Sadhana is the spiritual path or spiritual practices one undertakes to discover the God Consciousness within. Even though God Consciousnessness and Individual Consciousness are one, yet there is an apparent separation between them due to the Power of Maya. The difference between them is illustrated in the figure below:
God Consciousness vs Individual Consciousness
- Full of Bliss
- Absolute and Whole
- Source of All Power
- Source of Love
- Bound by Selfishness
- Bound by Ego and Vanity
- Bound by Egoistic Desires
- Bound by Fears
- Bound by Sorrows
- Bound by Attachment to Body and Mind
- Bound by Attachment to Names and Forms
- Bound by Karma
The spiritual path varies from person to person depending on their mental make up. Also, sadhana is often undertaken under the guidance of a Guru or Spiritual teacher. Given below are some general practices as shown by the saints and sages.
The first step in sadhana is an orientation of life to make God or the deeper self as primary and worldly life as secondary. Primary and secondary are not related to the amount of time spent, but on the interest or passion of the person. For example, a person may spend 40 hours a week on his job but only 5 hours playing cricket during the weekend. Those 5 hours of cricket is his primary interest and even during his job hours he thinks about cricket. Thus primary interest is where the heart is. Sadhana starts when the heart is on God or the deeper self, and the aspirant tries to find more about it. The next step is to gain the basic understanding of the goal of spiritual life.
2. Basic Understanding:
To advance in spiritual life in the correct direction, some basic understanding of the nature of the goal is required. The goal of sadhana is for our smaller individual consciousness to get the grace of the bigger (infinite) consciousness of God. We feel that we are smaller consciousness due to our ego and its tendencies towards ego-based desires. But our smaller individual consciousness is actually floating (or part of) the bigger (infinite) consciousness of God. Structurally there is no disconnect between the two. Right now our individual consciousness like a wave is floating over the ocean of the bigger consciousness of God. But the individual consciousness does not become aware of the God consciousness until it gives up its worldly attachments (which does not mean daily works) and God reveals His bigger consciousness out of grace. Since this understanding is the premise of spiritual life, the next step is to feel this understanding.
3. Feeling the yearning:
Sitting in a solitary place we need to feel the deeper urge of the heart. We can feel a faint bliss within the deeper part of the heart (deeper self). The bliss is as if there but hidden behind some boundary. We cannot locate any concrete boundary, but as if there is a virtual boundary behind which there is a deeper self full of bliss. Within the boundary is our smaller individual consciousness often filled with fears, sorrows and agitations. Once this yearning in the deeper self is felt, the next step is to introspect on the yearning.
4. Introspection on the yearning:
We have felt a yearning deep inside our heart which is blissful. How to access it? Is it within the control of the smaller individual consciousness? No, it is not. Can the individual consciousness do any activity as a result of which the deeper self will get opened? It does not seem so. The result of any activity will act upon the smaller consciousness as impressions of mind (unless performed as worship). It may even cover up the faint yearning. Introspecting in this way will reveal to us that the bigger consciousness of God is not within our control. We cannot command it. It cannot be reached as a result of any activity. Once this truth is clearly perceived, the next step is to revisit the commitment of spiritual life.
5. Revisiting the commitment:
We have seen that though we faintly feel the yearning for the bigger God consciousness within, the bigger consciousness is not directly accessible to us. There is no activity that we can do to access it. In other words in spiritual life there is no well-defined effort-and-result combination. Things are not in our hands, but it is God Who controls us. God can only reveal His nature to us if He wishes and finds us suitable and ready for it. Realising this will make us humble and set our expectations right. From the worldly point of view, there is no need to seek the bigger God consciousness. Life can go on without that. Hence spiritual life starts only when there is dispassion for the world or sufficiently strong yearning for the deeper self. The aspirant then decides to commit to the unknown territory of spiritual life, whatever may be the outcome and at whatever pace. This commitment is for the love of God rather than fulfilling the egoistic sense of achievement. Once this commitment is made the aspirant enters the next phase of spiritual life where he tries to build a relationship with God. He also reads about the lives and teachings of saints to find out about the spiritual practices to undertake. No activity can directly lead us to the deeper self. Spiritual practices are like devotional attitudes towards God which awakens the grace within if God wills so.
6. Yearning for God, the essence of Sadhana:
Yearning for God is the essence of sadhana. This is because if there is no yearning for God, there is likely some desire behind the sadhana. Then the result of the sadhana will go towards fulfilment of the desire and not awakening of God Consciousness.
Sri Ramakrishna said that we want everything but God. The Master said:
Men weep jugfuls of tears for children, wife, money, etc.; but who weeps for God? So long as a child is engrossed in play with its toys, the mother engages herself in cooking and other household works. But when the little one finds no satisfaction in toys, throws them aside and loudly cries for its mother, she can no longer remain in the kitchen. She perhaps drops down the rice pot from the hearth, and runs in hot haste to the child and takes it up in her arms.
Yearning for God is the master-key for success in sadhana. Through the life of Sri Ramakrishna God has demonstrated the essence of sadhana.
- Describing the days he passed in intense yearning for God, the Master said: "As I was perfectly unmindful of cleaning the body at that time, the hairs grew long and got matted of themselves, being smeared with dirt and dust. When I used to sit in meditation, the body used to become stiff and motionless like a stock through intense concentration of mind, and birds, taking it to be an inert substance, came freely, perched on the head, and pecked into the matted hair in search of food. Sometimes I used to feel so intensely the pangs of separation from God, that in great bitterness I rubbed my face on the earth; often it used to get lacerated and bleed. And in meditation, prayer and other devotional practices, the days used to fly away so quickly that I was not conscious of it. At dusk, when the approach of night was announced by the ringing of bells and the blowing of conches from the temple, I used to be reminded that the day had passed and the night had set in. With this consciousness a frenzy of despair would seize my soul, and I would throw myself on the ground and rub my face to it, crying loudly, "Mother, a day has passed; still Thou hast not appeared before me!" A gnawing anguish used to torment my soul, and those who saw me like that, writhing in agony, thought that I was suffering from colic pain".
- I used to pray to the Divine Mother in this way: "O Mother Who art the embodiment of bliss, Thou must reveal Thyself to me." And sometimes I would pray: "O Lord of the meek! O Lord of the humble! Am I outside Thy universe? I have neither knowledge, nor devotion, nor merit of austerities. I know nothing. O Lord, in Thy infinite mercy Thou must vouchsafe Thy vision to me."
- "O Mother Divine! I want no honour from men, I want no pleasures of the flesh, only let my soul flow into Thee as the permanent confluence of the Ganges and the Jamuna. Mother, I am without Bhakti, without Yoga, I am poor and friendless, and I want no one's praise; only let my mind dwell always at Thy lotus feet."
- "O Mother, I am the Yantra (the instrument), Thou art the Yantri (the mover); I am the room, Thou art the tenant; I am the sheath, Thou art the sword; I am the chariot, Thou art the charioteer. I do as Thou makest me do; I speak as Thou makest me speak; I behave as Thou within me behavest; not "I", not "I", but "Thou".
- We heard from the Master that after the regular service was completed he would continue his worship of Her by singing devotional songs of Ramprasad and other mystics. His heart filled with emotion as he sang those songs with exuberant devotion. He thought: "Ramprasad and other devotees had the vision of the Divine Mother. One can definitely see Her. Why can't I?" He would often proclaim piteously: "Mother, You showed yourself to Ramprasad. Why don't you show yourself to me? I don't want wealth, friends and family, or objects of enjoyment. Please reveal yourself to me."
- As the days went by, the Master's love and longing continued to increase. Because of his uninterrupted current of thought towards the Divine Mother, some external signs manifested in his body. His appetite and need for sleep diminished. As blood flowed continually to his chest and head, his chest turned crimson and his eyes were often drenched with tears. He constantly and intensely desired to see the Divine Mother, and repeatedly asked himself, "What shall I do? How can I see Her?".
- We heard from the Master that one day at that time he was singing to the Divine Mother and praying and crying bitterly. He implored piteously, "Mother, I have been praying to You so long! Why don't you listen to me? You showed yourself to Ramprasad. Why don't you show yourself to me?"
The Master described what happened then" "There was an unbearable pain in my heart because I could not have a vision of Mother. Just as a man wrings out a towel with all his strength to get the water out of it, so I felt my heart was being wrung out. I began to think I shall never see Mother. I was dying of despair. In my agony I asked myself" "What's the use of living this life?"...
- Although his longing did not always manifest itself externally through signs such as weeping, it remained in his heart all the time. Sometimes it would increase to such a point that he would not contain it anymore. Restlessly rolling on the ground with agony, he would pray: "Mother, be gracious unto me. Reveal yourself to me." He would cry so bitterly that people would gather around him to watch. He was completely unconcerned about what people might say when they saw him in that condition. He later said: "I scarcely realized the presence of people around me. They looked more like shadows or painted pictures than real objects, and so I did not feel any shame or embarrasment at all. Sometimes I would lose outer consciousness from that unbearable agony.
Reading these passages again and again heartfully (substituting the Divine Mother for one's Guru, chosen Deity or formless Self) awakens the deeper yearning within us. We also become aware of the blocks which prevents our entry into the deeper core of our being. It is these blocks which prevent progress in sadhana. God cannot be reached by any technique. The success of any path depends on the yearning that the path embodies. The yearning may not come at once, but it must be gradually awakened by prolonged sadhana.
If the yearning is there it is a blessing. If not, still it is a blessing because we now know the reason why we cannot feel the touch of God Consciousness. The unknown factor in sadhana is reduced and knowing the reason we can now take the right direction in sadhana.
Steps in Sadhana:
- Print the above passage and read it everyday.
- This will keep a thread of yearning for God always alive in the heart.
- This will also gradually bring the grace of God in our lives.
7. Self Enquiry:
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi had a death experience during his youth which resulted in his realisation of the God Consciousness. The death experience involved a keen enquiry within the deeper self.
It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good that a great change in my life took place. It was quite sudden. I was sitting in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden, violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it; and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt, "I am going to die," and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or my elders or friends. I felt that I had to solve the problem myself, then and there.
The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: "Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies."
And I at once dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word "I" or any other word could be uttered, "Well then," I said to myself, "this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body "I"? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the "I" within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. This means I am the deathless Spirit."
All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought-process. "I" was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centred on that "I". From that moment onwards the "I" or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on. Other thoughts might come and go like the various notes of music, but the "I" continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes. Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading, or anything else, I was still centred on "I". Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of my Self and was not consciously attracted to it. I felt no perceptible or direct interest in it, much less any inclination to dwell permanently in it.
Bhagavan gave a path known as Self-Enquiry which is described by Bhagavan as follows:
#. How is one to enquire: "Who am I"?
Actions such as "going" and "coming" belong only to the body. And so, when one says, "I" went, "I" came, it amounts to saying that the body is "I". But can the body be said to be the consciousness "I". It cannot be, since it was not there before it was born, is made up of the five elements, is non-existent in the state of deep sleep, and becomes a corpse when dead? Can this body which is inert like a log of wood be said to shine as "I-I"?
Therefore the "I-consciousness" which at first rises in respect of the body is referred to variously as egoity, nescience, impurity, and individual soul. Can we remain without enquiring into this? Is it not for our redemption through enquiry that all the scriptures declare that the destruction of ego is release?
Therefore, making the corpse body remain as a corpse, and not even uttering the word "I", one should enquire keenly thus: "Now, what is it that rises as "I"?
Then there would shine in the Heart a kind of wordless illumination of the form "I-I". It is there and would shine of its own accord, as the pure consciousness which is unlimited and one, the limited and the many thoughts having disappeared.
If one remains quiescent without abandoning that experience, the individual sense of the form "I am the body" will be totally destroyed, and at the end the final thought, the "I-form" also will be quenched like the fire that burns camphor. The great sages and scriptures declare that this alone is release.
Our "I" consciousness is like a wave on the ocean. Right now our small "I" consciousness is actually floating over the ocean of God Consciousness. But we can only very faintly feel the ocean since we are not yet ready for the spiritual experience and it is not the Will of God to reveal the bigger consciousness at this point. Our mind tries to go outwards due to one reason or the other. Self-Enquiry is directing the mind inwards and trying to find out on which big consciousness is the small "I" floating OR from which big consciousness has the small "I" risen from. The awareness of the wave must sink inwards towards the ocean.
Self-Enquiry can be done with Yearning in the heart. Without Yearning the mind will not go inwards and will only run after worldly desires.
Steps in Sadhana:
- Going to a solitary place conducive to spiritual practice and slowly chant "Om" in a long form ... O..O..O..O..O..M.
- Inwardly try to feel the more expansive consciousness from where the "Om" is rising.
- Meditate on the Ishtha Devata inside the heart along with this practice if that gives more comfort. Feel that the Om is coming from the Ishtha Devata.
- After the mind has become sufficiently calm, do Self-Enquiry as described by Bhagavan in the above passage.
8. Slowing down the Mind:
Our mind is often agitated with fast flowing thoughts. But there is an underlying stillness behind our mind. The constant stream of fast thoughts have become so finely grained and natural that we never come in contact with the deeper self which is comparatively still. For this the mind (thoughts) need to be slowed down.
Steps in Sadhana:
- Read the Nirvana Shatakam - line by line bringing the mind down to the same slow pace as the sentences appear.
- Continue reading till the end.
- If reading from the screen is difficult, print and read from the pages in the same slow pace as it appears on the screen.
- Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
- Spiritual Realization and Nature
- Meditations from Chandogya Upanishad
To be continued ...