The Part of Technique in Spiritual Life

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Radiant Immortal Atman! Beloved sadhaks and seekers! The name of Swami Vivekananda is known to all of you. He was a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and had the distinction of being one of the earliest of the monks of India to take the great message of Vedanta and the universalism of Vedanta to the Western countries. His Guru had many disciples, many of them young men, some of whom were very highly educated and qualified, a few of them unlettered. But they all became accredited spiritual leaders after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna.

The second most important disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, whom even Swami Vivekananda treated with great deference and reverence, was one Swami Brahmananda. He was the first president of the Sri Ramakrishna Mutt and Mission when it was founded near the end of the last century. Swami Brahmananda was a very serious person, always dignified, not given to easy change of moods. He was patient, understanding, and a kind teacher.

Disciples who took initiation from him sometimes used to go to him a year or two later and complain that they could find no progress in their sadhana, bemoan the fact that they had had no “experience”—they had not seen any light, their kundalini had not risen, they had not had any vision of Gods or Goddesses, there was no higher consciousness. He used to listen to them patiently, and after they had fully stated their problem, he would tell them: “Yes, yes, I understand your difficulty. I understand your eagerness to have experience. Yes, it will come. Continue your japa. Repeat your ishta mantra regularly without fail every day for another year. Please come back to me after the end of the year·”

He used to reassure them, tell them to continue their japa, be very regular, gradually increase the time, and practise for another year. After a year the same people would return and repeat the same story. He repeated his patient hearing also. He heard them patiently as before, repeated his same instructions and asked them to come back again after a year. Sometimes this was repeated a third time also, and then after the fourth year or the fifth year when they came, they no longer had a complaint. They had found an answer. The agitation had gone. They gradually began to feel peace and inner joy.

Later on he used to say: “Sadhaks are very impatient. Before they hardly start their spiritual life and sadhana, already they want to have experience; they want to have experience as the very beginning of their spiritual sadhana, not as the later part. And they think that such experience only, constitutes the sign that they are progressing. So what could I do, what could I tell them? I could only tell them to carry on with their sadhana, continue their japa, be very regular in it.” Therefore, he used to tell them: “My dear son, you should not be too impatient. You must have sufficient abhyasa (practice) before you start looking for results and before you want or wish to complain. You want to have a tree within days of planting a seed. You want to have fruit before the tree has become a real tree.”

This impatience in a sadhak is impractical and is a result of not realising that a good part of the sadhana goes not into the structure of spiritual life but into its foundation. When the foundation of a building is being built, no structure is seen above the surface of the ground. Someone looking from far off will see nothing there. Yet something important, something indispensable, is being done. If within a few days of starting construction you already want to see walls and rooms, it is an impractical view and approach.

Swami Brahmananda was an experienced teacher, so he was able to be patient and ask them to carry on. However, this problem is still acute today. Therefore many spiritual teachers purvey to the common market of sadhaks and offer techniques which will show results. In three sessions in a darkened room someone wants to press your eye-balls and make you see flashes of light. “Oh yes, I will give you illumination.” What is illumination? Illumination is flashes of light. If someone hits you on the head with a club, you will have lots of flashes. If you hit your head against the wall by accident, you can have many stars. There are organisations and foundations that promise this type of spiritual experience, awakening of the kundalini—you will get siddhi (psychic power).

But then, are you trying to lead a spiritual life or do you want to practise some techniques and get some results? What is it that you understand about a life of nivritti—of renunciation, of seeking? When you say I am seeker, aspirant, what are you seeking after, what are your aspiring for? “No clear idea. I want happiness, I am seeking for peace.” What do you know about peace? What is this peace you are seeking for? What is this happiness you want? How do you know it is not there? We have to define our goal and first of all ascertain where it is and whether it is there or not.

You must know the connection between the technique that you are following and the life that you are leading. Are they two unconnected things? “I go my way, but every morning and evening I do something; I practise some technique and technique must yield. If I keep a hen, I must get an egg every day.” Does this work? What about your life? Are you paying attention to your life or are you paying attention only to your mental acrobatic? This question has to be considered. This question has to be very, very definitely made part of your consideration.

Swami Brahmananda adopted a pragmatic method. He neither spoke about spiritual life nor results. He said, “Carry on your sadhana.” Of course, together with the sadhana spiritual teachers lay down some principles, they lay down some way of life. They also put before the seeker a certain ideal. If this ideal is always kept in mind and the principles put before the disciple by the Guru are adhered to, then even the practice of one’s minimal, daily, routine sadhana will yield fruits—more surely and perhaps earlier. A wrong emphasis upon technique and insufficient importance given to ideals and principles can lead to frustration, can lead to delay in success.

First and foremost try to know that all sadhana, all technique, all these various items of yoga abhyasa have one aim: to remove the distraction of your mind and focus your mind, and thus bring about a state of ekagrata, one-pointedness, concentration, and to integrate your life, your thoughts, your feelings, emotions, sentiments, imaginations and aspirations towards one unified quest, one clearly defined goal. If that is there, all things fall into place. If this centre of unification, this factor of integration is not there, naturally you are bound to be buffeted hither and thither.

In olden days before television and movies were invented, the main diversion in the cities and towns was always the circus, where the audience not only saw wild animals, but they watched human beings performing extraordinary feats. One such feat would be performed on a rope or wire stretched near the roof of the tent, perhaps forty or fifty feet from the ground. There was no net; if a person fell from this height—finished. The performer would carry a long stick and, step by step, slowly walk across the rope as the audience held its breath.

How were they able to successfully do such death defying feats even though thousands of people were there? The focus of their entire attention, entire mind, entire being, was only on their balance and getting across. They were oblivious of the audience; their entire consciousness was on their feet which were gingerly moving step by step along the rope. Their concentration was so powerful that the whole audience became concentrated, spellbound, with eyes riveted and breath held.

That is the thing needful. That is the purpose of all sadhana. Japa, meditation, kirtan, puja, upasana—everything should make you totally absorbed in the task that you are doing. Be absolutely one-pointed, completely focused. And it is the solution of ninety percent of the problem of all seekers—this ingathering of the mind and the disciplining of the attention towards one task.

The focusing of the entire attention of the mind in one direction, towards one goal, in one task—that is Yoga, that is sadhana, that is abhyasa. It is the key to success. It is the guarantee and assurance of progress and it is the solution to all problems. And it does not come in a day. As patient as Swami Brahmananda was, a disciple has to be even more patient. This focusing of attention, this complete concentration upon the ideal, the goal, and the day after day cultivation of this practice of all-absorbing concentration upon the objective, becoming established in it, is helped by cultivating the habit of patience in everything, the habit of attention in everything that you do.

This, therefore, is the great thing desirable—to have a goal and to focus your mind and heart and soul upon it and not to pay attention to irrelevant details, not allow the mind to distract you from this total concentration towards your ideal, your principles, your way of life, your abhyasa, your goal.

Therefore, be absorbed in your practice and try to develop this inner state of total attention, total focus, complete absorption, and see the results. Then you will find that there is no longer room for being frustrated or discontented. If this is not there, then your whole life will be nothing but murmuring, complaining, grumbling and dissatisfaction, because these things grow where there is a lack of this total focusing, attention and concentration. All abhyasa is for concentration. Concentration overcomes distraction, and distraction is the bane of all human beings, whether they are spiritual sadhaks or whether they are purely worldly, materialistic people. Therefore, if this focusing is made, if you become ingathered, one-pointed, integrated, then whatever is to come, it will come in due course.

This is how spiritual practice should be understood and spiritual life lived. Life is not to be subordinated or given the less important place. In a life governed by principle, moving towards an ideal, technique forms a part of the entire thing called Yoga and sadhana and spiritual life. God bless you!

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