WHAT IS SPIRITUAL LIFE?
One objective of the sadhana [spiritual practices] of all believers in God is to be somewhat godlike. As God’s universe, which is both his garment and Self-expression, is not a dreary desert, the life and externals of a godlike person need not always be the imitation of a desert.
As bare deserts are, however, a phase of God’s creation, asceticism may be a phase of God-seeking and Self-realization, but not the whole of it. Genuine asceticism for finding one’s own soul and for the good of humanity is worthy of reverence.
Equally worthy of reverence, if not more, is the treading of the fuller and more difficult path of sadhana of those who are in the world, but remain above it. The lotus is often used as a symbol in Indian culture and mythology because the lotus grows in the mud, yet remains above, untouched and unaffected by the mud and water.
You can live in the world and yet be spiritual. It is not necessary for you to renounce the world. Wherever you are, stay there. Simply follow two formulas. One formula is for living in the external world:
All the things of the world that are given to me are given to me by the Lord. They are meant for me and I have the right to use them, but I don’t have the right to possess them, for they are not mine.
All things will become means in life if you have this attitude, instead of, “This is mine, this is mine.” You are afraid of losing what you have; you are afraid it will decay and go to decomposition. You should learn to use the things of the world without being possessive. As St. Bernard said, “Love the Lord alone. Use the things of the world as your means.”
In addition, you should do your actions selflessly, lovingly, and skillfully. Nothing more than that is needed just the one formula for the external world. What to do for the inner self?
God is everywhere. The Lord is in me; I am his shrine. As a shrine is kept neat and clean, I will try my best to keep my body, breath, and mind pure and orderly.
For a person of wisdom who knows the Truth, internal and external are one and the same. Inner freedom is born of self-sacrifice, self-purification, and self-control. This freedom releases the spirit and gives it wings to soar to the boundless sphere of the unfathomable levels of being.
Freedom is truth. Why then do we live in a cage with no sky beyond it—in a closed world of hard facts? We are like seeds with hard outer coverings, crying from within for liberation. Millions of people die like seeds that have lost the urge for generation.
The resources for living and being successful on the earth that are offered by Mother Earth for her children are immense, but those who are not aware of the real and limitless resources lying dormant within human life are deprived, and this self-deprivation is the cause of suffering.
Shall there be a day when the consciousness of the large multitude will be illumined? Only then will human beings and society understand the profound meaning of the Reality that offers us love and emancipation.
The joys received through prayer, meditation, and contemplation are the highest of all joys. I am one living witness who confirms that the highest of joys cannot be given by the world. All the joys in the world give you but a taste. That taste can never be satisfied. A momentary joy is called vishaya ananda. It is ananda (bliss), but it lasts only for a short time.
Sages say there is another ananda—paramananda—that is something higher, something everlasting, something that can never be snatched, and that is liberating and emancipating.
What is unique in the human being is the awareness of consciousness. The burning desire to attain immortality, the perfect, and the eternal, makes the human being superior to all other creatures.
Sadhana is prescribed for the attainment of a happy life on the earth, in heaven thereafter, and at length, liberation. Spiritual practices lead the aspirant toward divinity or inner experiences that further help to attain the final goal of life.
Entire life is sadhana.
You ask, “Is it possible for me to know God? Is it possible for me to be a spiritual person? Is it possible for me to do this?”
Patanjali, the codifier of yoga science, says, “O aspirant, learn to practice until the last breath of your life.”
Let the heavens shower all the blessings upon you, so that you can grow and unfold yourself, and accomplish the purpose of life. My prayers are always with you.
Why Spiritual Practice?
Sadhana [spiritual practice] is important. It will give you a comprehensive knowledge of life with all its currents and crosscurrents.
It is amazing to observe that most of the people enveloped in sloth and lethargy are not aware that life on this earth is but a brief moment, and that moment should be utilized to purify the way of the soul. Those who do not do their duties and yet expect the best in life, are fools who live in a fool’s paradise.
In life’s primitive paradise, fools aspire to live for a long time. They live perpetually on charity. They are beggars who are burdens to society and even to themselves. These beggars are envious of one another and habitually suspicious of each other, like dogs living upon their master’s favors, showing their teeth, growling, barking, and trying to chew up one another. Their very existence is described as a struggle. Their paradise lacks peace, equilibrium, and tranquility.
I worked hard in my life and attained something that gives me solace. I found out that life is mingled with sorrow and joy; both of these feelings should not be allowed to disturb the course of life.
A human being is not imperfect, but incomplete. Man’s essential nature is a limitless horizon. The call to inner Truth is present in him with all profundity, but his analytical logic is shallow.
Peace cannot be attained through mere speculative philosophy or logic. I am willing to believe that philosophy is useful for the comprehension of the Ultimate Reality, but I do not admit that philosophy alone can lead us to the ultimate goal. However great the philosophy may be, it must be supplemented by faith, emotion, and strict discipline of the functions of the will.
A sadhaka has to go through a series of internal experiences. When a sadhaka’s convictions are filtered by the systematic and organized way of sadhana, the mind becomes penetrating and one-pointed.
An aspirant must control the dissipation of the mind. Conquest over the senses and the mind helps one to attain freedom from the charms and temptations of the world. Free from worldly distractions, nothing remains in the mind but the longing to know God.
Once such an exclusive longing awakens, one becomes absorbed in contemplating and meditating on God. Through constant contemplation and meditation, one begins having glimpses of the Truth, and these experiences strengthen his faith. Growing internally, that exclusive faith becomes the source of inner strength, enabling the aspirant to move along the path until perfection is achieved.
The first detachment achieved by the aspirant is physical, inspiring him to develop the power of instinctive love and knowledge that helps him to relate with the world and nature. Nature has her own laws and helps all creatures to receive her blessings and grace in many ways.
The human mind is complex with all its typical moods, manners, and weapons. The purpose of sadhana is to be free from the magic wonders of the mind and remain free all the time.
Freedom is a divine gift lent to mortals. A seeker of Truth should first have freedom from all time-honored taboos. Mental freedom is an accepted fact and is definitely higher than physical freedom. Free spirit is godly and alone can claim kinship with God.
The potential to realize the Truth is present in every person. In some it remains dormant, while in others it is awakened. The more one directs one’s awareness toward the Divine Force, the more one realizes the emptiness of the objects of the world. That realization helps one to withdraw one’s mind from the external world, and to compose oneself for inner exploration.
All sadhanas, all practices, are meant to purify and strengthen the mind that disturbs your being and prevents you from being aware of the Reality that is within you.
To be spiritual means to be aware of the Reality all the time, to be aware of the Absolute Truth all the time, and to be aware of the Lord within you all the time.
Often people ask questions like, “What is a swami?” or “Why did you become a swami?” In areas such as Rishikesh or Haridwar, India, along the Ganges, it is not a question that needs to arise. Many swamis are there, and all you have to do is say, “Behold, those are swamis!” However, in geographical areas where there are few swamis wandering around, these are more curious questions.
The word swami means master; it means striving for the mastery over one’s smaller self and habit patterns, so that the eternal Self within may come shining through. The act of becoming a swami is not so much an acting of becoming, of adding on, of allegiance, as it is an act of setting aside, of renunciation. A swami is a monk, one who has set aside all of the limited, worldly pursuits, so as to devote full time effort to the direct experience of the highest spiritual realization, and to the service of others along those lines. Renunciation is not anti-world, in any sense of the world being a bad place. Rather, it is a matter of priorities about how one will spend his or her time, the twenty-four hours in a day, and the seven days in a week. Traditionally renunciation is the fourth of four stages of life, although one who feels the call might renounce and become a swami at any stage of life.
While there are many swami lineages, with a wide range of beliefs, perspectives, and loyalties, a swami of the Himalayan tradition will at some point no longer claim allegiance to any particular group or religion, seeing all as the outpouring of the one, indivisible reality, truth, or God, which goes by many names to different people of different cultures, including the word Brahman, the Absolute Reality. Though most would likely have self-identified as Hindu, other individual practitioners in the Himalayan tradition have personal roots in virtually all of the world’s most known cultures and religions. During childhood the decisions about religion were left by parents for my own later choice. My renunciation as a swami has been one of setting aside any sense of exclusive identity so as to embrace the whole.
The true samnyasi (renunciate or ascetic) does not identify with any form of division or multiplicity. The Sanskrit word samnyasi comes from samnyasyati, meaning he renounces. Sam means together, ni means down, and asyati means he throws. He or she throws down any personal identity whatsoever, including not only those related to physical objects, but also to nationality, religion, work or family identities. If there is the external appearance of any identities such as these, it is only in the perception of, and for the benefit of others whom the samnyasi may serve. Even the name used by the samnyasi or swami is primarily for the convenience of others.
The goal of the samnyasi or swami is “atmano mokshartham jagat hitaya cha” which means one who strives “for the realization and liberation of the Self and for the benefit of the world.”
There are deeper, heartfelt aspects of these questions “What is a swami?” or “Why did you become a swami?”. One of the most inspiring and validating writings I have encountered is a short paper written by Pandit Usharbudh Arya, entitled “What is Renunciation?” This remains in my heart the clearest written description of what it really means to be a swami. It captures not only an accurate definition, but also a description of the ideal aimed for, and the spirit of the inner longing for one drawn to this path. It well answers the questions, “What is a swami?” and “Why did you become a swami?” The entire text of the paper is below.
Swami Rama has also written a succinct and clear description of the path of renunciation in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Here, he describes seven important points about the path of the swamis. That text is also included below, and has been entitled “The Basis of Renunciation.”
If you are not familiar with swamis or other monks, and are a sincere seeker, it is very important to know and keep in mind that the path of Self-Realization is not exclusive to the renunciates. The two paths of renunciation and action in the world are equally valid and fruitful for aspirants who are devoutly committed to the practices of contemplation and meditation.
What is Renunciation?
Renunciation is the final forgetting of “I” and “mine”. It is that mode of thought and experience in which the entire creation becomes as oneself. One who has taken vows of renunciation, and thereby become a swami, considers himself a member of every family on earth, with their physical and spiritual welfare as his prime concern. He is as concerned for them as the novices in the practice of love, leading a limited worldly life, are concerned with their own families. A renunciate claims an intimate relationship with all, attached to none. “Attached to none” means that he claims nothing from them, desires and seeks nothing from anyone, needs no emotional support from anyone but gives the support and encouragement to all. Like the rising sun, wearing orange/saffron robes, he must dispense light to every nook and cranny of the world. Wherever the evening catches him is his home whether under someone’s roof or under God’s own sky. Free and ever moving like the breeze he gives life-breath to all. Ever-flowing like a river, he quenches, cleanses and irrigates all. Like a fire he purifies all. Like a light he illuminates all. Like the sky, he remains untouched, clear, calm, giving his space to everyone; he invites every being to find rest, solace, succor and consolation within his field of being that emanates from him.
A candidate for swamihood walks into the holy river Ganges, and doffs all clothing. S/he is given fresh robes by the guru for convention’s sake. Mentally s/he must be as Adam or Eve before the fall, and totally genderless, for s/he is no longer a physical body in his personal self-identification. Yet s/he must continue to bestow the best of care on the physical vehicle so that s/he may serve others all the better. As s/he owns nothing one’s own (svam), s/he is called a swami, the master of it all, for s/he has become a gentle master over his own will.
In taking the vows of swamihood one declares “a-bhyam” to all living beings: I am a threat to none, a danger to none; may no living being henceforth fear me. In a great fire-offering he names each and all his organs, sense-faculties, pranas, mental states and functions, and as he pours a libation of ghee (clarified butter) into the fire, as though offering his own faculties to the universal fire, he declares regarding each of them, “No more mine”; “free of all dust I had gathered heretofore, I am now sinless; I am light.
Thereafter, if he owns anything it is only formally in his name, as a convenience for his universal mission of service and love for which he grants and distributes of himself freely, unstintingly. He must avoid all honor and recognition, unless that too would enhance his service to the world. He must do, speak, think, wear, eat whatever would help those whom he serves.
One may renounce at any stage of life whenever his universal love crosses the boundaries of limitation. Renunciation is not, definitely not, an abandoning of any duties. Those who have any claims on him first renounce their claims on him and grant him their happy permission to let go. Theirs is no less an act of renunciation, more difficult, because they have yet to struggle with the world. He renounces because his karma with them has been fulfilled; all he leaves behind is their happy thoughts about him. There are cases in history where someone became a swami by speaking a lie that he had no relatives or that he had obtained their happy permission. After it was found out to be untrue, such people were expelled from the monastic order and told to fulfill their worldly duties.
In some cases a renunciate’s guru may order that he continue to perform some residual duties to his erstwhile family, for example, continuing to finance a child’s education. The great Shankara returned to his dying mother and performed her last rites. Why should not a renunciate do these duties which he would ordinarily perform for any member of his universal family, without claims or attachments and free of any weak emotions. He refers to his pre-renunciation family as purvashram: “relations from my previous ashram”. [previous stage of life]
The act of renunciation is therefore not an escape, not a divorce. Just as someone taking the vows as a Catholic nun, and changing her name, is not denouncing her parents, only enhancing the scope of her love, so it is with someone becoming a swami from out of married life. The spouse of such a one considers him/herself wedded but claiming nothing from the swami, for his personage is now sacred, beyond flesh and beyond the reach of touch. The parents, spouse, children who have let go of their child, spouse and parent are to be admired for their renunciation so that someone may save the entire world freely.
In the Indian Law the act of sanyasa, or becoming a swami, is regarded as civil death. For example, any property acquired after becoming a swami passes to one’s disciples following the swami’s death, and not to the children of one’s body in the previous ashram [stage of life].
That human beings are in unfinished product. A swami is the finished product, ideally speaking; or aspiring to become a finished product soon, in this very life; this is the ultimate in human evolution. He has no specific name (except for others’ convenience so they may refer to him), no birthplace, no caste, no social grouping, no religion, no countries. He is a citizen of all earth, everyone’s closest relative to whom anyone may confide anything. He is the kind shower when someone is suffering a drought of love.
In the life of a spiritual seeker or teacher there comes a moment when a decision can no longer be postponed. One passes through emotions like those of a bride: sadness at separation from past love, looking forward to a future of a different expansion of love, enhancing oneself. All weak emotion is to be watched and conquered–not by suppressing it but by merging the little love into the greater one. One simply knows, at a certain time in life, that the pressing details of one’s business from the worldly life will never be finished–while billions are dying without light. He ties up as many loose ends as possible, and walks out carrying a torch into the night. At that moment of decision, no consideration is weighty enough to tie his feet. The call to walk (to become a pari-vrajaka) has come:
for the benefit of the many, bahu-jana-hitaya
for the comfort of the many, baha-jana-sukhaya,
as the Buddha said when exhorted and sent out his first batch of monks. At that moment one’s own physical discomforts, mental sadness, and such, becomes as unimportant as a mother’s need to get a full night’s sleep is ignored when her infant is suffering from a burning fever.
Such a moment is a moment of dying; dying to one’s erstwhile limited self. The renunciate performs that ceremony to himself which is normally performed by relatives following the funeral of someone physically dead. Story of a man in a certain city in India. Every astrologer in the city predicted that he would die on a certain morning. The evening before the predicted date for this man’s death a Swamiji arrived in the city and the man went to see him. This dialogue followed:
He: Swamiji, every astrologer in the city predicts that I am to die tomorrow.
Swamiji: Do you want to live on?
He: Indeed, I do.
Swamiji: Then renounce the worldly life and become a swami tomorrow morning; die to your previous world.
He: Oh, but what will my wife say?
Swamiji: What will she say if you died in the morning?
The gentleman went home, got his wife’s permission, became a swami, and lived on.
On the day one is meant to become a swami, if one decides not to renounce but to continue to cling on, the physical death is bound to grab him by the hair, for his work for “the previous ashram” is already done.
Intense sadhana (undertaking concentrated spiritual observances); the realization of universal love; the satisfaction derived from seeing the others’ ignorance and consequent suffering have been reduced; and the unbounded grace of one’s guru; these help a novice renunciate to walk on firmly and not to falter.
As to the renunciate’s well-being, besides the guru’s grace, the whole world takes care of him ever so lovingly. Those above him bless him, those below him are ever so grateful. How wonderful is the life of a renunciate, the life of an all-embracing, incorruptible sky.
The Basis of Renunciation
The goal of the renunciate is to fathom one after another of the various stages of consciousness that lead to the innermost One. The following principles are the basis of the path of renunciation:
The renunciate directs all his energy toward the attainment of the goal of life, Self-realization.
He does not waste time and energy pursuing desires based on self-interest.
The renunciate’s journey is inward; it is neither action nor inaction nor retreat. It consists of performing actions mentally and directing the mind and its modifications inward rather than toward the external world.
Non-attachment is attained spontaneously because the renunciate is not involved with objects; they have all been consciously renounced.
With pure reason all the samskaras are burned in the fire of knowledge.
There remains only one desire: the desire for Self-realization. That desire does not motivate one to do actions in the external world but becomes a means to build determination, will power, and one-pointedness. Therefore such desire is an essential means rather than an obstacle in the path of sadhana.
In the path of renunciation, Self-realization alone is the goal, and any action that does not become a means is firmly rejected and renounced. There is no half-here and half-there; total dedication and devotion are essential limbs for renunciation.
This path of the rare few is the highest of all. It is difficult but not impossible. Those who are fully prepared should walk this path of fire and light. They should not listen to the suggestions of those who are not capable of following the path of renunciation.
Those who are not prepared to become renunciates should not think they cannot realize the Self. That which is important to understand and attain is the state of non-attachment, without which treading either path–renunciation or action–is meaningless.