(Spoken on September 10, 1972)
Spiritual life has always been mistaken for what we do, rather than what we try to become. This is principally the reason why we do not see tangible progress even among sincere seekers and ardent aspirers of the life spiritual. We have been born into a world of action, karma bhumi, and so we are unable to get out of our mind the importance of action as constituting the principle essence of life. While action is a part of life, it is not life by itself because a particular transformation in our personal life takes the form of activity. It is action by someone, as action is not something self-existent by itself. But the existence of a person and the action of a person usually get mixed up, and traditional routines and clockwork activity are easily taken for the needed self-transformation in spiritual life.
There are various types of prejudices into which we are born. They come with our birth, and do not come later by acquisition. We are born into certain prejudices on account of the circumstances that constitute our very personal existence. Then we get into a routine, and we become complacent and satisfied in our attitude that a virtuous deed has been performed, and expect a result out of the deed.
There are two difficulties here. First of all, it is difficult to judge the virtue of an action merely on the surface of it. The ethical or moral value of a conduct or behaviour or action cannot easily be discovered, but one can easily foist virtue on actions of one's own. Generally, each one believes that one's own actions are rightly directed, and so they are virtuous, morally permissible; therefore, we expect a very wonderful fruit out of them. This is one difficulty which we have to face and which we cannot easily discover in its proper essence and form.
The other difficulty is, how to connect action with our life. It always remains outside us like a shell with which we are covered but not vitally connected. It is like a coat that we put on. Well, the coat is good protection no doubt, but it has no connection with our body. Whatever beautiful dress we wear will have no connection with our being, and we will not change because of it. So action mostly is a kind of cloth which covers us but does not always affect our inner essence.
There is a misconception rooted in our very intellect, an error that cannot remain outside our consciousness. It gets into us deeply, and when our consciousness itself gets involved in an error, which is exactly what has happened, there is no one to detect this error. In the Mahabharata we have an instance of this mental involvement in error and confusion which prevents a person from taking the right step and doing the proper action.
It is Bhagavan Sri Krishna who speaks to Yudishthira towards the end of the Mahabharata. The asura Vritra attacks Indra, and Indra faces him with his weapon, his Vajra. The weapon is directed against Vritra and there is a fierce battle. When Vritra realises that it is difficult to face Indra's weapon, he enters the earth so that he is invisible. Then the Vajra is directed towards the earth. The weapon of Indra, which is called Vajra, is a very powerful instrument which can attack even elements which are not easily visible to the eyes. So Indra hurls Vajra inside the earth, and it burns every atom of the earth within. Then Vritra leaves the earth and enters water. Then Vajra is hurled on water, and water begins to get heated to such an extent that Vritra finds it difficult to live in the water principle. He rises up into the fire element, and so Indra hurls his Vajra on the fire principle itself. Then Vritra leaves fire and goes to the air principle, which is still subtler, and so Vajra is hurled on the air principle. Then Vritra goes to space and becomes a ubiquitous invisible principle, but even here he is not able to escape Indra's weapon because Vajra is hurled even into space. Then what does Vritra do? He enters the mind of Indra and stupefies him completely so that he does not know what he is doing and where he is standing.
Now, what is to be done here? The very personality, the very mind, the very consciousness is affected. When the doer himself is affected, the deed also is affected. Then Indra stands still, knowing nothing. The war ceases, and some calamity could have befallen Indra on account of this event. But Brihaspathi, the preceptor of the gods, knowing what has happened, chants the Ratantra Saman of the Veda and drives Vitra from the mind of Indra. Indra then recovers his consciousness and attacks Vritra through the mental Vajra, not the external Vajra which he was using up to this time, because what is in the mind cannot be attacked by instruments or weapons or means that we acquire from outside. The error of the mind can be detected only by the mind, and it can be tackled, attacked, and overcome by the mind.
“So Yudishthira,” says Bhagavan Sri Krishna, “Your trouble is in your own mind. An internal Mahabharata war is taking place in which you have an internal Bhishma, internal Drona, internal Karna, and the astras that you have used in the external Mahabharata are not going to be of any help here. Use the weapon of your mind and slay this enemy of delusion,” says Sri Krishna.
This applies to everyone—you, I, and all people. This is an instruction to people in general as to what is to be done when the mind is confounded. When we are in a state of confusion as to our duty, a condition in which Arjuna found himself as described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, our activities will not help us because a confounded mind can perform only confounded activity. It cannot be regarded as a virtue. A stupefied mind cannot be expected to be directed along the proper lines of approach.
The minds of people are generally not perspicuous. They are far from the truth of transparency. We, in a state of inadequate understanding and discrimination, assume an air of importance, knowledge and understanding, and then enter into fields of activity which we regard as capable of saving us from the troubles of life. But, as we have seen, no man has been saved. The problems of life have always remained the same through the passage of history. Whatever the trouble was yesterday, that trouble continues even today. The only thing is, we can push this trouble farther on by a particular kind of step that we take, an action that we do. We are only postponing the evil, adjourning the case, as it were, and not actually solving the problem by entering into an activity which is not vitally connected with our own life.
People mostly feel elated when they do wonderful deeds in the world. If we scale Mount Everest, we are so happy. It has done nothing to us; we are the same person, and it has not changed us even a bit, but that we have scaled Everest is a great satisfaction. Such satisfactions are of many kinds. Actions which are socially regarded as worthy of approbation are likely to mislead us because social approbation is not spiritual progress. Name, fame, power and authority do not mean spiritual advancement. That is something altogether different.
Sreyas and preyas are the two terms that have been beautifully enunciated, for the first time perhaps, in the Kathopanishad. Preyas is what satisfies us, but this is not necessarily the good. If the whole world acclaims us as a leader, we are in no way the better because we are within the circle, the ambit and the circumference of binding activity which has emanated from an un-understanding mind. The plebiscite, or the vote of people, is an approval from personalities of our own kind. The crow praises the beauty of the donkey, and the donkey praises the melody of the crow. This is actually what we are doing in the world. You praise me, and I praise you. Both of us are in the same foolish paradise. Now, this is not spiritual progress or spiritual advancement. It has really nothing to do with the progress of the spirit.
So the vigilance, the discrimination, the viveka that we are expected to exercise in spiritual life is different in kind and quality from the understanding that we call worldly wisdom. We can get on in the world with our wisdom of life, but we cannot get out of our problems of life because these problems are unconnected with what we do outside; they are within, like the problem Indra had when Vritra entered his mind. A peculiar, indescribable difficulty has entered us. Many terms—avidya, maya, etc.—have been used to describe this problem, but these terms are not going to help us. They are only descriptions of that which we cannot understand. Something has happened to us, and we should not take for granted that we are well off even in that condition.
The recognition of the true nature of our difficulties is difficult enough even for highly educated persons because our education, again, especially these days, is another kind of outer activity of the intellect rather than an inner transformation of culture and consciousness. The outer forms do not touch the inner essence, as the coat does not touch our body, so whatever we do in life keeps us in the same position and we seem to be all right merely because of a false satisfaction which comes upon us on account of the action that we have performed.
Activity becomes spiritual and helpful in our internal progress only when it is a vital part of our life. We are usually tied up with traditions such as charity or self-restraint, etc., which remain merely an outer discipline. We have religious family disciplines which we mistake for spiritual practices. Our grandmothers, grandfathers, and elders have religious family traditions. There are many kinds of prejudiced traditions, and two of these can be easily mistaken for spirituality: the tradition of dana, or charity, and the tradition of self-restraint.
Now, charity is very good, very essential, and self-discipline is indispensible, but they can at once get converted into a routine with which our vital life or consciousness has no concern at all. Charity is not parting with some object, but this is the traditional description of it. When we voluntarily part with something that seems to belong to us, and we give it away to someone, we regard it as charity. But it must have a connection with our life. Suppose we give charity to avoid income tax. This is not charity because it is not vitally connected with our life. It gives a veneer, an outward show of having given up something, but we have really given up nothing. We have only gained something by that charity. So when charity only glorifies our ego more than what it was earlier, how can we call it charity? Charity is a parting with that which is really ours, and when parting with it, we give a share of our personality itself. There is a reduction of our ego, and not the enhancement of it. We do not become richer by charity in the worldly parlance. On the other hand, it appears as if our possessions get reduced.
But we deliberately enter into this discipline of charity for the sake of enhancing the spiritual values of our life while the material values may appear to get diminished. Our happiness, not our sorrow, is shared in charity. In charity, our sorrows are not shared, but our satisfactions and joys are shared. That is called charity. But if we give charity to escape from a problem or a difficulty or a sorrow that may come upon us, that charity is bereft of spiritual worth because only that which is virtuous in the eyes of God can be called virtuous. If people call us virtuous, we need not necessarily be so because the inner antaryamin will begin to see what we are doing.
While that is one side of the question, the other side of it is the tradition of what we call the routine of self-control. We have a system of fasting on ekadashi day, and getting up in the morning at a particular hour. The recitation of certain chants, the sitting in a particular posture, etc., can also get into a traditional routine so that we may go on doing it, like walking a long distance without knowing we are walking. We can walk three miles without knowing that our legs are moving because the consciousness gets withdrawn and the reflex activity of moving helps us in walking. So sadhana can become a reflex action rather than a deliberate concentration of consciousness. We can go on turning a mala a hundred times without knowing that it is turning.
So also is the tradition of self-abnegation by means of fasting, vigil, etc. There are thousands of people in the world who observe these routines and traditions, but can it be called spiritual progress? This question can be answered only when we touch the vital point of the person. There is a vital spot in every person, and when that is touched, we can know the spiritual worth of the sadhaka concerned. Our vital spots are our weaknesses, and these weak spots are never touched, generally. They are vulnerable parts of our system. We always try to avoid this, like the thigh of Duryodhana which was not to be touched. But this is the only touchstone of progress.
The practice of spiritual sadhana is the growth of our inner personality, and not the change that takes place in the accretion that has grown over us like a fungus from outside. Concentration of consciousness on the higher form of existence to which one has to reach is the test of whether there is progression or retrogression. The whole question revolves upon the point of concentration of the mind attended with consciousness. Sadhana is the concentration of the mind, or consciousness, in a particular manner, deliberately directed for bringing about a transformation to the next higher level than the one in which one is at in the present moment. We are not supposed to be stagnant, remaining in the same position. Spiritual progress is a daily onward march. We do not remain in the same position even for a single day if the sadhana is properly directed.
The pleasures of the ego, therefore, are not to be identified with the progression of sadhana. In the beginning, we always appear to be on pins and thorns. There is an intense struggle from within to get into the proper track because we have strayed too far away from the point which leads us in the right direction. To bring the vehicle back to the correct point, and then to make it move along the right track, is very hard. For this, we have to shed our prejudices.
The philosopher Bacon used to say there are various kinds of prejudices, which he calls idols—idols of the cave, idols of the market place, and so on. Every field of life has a prejudice of its own. There is political prejudice, social prejudice, personal prejudice, family prejudice, communal prejudice, religious prejudice, and the prejudice of even the species to which we belong. We are too concerned with human beings, and not concerned with other things in the world. When we talk of world peace, we generally speak of peace of mankind, not peace of anything else. That is attachment to species. Well, these are all various forms of psychological prejudice which may weigh very hard upon us and prevent us from really progressing in spirituality.
Though we know very well that sreyas is different from preyas, spiritual good is demarcated from sensory pleasure, etc., it is hardly possible for most of us to distinguish between the two aspects of our experience. To judge oneself is the hardest of difficulties because spiritual sadhana is something that is connected with one's own self. It is a living movement which we embark upon, and not a dead mechanistic activity. Every moment of sadhana we are conscious and aware as to what is happening, and we do not practice sadhana for the satisfaction it brings but for the progress that we can achieve through it.
Now, one of the prejudices of the mind is to judge progress from the point of view of human society. What do people say about me? What is the certificate that I have obtained from others? What is the opinion that the world has about me? Sometimes even right things, good understanding and proper insight into the nature of things will not be appreciated by the herd of people because the majority lives only on the surface of their mental consciousness and cannot go deep into the truth of things. This is why many of the saints had to suffer in social life. They were persecuted, insulted and excommunicated, and sometimes they had even to be martyrs. This is what the world will give us when we turn to God. Hence, to judge oneself by public approbation would be a very, very wrong method of self-assessment.
Nor is it possible for us to assess ourselves, because we may easily pat ourselves on our backs while we are still on the first pedestal of spirituality. This is why we have been told time and again that we should be under the guidance of a Guru or a spiritual teacher who has reached a state of advancement and who knows the pitfalls of spiritual life as well as the art of living it. Whatever be the industrial and mechanistic progress that we have made in our life today, this necessity for training under a Guru and this system of gurukulavasa cannot be gainsaid or escaped because neither the public can help us, nor can we help ourselves. We are in a difficult position because from both sides we are at a disadvantage. Self-approbation and self-appraisal, especially in the beginning stages, is odious because no one would condemn oneself, no one would censure oneself, no one would be able to detect an error in one's own self. That is one side of the picture. The other side is, it is also wrong to lay too much emphasis on public approbation. This is the reason why the system of training under a Guru has been instituted for discipline which is spiritual and yet superseding the limitations of one's own personality.
We have, in the very beginning of the Kathopanishad, for instance, a statement as to how religion can get into a routine of mechanism that is bereft of all vitality and entirely dead. The father of Nachiketas, mentioned in the Kathopanishad, performs a sacrifice called vishvajit, where he gives away everything in charity, in dana, for the sake of acquiring the pleasures of heaven. The Upanishad tells us that it was not really a satisfactory yajna or sacrifice that he performed because he got into a mood of giving solely for an outward show, and his giving was not attended with value or worth, which is really the value of charity. This was detected by Nachiketas, a very intelligent boy, and he made a remark which irritated the father who was performing this sacrifice in such a manner, and the story goes on further.
The point on hand is that spiritual life is to be trodden with an inner awareness of what one's conscience is, what one's conscience speaks and does, rather than what one does outwardly for the sake of mere performance according to routine or scriptural ordinance.
This difficulty has been beautifully mentioned in one of the passages of the Bhagavadgita where the Lord says that His Cosmic Form cannot be beheld by any amount of effort on the part of a person. Na vedayajñādhyayanair na dānaiḥ na ca kriyābhir na tapobhir ugraiḥ, evaṁrūpaḥ śakya ahaṁ nṛloke draṣṭuṁ tvadanyena kurupravīra (B.G. 11.48). With all the hectic activities of ours, with all the charities and self-abnegations and yajnas and so on, this vision cannot be had because this is a spiritual vision. This is not a merit that accrues due to mere virtuous activity. This is an efflorescence of personality into a higher reality, the growth of one's being into the Absolute rather than the reaping of a fruit of a mere charitable act.
The spirit is quite different from matter. All activity which is material or which has a value only in the material world can dupe us into the belief that it is the spirit of life. The spirit cannot be recognised because the spirit it is that recognises things. The spirit is different from the mere outward activities of our life because spirit is what performs the activity, and is not the activity itself. Hence, spirituality concerned with spirit is something that transcends the outer performance of routines and concerns the very essentiality of the action itself.
The spirit of a thing is different from the form which it takes. This applies to every action, every conduct—ethical, moral, social, whatever it is. The spirit of a thing is different from its form, and sadhana is not a form; it is the spirit of what we do. Sadhana is not what we do, but the spirit of what we do. This has to be underlined and known very well. Whatever be our action, activity or performance, it is not going to be considered, but the spirit with which it has been performed is going to be considered. That is sadhana. It makes no difference what is our vocation in life, our profession, or the work that we perform. We cannot judge our progress by the kind of work that we do, but we can judge ourselves from the way in which we do that work. Social status is no criterion of spiritual progress. The attitude that is attending upon this activity, this profession, this action, this mood, this conduct and behaviour is going to be the test of our life. “Why have I done this?” is the question that you have to put to yourself. Whatever be the thing that you do, it makes no difference, but why have you done it? What is the reason? Go on putting this series of questions, one after the other, until you are cornered and the essence of the action is taken out. You will then know whether that conduct of yours was spiritual or otherwise.
The method of a performance of a duty is important enough, which conduces to progress in life, no doubt; but we can employ a correct method with a wrong spirit. God will see only the spirit, and not the outer form of it. Even love of God can be directed to ulterior ends. We pray to God mostly for material goods. Whatever we do not have in the world, that we ask for from God so that we make God a means to an end and not an end in itself. God is an instrument that we employ for gaining some end which is purely temporal. This is an unspiritual interpretation of a spiritual aspiration. Even a spiritual aspiration can become unspiritual. Virtue can become vice when it is wrongly placed and out of context. Everything has to be in its proper position, only then it assumes the texture of art and beauty. Everything has to occupy its own place; then it is beautiful. In an audience, each person occupies his or her own place. It looks nice. But if the people are thrown pell-mell, one over the other, it does not look beautiful.
Thus, activity should be a beautiful performance, an art by itself, a picture of perfection drawn before our mental eye so that we grow from one state of perfection to another state of perfection in spiritual sadhana. We are internally satisfied though we do not possess anything outwardly. We begin to feel a growth from within though it is not perceptible from outside, and this is attended with a sense of power and a gradual progress. We will begin to see newer vistas of reality as we proceed further.
A spiritual diary along the lines which have been chalked out by Sri Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj may be maintained by every sadhaka. It does not mean that you have to put these same questions to yourself; your questions can be purely personal, suited to your own personal life. These questions have to be raised by your own self and answered by yourself, and they have to be answered dispassionately, as if you see yourself in your nakedness and openness.
What we think and feel when we perform a particular deed, and our motive behind the performance of the deed, and how the conscience within reacts during the performance of a deed, these will tell us something about the value or the worth of that deed. But again, it has to be reiterated that we are likely to mix up sreyas with preyas. While a deed brings us pleasure, we are likely to mistake it for a growth in spirituality and a good that has come upon us.
The spirit of a thing, therefore, has to be distinguished from its material value. This is called viveka, or discrimination. The temporal value has to be isolated from the spiritual good that is immanent in it. But we live in a temporal world. Our life is soaked with temporal appreciations of values. We think in terms of temporality, and our satisfactions are, therefore, temporal. It is difficult to enter into the spirit of anything because the spirit of a thing is the non-temporal element present in that thing. In every object, in every action, in every conduct, in every thought and feeling that is temporal there is a non-temporal principle hidden. We have to catch that spirit behind the conduct, the mood, the thought, the feeling or the action. Sadhana is connected with this non-temporal principle in the temporal world. This is what we call the spiritual attitude to things. This is the spiritual value of a thing.
Every temporal object has a non-temporal, eternal element in it, and that is the spirit of the thing. The eternal principle is the spirit of any object or person, and sadhana is the unfoldment of this eternal spirit within. It is like the rise of the sun in the darkness of the ignorance of temporal life, dispelling our complacent attitude of satisfaction, perfection and achievement in the darkness of the ignorance of the true nature of things. This is what we know as viveka; this is what we call discrimination in spiritual parlance. We have been told viveka is a very important qualification. Viveka and vairagya are supposed to be indispensable prerequisites of spiritual sadhana, and this is what is called discrimination: the discrimination between the eternal and the non-eternal, the differentiation of the permanent element in a thing from the transient values that have grown over it.
Now, therefore, the transient values have to be assessed properly, and they have to be known. Everything is beside the point when we emphasise transient values too much because we have been accustomed to judge things in terms of the temporal relationships, temporal associations, which generally are limited. We cannot escape this weakness in our mind because it persists in manifesting itself again and again, and this is the reason why we are emotionally vulnerable and susceptible in spite of the spiritual activities and sadhanas in which we may be engaged. The human element does not leave us. It persists until the end, as it were, and many a time it gains the upper hand. Instead of the human element taking possession of us, the spiritual element should be allowed to take possession of us.
To think spiritually is a little different from thinking from the point of view of the world. This is the difference between the ethics of the Mahabharata and the ethics of the Ramayana. We have the Maryada Purushottama Sri Rama and the Lila Purushottama Sri Krishna, as we say. The ethics of these two persons are quite different. One is the ethics of temporal perfection; the other is the ethics of eternity, which cannot be judged from temporal viewpoints. How we have to think spiritually and what actually it means when we say that, is itself something difficult to grasp.
The spiritual attitude is the outcome of a spiritual way of thinking. Now, the spiritual way of thinking is different from the temporal way of thinking in the sense that when we think spiritually, we do not think in a commercial manner. We do not judge things from the point of view of give and take, what will it bring, tit for tat, etc. These are all ways of the world, temporal ways of thinking: evil should be paid in its own coin and we should react to circumstances in a manner which is of the same category as the source of that reaction.
But spiritual thinking is spiritual judgment of the worth of things, and this is equal to recognising the spirit in things rather than the actions of things. When we recognise the spirit in things, we automatically develop a new kind of attitude. It does not come by effort; it is a spontaneous manifestation. We cannot help thinking in that manner.
We had a great example of Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj himself, and many other saints of that calibre. Most people could not understand them because their ethics are quite different from ours. “A bad man should not be helped,” is one form of ethics, and we all agree with it, but this is not spiritual ethics. Thinking that we must react vehemently in respect of circumstances is pure temporal ethics unconnected with the spirituality of things because the spiritual attitude tries to bring out the good element in it rather than focussing on the temporal form in which it has been entangled. Extract the good out of everything. That is what the saint does. That is what spirituality endeavours to do.
When you try to extract this principle of goodness and eternity and spirituality in things, the spirit in things will begin to speak to you in a spiritual language. Then people will not be speaking to you, the world will not be reacting towards you, but the spirit of things will start speaking to you in an eternal style, not in a temporal language. You will be protected by the forces of the world only when you recognise and appreciate these forces present in the world. This is a hard thing to entertain in the mind for those who have been accustomed to lead a worldly life, but we have to emphasise that spiritual life is a great sacrifice of our temporal greed, temporal passion and temporal methods of judgment.
To take to the path of sadhana, therefore, is a self-dedication. It is a surrender of all earthly values for the supreme value of spirituality. Sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja (B.G. 18.66): Abandon all other dharmas or virtues which are apparently conducive to earthly satisfaction, and take to the supreme dharma of the true nature of all things in the world. The supreme dharma is that which is in conformity with the nature of God, while the temporal dharma which we are asked to abandon in this verse of the Gita is the values that we attach to things which we see with our eyes.
The spiritual dharma, therefore, transcends all other dharmas, for the sake of which everything has to be abandoned. Tyajed ekam kulasyārthe grāmasyārthe kulam tyajet, gramam janapadasyārthe ātmārthe pṛthivim tyajet (M.B. 2.55.10) says the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata. For the sake of the good of a family, we may have to abandon one naughty person, an element in our own family, it may be our own son; and for the good of the whole community, we may have to give up one family. For the good of the whole country and the world, we may have to give up the whole community; and for the ultimate good of the soul, we have to give up the whole world. This means to say that everything that succeeds also transcends so that the soul, or the Self, is supremely transcendent. It is the reservoir or the ocean of all values that we seek in the world, so when we give up lower values we actually enter into the realm of higher values where the lower ones are transformed and sublimated into a new reality altogether.
So we have to learn this art of transcendence, self-transcendence. The art of gradual self-transcendence from the lower to the higher, which is the very principle of sadhana, is also mentioned in a verse in the Kathopanishad: indriyebhyaḥ parā hy arthā, arthebhyaś ca param manaḥ, manasaś ca parā buddhir buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ; mahataḥ param avyaktam, avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ, puruṣān na paraṁ kiñcit: sā kāṣṭhā sā parā gatiḥ (Katha 1.3.10-11). There are things, objects, laid out in a series, one transcending the other by the process of sublimation. Higher than the objects of sense are the powers of sense, and higher than the senses is the mind which works through the senses. Higher than the mind is the intellect which guides all mental activity. We are incapable of going beyond the intellect because the highest faculty with which we are endowed in life is intellectual understanding, but the intellect is only a drop in the ocean of understanding. There is a reality higher than the intellect, says the Kathopanishad. Buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ: A universally distributed intelligence known as mahat-tattva, which is imperceptible to the eyes and unrecognisable to the intellect, exists; that is still higher than the intellect. Higher than the mahat-tattva, says the Upanishad, is avyakta prakriti, transcending which is Purusha, the Supreme Truth.
So we have to rise from one stage to another. This rise is a rise of the soul from a lower state to the higher state, from greater entanglements to lesser entanglements. It is a rise of soul in all its degrees so that sadhana is always connected with our soul. It is not merely an outward action that we perform. This is the point that I wanted to emphasise today. It is always connected with our soul, and if an action, a mood, or a conduct of ours is unconnected with our conscience and soul, it is bereft of spiritual values. It is where the knowledge of the soul and the action of the personality commingle into a single force: yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ, tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (B.G. 18.78). The inner soul and outward action have to be commingled in such a manner that they are indistinct; but today they are remaining outside. The soul is inside and the actions are outside, one having no connection with the other.
Hence, our usual activities do not help us much. Thus it is that we are mostly a failure in life in spite of our intense efforts in the various fields of action. But when our activity gets directed inwardly towards the soul, which is the point driven at by the verse of the Bhagavadgita where we are told that when Krishna and Arjuna sit in the same chariot, then there is sure success. The wisdom of the soul and the outward activities of our personality are not two distinct things. They are one and the same flow uniformly moving from within us, and when this state is reached, action becomes spiritual. Our profession itself becomes a sadhana. Whatever we do becomes a saintly act, and it conduces to God vision. This is the principle of what is known as karma yoga. It is a highly transformed state of activity where the iron of action has become the gold of spirit by the touch of the philosopher's stone of wisdom, knowledge.
Therefore, let us not be misguided, and let us not be under the impression that we can easily catch the spirit of things or very conveniently have vision of God. That is not possible. As Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to humorously say, we have to do worship of God by lighting the lamp with the oil extracted out of our own flesh. It is a very jocular way of putting things, but this is the hardship involved in sadhana. Gaudapadacharya, the great Grandguru of Sankaracharaya, tells us that it is as difficult as emptying the ocean with a blade of grass. Sometimes it is compared to the difficulty of swallowing fire or binding a wild elephant with a silken thread. These examples and comparisons are only to give us an idea as to the hardship of the task that we have taken on hand. It is very difficult, and we have to be very cautious. Very vigilant we have to be every day, and we should see that that our mind does not slip away from the ideal that we have chosen as the goal of our life.
While we may be very enthusiastic and very meticulous in our sadhana in the beginning, we are likely to slip down from the goal and fall into the mire, not knowing what has happened to us. That is worse than not doing sadhana at all. This is perhaps the inner motive behind a verse in the Isavasya Upanishad where it is told that vidya is worse than avidya, that wrong understanding is worse than no understanding at all, from which we have to be guarded very well. God bless us.