Fine Tuning Lifestyle and Practice

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Spiritual scriptures do not talk about enlightenment or realization, but instead begin with a basic thought: how to overcome suffering in life. Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva and the first disciple to whom he taught yoga and the tantras, poses this question to Lord Shiva. She says, — In this world, in this creation, there is suffering. How can a person overcome suffering; is there a method? The instructions that Shiva gave to Parvati about overcoming suffering in life are the instructions of yoga and tantra. In this way, the foundation of yoga and tantra has been understanding the suffering of human life and making the attempt and the effort to overcome it.

Even Buddha started his journey with the same basic questions. The questions which motivated him to explore spiritual life were, "What is suffering; how can one understand and overcome it?" The philosophy of Buddha is based on overcoming human suffering. Similarly, the philosophy of Mahavir, the exponent of the Jain philosophy, also began with trying to understand human suffering. If you look at the life of Christ, he was also concerned with human suffering; people say that he died for our suffering, for our sins. When I look at all these different examples in history and the original ideas behind every philosophy and system of spiritual practice, nowhere do I findany statement that says that spiritual life is realization of God. Instead, the idea that comes forth is that spiritual life indicates a life free from suffering, where you are in a state of bliss, happiness and fulfilment, and all the faculties of your life manifest homogeneously.

Three causes of suffering

Suffering has been classifiedinto three groups: adhyatmic, adhibhautic, and adhidaivic. One type of suffering originates from within the self. You are the cause of your suffering. Your mind is the cause of your suffering. Your association with the world of sense objects is the cause of your suffering, as are your expectations. That is one category, one group, and in this group you can include things like stress, tension, anxiety, fear, phobias, inhibitions, complexes, neurosis, psychosis. Everything can be put into this firstcategory of suffering, adhyatmic, which originates within oneself. The mental, psychological, spiritual and social problems that you face are self-created, as you do not know how to manage the distorted conditions and states of mind or emotions. The first category of suffering stems from oneself. Adhibhautic suffering comes from the world, and that also affects you. The suffering which comes from the world predominantly affects the physical body, creating problems such as fever, asthma, diabetes or cancer. The root cause of these illnesses is the environment in which you live: how you cope with your environment, how you deal with your environment and with what attitude you live your life.

Adhidaivic suffering is destined suffering: what you are destined to go through in this life. This category is more related to past actions, past karmas, and your responses to the world and to events, circumstances or situations that you are exposed to, but over which you have no control. That it is the destined suffering.

Sages classifiedsuffering in these categories:

  1. adhyatmic: something that comes up from within yourself,
  2. adhibhautic: something that you receive from your environment and the world in which you live, and
  3. adhidaivic: something that is destined to happen.

Combining abhyasa and vairagya

What is sadhana? People say sadhana is a spiritual practice, but if you look into the concept and idea of sadhana, you will discover that it is constant practice leading to harmony and balance at the physical level as well as the psychological level. The two components of sadhana are abhyasa, practice, and vairagya, dispassion.

Why is vairagya important in sadhana? It is the mental association with this world of sense objects that creates attachment, and attachment distorts the clarity of the mind. Once clarity of mind is gone, discrimination is lost and you get sucked into the attraction of the sense objects. When you get influencedby the power of the sense objects, attachment is experienced, identification is experienced, desire and expectation are experienced, and when you are caught in the vortex of desires and expectations, an obsessive-compulsive nature manifests. Therefore, vairagya comes in to free the mind from its obsessive identificationwith sense objects.

Raga is the result of an association with a sense object that you feel will give you pleasure and comfort. The Yoga Sutras state (2:7): Sukhanushayi ragah, meaning that wherever you feel you shall attain comfort and happiness you are attracted to that place, that object, that person. In this way, attachment comes when there is an identification of something pleasant and beautiful which you can have, experience or acquire. When desire does not exist, then attachment also does not exist. If you do not identify with the object, thinking that it is going to give you happiness, then raga will not exist. Vairagya, therefore, means absence of the obsessive-compulsive behaviour of attachment. You can keep the mind free from that intense desire, from that intense expectation, from that intense craving, and when the mind is free, it is at peace.

Next is abhyasa. Abhyasa is the practice that leads to a state of restraining the senses and mental forces which flow outwards. That is the purpose of abhyasa: to restrain energy, to hold back the energy which is flowingoutward from yourself into the world, and which is the cause of your association and connection with the world, the environment, people and sense objects. Abhyasa and vairagya together constitute sadhana. Just abhyasa, practice without vairagya, can never be considered sadhana. That is a karma, a kriya, an action.

Aim of sadhana

Sadhana is needed when there is mental and physical suffering, as it allows one to disconnect from the feeling of suffering. During suffering fear also manifests. Suffering induces fear, disease induces fear, and that fear restricts the powers of the mind. Therefore, sadhana becomes the medium by which you can overcome these fears and insecurities that are normal in life. What is the aim and the direction of sadhana? How do you know that you are on the right track and that your sadhana is giving you the desired result? The way to know is by observing your vairagya. Observe your own vairagya, observe your own raga. When asked how can you know that you are progressing in spiritual life, the masters give only one answer. The lessening of sensorial and sensual identificationis an indication that you are progressing in your spiritual sadhana. Your mind is becoming more and more balanced and it is gravitating less and less towards fleetingand temporary situations where you can have a momentary glimpse of happiness or sadness. The reduction of desires, attractions, associations and attachments is, therefore, an indication that your sadhana is giving the desired result.

Vairagya is not negation. You do not negate anything in vairagya; rather, it is acceptance of the situation and knowing how to come out of the maze created by the mind in relation to the sense objects. This suffering is caused by the tamasic nature of the mind. A sattwic nature knows no suffering; it is the tamasic nature that experiences suffering. Sattwic nature is free from all the attractions and repulsions, raga and dwesha, and experiences harmony and contentment. The craving mind is the tamasic mind, the desirous mind which seeks self-gratification and self-fulfilment, and it is this craving mind, the tamasic mind, which becomes the root cause of human problems. The aim of sadhana is, therefore, to go from the state of tamas towards the state of sattwa. Sadhana should lead you from tamasic conditions to sattwic conditions. Only then can the quality of life improve.

8 April 2011, Ganga Darshan, Munger