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Practical Sadhana-A Discussion I

by Swami Sivananda

What is divine living? What are Yoga and Vedanta? Yoga and Vedanta are the concern of divine life. Divine Life is a life based upon Yoga, and pervaded by the spirit of Vedanta. It is made up of selflessness, service, spiritual practices, and Self-realisation. Yoga and Vedanta form the very fabric of divine life. The more we know about it and the more we are reminded about its important aspects, the better equipped we will be to tread our chosen path, because the most important thing about divine life is in the living of it, not so much in the knowing of it. But the importance of knowing it lies in the plain fact that if you have to live it you must know something of it, so that with a comprehensive knowledge you will be able to live it more effectively.

So knowledge of divine life is important, since in living a life of Yoga, of practical Vedanta, we come across several hurdles, and we are faced many times with situations which we have to manage with intelligence, with knowledge, and therefore, discussion of these matters and getting to know more about the intricacies, the inner subtleties of these things will put us in a very good position so as to be able to deal with these situations effectively.


What are the things we have to understand? Plainly, we have to understand about Yoga, we have to understand about Vedanta, because these are the ways through which we have to lead the divine life, and approach Divinity and attain bliss. What are Yoga and Vedanta? Are they only in the books or are they in particular places in the Himalayas, or Banaras, or anywhere else? If they are there, are they only there? Are they nowhere else, or what is more important, is it necessary for us to find their location elsewhere also?

They are in the books in one aspect and in some aspect they are in places like Rishikesh, Banaras, and so on. There is a meaning in going to such sacred places, because the people who had lived there lived their lives practically, and they have left the stamp of their life in the very ether of those places. The whole atmosphere is pervaded by the spirit of Yoga and Vedanta, and therefore, when you live there, it evokes in you the similar spirit. But the most important place where divine life, or Yoga, or Vedanta is to be sought and practised, one has to know. Where is that place where you have to work out your practical life? It is Dharmakshetra. Dharmakshetra is the place where all Yoga and Vedanta are practised. It is the mind and heart of man. Yoga and Vedanta have to be achieved here, and if they have not been found here, they will not come out of anywhere else. Everything proceeds from within oneself. Vedanta and Yoga have to come from the heart and mind.


How are you to demonstrate your Jnana, Bhakti, selfless service and Yoga? You have to manifest them through the thoughts that you think, through the words that you utter and through the actions you do. If there is Bhakti in the Narada Bhakti Sutras, it will not affect you, but if Bhakti comes to you, it is through Kirtan, prayer, meditation and service of saints. Bhakti manifests once it has started generating in the heart. All the scriptures of the world will be of no avail unless you have started to create it here. Sadhana, Vedanta, Yoga, all have to be lived in the heart. To do so, one must understand oneself. One must first of all understand this mysterious Dharmakshetra, the heart or mind of man, where all these things have to be worked out.

Why is it very important? Wherever you are, you cannot run away from yourself. If you think that family bondage is a great obstacle for living a life of Nivritti, you can shake off your family. You can run away from your home or city. All right. If you think that some things with which you are associated stand in the way, you can become an Avadhut. Take off pant and coat, and wear only a Kaupin. If you think that the company of some people is not congenial you can renounce their company. All right; you go away from your family, from your belongings and from company of people, but the peculiar thing is that you cannot run away from yourself. And what does it mean? You have to take your stomach, you have to take all the senses with you, and together with your senses, you have to take the habits to which the senses are addicted. You have to take the body with you, its habits and idiosyncrasies and your mind with its Raga-Dvesha, love and hatred, egoism and frustration.


There were two Avadhuts. They were Maha Viraktas (great ascetics). They used to wear only Kaupin. In winter they used to put straw mattress on the ground and sleep, and both of them had straw mattresses. It is difficult to get sunlight in Uttarkashi, and whenever the sun came out, they took the grass beds and put them in the sun, so that they may get a little warm. One Avadhut was drying his grass bed one day and the other Avadhut who was returning from Kshetra happened to tread upon that grass bed inadvertently. Immediately the first Avadhut got wild and shouted, "Can you not see my straw mat put out for drying?" What is the harm if the straw mat is trodden upon by another person? He called it as "my straw mat." The 'mineness' was there. They began to abuse each other. It is not a mere piece of imagination, Kalpana, but it is an actual incident which took place in Uttarkashi. That is why you have to shave the Vasanas, not merely the head. The Avadhut had taken his own mind and Vasanas. He had the sense of 'mineness.' This feeling itself is the jugglery of the mind.

Hinduism says Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma-everything is Brahman Himself. There is no separate devil. In all other religions there is God and there is devil. Satan is there in Christianity, Ahriman is there in Zoroastrianism, but in Hinduism, everything is Brahman. Then where is the devil? It is in the mind only. Therefore, whether you live in Uttarkashi or in Bombay, always you have to take along with you your senses and the mind, and as long as you do not know how to deal with them, how to manage them, they will try to manage you and deal with you in a summary manner. And what will happen? Your Virakti (dispassion) and all spirituality will go away. Unless one delves within and tries to understand the inner machinery one cannot practise Sadhana successfully. The inner machinery will follow you everywhere you go.

The mind is a blessing of God. Because without mind you cannot think of God, without it you cannot concentrate and meditate. Without mind and emotions, thoughts and feelings, you cannot have Bhava and Bhakti. Therefore, the mind is a necessary instrument, and at the same time if it is not properly understood and managed, it becomes your own undoer. Therefore it is a necessary evil, which has to be turned into an aid. To turn the impure mind into pure mind is no less a part of Yoga than Kirtan, Japa and the like. Every aspirant has to use his intelligence and manage the important task of ruling the senses and the mind. You can manage an unruly thing, only if you understand it. Unless he who drives the horse, knows its habits, he cannot manage it. Therefore, this is a very important part of Sadhana.


The vast number of people know only that the mind is thought or it is something with which we think. It is not so simple as that. Even if you do not want to think, the mind will simply think. It thinks of objects. The mind thinks its own thoughts every minute. As long as the mind is producing thoughts, the mind cannot concentrate. You cannot canalize it and divert it to God easily. You have to divert it to God. But how to do it? Why does the mind wander about? All these an aspirant has to understand. A Karma Yogi has to understand it, a Jnana Yogi has to understand it, a Bhakti Yogi has to understand it.

You have to understand your mind whether you are in seclusion or amidst people. On the other hand when you are alone, mind gets an opportunity to have its full play. What is this mysterious thing which is such a problem for the Sadhaka, and yet without which he cannot do Sadhana, but which if not managed properly pulls him down? How does the mind work? If we have a basic knowledge of its nature, some method we can devise in order to get some control over it.


The mind works in various mysterious ways, and we analyse some important broad aspects of this mind process. What is the mind of a person? What is it made up of? First of all let us take two analogies. You see a gramophone plate. What is it made up of? Ordinarily, you see a plate and you see it is made up of grooves, full of lines. For an ordinary, illiterate person it will mean nothing more than this. A little more intelligent and educated person will say that it contains minutely wavy lines and these lines are sound impressions in silent form. A still more intelligent person will say something more. It is the nature of an effect. This sound is identical with the sound that caused it. A more intelligent man will say that under what particular circumstances, it will produce sound.

Another analogy: Take a seed. A child will say it is a very tiny thing, but a more thinking mind, a poet, will say "In your hands lies a towering oak, which can shelter thousand people." And a still more discerning person will say, "This seed can produce an oak and produce the same type of oak out of which it came, and not only that, if that tree can produce further seeds, it means it has got in it the capacity to restart and fully manifest once again the whole process, which was at the back of it, and, therefore, it is a living thing. It contains in itself the whole city."

Similarly, the mind of each person at a given time contains within it words within words. It is identical to the grooves on a gramophone plate, or the seed. What is this seed? What are these grooves that are in the mind? The mind is a product of experience, previous experience. Just in exactly what way is it a product of experience? We shall take one instance, and we can multiply it ad infinitum. There is an experience. The experience may be in the form of a perception. You smell something, touch something, taste something or experience something-a combination of so many things may happen, and immediately just as a groove is created out of a sound in a gramophone plate, immediately an impression is made in the mind. This impression is called Samskara, an impression got out of a perceptional experience in the mind.


What is the nature of Samskaras? Is it like a furrow made on the ground or the grooves in the gramophone record? No. It is dynamic, and a number of such experiences making grooves upon the human mind make that impression a vital impression. It becomes active, it begins to be a dynamic factor in the man's life, i.e., it becomes a dynamic tendency in the person's character, and when it comes to this stage, the repeated taking in of a particular impression, makes it take the form of a vital or living force in the person's character. It becomes a Vasana, and a sum-total of Vasanas always keep the mind in a state of agitation, and they always go on starting ripples in the mind-lake, and these constant ripples create Vrittis.

In ordinary mind, so many Vrittis are rising and sinking. When the Vrittis arise in the mind, the individual starts a series of Kalpanas or imaginations. If the Kalpana is not there, Vrittis do not trouble the mind. When the Vrittis are supported by creating imagination it makes the Vritti take the form of a desire, Ichcha. And what is the nature of this desire, which formed through the force of imagination or Kalpana? It is of the same variety as the experience that formed the Samskara which is the cause for the rise of the Vritti. Even at this stage of desire, Ichcha, there is not great harm. But when the play of ego, the 'I,' in each one of us, identifies itself with that desire, there starts all the trouble. Instead of 'want,' it is 'I want.' Now the individual is in the grip of the mind.


Whether you reside in a cave or in a city when 'I' and Kalpana join together, you feel, "I want to have a cigarette," or this or that. You may be doing meditation, but when you get Ichcha for a particular object, then meditation becomes secondary. But, then, the mind has got two aspects. When a desire comes, it thinks: "Should I fulfil this desire? Or should I continue my meditation? Should I go and take Iddli and waste time?" Now, then, there is Vichara. If the Suddha Manas, (pure mind) gets the upper hand, it says 'No' and it pushes off the desire and continues meditation. If, on the other hand, the mind gives way to Asuddha Manas (impure mind), the desire gets the upper hand. Then the Ichcha becomes a Trishna, a strong impelling urge. The person immediately strives to fulfil the desire, and he falls from Yoga.

Yoga is not only in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. It should function every moment. If an impure thought comes, and if you are not able to put it down, you have failed in Yoga. In every thought, in every action, you have to assert your mastery over your Vrittis. Then Yoga is fulfilled; divine life is lived. And what is the time taken for this process? Within a split second a decision is made and the long process of the Samskara which crystallised the impulse is subdued, the higher mind achieving over the lower mind a resounding victory.

From experience you get Samskara, from Samskara you get Vasana, from Vasana you get Vritti. Then imagination makes the Vritti into a desire. Then ego attaches itself to the desire and it becomes then an urge, a Trishna. Then you are forced to do Cheshta or to fulfil the desire. This process of the mind is going on.

The scientists are trying to find a perpetual motion machinery, a machinery that never stops, but is always in motion. If you have to find a perpetual motion machinery, now, it is in you, the mind. You have to deal with the mind. All the Vasanas, Samskaras, which you have formed are already there; you cannot help it. But you can at least do one thing. You can prevent the formation of new Samskaras and stop past Samskaras to get further strengthened by fresh ones. How is it possible?


Daily you get new experiences, daily you perceive so many things with your five organs of senses. Then how can you prevent these experiences making impressions upon the mind? Is there any technique? How did these objects get into the mind and form into Samskaras? Take an object. You perceive it, through any one of your senses. First there is contact between the sense and the object. That is the first thing. So far only the outer fringe of man's personality has become touched. Supposing you are very deeply absorbed in some task, and your brother or sister comes and lays his or her hands on you, you are not aware, because though the object has contacted the sense, the sense has not conveyed it to the mind, the sense of 'I' being not associated with the touch-sense.

So, if the ego is not there, the object does not go deep into the mind. If the ego is engaged in some other thought, a particular impression brought by the senses will not produce any effect. But if the 'I' is there, the object goes and impinges upon your awareness, and if this 'I' is in a state of heedlessness, is not vigilant, is in a state of Aviveka or in a state of worldliness or Rajas, it will easily take these perceptions and create in you a desire, for the objects.


There is only one fire to burn all desires. Nachiketas had that fire. So many attractive and alluring things were offered to him by Yama; he was offered money, beauty, strength, power, kingdoms, all Vidyas and alluring objects for the senses but Nachiketas reduced all such impressions into ashes, because he had that one fire, and that was Mumukshutva, spiritual aspiration. Aspiration is a positive fire in which all desires, cravings, are reduced to ashes. This is the fire that should characterise all Sadhakas, Yogins, Vedantins, those who lead the divine life. The disciple should have a furnace of aspiration. Only then is he a real disciple.

If you want to lead the divine life, you inner heart should be a place of aspiration, a fire of Yoga should burn in you always. This blaze should be maintained. You cannot completely change the outward mode of life, but inwardly there should be aspiration. This fire should burn day and night, when you are awake, when your are sleeping, when you are alone, when you are among men, when you are meditating, when you are engaged in work. This fire should not be put out. This aspiration should always form an integral part of your being. Then you are living the divine life. If this fire is there, you need not worry what work you are doing, in which place you are living. Because, you will be leading the divine life. Then you cannot be a victim of sense-pleasures. But you must at any time know if, in spite of your vigilance, the impression of sense-object goes to the inner consciousness, how to burn it through aspiration. If before it enters the outer threshold you have to burn it, what are the techniques?


There are two techniques. They have several aspects according to the Sadhana you do. One technique is, always keep the mind indrawn. Never allow the mind to be completely extrovert, so that even apparently when you are moving amidst objects, the senses are not outgoing, the senses are turned inward. This is a very difficult technique, but this has to be practised. This Pratyahara is very essential. The ideal of the aspirant should always be to acquire this important qualification, Pratyahara.

The other technique is to be indifferent. What does it mean to you? If a non-vegetarian goes into the bazaar where they sell meat dishes, his mouth may water, but supposing one is a pure vegetarian and sees these things, they will not mean anything at all, because there is the absence of interest. Even so, we will have to create an attitude within ourselves by constant reflection; constant Svadhyaya of scriptures which show the vanity of the world, the worthlessness of earthly objects, and the perishable nature of the entire creation. By constantly imbibing such thoughts, an attitude of mind is created when all things cease to have any attraction for you, and then, even when these things come, there is no response from within, and this state is called Udasinata. You are simply not interested, and when there is a thing which you do not like, you are not interested in it.

This is the experience of the people in respect of the things they do not like. When they see a thing they do not like, they are not interested in it. But this feeling should become universalised in respect of sense-objects and other worldly values. An aspirant should hold an attitude of indifference when he is in the midst of objects. This has to be cultivated. This is not a technical thing like Pratyahara, but this attitude of mind can gradually be cultivated and the degree of its intensity can also be increased.

Thus in this way by Pratyahara and Udasinata, we can effectively burn away the impressions of the objects at their initial stage. If you have to live amidst distracting objects, you can cut away contact with them by these two processes. But, if, in spite of that, the sense-perception goes right into your inner chambers, then reject it, burn it, through the fire of aspiration. This way the Sadhaka will have to move in the world. You should have this equipment.


There is also a positive way. You have to live in the world. You cannot get away from it wherever you go. A saint has said, that if you want to go through a forest full of thorns, you cannot cover the forest with a carpet so that you can walk. Instead of that a wise man will wear a pair of slippers or shoes. It is as effective as covering the entire forest with a carpet, because wherever he goes, this protection will be there. Similarly, we can protect ourselves in a such a way that we are not affected by the contact with the sense-objects.

If you have to go through a place which emits a foul smell, you cannot sprinkle the whole place with some fragrant element. But if you keep a bit of musk near your nose, you will always experience the smell of the musk and you will not feel the bad smell. Similarly, one could always do mental repetition of God's name and be engaged in constant remembrance of Him, or of some great ideal. Vedantins will think all is Brahman, Satchidananda. Bhaktas will think all is Rama or all is Krishna. Along with this there should be constant repetition of Mahavakyas or Ishta Mantra. These things form a positive hold to which the mind may cling. Thus the tendency of the mind to move towards other objects is lessened, because it is given a centre which it can catch hold of.


These are the common-sense methods which a man who wants to live a life of Yoga and Vedanta, should have as his equipment. As I told you, we cannot run away from our senses and mind, we have therefore to understand the working of the mind. When a Vritti arises, do not think about it, divert your attention, let it sink back. Do not spin your imagination. It is imagination that strengthens the Vritti. Do not identify yourself with the desire, and if the worse comes to the worst, if the desire is strong, be stubborn, do not submit to it; divert your attention. I have always said, "Try always to nip the desire in the bud." When the desire comes in the form of a ripple, try to liquidate it then and there itself. But if due to lack of your vigilance it takes the form of an impulse, see that it is not fulfilled. Do not make Cheshta outwardly. If a desire comes, "I should go and gossip," say "No. I will not allow the body to move." If the body does not move, the mind cannot fulfil its desire, and ultimately the reverse process will happen, and the desire will sink back into the mind, and there will be calmness.

In the beginning of Sadhana, more and more desires will have to be controlled at the physical level, but as we go on acquiring mastery over ourselves, even when a Vritti comes, it is liquidated by Vichara and Viveka, which are a great help to the Sadhaka. As soon as a Vritti comes, it is put back, and ultimately all these have to be completely destroyed by repeating the Lord's Name, by Satsanga, Svadhyaya, meditation, prayer, performance of Purascharana, etc. All these are powerful, positive methods to deal with the Vrittis and Samskaras which are countless and deep-rooted but which have an end.

The more we understand the machinery of the mind, the more will we be able to deal with it, with all its subtle tricks and undercurrents, and we will be able to make use of the mind as an effective instrument of Sadhana instead of being a constant obstacle. All the most ideal conditions may be given to a Sadhaka. He may have ideal surroundings, ideal company, all sacred books, and yet if he does not do this important task of trying to understand the mysterious nature of the workings of the mind and try to lessen his Vasanas and strengthen his will, he cannot make use of anything. He cannot make use of his Guru. He cannot make use of his seclusion. Because they have to be made use of only through the mind and if the mind is not controlled, cultivated, he cannot make use of any of these. But once that is done, he can make use of all that God has given. Even a sentence from a scripture is enough to raise a flood of spiritual consciousness within him. But until that is done, Yoga will be useless.

Therefore, understand the mind, study the mind and know this machinery will, and know also how to manage it. This is an important part of Yoga, an important part of Vedanta, an important part of Sadhana, or divine life. In the beginning of one's practice all these are important. When one has practised all these, God-realisation is easy. They say that God-realisation is so easy that it can be attained "within the time taken to squeeze a flower," once you are completely rid of all impurities. For that you have to patiently keep on striving, and the more we devote our time with humility, sincerity and earnestness to a study of our own being and especially of this machinery which is inside us, and try to make the best use of it, as an instrument of Yoga, the more will we be able to succeed in the path of Yoga and Vedanta or in leading the divine life.

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