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The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Introduction: The Pursuit of Total Being

This period of seven days has been designated as Sadhana Week, to be devoted especially to a continuous consideration of the processes of spiritual practice, with special emphasis on what we are actually to do, apart from a theoretical understanding of the sadhana marga. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in its eating. A pudding that we have not eaten is not going to benefit us. The meaning of the practice is to be clear before our mind before we say anything, or even think about it in a serious manner.

We perhaps may be under the impression that a practice is the process of doing something. Every one of us is doing something every day. We are busy with activities of various kinds, and this is a kind of practical living indeed. But spiritual practice has a different connotation altogether. The difference between these two aspects of practice – between ordinary doing in the humdrum workaday world and doing in the light of sadhana for spiritual attainment – is to be borne in mind.

Spiritual practice is actually the doing that emanates from our being, whereas ordinary activity in the world need not necessarily emanate in the same manner from our person. Works in which we are engaged in this world are mostly something like a shirt or a coat that we put on, something that is mechanically foisted upon us, externally related to us, but not necessarily organically related with us.

This difference between organic relation or involvement and mechanical connections will be clear before our eyes. Spiritual practice is a doing that is vitally connected with our very existence itself – our being. We should develop jnana chaksu, or the eye of wisdom, the eye of knowledge, and know the difference between the eye of knowledge and the eye of perception.

Many of us seem to have a kind of knowledge. Anyone who has been educated may feel that there is knowledge associated with that educational process. But this knowledge is not wisdom; it is something that is characteristic of our perceptional processes, rather than what we are in our own selves. Sadhana is connected with what we are. Emphasise these words ‘what we are' and not what we appear to be in terms of the sense organs, which perceive the world or engage themselves in any kind of external activity.

Many sadhakas, seekers of Truth, complain that after twenty or twenty-five years of practising intense meditation, tangible results do not seem to be before their mental eye. We seem to be the same people even after years of japa, dhyana, svadhyaya, satsanga, guruseva, and the like. The difficulty here is an incapacity on our part to distinguish between ordinary doing and the specialised form of engagement which is known as spiritual sadhana. Anything in which we are not vitally involved is not going to benefit us practically. If we engage ourselves in any work with a reluctant, haphazard, complaining attitude, with a feeling of fatigue, we are not involved in it.

We are tired of work many a time. We get exhausted. This exhaustion, this fatigue, this feeling of tiredness in doing anything arises because of the fact that we are not wholly involved in the work. We can never be tired of ourselves. We must bear this in mind. We may be tired of somebody else, and we may be exhausted in doing work for the sake of something, somebody, externally, outwardly, but we will never be tired of anything that is really connected with ourselves. We can walk to Haridwar and back in the hot sun without feeling any exhaustion or fatigue if it is important for us, but we cannot even walk to Rishikesh if it is a work done for somebody else. It is ‘me' that is involved here. To the extent that we are involved in a thing, to that extent success is certain.

The great adventure of spiritual sadhana is an adventure of the spirit in man. We have to bestow sufficient thought on this intricate issue before us. Let alone that great adventurous engagement called spiritual practice, even in our ordinary workaday life in the profession in which we are engaged, in the work that we do in our factory or even in our kitchen, to the extent that we are vitally involved in it, we will be actually performing a divine worship through that work. But if it is a job – a vocation for the purpose of earning our daily bread and limited only to a particular duration of hours, after which we will not be interested in it – then it is not connected with ourselves.

The most important thing in this world is yourself. To what extent you will be able to understand the meaning of this statement is left for each one of you. Do you believe that finally the quintessence of the whole of this life is yourself only? If everything goes, you will remain; and the endeavour of the human being is, finally, to maintain oneself and ask for the blessing of survival: If land, property and relations go, let me be alive. When you have a large treasure in your hand and are crossing a flooded river, will you save yourself and maintain your prana, or will you see that the gold that is in your hand is protected? The most valuable thing is yourself, and if this most valuable thing is not involved in the work that you do, everything that you do becomes valueless to that extent.

Whenever we are engaged in any practice or work, we should be wholly involved. Now I am adding another word, ‘wholly'. In the beginning I said we should be involved, which is very important indeed, and now I am saying that we should be entirely involved. Very rarely are we entirely involved in anything in our daily life. We are fractionally involved in our workday. It is only to the extent that we feel a need for involvement in any particular work that a part of our personality contributes its might for the execution of that work. There is intellectual activity, where the intellect alone operates and the feelings may sleep at that time, and there are other things in this world where the feeling is predominant and the intellect may not be operating. Sometimes we work mechanically with our hands and feet, without the brain or the feelings. These are fragmentary operations of our personality. Rarely are we wholly involved in anything. We, as a total, never come up to the surface of any operation.

Great masters have told us through their direct experience that on certain occasions we are wholly operative. For instance, in deep dreamless sleep, the entire being acts. That is why we are so happy in the state of deep sleep, which cannot be compared with even the emperorship of the world because the joy of a king is connected with possessions which are extraneous to his real being, and therefore the joy is also extraneous. It is something that is foisted upon him; it is not something that is emanating from his being. In deep dreamless sleep, the whole being operates – the total personality. When we are drowning in water and we feel that there is no hope, that the last minute has come, the struggle in which we will be engaged at that time will be the struggle of our total personality. We would like to catch a straw that is floating on the water, though we know very well that a straw is not going to protect us. Many of you may not have the experience of drowning, so this is only theoretical. If you have actually gone into the Ganges and felt that your life is going, that everything is over, you will know what this feeling is.

Imagine that you have gained the whole world, and have no opponent before you. It is said that in this condition of feeling and satisfaction, the whole being operates. And the other condition in which your entire being may operate is when you have lost everything. If your last penny has gone, nobody wants to look at your face, the very ground under your feet is shaking and you do not know how many minutes more you are going to live in this world, what you feel at that time is the total action taking place in your personality.

In deep meditation also, this totality of person is to engage itself. You may sit in the meditation hall, counting the beads and thinking the words of the mantra. You may be honest and sincere in this, yet your whole being may not be there because many other extraneous thoughts also will be there, pouring around you: “For how many minutes more do I have to sit for meditation? What is next on the agenda? What do I have to do tomorrow?” These ideas and anything else, even that which is connected with your family from which you are away for the time being, will slowly intrude into your mind and distract your attention.

Are you pursuing God? You know if it is so. Every one of you will say, “In my sadhana, my endeavour is to attain God. My pursuit is God.” Do you know what ‘God' means? Here again, a fractional concept will not do. You have been told by mahatmas, saints and sages, and scriptures that God is Total Being. The whole of existence is God; there is nothing outside. Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat (Gita 7.7): There is nothing external or higher than God. If the Total Being, external to which there can be nothing, is the object of your pursuit, what would you think is your relationship with that Being during the period of your sadhana? Think for a few minutes: “What should be my attitude? What would be my attitude, what would be my feeling at that time, if I am in a position to entertain in my mind this concept of Total Being, which is God?” If you really feel it, your whole personality will shudder at that time, not due to fear but because of an immense, incalculable, uncontrollable happiness that you feel inside. You may shudder either due to extreme joy or extreme fear. An unimaginable, incomprehensible feeling of Total Being that you are will rise to the surface of conscious experience when you honestly contemplate this possibility of there being such a thing called Total Being. “I am pursuing that.”

If your pursuit is of Total Being, the means that you adopt for the attainment of that Being also should have the characteristic of Totality, and it should not be fragmented. You are not giving a penny of practice to God for the sake of attaining that total comprehensiveness. You know very well that God knows you much more than you know yourself or anybody else. Nobody can deceive Him.

The means and the end should be commensurate with each other. There should be an establishment of harmony between the means and the end. If the end is a total comprehensiveness of God-being, the means cannot be a fraction, a fragment, a part, a finitude. An element of infinitude should also be there in the practice for the sake of the attainment of the Infinite, which is sadhana. You may be wondering, “How would I succeed in introducing an element of infinitude into my practical sadhana, which seems to be something that I am doing as a finite being?”

The concept of the Infinite itself is adequate for you. In this connection, you may bring to your mind the suggestion of Patanjali Maharishi in one of his sutras, where he suggests a method for establishing oneself with steady sadhana. Prayanta śaithilya ananta samāpattibhyām (Yoga Sutras 2.47): You are fixed in steady posture or asana by relaxation of effort and contemplation on the Infinite. This is a suggestion of Patanjali Maharishi. Distraction – inability to sit for a long time – arises on account of the consciousness of something outside you. Now the suggestion of the great sage Patanjali is to let there not be a concept of what is outside. Even the concept of the Infinite is adequate to bring about a steadfastness in yourself. A conceptual Infinite is a preparation for the actual experience of the Infinite. Svalpam apy asya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt (Gita 2.20): Even a single step that you take in the direction of this achievement will be a great asset to you. Even if you feel in your heart, “I want only God, the Total Being,” your sins are destroyed at that moment. Jñānāgniḥ sarvakarmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute tathā (Gita 4.37): Mountains of straw can be set ablaze and reduced to ashes by a spark of fire emanating from a matchstick; such is the power of knowledge.

So, may I repeat to you once again, whatever be the sadhana in which you are going to be engaged, let it be the doing of your whole being. We have a great difficulty in manifesting our whole being in anything. Even when we speak, we speak reluctantly, half-heartedly, shallowly, and our being does not come to the surface. If you speak – underline the word ‘you' – you do not need any vocabulary. Language and poetry will come automatically even from an illiterate person, in the ordinary sense of the term, provided his being speaks. Great poets, dramatists and literati in this world were, from the modern educational point of view, illiterate. Whether it is a fisherman or a carpenter, a Kalidasa or a Shakespeare, they are great masters whose poetry we cannot comprehend. There is an element of perfection in every one of us, and it is that element that is to be brought forward in our daily life.

You must remember that sadhana is a benefit to you in your ordinary workaday existence. Even in your factory, office, clinical job, management work, cooking or driving, you will be a perfect master. Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say, “My disciple is the best in everything. He can digest any food. If he starts sweeping, he will sweep the floor more cleanly than a sweeper does. If my disciple washes a vessel, it will be more clean than anybody else does. When he speaks, he will speak better than anybody else, and when he serves, he will serve more satisfactorily and with greater humility than anybody else. My disciple is best everywhere.” These are Gurudev's words.

You are the best, because the element of perfection is in you. The drawing of the inner perfection in you is the requirement in spiritual sadhana. If the element of perfection in you cannot be drawn out and you remain the same ordinary person that you were, your achievement also will be fractional.

What is your problem? I cannot concentrate my mind for a long time. I cannot sit for a continuous period of meditation. Everything is difficult, because the difficulty is myself only. I am the difficulty. The great difficulty is myself. I do not really want what I am supposed to be wanting externally, ritualistically, or in the way of routine practice. Even when we want a thing, we do not want it wholly. This is the malady with us. Even if we want something in this world, we do not want it wholly; we want it only fractionally. This is because when we want a thing, we should not want anything else.

Have you understood this point, this psychology? When you have love for a thing, require a thing, need a thing or want a thing, you segregate something else from that wanting, and there is conflict inwardly established psychologically, psychoanalytically, between what you want and what you isolated as something irrelevant, and then the whole being is incapable of acting. It is said by the great master, “Ask, and it shall be given.” But who will ask? You say you have asked many times, but you as a whole being have not asked. Actually, there is nothing in this world which we cannot achieve and attain if our whole being asks for it. The universe is generous enough to grant in abundance that which we seek, provided we seek and our asking is honest, sincere and emanates from our total being.

These are a few ideas that came to my mind as a kind of introductory remark, which is very important before I endeavour to tell you something which is going to be a practical guideline for you during these coming days: what type of sadhana you can resort to according to the knowledge and capacity with which you are endowed at this present moment; how you can choose a particular path, and how careful you have to be in this choice; what your relationship with your master, Guru or mentor should be, and what mistakes you should not commit in your relationship with your master or Guru; what error you should avoid in your choice of the method of practice; what obstacles you are likely to face in your sadhana, and what benefits will accrue to you if you are one hundred percent honest. To thine own Self be true. With these few words, I close today.