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Yoga Sadhana

by Swami Sivananda

Sadhana means any spiritual practice that aids the aspirant to realise God. It is a means to attain the goal of life. Without Sadhana no one can achieve the goal. Sadhana differs according to taste, temperament and capacity.

You can realise the goal of life by four different paths. Just as one and the same coat will not suit Mr. John, Mr. Smith, Mr. Dick and Mr. Williams, so also one path will not suit all people. These four paths lead to the same goal, viz., the attainment of the Ultimate Reality. Roads are different but the destination is the same. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "Howsoever men approach Me, even so do I reward them, for, the path men take from every side, is Mine, O Partha." The four paths are: the path of work (Karma-Yoga), the path of devotion or love (Bhakti-Yoga), the path of psychic control (Raja-Yoga) and the path of self-analysis and knowledge (Jnana-Yoga).

These divisions are not hard and fast. There is no line of demarcation between one another. One path does not exclude the other. For instance Karma-Yoga is suitable for a man of active temperament; Bhakti-Yoga for a man of emotional temperament; Raja-Yoga for a man of mystic temperament; and the path of Jnana-Yoga or Vedanta for a man of will or reason. Each path blends into the other. Ultimately they all converge and become one. Thus it is hard to say where Raja-Yoga ends and Jnana-Yoga begins. All aspirants of different paths meet on a common platform in the long run.

Religion must educate and develop the whole man-his head, heart and hand. Then only there will be perfection. One-sided development is not commendable. The four paths, far from being antagonistic to one another, indicate that the different methods of the Yoga System are in absolute harmony with each other. Karma-Yoga leads to Bhakti-Yoga which in its turn leads to Raja-Yoga. Raja-Yoga brings Jnana. Supreme devotion is Jnana only. Bhakti, it should be borne in mind, is not divorced from Jnana. On the contrary, Jnana intensifies Bhakti. Karma-Yoga removes the tossing of mind, Raja-Yoga steadies the mind and Jnana-Yoga removes the veil of ignorance and brings in the Knowledge of Self. Every Yoga is a fulfilment of the preceding one. Thus Bhakti is the fulfilment of Karma, Yoga of Bhakti, and Jnana of all the preceding three.

The practice of Karma-Yoga prepares the aspirant for the reception of knowledge of Self. It moulds him into a proper Adhikari (aspirant) for the study of Vedanta. Ignorant people jump at once to Jnana-Yoga without having any preliminary training in Karma-Yoga. That is the reason why they fail miserably to realise Truth. The impurities still lurk in their minds. The mind is filled with likes and dislikes. They only talk of Brahman or God. They indulge in all sorts of useless discussions vain debates and dry, endless controversies. Their philosophy is on their lips only. In other words, they are lip-Vedantins. What is really wanted is practical Vedanta through ceaseless selfless service.

Those who follow the path of Karma-Yoga should do work for work's sake, without any motive. Two things are indispensable requisite in the practice of Karma-Yoga. A Karma-Yogi should have extreme non-attachment for the fruits of his works and secondly he should dedicate all his actions at the Altar of God with the feeling of Isvararpana (self-surrender). Non-attachment brings freedom and immortality. Attachment is death. Non-attachment is eternal life. Non-attachment makes a man absolutely fearless. When you thus consecrate all your actions to the Lord, you will naturally develop devotion towards Him, and the greater the devotion the nearer you are to the Lord. You will slowly begin to feel that God directly works through your body and senses. You will feel no strain in the discharge of your works now. The heavy load you felt previously on account of your false egoism, has now vanished out of sight, never to return.

The doctrine of Karma-Yoga (for detailed particulars vide my book Practice of Karma-Yoga.) forms an integral part of Vedanta. It expounds the riddle of life and the riddle of the universe. It brings solace, satisfaction and happiness to one and all. It is a self-evident truth. Fortunately even the Westerners have begun to acknowledge its importance and veracity. They have no other go. Every sensible man or woman will have to accept it. "As you sow, so you reap" holds good not only on the physical plane but in the moral world as well. Every thought and every deed of yours generate in you certain tendencies which will affect your life and hereafter. If you do good actions in a selfless spirit, you will naturally soar high to regions of bliss and peace. Karma-Yoga is the lowest rung in the Spiritual Ladder; but it lifts us up to ineffable heights. It destroys pride, selfishness and egoism. It helps growth and evolution.

Every work is a mixture of good and evil. This world of ours is a relative plane. You must therefore strive to do such actions that can bring maximum of good and minimum of evil. If you know the secret of work, the technique of Karma-Yoga, you will be absolutely free from the taint of Karma. That secret is to work without attachment and egoism. The central teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga-Vasishtha is non-attachment to work. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "O Arjuna, work incessantly. Your duty is to work always. But do not expect fruits. The lot of that man who expects fruits is pitiable. He is the most miserable man in the world."

Generally people have various motives when they work. Some work in society for getting name and fame, some for money, some for getting power and position, and some others for getting enjoyments in heaven. Some build temples and churches with the idea that their sins will be washed off. Some perform sacrifices for getting children. Some sink wells and tanks so that their names will be remembered even after their death. Some lay out gardens and public parks with the idea that they will enjoy such lovely parks and gardens in heaven. Some do acts of charity with the idea that they will be born in the house of a Henry Ford or a Rockefeller in their next birth.

The greatest service that one can render to another is the imparting of Knowledge of Self. Spiritual help is the highest of all. The root cause for all suffering is ignorance (Avidya) only. Cut the knot of Avidya and drink the sweet Nirvanic Bliss. That sage who tries to remove the ignorance of men is the greatest benefactor in the world. If you remove the hunger of man, it is after all a temporary physical help. It is removal of physical want for three or four hours. Then again the hunger manifests. The man remains in the same miserable state. Thus it is safe to conclude that building of hospitals, poor-houses, dharmasalas or choultries for distribution of free food, clothes, etc. is not the highest kind of help, though they are absolutely necessary. I say this is not the highest kind of help, because I ask: How long can these last? Miseries have to be eradicated once and forever. The world will remain in the same miserable state even if you build millions of hospitals and feeding-places. There is something that can put an end to all these miseries, sufferings, worries and anxieties, and that something is Knowledge of Self.

Bhakti-Yoga (for detailed particulars vide my book Practice of Bhakti-Yoga.) is the path of devotion or the path of affection that is suitable for people of devotional temperament or in whom the love-element predominates. Ladies are fit for this path, for affection predominates in them. Generally there is an admixture of devotional and intellectual temperaments in all persons. Hence Bhakti-Yoga is suitable for the vast majority of persons. In Bhakti-Yoga the devotee makes absolute and unreserved self-surrender. He depends upon the Lord for everything. He is extremely humble and meek. He develops devotion to the Lord gradually to a very high degree by repeating the Name of the Lord, studying the Holy Scriptures and practicing the nine modes of devotion. Hearing the Name of the Lord, singing His praises, remembering His presence, serving His Lotus-Feet, worshipping Him, bowing before Him, attending on Him, loving Him as a Friend and surrendering of the self entirely to Him are the nine modes of devotion. The devotee will observe austerities, pray frequently to Him and offer mental worship to Him. He will serve his fellow-men realising that the Lord dwells in the hearts of all. This is the Sadhana for those who wish to tread the path of Yoga of devotion.

Sri Sankara, the great Advaita Jnani, was a great Bhakta of Lord Hari, Hara and Devi. Jnanadeva of Alandi, a great Yogi of late, was a Bhakta of Lord Krishna. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa worshipped Kali and got Jnana through Swami Totapuri, his Advaita Guru. Appayya Dikshitacharya, a famous Jnani of South India, author of "Siddhanta Lesha" and other monumental works on Vedanta, was a devotee of Lord Siva.

It behoves, therefore, that Bhakti can be combined with much advantage with Jnana. Bhakti is a means to an end. It gives purity of mind and removes mental oscillation (Vikshepa). Sakama Bhakti (devotion with expectation) brings Svarga for the devotee, while Nishkama Bhakti (devotion without expectation) brings purity of mind and Jnana.

A life without love of God is practical death. There is no power greater than love. You can win the hearts of others through love alone. You can conquer your enemies through love alone. You can tame wild animals through love alone. The glory of love is ineffable. Its splendour is indescribable. The power of love is unfathomable.

True religion does not consist in ritualistic observances, baths and pilgrimages but in loving all. Cosmic Love is all-embracing and all-inclusive. In the presence of pure love all distinctions and differences, all hatred, jealousy and egoism are dispelled just as darkness is dispelled by the penetrating rays of the morning sun. There is no religion higher than Love. There is no knowledge higher than Love. There is no treasure higher than Love, because Love is Truth, Love is God. This world came out of Love; it exists in Love and it will ultimately dissolve in Love. A heart without love is a desert without water. God is an ocean of Love. In every corner of His creation, you can see ample evidence of His unbounded Love for His children.

It is all so easy to talk of Universal Love, but when you come to the practical field, you manifestly show signs of failure. If Mr. John speaks ill of you and uses harsh words, you are thrown out of balance instantaneously. You get irritated, show your angry face and pay him in the same coin. You do not like to part with your possessions, when you see people in distress. A man who is struggling to develop Cosmic Love and realise Him through Love cannot keep anything for himself more than he actually needs for keeping his life going peacefully. He will willingly sacrifice even this little to serve a needy person and undergo starvation with much pleasure. He will rejoice that the Lord has given him a wonderful opportunity to serve Him. People generally talk of Universal Love but are very niggardly in action. They show lip-sympathy and lip-love in mere words. This is nothing short of hypocrisy.

Those who talk of Universal Love should endeavour to develop various good qualities. They should serve humanity untiringly day and night with disinterested, selfless spirit for many years. They must be prepared to bear calmly insults and injuries. Then only there is a prospect of developing Cosmic Love. Otherwise it is all vain, flowery talk and idle-gossiping only.

The saints, seers and prophets of the world have spoken of Love as the end and aim of life. Lord Krishna has preached Love through His flute. Lord Buddha was an ocean of Love. He gave up His body to appease the hunger of a tiger's cub. Raja Sibi gave flesh equal to the weight of a pigeon from his own breast to satisfy the appetite of a hawk. Lord Rama lived a life of Love and showed Love in every inch of His activity. Lord Jesus also preached and practiced Love in the fullest measure.

O dear children of Love! Draw inspiration from their teachings and tread the path of Love. Remember Him. Feel His indwelling presence everywhere. See Him in all faces, in all objects, in all movements, in all feelings, in all sentiments, in all actions. Meditate upon His form with single-minded devotion. Become a peerless devotee of the Lord in this very life, nay in this very second.

The student treading the path of Raja-Yoga (for detailed particulars vide my book Raja-Yoga.) has to ascend the Spiritual Ladder step by step, stage by stage. There are eight limbs in Raja-Yoga, viz., Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. By practicing Yama and Niyama at the outset the student gets ethical training and purification of mind. By developing friendship, mercy and complacency, he destroys hatred, jealousy and harshness of heart and thereby gets peace of mind. By practicing Asana he steadies his posture and gets complete control and mastery over his body. Then he practices Pranayama to remove the tossing of mind and destroy Rajas (passion) and Tamas (inertia). His body becomes light and elastic. By practicing Pratyahara (withdrawal of the Indriyas or senses from sensual objects) he gets strength and peace of mind. Now he is fit for concentration which comes of itself. He practices meditation and enters into Samadhi. By the combined practice of concentration, meditation and Samadhi (Yogic Samyama), he gets various Siddhis (powers). By concentration on the senses, egoism, mind, etc., he gets various other powers and experiences. He now sees without eyes, tastes without tongue, hears without ears, smells without a nose and feels without a skin. He can work miracles. He simply wills and everything comes into being.

Those who follow the path of Jnana-Yoga or Vedanta (for detailed particulars vide my book Vedanta in Daily Life.) should first acquire the four means of salvation, viz., Viveka, Vairagya, Shat-Sampatti and Mumukshutva. Viveka is discrimination between the Real and the unreal. Vairagya is indifference or dispassion for sensual objects herein and hereafter. Shat-Sampatti is the sixfold virtue, viz., Sama, (calmness of mind), Dama (restraint of the senses), Uparati (satiety), Titiksha (power of endurance), Sraddha (faith) and Samadhana (one-pointedness of mind). Mumukshutva is intense longing for liberation. Then they should approach a Brahma-Nishtha Guru (one who is established in Brahman or God), who has fully realised the Supreme Self and hear the Scriptures directly from his mouth. Then they should reflect and meditate on what they heard and attain Self-realisation. Now the Jnani exclaims in exuberant joy: "The Atman alone is, One without a second. Atman or the Self is the one Reality. I am Brahman (Aham Brahma Asmi). I am Siva (Sivoham). I am He (Sivoham)." He, the liberated soul, sees the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self.

There are also three other forms of Yoga in addition to the four mentioned above. These are: Hatha-Yoga, Mantra-Yoga and Laya-Yoga or Kundalini-Yoga. Hatha-Yoga relates to the physical body, Asanas, Bandhas, Mudras, Pranayama, vow of silence, steady-gazing, crystal-gazing, standing on one leg, etc. Hatha-Yoga is not separate from Raja-Yoga. It prepares the student to take up Raja-Yoga. Hatha-Yoga and Raja-Yoga are, therefore, the necessary counterparts of each other. No one can become a Yogi of a perfect order without a clear knowledge of the practice of the two Yogas. Raja-Yoga begins where properly practiced Hatha-Yoga ends. A Hatha-Yogi starts his Sadhana with his body and Prana (breath); a Raja-Yogi with his mind. A Hatha-Yogi gets different powers when the mighty Kundalini-Sakti reaches the Sahasrara Chakra (at the top of the head); a Raja-Yogi gets psychic powers by the combined practice of concentration, meditation and Samadhi at one and the same time. Mantra-Yoga relates to the recitation of certain Mantras (sacred words to which definite powers are ascribed), such as Om Namo Narayana, Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya and Om Namah Sivaya. Laya-Yoga is Kundalini-Yoga. Concentration on the sound emanating from the heart-lotus is Laya-Yoga. Laya is dissolution. The mind is dissolved in God just as a lump of ice is dissolved in a tumbler of soda-water.

A Jnana-Yogi can practice his Sadhana even while walking, eating and talking. He is not in need of any Asana or room. But a Raja-Yogi wants a room and an Asana for his practice. A Jnana-Yogi is always in Samadhi. He is not affected by Maya or illusion. There is no 'in Samadhi' and 'out of Samadhi' for a Jnani, whereas a Yogi is affected by Maya when he comes down from his Samadhi. A Raja-Yogi plugs his mind, as it were, through effort, just as you plug a bottle with a cork, and thus stops all mental activities. He tries to make the mind quite blank. He remains as a silent witness of all the activities of his mind and intellect. A Raja-Yogi commences his practice with his mind. A Jnana-Yogi starts his practices with his will and reason.

A Karma-Yogi does selfless service to kill his little self. A Bhakta or devotee of the Lord practices self-surrender to annihilate his egoism. A Jnani practices self-denial. The methods are different but all want to destroy this self-arrogating little "I" the root cause of bondage and suffering. Karma-Yoga prepares the mind for the reception of Light and Knowledge. It expands the heart ad infinitum. It breaks all barriers that stand in the way of unity and oneness. Bhakti and meditation are also mental Karmas. There can be no Jnana without Yoga. The fruit of Bhakti is Jnana. Have you now understood the nature of the four Yogas and their interrelations?

There is a verse in Sanskrit the gist of which runs as follows: "The Sastras are endless; there is much to be known; time is short; obstacles are many; that which is the essence should be grasped just as the swan does in the case of milk mixed with water." I therefore want you to start doing some kind of spiritual practice or other and realise the goal of life and justify your existence before the Lord on the "Day of Judgment." (See Lesson XI)

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