You can’t think your sādhana. And yet that is exactly what so many people do. They think good thoughts and believe that is sādhana. They wear “pure” clothes and eat “pure” food and act “purely”. They “believe” they are doing everything to succeed in sādhana. They are in fact going about it all wrong because they are approaching practice as if the goal is a worldly one. They are following the path of worldly success to reach God.
In Vedanta the longing for God is a requirement. We cannot truly pursue sādhana without that longing; it has to have been earned at some point. So it is both a requirement and an earned trait. Longing for God has nothing to do with what we call worldly success. The approach to God is not like anything in the world. Longing for God and the journey to God require the aspirant to surrender his attachment to the world even as he is in the world. The self has to be let go of. We must give up our identification with the individual and individual success. God is the doer.
Even people who want to help others have to practice this nonattachment. As the theologian Jürgen Moltmann says in his essay “The Theology of Mystical Experience”, “Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will only spread that very same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe; they are influenced by the other person’s own being, by what he is. Only the person who has found his own self can give of his own self”. And the only way to find the Self is to be willing to surrender the self.
In sādhana there is no private or public; there is only authenticity. And authenticity is about being, not merely thinking. If we oscillate between private and public in the way we act without remaining inwardly centered and discerning what is appropriate, then we are just moving around in the room of our mind, and thinking where we are rather than being where we are. Our individuality then works to separate us; we struggle within ourselves over being good or bad. We decide what we are and what we do. Until we get off this playing field, we are just thinking our sādhana.
In the same essay, Moltmann describes the consequences of thinking spiritual practice without living it. “In societies which force men and women into active life, and only reward achievement and success, meditation…counts as being superseded, useless and superfluous. That is understandable enough. What is not understandable is when meditation exercises are recommended to nervy activists and worn-out managers, on the grounds that they provide a useful kind of counterbalancing sport, which will help them to recover their mental equilibrium; or when yoga techniques are sold as a means of increasing performance. Pragmatic and utilitarian marketing means the final destruction of meditation. It does not let people find peace, and even if they find peace they do not find themselves in the process”. When we think our sādhana without living it, we turn it into a kind of accessory to the mental life of the small self, which isn’t really internal at all.
Since anyone reading this probably has a physical body, chances are we all live in relative reality. Anyone reading this will also have a subtle body, because that is where the mind resides. We can delude ourselves all we want, but the more we pretend, the further we are away from sādhana and the purpose for which we say we pursue sādhana. If we really are longing for God, then we should be doing everything to let go of anything that is in the way. The doing is not about attaining God; God already is. The doing is the small self, the individual, working to “know” itself. Once it truly faces and knows itself, it unwittingly has dismantled itself. It dissolves in the brilliant light of honesty.
So as we move from tamas, delusion and hiding the truth, through rajas, pain and agitation, to sattva, serenity and the Truth, we accept what the individual actually is: a vehicle for the true Self. We then are no longer thinking sādhana but living it, being it. We then move from intellectually knowing the truth to experientially Knowing the Truth. We move from delusion, to the pain of what is, to accepting the light of it all.
Emotional pain is a good thing, in that it tells us we are not accepting reality or Reality. Pain is a way to distinguish between when we think acceptance and when we actually accept. If we have fully accepted something, we will no longer be pained by it. When we actually accept, the pain dissolves. If instead of truly accepting something, we only think we are accepting it, we will feel pain, because we are still attached. If we feel pain, we are rajasic, and are not reconciled to the truth even if we “know” the truth. Or we may not believe or want to see the truth, in which case we are tamasic. Not until we own, master, and transcend—not until we move from tamas to rajas to sattva—do we move from thinking sādhana to living sādhana.
Remember: thinking sādhana keeps everything pristine and nice. Lived sādhana is not either. Sādhana can have those qualities, but that means it also encompasses the impure and unkind. Not until we embrace and know the individual self we are working with can we get rid of it. In the world, we put our best foot forward in heading for success. In sādhana, there is no best foot or worst foot. We have to just BE.
Ultimately, truly living our sādhana means going within and beyond all that keeps us from God. Hugh of St. Victor expresses it beautifully: “To ascend to God, that means to enter into the self, and not to enter into the self solely, but to go beyond it in one’s innermost being in a way that is inexpressible. He therefore who enters with supreme inwardness into himself, who passes through himself in his innermost being and who rises above himself—he in very truth ascends to God”.
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