An Outline of the Foundation of Sadhana
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on December 26 evening, 1973 at a conference in Delhi.)

As we discussed last time, sadhana, or spiritual practice, is concerned with us individually and personally, and not so much connected with the accretions that seem to have grown upon our personality in terms of external relationships. We have to carefully distinguish between our outer relations and our personal life. Usually, we are not in a position to make this distinction or draw a demarcation. We mistake one for the other. Our outer connections with persons and things are identified with our personal lives, and conversely, our personal lives are identified with our external relationships. This confusion is called samsara, which means a total mixing up of things, a mess that we create due to our inability to discriminate between truth and falsehood.

All our relations with human society and with things in general are intended to establish a state of awareness in our own selves, just as the food that we eat and the medicines that we take have the purpose of maintaining the balance of health in our personality. We are not busy for nothing. There is a great purpose behind our efforts and endeavours in every field of our life. But to mistake this purpose for the means intended for that purpose, to identify the journey with the destination and vice versa, would be a mistake.

Our outward conduct in relation to persons and things is a means to an end, this end being the stability of our personality. If our outer conduct, external relationships and activities are going to disturb the peace of our mind, the means has missed its end. We have not hit the mark properly. To deceive oneself throughout the day in an unavoidable type of activity and engagement, all to disturb one’s mind, to lose one’s peace, would be an error of approach. The process of education is nothing but the technology of awakening our mind and intellect to the inner constituents of the goals that we are aiming at – the aim of our activities, the purpose of our existence.

Family people, householders, businessmen, etc., are likely to miss the aim of their activities. There are people engaged in business, and their intention is obviously to make a large profit in order to make further investments, and those investments are meant to increase the business. The increase of business is to make more profit, and the profit is again for investment, and the investment is for business, the business for profit. Where are you now? I put a question to a large magnate: “What is your aim of accumulating so much of wealth? What do you do with that finally? You have millions; now what do you do with those millions?” He looked up and scratched his head. He said, “This is a serious matter to think. I don’t know; it is going on. Things are going on.”

People are immensely busy. They cannot take their meals, they cannot take a cup of milk, they cannot sleep because they are so busy. But what for are you busy? What is the purpose? You have lost the purpose, and you are busy for nothing. This sort of erratic losing of control over one’s own life and aim is the height of misconceived notion. You cannot lose the ground on which you are standing or cut the ground from under your own feet, as they say. Patience and stable understanding are called for in leading a successful life.

Within these few minutes I shall try to give an outline of a program that you can follow beneficially for the happiness of not only your mind and body, but also of your environment and family. We are connected with the vast world in some way we cannot easily understand. We do not know whether we belong to the world or the world belongs to us. We have a doubt about this also. Sometimes it appears that we are a part of the world, inextricably related to it, and we belong to it, which means to say that the laws of the world control us. Oftentimes, we also feel that the world belongs to us. This is the sense of possession ingrained in the heart of every person. This is mine; that is mine.

Now, it is not true that the world belongs to us as we imagine it to be. It is also not wholly true that we belong to the world. If we had really belonged to the world as a slave, we would not have had in our heart of hearts the sense of independence of spirit which affirms itself in many ways daily in our life. Everyone asks for freedom and independence. This seems to be ingrained in ourselves. This intrinsic urge for freedom and independence would be meaningless if we were slaves of the world wholly and totally, so this is not a truth. Nor is it true that the world belongs to us as we imagine it. At any moment things in the world can dessert us. Friends can turn into enemies. There can be bereavement any day. The whole world can be lost to us at any moment of time. We can be thrown to the winds by the forces of nature, so our idea of the world is incorrect. Neither do we belong to it wholly nor does it belong to us wholly. We stand midway between these two extremes.

This via media of truth which escapes our notice every day in our lives, but which is the truth, is the central fact of philosophical analysis and even spiritual contemplation. Buddha once told his disciples that there are two extremes of thinking. “Everything is as it is” is one extreme way of thinking of a materialistic kind, which is not true. “Nothing is” is another extreme. The truth is in the middle.

We are not connected to the world with any extreme tie of dependence on either side. Neither does the world depend on us, nor do we depend on it. Our relationship is a mysterious, inscrutable, and yet very obvious fact. Our body is related to the world in this manner, and whatever is contained within the bodily personality also is connected in the very same manner. Sadhana, in order to be successful and complete itself, should take notice of this intrinsic relation of our entire personality to the world outside in the way it is, and not in the way it appears to be.

The body, the physical vesture of our personality, is the first thing to be taken into consideration. Inside the body there are many organic functions. We have the breath, or the pranic energy, which vitalises the physical body, works the alimentary canal, the respiratory system, the bloodstream, the head and the heart, the limbs and the nervous system. Prana shakti is the power that is behind the physical body, the motive power which causes the various activities in the human system. And we have many other interesting things in our own body. The sense organs are another set of peculiar functions, due to whose operations we are able to see things, hear sounds, touch, taste and smell, etc. We also have the mind, apart from the body and the senses, which thinks, deliberates, doubts, conceives, and so on. We have intellect which decides, discriminates, ratiocinates, which comes to a judgment and incites us to take a particular course of action. But there is something quite different from all these, which I shall mention shortly.

There is nothing unimportant in our individual system. The body, the pranas, the senses, the mind, the intellect – all these are equally important as parts of the machine or huge system of operation. In a tremendous complicated machinery, every part has its own role to play. No part can be subjected to a lower level than the other. Everything is important in its own context. One of the important principles in spiritual practice is to be able to judge things in their own context: whether it is inside your body, or outside you. Our misjudgements are due to wresting situations from their context. We make a bad judgment of a person by comparing that person with a situation which is not applicable to that person. Then we say it is good, bad, this, that, and so on.

Everything is beautiful in its own place, but when it is taken out of its place it looks ugly. It is an art to place things in their proper order. What is a beautiful painting? Even Ravi Varma’s painting is but a smudge of ink. There is nothing there but ink and paper. If some ink is located in the brush of Ravi Varma, and he places it in its proper context, you admire its beauty. Grand, majestic is this painting. Divine is this artist. If the very same ink falls on your beautiful linen or your new sari or cloth, you jeer at it because the ink is not placed in its proper context. It is not arranged with a method. When everything is arranged methodically and placed in its context, everything looks decent. When it is wrested out of its context and location, it looks indecent.

So, in our conduct of life we have to make our relationships with the world decent and artistic. Life is an art; it is also a science. It is an art because when it is visualised in its proper form, it satisfies you and rouses the spirit of satisfaction inside you like a beautiful piece of art or sculpture. That is the function of art. And in this sense, life is an art. It is beauty if it is envisaged properly. But if you look at it with squinting eyes, it is ugly. An enemy is always ugly, but your own child is very beautiful. Nothing could be more beautiful than your own child because your context is prejudiced. What you look at in a pre-conceived state of mind is not the object as such, but the emotions of the mind foisted upon the object. That is why you love your child and hate others, while physically speaking, intrinsically conceived, one person cannot be regarded as superior or inferior in any manner whatsoever.

Every action produces a reaction in a particular intensity and in a particular given structural pattern. So in this sense, life is an art and a science. A successful sadhaka is a scientist and an artist, a philosopher and a sage all combined.  A spiritual practitioner is a miracle, a wonder by itself. He is a rare piece of beauty in this world. Difficult it is to find a real sadhaka because a sadhaka is one who is able to set himself or herself in adjustment with the environment artistically and scientifically, in all the levels of personality right from the body onwards, up to the spirit.

Physically speaking, from the point of view of the body, we must be able to appreciate the laws of nature which operate upon it. Nature makes this body, and the laws of nature operate upon it. We cannot defy nature. We feel the cold, we feel the heat, we feel hunger, we feel thirst. The earth part of the body causes hunger, the water part of the body causes thirst, the fire part of the body makes us feel cold when the temperature outside is lower than the temperature of the body. The air part of the body makes us call for oxygen, and the ethereal principle in our body needs space to exist. The five elements – earth, water, fire, air and either – which form part of this body, require it to follow the very same laws which operate in earth, water, fire, air and ether outside in the world also. That means to say, we cannot defy nature, we cannot ignore the laws of nature, but are required to follow these laws implicitly. Hunger and thirst, heat and cold, and the need for fresh air are some of the insistent demands of nature upon this body. We can keep our body healthy if we can understand the laws of nature because health is an essential ingredient in living a successful and a happy life.

We must make a distinction here again between hunger and taste. Many times, we eat because of the taste and not because of hunger. We have tea in bed, we have tea afterwards, and we have breakfast, and we have something between breakfast and lunch, and then lunch, and again tea, and then something before supper, and supper, and after supper there is something before going to bed. Now, all these things are unnecessary complications that we create which will disturb the system, not feed or sustain it, but we begin to feel that it is all a necessity on account of the interference of the taste buds with the essential hunger of the body. While hunger is a call for the needs of the system, which is permissible and justifiable, the desire of the tongue is an irritation of nerves caused by habit. We can be habituated to many undesirable things in the world, all passing for necessities when they are pursued day in and day out.

The health of the body is very important, and it can be maintained provided we are in a position to understand what nature expects of us. It expects us to take in as much food as is necessary for the sustenance of the body, and to live a natural life as much as possible. We lead an unnatural life mostly, always in enclosed rooms. It is the opinion of health experts that you cannot be healthy if you are not in a position to live in the open air at least for two hours a day, but mostly this becomes a difficulty for us. We live in offices which are all rooms, and from our office we come to our house which is again a room, and from the house we go to the office, so that we are always inside a room. This is not permissible from the point of view of health. At least in 24 hours, two hours must be in open air. You can go for a walk, or whatever it may be, as the case permits. And eat only when you are hungry, not because a bell rings or the clock strikes. The hunger of the system is to be taken notice of. Hunger, sleep, and recreation in a moderate and systematised manner, fulfilled intelligently, will maintain health.

In the Bhagavadgita we have a succinct statement of this type of program. Yuktāhāravihārasya yuktaceṣṭasya karmasu, yuktasvapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā (Gita 6.17): As much sleep as is necessary should not be reduced, as much food as is necessary also should not be cut short, and so on. Everything should have a time of its own. You must be very strict in the utilisation of time by observing punctuality because you could turn out more work than otherwise. Everything in nature works according to time. You know how the solar system works, how the planets move around the sun. You can predict an eclipse one hundred years in advance, which shows the mathematical precision with which nature works. The sun rises and sets according to a precise mathematical formula, and why should we not follow that formula? In thought and speech and action, we have to be methodical. Consistent and methodical thinking is called logic, consistent and methodical speech is called literature, and consistent and methodical action is called karma yoga. This is divinity introducing itself into empirical life.

The senses and the pranas, as I mentioned, are also connected with the body, and when we take notice of one aspect of our life we should not neglect another aspect. Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam (Gita 2.50). The Bhagavadgita defines yoga as adroitness in action, dexterity, expertness in the conduct of affairs. This means to say, you will not forget any aspect of a situation which you are expected to consider and judge. It is like a judge in a court who sees the evidence, sifts the case, hears every argument, and yet passes his own judgment on it by an arrangement of values gathered from the arguments of the case. In a similar manner, we have to consider different aspects of our life, outward as well as inward. We cannot ignore the action of social laws upon us, as we also cannot ignore the action of internal principles upon our life. As we have to obey the laws of outer nature, we have also to obey the laws of the inner nature.

I was mentioning the pranas and the senses. They are interrelated. The process of breathing, the method by which we take in air and expel air, has much to do with the health of the body and also the function of the mind. The senses and the pranas operate midway between the mind and the nervous and physical systems. They are the guardian angels of the stability of the bodily personality. In order to maintain a balance of the function of the pranas and the senses, we have to learn to breathe in a composed manner. I do not say that you should do pranayama in a yogic sense. Try to breathe in a consistent and a sober manner. Do not gasp.

The disturbance of the breathing system is partly due to disturbed emotions and inconsistent thinking. Our thoughts are not always systematised or logically arranged. There is chaotic thinking mostly, a confused way of projecting ideas. It is on account of this fact that the prana also gets disturbed. The pranas are nothing but the outward tentacles with which the mind works upon the body. A sattvic person breathes in one way, and a rajasic and tamasic person breathes in another way altogether. When we are calm, quiet, composed, sober and happy, the breathing is calm and quiet and systematised. When we are emotionally agitated or in a state of anger, the intensity of the prana, the velocity with which it moves, also changes. The prana can act upon the bloodstream directly in a positive or negative manner, in accordance with the thoughts of the mind. The blood circulates through the veins and arteries due to the operation of the prana. Otherwise, how can the bloodstream work at all?

See how things are interrelated in our system. The senses can agitate the prana by perception of objects which are undesirable or uncouth. A cinema, for example, can create various types of emotion in your mind. You may have disturbed sleep or you may be excited to a particular type of action on account of the sensory function of the eye in a cinematographic projection. Sounds that you hear, news that is conveyed, etc., can affect the thoughts in such a manner that these thoughts can tell upon the bloodstream, the breathing process, and even the digestive system. If you hear the news of the death of your dear relative, your hunger will stop. The nerves will be so much agitated that you will not sleep due to a mere sound, news that has been conveyed to your ears. The most important of all the functions of the system is the thought and the deciding faculty called the intellect. Many of us do not even know that we have intellects, minds, etc. We work like automatons, as if we are driven like asses by forces over which we seem to have no control.

It is necessary that we understand these principles working within us and outside us so that we may not be wholly subservient to them, but gain a kind of control over them. Otherwise, what is freedom and independence? How can you be happy when you are bound by laws which you cannot understand and which you cannot operate or regulate?

The action of the intellect, the mind, the senses, the pranas and the physiological organism is all controlled by another superior principal, the spirit, about which I mentioned to you a few minutes before. There is something in our nature called the spirit, which is not the intellect, not the mind, not any other functional pattern which can be explained in terms of bodily or social relations. The spirit is inconceivable because it is the precondition of the action of the intellect and the mind. It is the presupposition of even the basic thought that we can generate in ourselves. It is behind us, and therefore, it cannot be thought by the mind.

While the psychological and the physiological functions vary from person to person, from one thing to another thing, the spirit does not change. There is only one uniformity running like a thread through all nature, and that is the spirit. This principle of the spirit is called by various names in various languages. Minds are different, intellects are different, pranas work in different ways, and everything is different in this world; but only one thing is not different, it is uniform. That is the backdrop upon which the whole of cosmic nature rests, and that is the guiding, controlling and restraining principle throughout nature, including our own bodily individuality. This is difficult for the ordinary mind to conceive. Many people even doubt its existence, but that would be like doubting the action of one’s own tongue while one is speaking. “Have I a tongue or not?” If a person puts a question like this, we will be laughing at him: “How are you able to put this question at all when your tongue is not working?” The very existence of ours and the principle of uniformity and coherence that we see operating in nature is attributed to this fundamental spirit, and the purpose of sadhana is nothing but to manifest this uniformity of spirit in the practical activity of our daily life. People call this God, the Absolute, Parameshwara, or the Creator of the world. Religious theology conceives this Universal Spirit as the Creator, the Sustainer, the Destroyer – Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. We call it the Ultimate Reality because superior to it nothing is imaginable, and beyond it there is nothing.

The sustained and graduated progressive manifestation of this uniform current of the spirit in our practical life is the practice of sadhana. The methodology that we adopt in the manifestation of this uniformity of spirit and our practical day-to-day life is the technique of sadhana. The japas that we do, the mantras that we chant, the books that we read, the lectures that we hear, the meditations that we practise, the prayers that we offer, the songs that we sing, all these are various attempts on our part to manifest this uniform current of the spirit in our outer life.

Sadhanas, therefore, are not many. There are only various aspects of sadhana. The sides of sadhana are manifold, but sadhana is single, religion is one, mankind is united into a single fabric, inasmuch as the goal of mankind is one. The various yogas – pranayama, asana, bhunda, mudra, kriya, kirtana, bhajana, mantra, havana, etc. – are the different ways by which we draw the Spirit outwardly into action and conduct. When spirit manifests itself in outer conduct, we see uniformity outside, amenability of nature, love and affection, coordination and cooperation, social solidarity and a sense of relief, happiness, freedom, all which we cannot easily explain in language. These are the symptoms of the manifestations of the Spirit in outer life. Now the Spirit is buried deep within, as it were, like a treasure which is covered over with mud, stone and dirt. It has to be dug deep from within the recesses of our own heart and brought out into manifestation. The beauty of literature, the beauty of art, the beauty of science, the beauty of administration, the beauty of political solidarity, international relationship, the beauty of the simple joy that we feel within ourselves occasionally – all these are manifestations of this Spirit, God revealing himself in an unknown manner. This is in one sense the Avatara of God, the incarnation of the Spirit, we may say. When the Spirit incarnates itself as an Avatara in this world, it comes as peace, comfort, security, solidarity, system, beauty, method, concord, cooperation, coordination. All these are various names that we give to the manifestation of the law of the Spirit in nature. When the Spirit is divested of nature we have chaos, confusion, insecurity, unhappiness, quarrels, and so on.

Thus, in our practice of spiritual sadhana we try to become more and more normal in our day-to-day life. It is for this purpose that we take to various methods. These methods are not the prerogatives of any particular school or cult, but they are the universally applicable techniques or methods of manifesting this uniform current of the deepest Spirit in us which will make us healthy, wealthy and wise, as the old adage goes.

This is a short outline that I place before you of the foundational principles of the practice of spiritual sadhana, an understanding of which will give you great satisfaction, make you feel normal in every way, and also make you a fit instrument to be of great assistance to the public and to society in the march of the soul of mankind to its great destination, wherein it is said that evolution ceases. A philosopher called it “the Self-realisation of the universe”. The universe becomes Self-conscious; it awakens itself into its own primeval nature. This state of the Self-awareness of the universe in its all-comprehensive completeness is also called God-consciousness, Isvara-bhava, towards which end humanity moves, evolution is directed, and all our sadhanas, spiritual practices are dedicated.