Question: Is there any sadhana (spiritual practice) that everyone in general can do that is not dangerous? Also, no matter how you look at it, isn’t depending on a Guru a kind of slavery?
Amma: Amma would recommend manasa puja (worship performed mentally through visualization) because it is very simple and can be practised by anyone. Those who find it difficult to do the puja while sitting on the floor can sit on a chair. By dedicating the manasa puja to one’s ishta devata
(preferred form of divinity), one’s devotion increases; the mind gains one-pointed concentration and becomes refreshed. It is also good to practice long inhalations and exhalations without retention. There is no danger in doing so. Nevertheless, one should not overdo it. Amma usually advises people to watch their breathing attentively. There is no danger in doing so; anyone can practice it.
Chanting the mantra associated with one’s ishta devata and meditating on His form are also good spiritual practices. One should try to chant one’s mantra between successive tasks. Another sadhana that anyone can practise is gazing at the form of one’s ishta devata for some time and then closing one’s eyes to visualize that form within. However, it is dangerous to force the mind to concentrate in the beginning stages. One’s progress ought to be gradual. Not only that, ideally, one should perform sadhana according to the instructions of a Guru.
‘I am not the body, mind, intellect, punya (spiritual merit) or papa (sin)’—one can find this method of negation in Vedanta. Such thinking will do no harm either. It is bhavana (imagination) or visualization. But one should not overdo anything. As far as a seeker is concerned, every action ought to be sadhana. Therefore, every task must become a sadhana. One must be able to see this attitude in her every deed, look and word.
If we run a 100-watt current through a 40-watt bulb, the bulb will get blown out. There is no point blaming the electric current. The body and mind are our instruments for sadhana. What we achieve depends on them. Therefore, we should not impair these instruments by doing sadhana carelessly.
Through sadhana, one can gain power. However, if we wish to attain Self-realization, we must submit to a Guru. To become a disciple is not enslavement; it is an attitude of receptivity.
Some people become addicted at a young age to smoking 10 – 50 cigarettes (a day) or to marijuana or other intoxicants. What happens in the Guru’s presence is not such enslavement. One’s surrender awakens divine consciousness. By submitting to a Guru, the disciple’s very outlook on the world changes. A new world is unveiled before her eyes.
If one’s eyesight has been impaired by cataracts, one must go for an eye operation. One must do as the doctor says. A similar process takes place when the disciple comes to a Guru. From the worldly perspective, what the Guru does is to eradicate the disciple’s weaknesses. But before a Guru can do so, the disciple must be ready to put herself wholly in the Guru’s hands.
Self-realization is not some realm one reaches after dying. Though we call ourselves humans, we have animal minds. The animal mind must evolve into a human mind and from there, rise to Godliness. This ascent is self-evolution, Self-realization.
A disciple’s duty is to obey whatever the Guru says. A disciple’s vision is gross, whereas a Guru’s is subtle. The Guru sees many things that a disciple does not. A disciple must understand that the Guru knows the disciple’s own mind more than she does herself; only then can she grow. We may think we do not have any disease, but the doctor might say otherwise. We might not have experienced any sign of disease, but based on his expertise and experience and the presence of certain symptoms, the doctor prognosticates the illness we are likely to have tomorrow. We lack that vision; only a doctor has it. In the same way, the Guru sees many things that a disciple is blind to about herself. Therefore, one must have total faith in the Guru. Only then can one progress on the spiritual path.
Once, a man handed a clay pot to a child and asked him to fetch some water. Before sending him off, the man pinched the child’s ear and said, “Bring the water carefully. Don’t drop the pot on the floor and break it, you hear?”
When the child had left, a man standing nearby asked, “Why did you scold that boy unnecessarily? He didn’t break the pot, did he?”
“Would there have been any point in scolding him after he breaks the pot?” countered the first man.
In the same way, the Guru foresees many things and guides the disciple accordingly. The Guru might even scold the disciple for no apparent reason. The disciple might think, “I’ve done no wrong. Why is He scolding me?’ But the Guru never does anything without a reason. He awakens alertness in the disciple so as to prevent her from making mistakes. Another disciple might think, “The Guru is scolding me for something I would never imagine doing even in my dreams.” Actually, only the Guru knows what is in our subconscious mind. Therefore, the fastest way for a disciple to reach the goal is to surrender unconditionally to the Guru and to obey Him totally. To illustrate, consider the story of Narada.
Once, a thought crossed Narada’s mind: he was the only one who had defeated Kamadeva. Even the Trinity had become ensnared by his net of delusion. Lord Shiva had married Parvati, Vishnu had espoused Lakshmi, and Brahma had wedded Saraswati. At least in this matter, he was a cut above them. He did not hesitate to mention this when he met Lord Shiva, who immediately advised Narada, “It’s alright to say this to me, but don’t ever let Vishnu know!” However, Narada decided that when he reached Vaikuntha, Vishnu’s abode, he would tell Him. But when he reached there, he had to speak on many other matters and thus forgot about it.
After leaving Vaikuntha, he left for Indraloka. While travelling, he saw a grand celebration taking place on earth below. Wondering what it was, he decided to go there and find out. The svayamvara of a princess was taking place. Many princes had arrived to win the hand of the beautiful princess in marriage. However, the princess had vowed to marry none other than Hari. Even when Narada entered the scene, the princess ignored him. Greatly incensed, Narada thought, “How arrogant she is. I shall make her mine!” Without thinking twice, he quickly prayed to Vishnu.
“Narada, what would you like? Ask without hesitation. I shall fulfil your desire,” Vishnu promised.
“O Lord, bless me with the beauty of Hari’s face.”
“So be it,” said Vishnu.
Without harbouring the least suspicion in the Lord’s words, Narada entered the royal palace. He happily joined those who were waiting for their turn in the svayamvara. Holding the marital garland, the princess began walking towards each suitor. She would scrutinize the face of each one and then walk away, causing that suitor’s face to fall like a wilted lotus. Narada found it hard to contain his joy. He thought, “Without a doubt, when the princess beholds Hari’s face on mine, she will place the garland around my neck.” He impatiently waited for this moment. The princess was moving closer to him. She would look at the face of each suitor, smile, and then move towards the next suitor. Finally, she came before Narada. But the moment she saw Narada’s face, she turned her face away sharply and quickly walked towards the next suitor. Noting this, everyone turned to look at Narada, and then started laughing. Unable to bear the humiliation and anger, he got up and left. When he was leaving the palace, he caught a glimpse of his face in a mirror. He could not believe it! He looked again. What he saw made him want to cry. In place of his own face was the face of a monkey! Fuming at Vishnu’s treachery, Narada stormed into Vaikuntha, all the while cursing the Lord. What he saw there made him lose all self-control. Not content with changing his face into that of a monkey, Vishnu had made the princess His own! She was sitting on His left. Narada exploded. Smiling, the Lord said, “O Narada, I did not betray you at all. You asked for Hari’s face, and I gave it to you. You are aware that ‘Hari’ also means ‘monkey,’ aren’t you?”
That is when Narada realized his mistake. The Lord continued, “O Narada, You had become conceited, thinking of yourself as a nitya-brahmachari (eternal celibate), as superior to the Trinity, and as a powerful being. Where has all that gone? You lost everything before a girl, didn’t you? That happened because of your ego. You must realize that I saved you from your egoism.”
Narada bowed his head in shame. Without saying anything, the Lord had understood his mind. “What a contemptible fellow I am!” thought Narada. His eyes welled up in remorse. His ego dissolved in that flow of tears. When he humbly raised his head, he saw that the princess had disappeared. Instead, Goddess Lakshmi was sitting next to the Lord. Narada realized that the Lord had enacted the whole drama to eradicate his ego. He fell prostrate before Vishnu.
In many situations, we might feel that the Guru is not conforming to our desires. In those moments, we will not hesitate even to scold the Guru. The fact is, the disciple does not realize that the Guru is actually protecting her. When her expectations are thwarted, the disciple should understand that the Guru’s sankalpa (divine resolve) was behind it and thus strive to pacify her mind. But if the disciple is not of a high calibre, she loses faith in the Guru.
Protecting the devotee is God’s duty. Protecting the disciple is the Guru’s responsibility. In order to do so, He will adopt any guise.
Amma, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi