For most of us, spiritual sadhana or practice is the external observance of rituals and ceremonies prescribed by religion. In the beginning such observance has is valuable to enable to self-purification and discipline. Ultimately, however, the aspirant has to transcend the phase of external conformity and get initiated in the deeper aspects of spiritual sadhana.
In its deeper aspects, spiritual sadhana consists in following the yoga of knowledge or dhyan, yoga of action or karma and yoga of devotion or bhakti. The sadhana of knowledge finds its expression through the exercise of detachment born of true understanding, the different forms of meditation and the constant use of discrimination and intuition.
Karma-yoga is acting according to the best intuitions of the heart without fear or hesitation. Fulfillment of the sadhana of karma-yoga requires that action should spring from the perception of Truth. Even more important than the sadhanas of knowledge and action is the sadhana of devotion or love.
Love is its own excuse for being. It is complete in itself and does not need to be supplemented by anything. Love is not love if it is based on any expectation. In the intensity of divine love, the lover becomes one with the divine Beloved. There is no sadhana greater than love, there is no law higher than love and there is no goal that is beyond love – for love in its divine state becomes infinite. God and love are identical and one who has divine love already has God.
As a rule sadhana involves effort and sometimes even desperate effort, as in the case of an aspirant who may strive for detachment in the face of temptations. In love, though, there is no effort because it is spontaneous. One of the paradoxes connected with spiritual sadhana is that all effort of the aspirant is intended for arriving at a state of effortlessness.
There is the story of a kasturi-mriga, or musk deer that brings out the nature of spiritual sadhana. Once while roaming about and frolicking over hills and dales, the kasturi-mriga was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, the like of which it had never known. The scent stirred the inner depths of its soul so profoundly that it determined to find the source. So keen was its longing that notwithstanding the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat, by day as well as by night, the deer carried on its desperate search for the source of the sweet scent. It knew no fear or hesitation but undaunted, went on its elusive search, until at last, happening to lose its foothold on a cliff, it had a precipitous fall resulting in a fatal injury. While breathing its last, the deer found that the scent that had ravished its heart and inspired all these efforts came from its own navel. This last moment of the deer’s life was its happiest and there was on its face inexpressible peace.
All spiritual sadhanas of the aspirant are like the efforts of the kasturi-mriga. The final fructification of sadhana involves the termination of the ego-life of the aspirant. At that moment there is the realisation that he himself has, in a sense, been the object of all his search and endeavour. All that he suffered and enjoyed – all his risks and adventures, all his sacrifices and desperate strivings – were intended for achieving true Self-knowledge, in which he loses his individuality only to discover that he is identical with God, who is in everything.
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