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Living the Yoga Life: Sadhana

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Since the Self is always right at hand, the path to Self-realization is always right at hand. This is a very important point. If our sadhana does not begin with experience of the Self, even if only to the slightest degree, then it will not lead to the Self. Only that sadhana which is itself the revelation of the Self, even though it may take time for the fullness of that revelation to occur, is true sadhana. This is why nearly all “yoga” is ultimately useless, though it may be entertaining and produce the fireworks of many phenomena. The only question to ask is: “Do I know the Self any more than I did at the beginning?” Otherwise years are wasted in practice that leads nowhere but back to samsara. This is tragic but true.

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The spiritually mature truly grasp that God is their origin, indeed that God is all. As the Gita says: “At the end of many births the wise man takes refuge in me. He knows: All is Vasudeva [He Who Dwells in All Things]. How very rare is that great soul” (Bhagavad Gita 7:19). For once it is understood that they come from Brahman, then the desire to return to Brahman arises and they begin the return through yoga sadhana.

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We must experience the Self by means of Atma Yoga–by sadhana. We “began” in the Self and shall “end” in the Self. If we did not begin in the Self we could never end there. Originally we were just the Self, but we “borrowed” the various bodies, entered into relative existence, and began to evolve within it. But we must grow beyond the need for all those “things” and surrender them back to the cosmos and rise into absolute Freedom. If we have broken or damaged anything it must first be repaired and corrected by us.

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Each one of us is a world, a cosmos to itself. And that is what Jesus had in mind when he said: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). Sadhana transforms every aspect of our relative being and transmutes it into eternal being.

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The Bhagavad Gita tells us more than once that our divine Self and God, the Self of our Self, lives forever in our hearts.

“I am the Self abiding in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings as well” (10:20).

“This [Self] is said to be the light of lights, beyond all darkness; knowledge, the to-be-known, the goal of knowledge seated in the heart of all” (13:17).

“Seated within the hearts of all, from me come memory and knowledge and their loss: I alone am to be known by all the Vedas; I am the Author of the Vedanta, and the Knower of the Vedas” (15:15).

“The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, causing them by his maya to revolve as if mounted on a machine” (18:61).

Yet if we do not possess direct experience of our Self and God, simply believing that does us no good at all. We all, and always, have the Divine within us, but we must experience that, and yoga is the key to that blessed experience.

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If something does not fulfill the purpose of its existence, then it is, practically speaking, nothing at all. For example, if there is no oil inside a lamp, it cannot be kindled to give light. In the same way, “empty” people devoid of Self-awareness are not really people, but just shells. We must be “full” of consciousness within; then we will be conscious without, as well. This is the gist of Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-12). Only those that had oil were able to light their lamps and meet the bridegroom. The others missed the groom and were not admitted to the wedding. The groom, of course, is the Self, and the wedding is the realization of the Self. Only those with “oil” in their “lamp” are worthy spiritual aspirants. How do we get the oil? Through intense sadhana.

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The invisible side of us includes both the subtle levels of our existence and the supremely subtle levels of the universe, which is both spirit and Spirit, both our individual existence and the Cosmic Existence. Many times in my life I have remembered what the resurrected Lahiri Mahasaya said to his grieving disciple, Panchanon Bhattacharya: “You do not live just in this world. You live with me.” It is a wonderful thing to be aware that even now eternity is our present home if we will keep ourselves attuned to that reality by constant sadhana and aspiration for ultimate liberation.

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A teacher of wisdom, of sadhana, shows the way to liberation and encourages and blesses those who follow the way. The value of contact with such a person is beyond all calculation, yet the seeker, who should certainly be grateful to all of his teachers, must realize that it is his own effort, his own will, that will achieve his liberation. A teacher may give him the map to freedom and advise him about the journey, but he must traverse the route himself by his own inner power, which is divine power: atmic power. Ultimately, God alone is the Guru, of whom we are an eternal and inseparable part. This Sadguru works from within and without us to bring about our liberation, but all along the way it is our assent and our effort that is needed.

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It may be hard to believe, but in India it has been very common for centuries that many people receive insruction from a guru with no intention to do sadhana even once. Their idea is that the guru will have to guarantee their salvation, that nothing more is needed, because at the moment of the death the guru will liberate them. This happened over and over with Sri Ma Sarada Devi, much to her chagrin. Some people receive instruction from several gurus, hoping that the best one will deliver them from rebirth at the time of death. The great fallacy is the ignorance of the fact that nothing whatsoever can affect us that is not interiorized. All the poisons and bullets in the world cannot harm us if they do not get inside us. Sadhana is the way in which the divine life begins flowing within us and moving us along to the goal, for sadhana is a totally interior process. That is why it works. Nothing else does.

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Practice, practice and more practice is needed to gain the knowledge of God. For as both Vyasa and Shankara explain, yoga itself becomes the teacher, revealing subtle facts that cannot be conveyed through speech, only intuition. This is one of the reasons why total dependence on any teacher or verbal teaching prevents perfection in sadhana.

At some point the sadhana itself must become the yogi’s teacher and authority. This happened in the life of Swami Ramananda of Almora. His experience did not agree with his guru’s teaching, and he said so. The guru insisted that his statements on interior life and practice alone were true. So Swami Ramananda severed his connection with the guru and struck out on his own, becoming one of the most brilliant and powerful yogis of twentieth century India.

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A Zen master taught for many years: The Buddha is the Mind. One day he called in a disciple and told him: “I have realized that all these years I was wrong in teaching The Buddha Is The Mind. The truth is: No Buddha, No Mind.” He then told the disciple to seek out one of his earlier disciples who lived far away in a mountain range doing meditation and tell him of the change in the Master’s teaching. The disciple managed to find the hermit and told him that the Master now taught No Buddha, No Mind, so he should change his belief. “Well, I still say The Buddha is the Mind,” responded the hermit. Fueled by indignation the disciple went running back to the Master and told him: “When I found him, I told him he should believe No Buddha, No Mind, as you now teach. And he had the temerity to say that he still believed The Buddha Is The Mind!” The Master smiled and said: “I see he has attained maturity.”

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Our inner, spiritual potential is like the inner potential of seeds. If we just hold on to our potential but do nothing to evoke it, then we shall not have a fruitful life. But if we provide the right environment, as we do with seeds, our potential will manifest. As yogis, then, we must engage in regular and diligent sadhana and gain the experience of our true nature. The thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is entitled: “The Field and Its Knower.” Our body is the field and we are the knower of the field. The most meaningful experience of divinity we will ever have in this world is that of our own divinity which is made manifest through the divine seed of yoga. This is the purpose of life itself, and if we do not apply ourselves we live in vain.

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In the beginning of sadhana we assiduously turn from the world, reminding ourselves that it is unreal. But once we experience the Light of Spirit we will see that the entire universe of made of that Light. That is why the opening verse of the Isha Upanishad says: “All this should be covered by the Lord, whatsoever moves on the earth.” In other words, we should not see God inside material objects, but rather see them within God. There is a profound difference. The first view comes to the progressing yogi, but the second one comes to the perfected yogi.

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When we get inside the passions–come to understand their nature and are withdrawn from the outer phenomena that incite them–we are no longer coerced by them. Part of being “inside” them is understanding what produces the things that provoke them: our own karma. We understand that all which we respond to negatively is really our own doing, that we ourselves are the source of all aggravation. When we see this through our buddhi clarified by sadhana, we understand the meaning, the lesson, that is to be learned. Then we are free. This is perfection.

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If a seed is fried or boiled, the heat destroys its geminating properties so it cannot sprout. In the same way, karmic “seeds” can be rendered sterile by spiritual practice, by tapasya, which literally means to generate heat. In the upanishads we find the simile of two sticks (aranis) being rubbed together to make heat that will produce fire. Such is the process of sadhana: japa and meditation.

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Knowing about karma intellectually is a great help to understanding life, but it is of no use whatsoever in freeing ourselves from karma and its power to force us into rebirth over and over. There are those who are utterly addicted to “knowledge.” So they become those whom Saint Paul describes as “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7). Sadhana alone cuts through the bonds of karma.

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It is not only our ideas which must be changed, for that is just a renovation and rearrangement of mental furniture. What is necessary is a change of consciousness. And this is accomplished only through yoga sadhana, without which there is no prospect for the human being other than rebirth.

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To become established in non-dual consciousness we must develop subtle discrimination (sukshma viveka). The only way to do that is to refine the mind, the buddhi, through yoga sadhana to such an extent that it becomes extremely subtle itself. When that is done, it will function as a reflection of the Self. It will not be a matter of affirming or keeping an idea of unity in mind. It will see unity at all times. It is not a way of thinking but a way of perception.

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It is essential that we remain centered in the buddhi, in our intelligent mind, at all times without break. Human beings are either rational or instinctual, and most are instinctual because they are sense-oriented. We must be fully rational. It is interesting that in Eastern Christian writings the disciples of Christ are called “rational sheep.” Only through continual practice of yoga can we become and remain rational beings. Here is what the Gita says about the matter:

“He who is without desire in all situations, encountering this or that, pleasant or unpleasant, not rejoicing or disliking–his understanding (wisdom) stands firm. And when he withdraws completely the senses from the objects of the senses, as the tortoise draws in its limbs, his wisdom is established firmly. Sense-objects turn away from the abstinent, yet the taste for them remains. But the taste also turns away from him who has seen the Supreme. The troubling senses forcibly carry away the mind of even the striving man of wisdom. Restraining all these [senses], he should sit in yoga (yoked), intent on me. Surely, he whose senses are controlled–his consciousness stands steadfast and firm. For a man dwelling on the objects of the senses, attachment to them is born. From attachment desire is born. And from [thwarted] desire anger is born. From anger arises delusion; from delusion, loss of memory; from loss of memory, destruction of intelligence (buddhi). From destruction of intelligence one is lost. However, with attraction and aversion eliminated, even though moving amongst objects of sense, by self-restraint the self-controlled attains tranquility” (2:57-64)”

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I expect most of us have had friends who, when a beloved animal friend died, said vehemently that they would never have another and repeat the grief. But they did. In the same way people are buffeted by life and for short periods of time feel disillusioned and detached. But it is all ego-based and therefore evaporates. Only the detachment that is based on perception of our spirit-nature can really last, and there is no way to be firm in spiritual consciousness other than continual and regular sadhana.

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Viveka is discrimination between the Real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self, between the permanent and the impermanent. It is not intellectual, but intuitive discrimination. Only through diligent yoga practice is it developed and maintained.

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Enlightenment does not strike like lightning, and especially does not occur without a cause. Producing the cause depends on us. Spiritual development comes about through our own effort. Although we can certainly be encouraged and inspired and instructed along the way, it still is our effort alone that produces the spiritual result.

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Only those totally committed to realization will attain it. Every sadhaka must be like Buddha, who took the vow that even if his flesh and bones melted away, he would not abandon his practice until he attained nirvana.

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Day and night the process of sadhana in the form of japa and meditation must go on. Naturally this cannot be done right away, but those who really try will find themselves eventually able to do so.

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If sadhana is practiced ceaselessly, unbrokenly, the yogi will attain success (siddhi–perfection) in his practice, just as a tender plant can break up stone and drops of soft water can wear down stone. Persistence is the key.

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Yoga sadhana is a continuous process that must pervade our life. Whatever our external condition may be, no matter who we are with, inwardly we must be in the limitless sky of consciousness (chidakasha) through constant japa. Then we will live and move in moksha.

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The six enemies (shadripu) to realization of the Self are: desire (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), arrogance (mada), delusive attachment (moha) and jealousy (matsarya). They are overcome only by yoga abhyasa, the practice of yoga. All the philosophizing in the world and resolving to “be good” in the future accomplish absolutely nothing in relation to these six, for they are delusions of the mind, not weaknesses and failings as Western religions suppose. Therefore only a change in consciousness will overcome them and render them ineffectual.

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In a moment the benefits of sadhana can be wiped out without a trace remaining. There is a tradition that da Vinci took many years to complete the Last Supper because of the time taken by his search for the ideal models. Early on he had found a young man whose face and manner were the embodiment of grace and goodness, so he painted him as Jesus. Finally after years the single remaining face he needed was that of Judas. Wandering around in the worst part of town, da Vinci saw a man whose face was the expression of depravity and cruelty. Assuming that the man was a professional murderer, he hesitated to approach him, but then he realized that he might never see him again, so he spoke to him. To his amazement, the man smiled and called him by name. When da Vinci asked how he knew him, the man was surprised. “But don’t you recognize me?” he asked. “You painted me some years ago as Jesus in the fresco of the Last Supper.” Just a few years had destroyed all the purity and goodness.

I have known some yogis who were radiant with innocence and devotion. Seeing them a few years later I literally did not know who they were. Physically they were completely altered, coarsened and without conscience, spiritually devastated. One young man lived in our monastery for some time. He told me he wanted to travel to India, and I encouraged him to do so. When I saw him there a few months later I found that he was making all kind of excuses to leave India, even though Sri Anandamayi Ma had told him he could live in the Almora Anandamayi Ashram. I urged him to follow Ma’s advice, and promised him that we would regularly send him money so he would lack for nothing. Over the years quite a few Western men had asked Ma if they could live in one of her ashrams and she had always refused. Now this rare blessing was offered to him freely. But all he would do was dream up problems that might arise and keep insisting that he was “not ready” to live in India, even insisting that Ma had told him to live in India so he would discover that it was not really what he wanted to do! The next time I saw him (in America) I did not know who he was. Everything about him was altered. Even his voice was different. And he looked nothing like he had previously. His life was dissolute and dedicated to self-destruction. Eventually he died horribly of AIDS, stubborn and conscienceless unto the last breath. Even after death he continued to harm himself by the negative and foolish terms of his (legal) will.

One of the saddest possible experiences is meeting with strayed and fallen yogis, monks and nuns.

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Mastery is a positive necessity for those who would truly live, evolve and attain the destiny of all sentient beings. For a while (sometimes a very long while) we just coast or mosey along, developing in a kind of hit-or-miss manner, letting lifetimes slip out of our grasp through not just centuries or millennia, but even for creation cycles. Finally we must take ourselves in hand literally and stop all delays, impelling ourselves forward and upward through intense yoga sadhana.

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Few things are more deadly to the individual than the attitude of having all the time in the world with no need to stop wasting life after life. In this way we silence the inner voice that urges us onward and upward, and become no more than driftwood on the sea of life. This is one of the most dangerous states we can lapse into, sleeping the deadly sleep of heedlessness and indifference.

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The way to divine union is that union itself. This sounds like word juggling and mystification, but it is not. In the very highest levels of spiritual consciousness the dual light becomes one and therefore the cause becomes the effect, or rather returns to being the effect, having previously become the cause into order to initiate the jiva’s entry into relative existence. Enlightenment itself has manifested as sadhana, and the sadhana resumes its original status as enlightenment. There is no duality at all, and there never has been.

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When philosophical concepts are dispelled by actual atmajnana then we see That which is real and true. There is a knowing that leads us onward to unknowing that is the real Knowing. This, too, is achieved only through sadhana. Careful and frequent study of the Gita makes the way to attain this clear.

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Genuine (not synthetic) camphor burns up totally, leaving no ash or soot. When it is gone, it is gone; no trace remains. In the same way the lower, sensory mind ruled by ego and material consciousness must be “evaporated” by the heat of spiritual attainment, by the fire of yoga practice. There is nothing that the Spirit cannot transmute into Consciousness, back into Itself. So that materiality which is worshipped by bound souls must be dissolved for them to be free. And that dissolution must be done consciously and intentionally. Otherwise nothing will happen. We are wise if we keep this fact in mind.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life

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About to Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga: Introduction

    1. Living the Yoga Life: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
    2. Living the Yoga Life: Sanatana Dharma, Sanatana Yoga
    3. Living the Yoga Life: The Atman/Self
    4. Living the Yoga Life: Bhakti and Jnana
    5. Living the Yoga Life: Brahman
    6. Living the Yoga Life: Ishwara
    7. Living the Yoga Life: Breath
    8. Living the Yoga Life: India and Sanatana Dharma
    9. Living the Yoga Life: The Importance of Independence
    10. Living the Yoga Life: The Intelligent Path
    11. Living the Yoga Life: The Internal Life
    12. Living the Yoga Life: Japa and Sound (Shabda)
    13. Living the Yoga Life: Japa with the Breath
    14. Living the Yoga Life: Jnana
    15. Living the Yoga Life: The Jnani
    16. Living the Yoga Life: Karma and Karma Yoga
    17. Living the Yoga Life: Kundalini
    18. Living the Yoga Life: Liberation
    19. Living the Yoga Life: It Is All Up To Us
    20. Living the Yoga Life: Madness, Divine and Worldly
    21. Living the Yoga Life: Manas (Mind) and Buddhi (Intelligence/Intellect)
    22. Living the Yoga Life: Buddhi Yoga
    23. Living the Yoga Life: True Masters (And Not)
    24. Living the Yoga Life: Maya
    25. Living the Yoga Life: Meditation
    26. Living the Yoga Life: Prana
    27. Living the Yoga Life: Raja Yoga
    28. Living the Yoga Life: Reincarnation
    29. Living the Yoga Life: Religion
    30. Living the Yoga Life: Samadhi
    31. Living the Yoga Life: Sadhana
    32. Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life
    33. Living the Yoga Life: Self-realization
    34. Living the Yoga Life: Shivashakti
    35. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Experience
    36. Living the Yoga Life: The Spiritual Teacher
    37. Living the Yoga Life: Subtle Anatomy
    38. Living the Yoga Life: The World
    39. Living the Yoga Life: Worship
    40. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga, the Body and the World
    41. Living the Yoga Life: Dharma and Adharma
    42. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga–The Supreme Dharma
    43. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga Nidra
    44. Living the Yoga Life: The Yogi
    45. Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis
    46. Living the Yoga Life: Qualities of a Yogi
    47. Living the Yoga Life: This and That
    48. Living the Yoga Life: Touch Not
    49. Living the Yoga Life: The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
    50. Living the Yoga Life: How It Is Done
    51. Living the Yoga Life: Use your mind
    52. Living the Yoga Life: Some things it is wise to avoid
    53. Living the Yoga Life: Things you should definitely do and have in your life
    54. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Reading
    55. Living the Yoga Life: Gorakhnath Speaks To The Yogi
    56. Living the Yoga Life: And A Final Word From Me
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