The Teachings of Atmashuddhi

From Glimpses of the Divine III, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Swami Sivananda had only one aim in life. When people come to spiritual life, they have different aspirations. Some come with the idea of attaining moksha, enlightenment, self-realization, some come with the idea of experiencing samadhi, some come with the idea of encountering God in their dreams. Everybody has a different idea of what they want to experience as their spiritual attainment. Swami Sivananda made a very simple sankalpa for his life. He wanted to experience atmashuddhi, purification of the self.

Why did Swami Sivananda choose atmashuddhi, self-purification, as the aim of his efforts in yoga and spiritual life, why not self-realization, God-realization, samadhi or moksha? If you think about it logically and study the sequence given in the scriptures as well, then you will discover that the main focus of a sannyasin and a spiritual aspirant is to cultivate the state of purity inside, and not to search for God.

A blind man may have the desire to see the sun, but that is not his need; his need is to acquire sight. Once the sight is acquired then he will be able to see not only the sun but the entire creation in its multi-coloured glory. Need and desire are two different things. The need is acquisition of sight and then the desire to see the sun is fulfilled. In your life, you put desires first and needs second, and you chase your desires without having the skills to attain them. You don't have the eyesight but you want to see the sun, and you go from ashram to ashram, guru to guru, hoping that you will get instant shaktipat, instant peace, instant moksha.

Nothing in life is attained instantly. That is not the nature of creation. In creation, everything takes time to grow, develop and mature. We are part of that srishti, that prakriti, that cosmic nature, so nothing is instant. Even God, when he incarnated as an avatara, he had to live according to his age. He did not come as the Lord Almighty from day one. He lived the life of a child, a young person, an adult, and when the destiny unfolded, then he became active. Until then he was an ordinary person.

In the same manner, in your search for spiritual awareness, you have to give yourself time. Giving time does not mean that you let go of efforts. Efforts have to be continuous and constant. If you plant a seed in the ground and take it out every day to see if it is sprouting or not, then the seed will never sprout. If you leave the seed in the ground, water it and provide other nourishments on time, then it will eventually sprout one day. If you keep taking it out every day to look at it, it is not going to sprout ever. The same principle applies with your spiritual effort too. Your intention, sankalpa and effort have to be cared for. That is where the focus has to be, in doing things at the right time, in the right manner, and not in what you can achieve by doing. Therefore it is said in spiritual life, 'Don't have any expectation, but persevere in your effort'.

Don't have any expectation, don't connect with the vasanas of the mind, the desires of the mind, but know that 'This is my aim and I have to keep on walking', and keep on walking, making the right effort, doing the right sadhana, having the right intention and the right attitude. That is your achievement. Moksha is not your achievement, but correctness of attitude, action and behaviour is your achievement. The rest happens spontaneously.

This idea and instruction was given by Swami Sivananda. He said, 'Self-purification is a must for spiritual growth'. With this, he took the idea of yoga to another level. His philosophy begins with 'serve'. The second precept is 'love', the third is 'give', the fourth is 'purify', the fifth is 'be good', the sixth is 'do good', the seventh is 'meditate', and the eighth is 'realize'. These comprise the eightfold path of Swami Sivananda's yoga. If you can understand this sequence, you will discover that it comes after the yoga of Patanjali.

Patanjali's eight limbs consist of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. After this attainment, this transformation of the human personality, the interactive nature is seen in the teachings of Swami Sivananda. First you improve yourself and then you come out to serve and improve the outer environment. To do that, there has to be attainment of shuddhi, purity.