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Journey on the Spiritual Path

Persistent stressful life style diverts many a people in different directions to seek peace and solace. Most of us accept life of alternate cycle of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, elation and depression as natural. Most of us accept life with these predicaments. Not only that, we maintain that to face life with these inherent contradictions is the duty of every person living with family and other responsibilities. One cannot and should not run away from the difficulties or miseries of samsara (world). Most of us are like the 'camel who continues to eat the leaves from thorny shrubs despite bleeding from the mouth.'

Many others, particularly the youth, in an attempt to overcome the stress, fall an easy pray to smoking, drinking, playing cards, obsessive compulsive habit of going to club, watching television, etc. Unfortunately, quite a few get addicted to alcohol and drugs with disastrous consequences.

A third group of people cannot effectively handle the stress in life, and suffer from various psychosomatic illnesses -notably anxiety neurosis and depression.

For a fortunate few, however, the tragic events, sufferings, and setbacks in life open up floodgates of spirituality. They welcome this opportunity to seek release from worldly bonds, and attempt to realize their true and higher nature - the divine bliss of Atman (Spiritual Self). Such 'knocks' may push a person at the door of an ashrama, or at the holy feet of a sadhu (monk), where he may find relief from the piles of personal troubles. But, as it happens, many times this turns out to be a short-lived escape. As soon as the troubles are over, the concerned person again finds himself entangled in the worldly bonds, of 'lust and gold', as Sri Ramakrishna would call them. The routine life of 'a wheel within wheels' ensues, the person forgets the call of spirit or the benevolent words of the sadhu.

It is like the story told by Sri Ramakrishna of a clerk who with disgust leaves his job and reaches Benares to lead the life of a 'monk', claiming to have renounced everything. However, soon at the first instance, he grabs the new job offered to him with a higher salary, and forgets about renunciation and spirituality!

Such alternate outbursts of renunciation and attachment are common to almost every person who attempts to lead a spiritual life.

Only an occasional soul, in whom the seeds of samskara (past impressions), by the grace of the Teacher, have been totally subdued, can truly laugh at the illusory and transitory nature of sense enjoyment. Such persons are indeed rare, as lord Krishna says in Gita (VII: 3), 'Out of many thousand persons, occasional one attempts to seek me, and out of such thousands of sadhakas (spiritual aspirants) only a rare one actually realizes Me in Principle.' Moreover, it is well known that the path of spiritual realization is very difficult to tread, as pointedly mentioned in Katha Upanishad: like walking over the razor's edge.

Then why, indeed, is the aspirant not told about the difficulties on the way to God realization? Why is the aspirant encouraged to undertake spiritual practice when it is almost certain that only an occasional soul is going to succeed in the attempt, while the vast majority may not be able to reach even near the destination?

Such questions bother many an aspirant in his early stage of introduction to spirituality. He is told about the ultimate aim as God realization, coming face to face with the Atman, and so on. Although, this sounds simple, it is very difficult proposition to comprehend and achieve. The deep meaning of these words are difficult for many to fully comprehend.

Moreover, the mind set of many aspirants is such that although they have read or understood very little about spirituality, they claim to have digested enough to keep pace even with a sadhu. Their ego swells up, they begin to shout about the 'Glory of Atman', 'God-realization', and even attempt to write articles on these topics (take my example for this)!

The journey of the aspirant, however, continues. It progresses with both jerks and smoothness. It continues with flashes of understanding coupled with darkness of ignorance.

Out of infinite aspects of the Spirit or Consciousness, any one aspect may find partial illumination in the heart of a sadhaka, the aspect concerned with Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, or Raja-Yoga.

This introduces totally new vista for the sadhaka. Someone now thinks that 'discrimination and renunciation' are the only virtues to seek after. Others similarly become one sided in their belief in 'worship and devotion', or 'social work', or 'psychic control of the mind'. Everyone finds a generous support to his half-correct understanding in the sayings and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda, and other prophets and saints.

A single statement, however, of Sri Ramakrishna 'as many opinions so many paths (for God realization)' should put the sadhaka on the path of right thinking again. Swami Vivekananda nicely elaborates this concept as: "Every soul is potentially divine. Religion is to manifest this divinity within ...either by discrimination, worship, work, and/or psychic control"

Now the sadhaka becomes broad-minded, develops broadness of vision, and accepts everyone engaged in the spiritual exercise as his co-traveler on the path of spirituality. Not only this, he attempts to incorporate practice of combining all the four Yogas in his attempt to seek Self-realization. The importance of grand synthesis dawns in his heart.

This marks a significant progress in the life of a spiritual aspirant. Not denying the pitfalls and obstacles still to come, he rests for a while in the hope that Spiritual Truth would infuse sufficient energy in him to tread the more difficult path ahead.

After the period of rest, the sadhaka begins to conceptually understand the meaning of Advaita Vedanta. He begins to accept, although with ambiguity, Consciousness as all pervading Reality. During this period of sadhana, he begins to understand the value of faith -shraddha- in the scriptures and in the words of his Guru (Teacher). He begins to accept Atman as absolute Knowledge, Existence, and Bliss. He faintly begins to understand that it is the ignorance, which is preventing him from realizing the true nature of the Atman. He also starts believing that the Consciousness appears distorted -even appears evil sometimes- because of Its identification with the body-mind complex. It is the illusion that leads him in the false belief that sense perception is the only truth.

However, due to inadequate sadhana and Grace, he cannot cross or break this veil of illusion and realize true nature of Reality. He struggles, falls and fails. But now he is much more comfortable. Restlessness gives way to maturity of understanding that 'doubts will remain till last'. The only way that remains for him is to stick to the advice of his Guru and to have faith in the mantra-japa (Holy repetition of the name of God). Regular and constant spiritual practice now occupies his mind and life. Although he is far away from the realization of the Self, he now takes shelter in the calm assurance of 'at least having theoretically understood the principles of Vedanta'.

Some remain stationary here as theoretical pundits of Vedanta. Like professors of any other science, they preach the concepts of Vedanta to their near and dear ones, to their friends and the members of the society at large. Sadhana in their life now takes a back seat. Many such experts start 'Yoga classes' for quick spiritual progress, or as a cure for diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illnesses. Their spiritual journey halts at this juncture, and they confuse path with the goal. Sooner or later, these misguided souls get another push from their Guru or other illumined souls and they proceed on the path of Self-realization with renewed vigour.

The real gifted few, on the other hand, understand the importance of sadhana over book learning and lecturing on Vedanta. They make every effort to convert their faith (in the teachings and sayings of their Guru and Scriptures) into actual knowledge of self or realization of Atman. They utilize every possible means like austerity, discrimination and renunciation, worship and devotion, control of mind, and selfless service so that the Blissful Vision of the Atman becomes their own.
c s shah
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