Some Guidelines to Inner Life

The Goal Supreme is attainable when we realize that everything in this world is temporary and develop a dispassion.

1. The Call from Within

Quite a number of devotees who are initiated disciples of the Ramakrishna Math often say. "We have received Mantra-diksha, but we do not seem to have made any progress in the spiritual path. Why is it so?"

In answer, it has to be pointed out first that one has to become serious about the goal. For most of us that goal is fulfillment of certain worldly ambitions. But the supreme aim, the goal, should be to attain perfection in this life itself--to realise our true nature, which is absolute existence, absolute knowledge and absolute bliss. If this is the Goal Supreme of human life, then this goal becomes easy to attain, provided we are fortunate enough to learn the path from a sadguru, a realised soul, who is the visible representative of our chosen ideal or Ishtam.

Who Can Attain It?
It is only when we are tired of the so-called worldly pleasures, tired of the play-land of illusion, that we want to go back to our real abode, and turn our gaze within. Only then we want to withdraw ourselves from all kinds of worldly allurements and attractions. Only those who have this kind of longing will hunger and thirst for the Eternal and the Infinite. So, in Self-realisation alone, or in the attainment of the Goal Supreme, lies the real fulfillment of human life.

Why is it that we should strive after the infinite or the Eternal? Who can attain the Goal Supreme? Only those who find in themselves a conflict.

Need for Discontent
Spiritual life is really a life of dedication to the highest. It is a life of consecration and of sacrifice. It is a life of one-pointedness. For this, a certain amount of divine discontent is necessary. If we are very happy with all the pleasures of the world, then we cannot hope to reach the goal. Sometimes we do get some kicks and blows from the world, and then we are brought to our senses.

Therefore, it is said that if we have a certain kind of discontent and an understanding that anything of this world cannot give us real, lasting happiness, we will be able to destroy our attachments to worldly matters.

In this connection it may be relevant to refer to the concept of maya and its two-fold powers, avarna, which means concealment of reality--a kind of veil which hides our real Self--and vikshepa, distortion of reality as something else in our mind. It is because of this maya that ignorant people are deluded and they see many objects here instead of Brahman, the one without a second. The truth is, we are divine. Aham Brahma Asmi. We behave like limited beings, finite beings, (as Jivas), but the truth is, we are Brahman-Jivo Brahamaiva Naparah. (the jiva is nothing but Brahman).

Develop dispassion
Is it not prudent on our part to be serious about spiritual life and to reach the Goal Supreme in this very life? This does not mean that all have to become monks and nuns. We must develop dispassion. We must always remember the real fact that everything of this world is temporary, short-lived.

So, if we develop this attitude, then only it will be possible for us to spiritualise our day-to-day relationship with others. When it is said that the mind in its entirety is to be given to God, it implies that it is possible, provided we do not make a distinction between the secular and the spiritual. A question may be asked: 'For those who are in the worldly life, is it possible?' Yes. Try to spiritualise your day-to-day relationship. Remember always the truth that the life of a spiritual aspirant is one of continuous meditation. Let there be no break.

2. Obstacles to Spiritual Life
Even if we have heard the call from within to return to our real abode, such is the attraction of the outside world that this call to turn within is drowned in the din and bustle of the market place. But those who persist in listening to the call do get a momentary glimpse of the reality within, when the clamour of the outside world subsides for a while. When this happens, at least for a short time we do not allow the attractions of the outside world to assail our minds.

What we see in this world of ours is just an appearance or maya, while the objective is to reach the Goal Supreme. How to reach it? We have to tear off the veil of maya; we have to discover Brahman, the substratum of reality beneath the changing phenomena of the world. Well, it is easy to say so, but difficult.

The Obstacles
Now, what are the obstacles? There are some major obstacles. One is our attachment to all that is non-Atman.

Let us take this body. This body is a container. We are so infatuated, wrongly, of course, through avidya (ignorance), that we get ourselves attached to the container, this body-mind complex, and we do not want to discover what is really inside the container. If the body-mind complex is compared to the jewel box, then the gem inside the box is our real nature, the Atman or Pure Consciousness. Now, only when we realise the value of the gem, shall we want to get rid of this jewel box.

Every moment of our existence is filled with the thought of the body, and body alone. But unless we get rid of this body consciousness, realisation of the Self is not possible.

Another way of overcoming the attractions of the outside world is to be above the ideas of male and female. So long as we confine ourselves to the domain of this body and mind, the question of sex arises. But the soul is sexless. Even though we hear about this truth talk about it and meditate upon it, it is very difficult to realise this.

So what is wanted is Vairagya, dispassion for all mundane things. We have to give up our false attachment to this body and mind. This is possible, provided there is a change in our attitude.

Do Not Brood over Past
To reach our real divine nature, the Atman or Pure Consciousness, we should not get attached to the body-mind complex, allowing ourselves to be victims of so many desires. Is it possible? Then sometimes the thought may also come to our mind, 'We have had a bad past.' To such a person, the great ones will say, 'Do not brood over the past, but forget all about it.' It has been said, 'Every saint has had a past, and every sinner has a future.'

Superior and Inferior 'I's
It will be worthwhile to understand the subtle distinction between the superior 'I' and the inferior 'I'. The inferior 'I' tells us to do this and do that. Consequently, we have many desires and these desires are endless and always uncertain. But if we want to overcome all kinds of desires which take us away from our path of absolute spiritual perfection, then we have to subject ourselves entirely to the serious discipline by which the inferior 'I' could be conquered by the superior 'I.'

Pay the Price
Spiritual illumination was the great contribution of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna to mankind. It is absolutely necessary that those who are after spiritual realisation in this very life should completely change their manner of acting and thinking. We want the highest truth, but we are not pre-pared to pay the price. We have to pay the price. No doubt, it is a very long and painful process. But let us not allow ourselves to be defeated.

Once we have received the inner call, we should not let this precious human life go in vain. No doubt, there will be ups and downs in our spiritual journey, but let us not be downcast and dejected. Let us have an optimistic attitude and be up and doing and be prepared to pay any price to transcend the limitations of this material existence to achieve immortality.

3. Aids to Spiritual Life
Let me now refer to what the great Swami Vivekananda said on one occasion on the role that is played by imagination in one's spiritual endeavour:

'Imagine yourself to be in a condition which approximates more and more to the perfect; you would thus approach perfection. You would again gain greater harmony and your spiritual radiance would grow. Your dynamism would increase.'

Now let us see what is the role that is played by meditation. With the help of meditation, we can create in us new life. But when we are asked to meditate on our chosen ideal, we should also remember that we are never asked to meditate on the physical form of our Ishta Devata.

Lila Chintana
Often, when we do Japa and meditation, we find our mind wandering away from the object of our meditation. At such times one can try Lila Chintana or going on the wings of imagination to the places associated with the Divine Lila of an incarnation of God who forms the object of our meditation. That may be found very helpful. Meditation is really difficult and we should realise the distinction between quality and quantity in meditation.

In the midst of multifarious activities of the day-to-day life, if we are not careful enough to continue meditation on our Ishta Devata, then we are likely to be drawn to the attractions of the empirical world. So, those who are really serious in reaching the Goal Supreme in this life itself should try to withdraw their minds from all objects of form, smell, taste, touch and sound.

Sri Ramakrishna said 'A person can achieve such single-mindedness in meditation that he will see nothing or hear nothing, will not be conscious even of a touch. A snake may crawl over his body but he will not know it. Neither of them will be aware of the other. In deep meditation, the sense organs stop functioning. The mind does not look outward. It is like closing the gate of the outer court in a house. There are five objects of the senses; form, taste, smell, touch and sound. They are all left outside.'

As we are all aware, God has created our senses in such a way that they try to possess the things of the outside world. That means, God has created the mind in such a way that it tends towards external things. Only Kaschid Dheerah (those who are introverts), who want to withdraw their minds from the outside world, practise real Uparati. Such persons alone reach the Goal. The Kathopanishad says:

Kascit dhirah pratyag-anantam aiksat /
Avrita-caksuh amrtatvam icchan //

A wise man here and there, desirous of immortality, turns his senses (including the mind) inward to realise the inner self.

Practise Introspection
So, if we are after the Goal Supreme, then what have we got to do? We have to practise introspection. We have to practise withdrawing the mind from the outside world. Who can do that? Only the few determined wise men. Then one may ask, 'If supreme realisation is not for all, what is the use of the study of Vedantic texts and listening to discourses on this subject?' The reply is, if one in a million can reach the goal, why do you not have the thought that I am that one in the million? Have faith. Have that robust optimism.

Be Alert and Vigilant
Do we really want or desire salvation? Do we want to reach the Goal Supreme in this very life? If so, every moment of our life we must be careful, alert and vigilant, and we must continuously attempt to hold on to what may be called Brahman Consciousness or Brahma Nishtha. If we fail to do this, then it will not be possible for us to make substantial progress towards the Goal Supreme.

4. Viveka, Vairagya
Constant effort should be made to hold on to what may be called Brahmic Consciousness--that we are Brahman, we are Existence- Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. We should always be conscious of 'Consciousness'. We must be aware of our inherent divine nature. We must try to live continuously in tune with our real eternal Self. If we do not, then there is every possibility of our mind being assailed by various kinds of temptations and distractions of the outer world. Not to dwell on the plane of Atman means that we live in our inferior self.

A bird cannot soar in the sky with one wing alone; it needs two wings. Similarly, if we are after liberation, then we need two things --Vairagya and Bodha, or constant attunement to our real nature.

Need for Vairagya
We must be ever conscious that this life is transitory and of short duration, and that one day we are surely going to die. No one is going to accompany us, not even our nearest and dearest relatives. It is only when such thoughts come to our mind that we would become serious and seek guidance from the scriptures and a genuine teacher to provide us with a sadhana-way of spiritual practice for attaining our goal. So Vairagya plus spiritual practice would lead us to the Goal Supreme.

All things of the world are totally unreal. Unless we grow genuine dispassion for things of this world, we cannot achieve Moksha. The first important pre-requisite is real Vairagya, but that is not all.

To illustrate the point, take a table. It has four legs. Consider one leg as Viveka (discrimination), another as Vairagya (dispassion), the third as Shatsampatti or the aggregate of six virtues (namely, Sama, Dama, Titiksha, Uparati, Shraddha and Samadhana), and the fourth as Mumukshutvam (desire for liberation).

Unless all the four legs of the table are in perfect position, the table may tilt. That fourth leg is Mumukshutvam. So it is said, only when one has the real desire for liberation, one's sadhana becomes effective or fruitful.

So spiritual unfoldment, spiritual progress, does take place in a heart, only if it is watered by Vairagya. Then we are to plough it also. Suppose we are to water a field for cultivation; simple watering will not do. We have to avoid by all means any kind of double movement. Now, what does double movement mean?

Tendency of Senses
The Lord has created us in such a way that our senses have always a tendency to possess or enjoy the outside world. But there are some people, intelligent people, who discriminate, who are wide awake, who realise in their heart of hearts that if they allow themselves to be drawn by different kinds of allurements of this external world, they will not then be able to reach the desired goal in this life; for, the senses have a tendency to drag us out from our inner world to the outer world.

In our quest for the mundane, ephemeral so-called pleasures of the world, we forget that the world is a world of appearances and that it is not real. If we allow ourselves to be deceived by the allurements of the world and at the same time want to proceed along the spiritual path, we are guilty of what may be called double movement. If we are serious about our path towards our final, lasting goal, then we have to make the choice once and for all.

Eliminate Name and Form
Our desires are to be given a God-ward direction. The external world, according to Vedanta, means five things: Nama (name), Rupa (form), Asti; Bhati Priya (existence, knowledge, bliss). If we can continuously eliminate name and form, then we perceive the omnipresence of Brabman--Asti, Bhati; Priya, or existence, knowledge, bliss absolute.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna explains the difference between outer abstinence and inner control or inner renunciation. There may be some of us who can reject the sense objects, but there may still be lurking desires in our mind to possess those very objects. Outwardly, we may reject but inwardly- there may be hankering. It means that only outward control, and not inner control, has been achieved. If we want to reach the final goal, with outer or external control alone, we are hopelessly mistaken.

Until we have achieved inner control, longing for sense objects recedes for the time being. But the taste for them remains as lurking desire. However, in the case of one who has reached the goal, of one who is established in the substratum behind the world of name and form--even the lurking desires go from his mind once for all.

5. Japa Sadhana
Sometimes when we sit for meditation, many kinds of impure thoughts bubble up. Is there any way out?

Is there any method by which we can be successful in removing this wall of impediments? Is there any method by which an aspirant can surmount all the difficulties on the path towards the Goal Supreme? The answer is 'Yes', there is a proven technique. That is japa sadhana. What is this Japa sadhana? It is just the methodical repetition of a sacred formula, a name--a siddha japa mantra that we get from our guru or spiritual master. Power is transmitted from a master through the mantra to his disciple.

To proceed towards the Goal Supreme, we must have our own Chosen Deity or Ishta Devata, and a Siddha Bija Mantra. Japa becomes efficacious when, along with the repetition of a great name, we dwell on its meaning as instructed by the teacher.

Japa sadhana lays emphasis on taking the help of sound symbols, because sound and thought are inter-related.

Japa sadhana has two kinds of values. One is esoteric and the other exoteric. By the mere vibration of a given sound, a sense of spiritual awakening takes place, a new field of awareness is opened to us. This is what is called in mystical language, the esoteric value of japa sadhana; it generates a sakti (power) which unifies all the diverse energies in us into a single bundle of energy. Our energies are always scattered in different directions. Japa sadhana makes all these diverse energies one- pointed and makes them unified. By this an aspirant will be able to awaken the Kundalini power which lies dormant in us.

Now, is it practicable to pray ceaselessly? Apparently, it seems that it is rather not practicable to spend the whole time in prayer alone. A break in the continuity is inevitable. But if one is to attain spiritual illumination, one has to pray ceaselessly. One has to pray at all times, at all places. No doubt, other thoughts will invade our mind and not allow us to pray ceaselessly. The remedy then is to exercise our will power, and reject all other thoughts.

Live in His Presence
Ceaseless prayer does not mean that we have to repeat the name of the Lord continuously, but what is meant is that we are to live in his presence. We should also take care to see that we do not do anything or say anything or think of anything which may displease God.

The most important point to note while learning the art of ceaseless prayer is that we can be successful in this, provided we love God; but the fact is that we do not love him. We pray, say for an hour or so in the morning or in the evening. As a revered personage of our Order, Swami Yatiswaranandaji, used to say, we are religious people for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening, but this does not build up spiritual life.

So, we have to work always towards praying to God. God is omnipresent.

This being so, what is required of us is to be always alert and do every thing in the living presence of God.

6. How to Control Vasanas (Tendencies)
The society in which we live and our environment are full of different kinds of unwholesome, worldly influences which we cannot escape. Unless we neutralise them, take pains and make special efforts to do away with the influences which hinder our progress, it will not be possible for us to realise the magnificent goal in this life.

Sankaracharya points out that the way to destroy worldly influences lies in looking on everything, under all circumstances, always, everywhere and in all ways, as Brahman and Brahman alone.

Serious Obstacles
Desires are serious obstacles in our journey towards the supreme goal. Now, desires or vasanas are stimulated by two factors--internal thought and external action. First, there is a mental longing--I want to possess this, I want to enjoy this or that object. First, the thought comes in the mind. What is at the thought level gradually comes later to the level of action. So, the longing is inside the mind, and action outside.

By these two--dwelling constantly on sense objects and acting upon them--what happens? We get more and more vasanas.

Sometimes it is seen that though we restrict for some reason or other, certain kinds of sense indulgences, we still continue to dwell on these very sense objects all the time. By so doing, our restraint becomes a mere pretence. It will, therefore, not solve our problem.

Always Be Alert
So, what should we do? We should become very careful, mindful and alert. In our journey towards the great goal, once we allow ourselves to become extroverts, then there is a tendency of going down because the ego at once intervenes and the sense objects again crowd around us for attention. Terrible vasanas will be created once more and we fall again. Our sadhana becomes a sheer waste of time and energy. Therefore, we have to be very careful.

We are living a life of identification with the unreal. Basically and intrinsically we are Atman. We are Sat-Chit-Ananda, but we have forgotten our divine heritage. We are conscious of our biological heritage only and we live on the psycho-physical existence, on the plane of unreality. And we go on indulging in different kinds of asat vasanas (evil desires), which are predominant in our mind. These asat vasanas are to be removed by sat vasanas (holy desires). We have to ensure that we do not indulge in any kind of wrong and sensuous thoughts.

Remove the Weeds
Therefore, we should never, never relax. We should go on weeding out and at the same time we should also see to it that the legacies of the past with all our bad impressions are reduced. Therefore, along with the effort with which we remove the weeds, we should also cultivate some positive attitudes. When the lawn is freed from weeds, we should plant in their place some good flower and fruit bearing vegetation. In the same way, while all sensuous thoughts are eliminated, along with that positive virtues must also be cultivated.

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