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Main Obstacles in Yoga Sadhana

by Swami Sivananda

Real aspirants who thirst for Self-realisation should be absolutely honest in every dealing. Honesty should not be the policy for them but it should be their strict rule of daily conduct.

Steya or the pilfering habit is very dangerous. It may develop into a serious crime under suitable conditions and favourable circumstances. He who commits even small thefts will have neither moral strength nor peace of mind. If the aspirant is not established in perfect Asteya or non-stealing, he cannot hope to get an iota of progress in the spiritual path. He may retain his breath for five hours, he may do Trataka in the mid-day sun, he may get himself buried underneath the ground for three months or he may show many other dexterous Yogic feats. These are of no value if he has the pilfering habit. He may be respected and adored for a week or a month. People will treat him with contempt when he starts pilfering.

Do not be deceived by external appearances. Just hear this remarkable incidence. A Pundit of vast erudition was a guest of a high personage. The Pundit could recite by heart the whole of the Vedas and the Upanishads and he had done great Tapasya. He was very abstemious in his diet and took only a very small quantity of food. He would never waste unnecessarily a single minute of the day and was always absorbed in the study of religious books, Puja, Japa and meditation. His host held him in very high esteem. This learned Pundit stole one day some articles from his host's house. They were not valuable at all. In the beginning he totally denied the theft. Later on he admitted it and apologised. Would anybody take such a learned Pundit of severe austerities for a petty thief? The subtle Vritti of pilfering was hidden in the Pundit's mind; he had not destroyed it through self-analysis and drastic purificatory Sadhana. He had not developed the virtues of nobility and integrity. He had only controlled his tongue to a small extent and crammed some sacred books.

The habit of telling lies co-exists with the habit of pilfering. Some aspirants tell lies even for trifling things. We can excuse householders but we cannot excuse aspirants. If the preceptor asks the disciple, "O Ram, have you taken quinine mixture this morning," he replies, "Swamiji, yes, I have taken already." Ram tells a lie for this trifling thing and on further strict investigation he is found out to be a liar.

Many aspirants pose as great Yogins when they know only a few Asanas and Mudras and pose as great Vedantins when they have read only Vichara Sagara and Panchadasi. This is also another great obstacle in the path.

Religious hypocrisy of an aspirant is more dangerous than the hypocrisy of worldly-minded persons. This is an evil quality born of a mixture of Rajas and Tamas. Religious hypocrisy is a great bar to the descent of Divine Light and knowledge. It is very difficult to eradicate religious hypocrisy. What is this religious hypocrisy then? It is pretending to be what one is not. When the aspirant pretends to be a realised soul or a Jivanmukta when he is really otherwise, it is a pure type of religious hypocrisy. A religious hypocrite can never reach the goal of life and will soon be detected by the public though he may hide his face like an ostrich.

No Yoga or no union with Atma or Samadhi is possible if one is a victim of hypocrisy. He who says "I am a realised soul" when he is a slave of evil Vrittis is a confirmed hypocrite. Let no such man be trusted.

Self-sufficiency is another evil Vritti in the mind-lake. This is also born of a mixture of Rajas and Tamas. It acts as a stumbling block in the spiritual path. The student who is a victim to this evil trait thinks foolishly that he knows everything. He is quite contented with his little knowledge and achievements. He stops his Sadhana. He never attempts for further acquisition of knowledge. He never endeavours to attain the highest knowledge of Bhuma (highest Self). He does not know that there is a vast realm of knowledge beyond. He is like the toad in the well which has no knowledge of the ocean, which thinks that the well is the only illimitable expanse of water.

A self-sufficient man foolishly thinks and imagines "I know everything. There is nothing more to be known by me." Maya spreads a thick veil in his mind. The self-sufficient man has a turbid mind, clouded understanding and a perverted intellect.

Self-sufficiency is a strong weapon of Maya with which she deludes people and puts a strong break in the Sadhana of an aspirant. She does not allow him to proceed further or look beyond the veil as he is carried away by false contentment through self-sufficiency.

The self-sufficient scientist who has knowledge of the electrons and laws of the physical aspect of nature thinks that there is nothing beyond this. The moralist who has developed some ethical virtues thinks that there is nothing beyond this. The self-sufficient Yogic student who experiences Anahata sounds and flashes of lights thinks that there is nothing beyond this. The self-sufficient Sannyasin who knows the Gita and the Upanishads by heart thinks that there is nothing beyond this. The self-sufficient Yogi or Vedantin who gets experiences of the lower Samadhi thinks that there is nothing beyond this. All are groping in the dark. They know not what perfection is.

Maya tests the students in every step, at every stage and appears before the student in various forms or colours like an Asura or a chameleon. It is very difficult to detect Her presence. But he who has obtained the grace of the Mother will experience no difficulty in his onward march. She Herself lifts him up and carries him with Her hands to the destination to introduce him to Her Lord-Lord Siva-and to get him established in unshaken Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

The aspirant should always think, "What I know is very little. It is only a handful of knowledge. What is still to be learnt by me is oceanful." Then only he will have intense thirst and intense aspiration or yearning for further knowledge.

Self-justification is a very dangerous habit. It is an abominable evil quality born of Rajas. The aspirant does wrong actions and tries to stick to his own ideas, his own course of action, his own position. He brings various sorts of foolish arguments and gives wrong interpretations of scriptures to support himself. He will never admit his mistakes and faults. He tries to keep up his self-esteem. His mind is rendered turbid, crooked. He cannot perceive things in their true light. No one can help this man. He cannot make any progress in the path of Yoga as he will not listen to the instructions of elders or sages. Self-sufficiency, arrogance, vanity, self-assertions and self-will are the constant companions of self-justification. When these companions join with self-justification, he will be as turbulent as a monkey which drank a glass of liquor and was bitten by a scorpion also. He is entirely shut out from the Divine Light. Mark how Maya influences the deluded people! Self-justification is one of Her subtle forms (of lower nature).

Self-assertive nature is a great obstacle in the spiritual path. This is an evil quality born of Rajas. This is accompanied by vanity and arrogance. The aspirant who is a slave of the self-assertive nature wants to cut an important figure. He poses to be a great Yogi with many Siddhis. He says: "I am much advanced in Yoga. I can influence many people. No one is equal to me in the field of Yoga. I possess tremendous psychic powers." He expects others to pay respects to him and do prostrations. He gets easily annoyed with people if they do not honour him and do not make prostrations. He tries to keep up his position and prestige. The self-assertive aspirant does not pay attention to the instructions of his Guru. He has his own ways. He pretends to be obedient to his Guru. At every step his little ego asserts. He is disobedient and breaks discipline. He creates party spirit, revolt, chaos and disorder. He forms parties. He criticises Mahatmas, Sannyasins, Yogins and Bhaktas. He has no faith in the scriptures and the words of sages. He insults his own Guru even. He conceals facts and tells deliberate lies to keep up his position or to cover up his wrong actions. He tells several lies to cover up one lie. He twists and tortures real facts.

Pig-headedness is Tamasic obstinacy or stubbornness. This is born of Tamo-Guna or darkness. The pig-headed man sticks tenaciously to his own foolish ideas. I gave instructions to an young aspirant: "Do not climb up the hill with a plate in both hands and with shoes on; you will slip and break your bones." I also gave him an example of an European lady who died instantaneously near Badri Hills from a fall from the summit of a mountain when she was making a vigorous attempt to get Himalayan herbs. I further cited to him another example of a Professor of Geology, an M.Sc. of the Lucknow University, who also died from a fall from the top of the mountain in Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh, when he was attempting to find out the nature of the rock. The young aspirant did not listen to my words. He was very obstinate. Despite my clear instructions, he climbed the Tehri hills with his shoes on and a plate in both his hands. This is a clear case of pig-headedness. Pig-headed students cannot make any definite progress in the spiritual path. You should eradicate this evil modification of the mind. You should be ever eager to get good instructions from any source or from any sage. You should be ever ready to grasp the truth, no matter from whatever corner it comes.

Man is not only a citizen of this world but also of many worlds. He has to face dangers and temptations not only in this world but also in the other worlds. The plane of the Gandharvas is full of temptations. That is the reason why it is said in the Yoga Sastras that the aspirant should purify himself first, should control his senses, should eradicate his desires, and should be established in Yama before he attempts to awaken his Kundalini, the sleeping potential Sakti, that lies dormant in the basal Muladhara Chakra. If Kundalini is awakened before the attainment of purity by means of Asanas, Bandhas, Mudras and Pranayama, the Yogi will come across the temptations of the other planes; he will have no strength of will to resist these temptations and will have a hopeless downfall. It will be very difficult for him to climb up again to the original height to which he climbed in the ladder of Yoga. Therefore the aspirant should try to purify himself first. If perfect purity is attained through Japa, Kirtan and constant selfless service, Kundalini will awaken by itself and move towards Sahasrara at the crown of the head to meet Her Lord-Lord Siva the trident-bearer of Mount Kailasa, the store-house of wisdom, bliss and peace.

Many aspirants climb up a certain height in the ladder of Yoga. They are irresistibly swept away by the temptations of the higher planes (Svarga, Gandharva plane etc.). They lose their power of discrimination and right understanding and thereby lose themselves in heavenly enjoyments. The citizens of the higher planes, the shining ones, tempt the aspirants in a variety of ways. They say unto the aspirants: "O Yogi! we are very much pleased with your Tapas, dispassion, spiritual practices and divine qualities. This is the plane for your final resting which you have earned through your merit and Tapas. We are all your servants to obey your orders and carry out your commands or behests. Here is the celestial car for you. You can move about anywhere you like. Here are the celestial damsels to attend on you. They will please you with their celestial music. Here is the Kalpa Vriksha which will give you whatever you want. Here is the celestial nectar Soma Rasa in the golden cup which will make you immortal. Here is the celestial lake of supreme joy. You can swim freely in this lake." The uncautious Yogi is easily carried away by the invitations and sweet flowery speeches of the Devas. He gets false Tushti or contentment. He thinks that he has reached the highest goal of Yoga. He yields to the temptations, and his energy is dissipated in various directions. As soon as his merits are exhausted he comes down to this earth plane. He will have to start once more his upward climb in the spiritual ladder. But that dispassionate Yogi who is endowed with strong discrimination rejects ruthlessly these invitations from the Devas, marches boldly in the spiritual path and stops not till he attains the highest rung in the ladder of Yoga or the highest summit in the hill of knowledge or the Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He is fully conscious that the enjoyments of Svarga or heaven are as much illusory, transient, monotonous and hollow and therefore worthless as those of this illusory world. The pleasures of the heaven are very subtle, exceedingly intense and highly intoxicating. That is the reason why the uncautious, non-vigilant, slightly dispassionate aspirant yields easily to the temptations of the higher planes. Even in this physical plane, in the West and in America where there is abundance of wealth, plenty of dollars and sovereigns, people enjoy subtle and intense sensual pleasures. Every day scientists bring out new inventions, new forms of sensual pleasures, for the gratification of the mischievous and revolting senses. Even an abstemious man of plain living and simple habits of India becomes a changed man when he lives in America or Europe for some time. He yields to the temptations. Such is the power of Maya. Such is the influence of temptation. Such is the strength of the impetuous senses. That man who is endowed with strong discrimination, sustained dispassion, good Vichara Sakti, burning yearning for liberation can reach the highest goal of life, the final beatitude or the sublime vision of the Infinite. He alone can resist temptation and can be really happy.

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