Going the Distance in Spiritual Life – Part 9
Six Solutions for Lack of Spiritual Success
- Renounce Cravings
- Refuge in a Path & Preceptor
- Absorption in Love of Truth
- Devotion to Discrimination
- Freedom from Worldliness
These points can be found and/or inferred in verses 8 – 10 of the Vivekachudamani.
“The rust of monasteries is lack of recitation.
The rust of households is lack of self-effort.” – Lord Buddha
In this post, we will take up the need for self-effort to make progress in spiritual life.
In contemporary, westernized and technological society, whether secular or religious, there has grown this idea that one should not have to wait or struggle for most things. If you want something, you go up online for it. You don’t have to attend upon your academic teachers in college, you can do online classes. One can bypass personal spiritual instruction by visiting a variety of sites, “liking” the sites as one menu-tastes along, as if that constitutes a true search for Truth – a little momentary inspiration. There are religions and sects that only require one to accept their creed, their Savior, and one is saved and goes to heaven. But Vedanta makes a big distinction between salvation and liberation. As my teacher, Babaji, said in class recently:
In Vedanta, we make a distinction between salvation and liberation. The Great Beings, Avataras, taught beings according to the level of their understanding and spiritual growth. Those who sought salvation (Heaven/God with form) were given salvation. But more qualified souls seek liberation, Moksha/Mukti. Would an Avatar keep these from attaining it? Rather, the Avatar would open the gates to formless Reality for them. This is called "Getting to the Father through the Son."
In Patanjala Yoga, we learn that there are five kinds of yogis. Three that fail the goal, and two that attain to Liberation. They are:
- Janma – Those born with a desire to realize God but do not follow up.
- Ausadha – Those who take drugs to mimic spiritual ecstasy but only put a haze over their mind.
- Mantra – Those who get a mantra and repeat it mindlessly, never diving deeply into its meaning, as well as those who collect mantras for various purposes using them like magic spells or seeking powers with them.
- Tapas – Those who practice austerity, spiritual disciplines, with no other purpose than Self-Realization and devotion to God/Truth.
- Samadhi – Those who are perfect from birth due to spiritual practices and attainment in prior lifetimes.
The first three kinds of yogis do not succeed due to complacency, compromise, and skewed intentions. They engage in wishful thinking, as if aspirations and dreams can bring lasting results. The final two succeed, via the building of character through mastery of the senses and mind, the development of a strong will, and attainment of peace, concentration, meditation, and absorption in God/Self.
What is the nature of spiritual self-effort? Actual practices will depend on the instructions of one’s guru and one’s temperament and capacity (addressed in the next blog). However, the foundation of spiritual self-effort includes having a spiritual Ideal, cultivating knowledge of and devotion to It, and arranging one’s life so that spiritual practices are the priority. Sri Ramakrishna gave an example of this. If you line up a bunch of zeroes and add them all up, what do you get? Zero, of course. But if you put a “1” in front, then, you have a very large number. The Self/God is the “1” and all else are zeros.
As hard as it is for many people to hear, everything in life – objects, experiences, relationships, nature, and the world – are empty, subject to decay, and will not last longer for you than your own lifetime. They are finite. Only the Self, the Atman, is eternal and infinite. “The finite cannot satisfy the Infinite,” my initiatory Guru often repeated. The Atman is our stable, immutable, blissful Existence, which we constantly trade away for false and limiting assumptions, such as “I am this body,” “I am this gender,” “this world, my job, wealth, and family are absolutely real,” etc. But in point of fact, we are always the Atman, ever free and never bound, the eternal Witness of all that comes and goes. Until we make realization of It our priority, we will continue to be tossed about by events in earthly life, and our spiritual life will stagnate.
Thus, this is the first step, the pivotal reorientation: instead of working spiritual effort into one’s earthly life as if it were something “extra” (when it is truly the engine that will generate peace and fulfillment), we must work earthly life into spiritual life. Babaji calls this a “2% shift of consciousness.” This means that one’s daily spiritual practices will not be the first thing to toss out the window when difficulties arise. This is putting the “1” before the “zeros.” Upon setting out to remake one’s priorities, it is one of the inevitable occurrences that suddenly obstacles arise: Troubles at work, ill health, loss of loved ones, beginning a romantic relationship with someone uninterested in spiritual pursuits. Until one perseveres in one’s spiritual practices, regardless of how earthly life might appear to be falling apart or jammed with “new opportunities,” one will not overcome the tendency of the world to intervene and stall one’s spiritual progress. Perseverance in spiritual self-effort is like licking all the fibers of a thread to a fine point so it can pass through the eye of a needle.
The esoteric teaching around this issue of earthly distractions arising when we make spiritual life our priority, is that the world comes out of cosmic, collective, and individual mind – thus our world is the outcome of mind. As Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi stated, “the world is simply mind made manifest.” Therefore, this reorientation of priorities, combined with perseverance, despite the obstacles arising from one’s individual karma and karma with collective humanity, remakes the mind over time. It conditions it for peace and equanimity, allowing the Self to take its rightful place as the master of life rather than the slave of phenomena.
In the next post: Taking Refuge in a Path & Preceptor