Overcoming Obstacles in Sadhana
by Swami Sivananda
Faith is the prerequisite for spiritual sadhana. After faith comes practice. You must set about doing. A belief must become an act. Once you commence sadhana, you should not give it up easily. All processes in this universe are gradual; they have stages. You must have patience and perseverance.
In spiritual sadhana one does not have to contend merely with positive forces. There are active forces that oppose you, that actually assail you and pull you down. Herein comes the necessity of fortitude. While persevering, you need the courage not to be easily shaken, to brave the storms and proceed in spite of the difficulties trying to push you off the path of sadhana. Therefore, with firm faith, practical application, perseverance, careful attention to even small details and fortitude in trials, you must set foot and proceed on the path of sadhana.
When you actually start doing sadhana, various difficulties will arise. You have to deal with these on the spot. One big difficulty for seekers is that they have to contend with forces that are more internal than external. Therefore, while carrying on your spiritual practices, like chanting God’s name and developing positive virtues, you have to train a portion of the mind as an ever vigilant guide. Immediately any forces come to obstruct you, any bad thought, any anti-spiritual force, anything at all detrimental to your sadhana, this mental monitor should be trained to strike and put down the adverse factor. This can come only through diligent cultivation and practice.
The path of the spiritual aspirant lies through a bewildering jungle of difficulties and dilemmas, of problems and paradoxes.
One such vexing paradox is that your mind is both your best friend and your bitter enemy. The mind becomes a true friend only after being gradually trained to be so. The mind begins to be really helpful after the aspirant has progressed sufficiently in spiritual sadhana. Until then it should be regarded as a troublesome and treacherous enemy inside us. It is extremely diplomatic, cunning and crooked. It is an arch deceiver.
One of the master strokes of the mind’s artfulness is to make the aspirant feel and smugly imagine that he knows his mind perfectly well and cannot be led away by it, and at the same time to delude him totally. The mind has the knack of making the unwary aspirant confidently think of himself as master, while it makes a hopeless fool of him. Its deceptions are subtle.
Therefore, watch the mind. Only through introspection, analysis, discrimination, vigilance and prayer can you understand the subtle jugglery of this wonderful thing called the mind and transcend its deceptions and tricks.
On the spiritual path you must be prepared to meet with hundreds of failures. In the beginning it may appear to be very hard, thorny, precipitous and slippery. It is the razor path. You will fall down many times, but if you are sincere and earnest in your practice, you will rise up quickly and walk again with more zeal, boldness and cheerfulness. Ever stumbling block will become a stepping stone to success or ascent on the hill of spiritual knowledge. Every fall will give you additional strength to rise up to a greater height on the ladder of yoga. Do not lose sight of the goal. Do not miss the ideal. Do not be discouraged. You will soon get spiritual strength from within. The indweller will guide you and push you up.
Trials are to strengthen aspirants. You will grow quickly if you can adapt yourself to any kind of environment and circumstance. If God gives trials, side by side He also gives new strength, patience and fortitude to bear the trials. There is no reason to lament. Say once more, “Thy will be done.” All the saints and sages, prophets and seers had to pass through tremendous struggles and severe ordeals before they reached the goal.
Your spiritual growth is gauged by the extent of your victory over external circumstances and environments, troubles and difficulties, adverse conditions and antagonistic influences. A yogi always keeps a balanced mind in all conditions of life and at every moment. He is adamantine because he stands on a firm basis – the eternal, unchanging, immortal soul – and so he is called steadfast.
Doubts or uncertainties are great obstacles on the path of self-realization, even for an advanced student. Be firm and unshakeable in your faith and conviction to transform yourself. Face these passing obstacles and allow nothing to disturb you. Again and again the battle must be won.
To grow in yoga is not an easy matter. Sadhakas must take to the path sincerely. Always feel that you are just a beginner and strive diligently to acquire the primary virtues of kindness, charitableness, patience and forbearance. Be ready to serve others with humility and put up with provocation and abuse without retaliation.
Remove harshness and rudeness from your nature. Courtesy and politeness must become part of your very essence. Then alone the hardened heart becomes softened and good sentiments and spiritual energy arise in it. Where there is kindness, humility and purity, spirituality springs up, saintliness shines, divinity descends and perfection manifests itself.
Give up arguing. Avoid mixing too much with people. Do not indulge in sundry talks and miscellaneous thoughts just to ease the mind. These are common obstacles for the spiritual aspirant. Become silent. If you can give up idle talk and gossiping and if you do not meddle in the affairs of others, you will immediately free yourself from all sorts of obstacles. Still the mind. Select your words carefully. Turn your thoughts constantly to the spiritual path. Think and talk only of that which will transform you into a divine being.
Power, name, fame and wealth stiffen the ego and strengthen the personality. Hence, renounce them if you want to walk the spiritual path. Various siddhis and other powers will come to the yogi who has controlled the senses, prana and mind. But these too are all hindrances to self-realization. They are stumbling blocks.
To achieve success in any measure in spiritual life is the most difficult and uphill task. It is only after you have given everything of yourself to the task that divine grace will raise you up from the darkness into the light. It is the greatest mistake to think that the mere act of renunciation is sufficient achievement in your spiritual life. If renunciation makes you feel that you have become superior to the rest of mankind and that it has bestowed on you the right to preach and dictate to others, then the very purpose of your renunciation gets blasted. You destroy the very foundation of your spiritual life by this egoistic assumption.
From the very beginning of your spiritual life you must understand clearly that all your hopes of progress rest upon your sincere and consistent effort to gradually root out your own defects of pride, egoism, anger, avarice and jealousy. Unceasing introspection is vital to your success.
Do not deceive yourself at any step along the way by thinking that you have acquired a detached attitude to life wherein you can perform any sort of act and yet remain unaffected by it. This self-deception puts a bar to all progress.
Spirituality means growing into the form of the divine ideal; this comes about only through prolonged sadhana. The sadhana for the spiritual aspirant is to transform the human nature into the divine nature. It is this self-transformation alone that makes dharana and dhyana possible. To grow in sattva you must transform yourself entirely.
Good intentions alone will not do. They must be backed up by good actions. You have to plod on and scale many hills. You cannot climb Mt Everest in one jump. There is no jumping on the spiritual path. Self-realization is not like a six-year postgraduate course. It is the result of intense protracted sadhana.
Do not let failures discourage you, but go on doing your best. Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures, as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future. Be cautious. Just think of the causes which led to your failures and try to remove them in the future. Strengthen yourself with new vigour and virtues. Slowly develop your willpower.
No sadhana ever goes in vain. Every bit is credited immediately towards your evolution. Think not negative thoughts, but calmly go on with your sadhana. Without missing a single day proceed onward with your spiritual practices. Little by little the power accumulates and it will grow.
The fruit of sadhana cannot come immediately. Spiritual evolution is gradual. You will have to wait for a long time patiently. Do not become impatient. The object of sadhana is to release life from the limitations with which it is bound. Sadhana is a lifelong process. It is the purpose for which you have been born.