objects. When you get the total, you will never go to the small particulars. But to conceive this total is so hard. You will never appreciate that it is the total because it always looks like a particular.

The ishta-devata is not a particular object. It is the representation of the total Reality, so do not forget to invoke the characteristics of the total Absolute on the ishta-devata. It is not one object among many things that you are contemplating, because then the mind will go to other objects. The ishta-devata has all the qualities of the total that is the Supreme Being. When you know that all that you want in the world is focused there, then naturally the mind has to go there.

What are these characteristics of the Total which are invoked on this ishta-devata? Omnipresence is one characteristic. Though your concept of the ishta-devata may limit the form of the ishta-devata to a specified shape, the force that you have invoked upon it is not limited to that form. It is similar to the power of the government, for example, that is manifest through its official. The official is in one place and is not all-pervading, but the government is all-pervading throughout the country. The all-pervading power of the government is manifest through a single person called the official of the government. He can invoke the entire force of the government through his personality. Though he is in one place and is only one person among other persons, there is a universal omnipresent force that is manifesting itself through him, on account of which he can act on behalf of the government and invoke the powers of the government through his personality. Likewise is the ishta-devata. It is a representation of the omnipresent reality that is the Absolute.

Tell the mind, “What are you meditating upon?” You are meditating upon that infinite value, unconditioned value, illimitable value, outside which there can be nothing. That is omnipresence. It is also omniscient, all-knowing. You need not go on telling it what you want because it is omniscient, so it knows. It knows even the conditions of your thinking. It is prior to even the activity of your thought, so there is no need on your part to tell anything to your God. That which is omnipresent is also omniscient. It is omniscient because it is omnipresent. That which is everywhere is naturally inseparably connected with everything, and therefore, it knows everything. We cannot know all things because we are in one place. We are not connected with all things, but that is connected with everything, so naturally it knows everything. Thus, that which is omnipresent is also omniscient. It is also omnipotent, all-powerful. We are not all-powerful because we are not connected with all things. Everything is outside us, so we cannot exert influence on anything in this world. But that which is omnipresent, and therefore, also omniscient, has necessarily to be omnipotent. It is connected organically with everything; therefore, it can operate anything as I operate my hand. I can lift my hand or do anything with my hand because it is one with my body. Whatever I tell the hand to do, it will do. Like that, this power is so comprehensive that there is nothing outside this it, and it can do anything.

Thus, the central characteristics of God are omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence – all-pervading, all-knowing, all-powerful. I have already told you it is also supreme beauty and joy, not merely knowledge and power. While we appreciate great knowledge and great power, we would also like it to be connected with great beauty and joy. We do not want mere power without satisfaction attached to it. It is not like the power of an atomic bomb, which simply destroys. It is constructive and beautiful, all-pervading, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-beautiful, and therefore, all-blissful. Oh, what a wonder! There can be nothing other than this, equal to this, comparable to it. Why should the mind wander here and there in meditation? Now the mind will not wander. It has understood what it is that is before it.

If you cannot conceive these things daily because of the habitual weakness of the mind, read the chapters of the Bhagavadgita which will pointedly remind you of the fact of the glory of God, the power of God, the knowledge of God, and the capacity of God. The beauty of God, the grandeur of God, the magnificence of God – all these things can be found in the Bhagavadgita, for instance. There are also other scriptures of this kind. I am only giving you one instance. Every day you must study these scriptures so that you may find it easy to recall to your mind these great and glorious characteristics of the goal of your life.

Again, in meditation it is necessary to bring to the mind another important factor which may create difficulties due to lack of proper understanding – the connection of your meditational life or your spiritual life with your public life, your social life, your official life, etc. This also creates some difficulty many a time. Why many a time? It may create difficulty every day. You have a public life, a social life, a political life, an office-going life, and a secular life, to put it briefly. What is their connection with this meditation? This will also trouble you from inside due to the fact that we have been brought up in an atmosphere of seeing reality only in public life. Our private life is tagged on to our social life as if we are only an appendage to human society, having no intrinsic worth or meaning in our own life. We always think in terms of social work activity, relationships, family, community, and so on. We have been born into this atmosphere; therefore, it cannot leave us so easily. You have not brought this with you only yesterday. You have been born with it. From childhood you are thinking like this: my family, my family, my family, my country, my nation, my language, my culture, my friends, my relatives. This idea will not leave you so easily. You may meditate, but this will not leave you. In spite of the meditation, this will be there behind it. Then what will happen? Part of the mind will unconsciously work in the field of what you call your secular life, and a part of the mind only will be working in the spiritual field because you have made a distinction between spiritual life and secular life. You have not done it deliberately, but have done it on account of the very nature of your way of thinking into which you have been introduced from your childhood. Always you have been told the spiritual is different from the secular. Your parents have been telling you, your friends have been telling you, and everywhere you are hearing this. If that is the case, what are you to do with your longing on one side for living a secular life in the world, and on the other side your longings for living a spiritual or godly life? There is a tug-of-war between these two aspects which you have created in your mind. There are not two aspects really, but you have created these aspects by a peculiar way of thinking.

The spiritual and the temporal, the spiritual and the secular, God and the world, we may say, are separated. While it is true that we have to believe in God, pray to God, strive for realising God, what about our duties in the world? Are they to be rejected? Are we not connected with this world with a sense of bounden duty in spite of the fact that we accept that we have a duty towards God? What is the connection between these two, and what is the percentage of emphasis that we have to lay on this side or that side? Is it fifty percent for both, or a little more percentage for one side than the other side? This difficulty also will be working subconsciously. This works in everyone, even in sannyasins, mahatmas, saints and sages. It will not leave any person like that.

To bring about a reconciliation of these so-called aspects of your life is another function of this new type of education. You need not call it spiritual education because the moment you use the word ‘spiritual’, you are likely to be isolated from the secular. You can coin any word of your own for this type of knowledge, education or type of life that you have to live. You have got limited words in your vocabulary, and most of the words are inept to describe what this thing is that is before you.

May I repeat once again, the spiritual life you are going to lead is not other than the secular life. The spiritual life that you are going to live, the life of meditation to which you have to take resort, the godly life that you are striving for, is not going to be separate from your secular life. Let some satisfaction come to the mind that it is not separate from the secular life, and therefore, your daily duties in what you call your secular relationship, these duties of a secular nature, are also connected with your spiritual life, and your spiritual life is connected with your secular duties. One thing is connected with the other; one thing influences the other like the right hand and the left hand, we can say.

There is no isolation of function or value between the two hands of the body, but it is not easy to bring about a reconciliation of these two. As I mentioned, even highly advanced spiritual seekers find this difficulty in bringing about a reconciliation between these two – their inner and outer life. The extroversion and introversion of the mind seem to have two different aims or objectives, but that is not the correct way of understanding the problem.

The life that you are expected to live is a total or whole life. The wholeness of your being functions in spiritual life, and it does not exclude anything. It should include all your functions and your duties, the calls of your life, whatever be their nature. If you are a factory worker, that factory work should have some connection with your spiritual life. Otherwise, there will be a tension in your mind between this factory work and your meditation.

Again, you will get guidance in this matter from your Guru. Each person has his or her own subtle difficulty in bringing about a reconciliation between these two private aspects of one’s personal life. You are going to see one significance both in the spiritual and the secular aspect of your life – one meaning, not two meanings. What you see in your spiritual life, you also see in your secular life. What you see in your secular life, you also see in your spiritual life, so that when you are on the street, you are the same spiritual being that you are in the temple. You cannot say, “Now I am on the street, so I am not a spiritual person. I will become spiritual only when I go to the meditation hall.” This is a very great tragedy, very unfortunate. And your duty concerning the world, the duty concerning your so-called secular life does not cease even when you are in the meditation hall. It is connected with your meditation. The two mutually cooperate with each other. The spiritual enhances your capacity to perform your secular functions in a manner which would be conversely helping your spiritual life also.

Generally, in our traditional language, we say karma and jnana go together. Karma is what you call your secular aspect of life, and jnana is your spiritual aspect, you may say. They have to go together. This is the symbolism of Krishna and Arjuna sitting in one chariot in the Mahabharata war. The whole life of yours is a Mahabharata battle. It is your struggle towards perfection, and is, therefore, the Mahabharata. If Krishna and Arjuna are sitting in one chariot to fight this battle, it means knowledge and action are combined in one focused effort.

Thus, there is no such thing as secular life, and no such thing as spiritual life. These two terms must be abrogated. You are going to lead a total life, a whole life, which will be a blend of both these two things. You are going to become a super being, not an ordinary human being. God bless you.