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Renunciation and Spiritual Practice

Swami Yatiswarananda

Swami Yatiswarananda (1889-1966), a former Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, was a well-known spiritual figure in the Neo-Vedanta Movement. He did several years of pioneering work in spreading Vedanta in Europe and U.S.A. His Meditation and Spiritual Life has been acclaimed as a spiritual classic. This article is based upon the notes of his class-talks on Vedantasara of Sadananda which were taken down at Wisbadan, Germany, during January-February 1934.

Describing the ways of the worldly minded, the Lord says:

O Partha, no set determination is formed in the minds of those that are deeply attached to pleasure and power, and whose discrimination is stolen away by the flowery words of the unwise, who are full of desires and look upon heaven as their highest goal, and who, taking pleasure in the panegyric words of the Vedas, declare that there is nothing else. Their flowery words are exuberant with various specific rites as the means to pleasure and power and are the causes of new births as the result of their works performed with desire.

And he further advises Arjuna to go beyond the gunas:

The Vedas deal with the three gunas. Be thou free, O Arjuna, from the triad of the Gunas, free from the pairs of opposites, ever-balanced, free from the thought of getting and keeping, and established in the self.

One should feel that this material existence is the source of endless pain and misery, and that there can never be any lasting happiness in the world. We must be tired of animal existence, of being swayed by the cravings and desires of our senses and our mind. One should cultivate a feeling of disgust towards all worldly pleasure and enjoyment. No person who is bound by pleasure and pain, can reach the goal. So for a person who is not prepared to get rid of the pairs of opposites, there is no place in spiritual life.

We can never make ourselves fit and prepared for the higher spiritual culture so long as we yearn for bodily pleasures.

In his Inspired Talks, Swami Vivekananda says:

Do not wait to have a harp and rest by degrees; why not take a harp and begin here? Why wait for heaven. Make it here! In heaven there is no marrying or giving in marriage; why not begin at once and have none here? The yellow robe of the Sannyasin is the sign of the free. Give up the beggar's dress of the world; wear the flag of freedom, the ochre robe.

Without perfect purity--physical and mental--nothing can be achieved in spiritual life. This is the teaching of the Great Ones, the Christs, the Buddhas, the Ramakrishnas of the world.

Spiritual Life is for the Strong

We must be able to stand the destructive aspect of truth. First, truth burns many things in us: false attachments, false hopes, all worldly desires and all worldly loves. And all these have to be destroyed, if we want to clean our reflectors.

If you are really prepared to follow the spiritual path unconditionally, then you have to get rid of all such dreams, the gross dreams and the subtle ones. And this means tremendous courage, tremendous heroism, tremendous bravery and undauntedness. By those who are weak, who have got weak nerves, truth cannot be realised. And seeing that the dream as a dream is going to break anyhow, why not go and break it consciously, purposefully and manfully? Every dream is going to break sooner or later, why create new dreams? Why not stop dreaming altogether?

It is very important to be able to stand the destructive aspect of Truth. It must first of all burn away all our false hopes, false identifications, false pet ideas, all our false worldly aspirations, all our small, petty, greedy loves. Then only will Truth reveal Itself, not before. But very often we want to dream our miserable, petty, little dreams of love and greed and power--we want to hug them to our heart's content and cling to them as long as we possibly can, till they are torn away from us.

As I said, if you are really prepared to follow the spiritual life, you must do away with all dreams, gross dreams, subtle dreams. There must be merciless scrubbing and cleaning and readjustment. A new outlook must be created, sacrificing old notions and pet ideas, prejudices etc. Tremendous and uncompromising boldness is necessary. Those who are bold and strong and purposeful alone can attain to the Truth. Not others. In Vedanta there is no place for the weakling, the worms groveling in the dust, the sinners who go on crying, 'Oh, I am a sinner, I am a sinner', and then continue to sin, to wallow in the mire, and wail and cry!

Truth is not to be attained by the weak. If purity is ours by birthright, why not manifest purity? If love is ours by birthright, why not manifest love? If bliss is ours by birthright, why not manifest bliss? If freedom is ours by birthright, why go on being slaves to our senses, to our body, mind, ego? Break the dream mercilessly! Learn to stand on your own feet.

Swami Vivekananda says in a poem:

...Be bold and face

The Truth! Be one with It! Let visions cease,

Or, if you cannot, dream but truer dreams,

Which are Eternal Love and Service Free!

This is the ideal, and the ideal must some day be made real. It must not be allowed to remain an ideal. Mere theories and elevating thoughts won't do. The sine qua non of all spiritual life is unerring set determination, come what may. He who is not prepared to pay the price, had better not go in for it at all. Nothing can be had without paying the price. In the human being, anything that is not spiritual is to be eliminated, steadily, mercilessly, patiently. The human personality is to be mercilessly analyzed. Renunciation is the central theme--physical and mental renunciation. Renunciation of wealth and greed, renunciation of lust, renunciation of the ego.

Sri Ramakrishna says: 'There are two characteristics required for the spiritual aspirant. One of them is freedom from guile, the other, calmness.'

This calmness has two aspects--the physical and the mental. The body must be calm, the mind must be calm, the nerves must be calm. It is only possible for us to study in a perfectly calm atmosphere; our mind must be concentrated and calm. Here we have been thinking good thoughts for the last two months, and this is bound to create an atmosphere, and we must make this atmosphere purer and purer, and stay in this atmosphere as much as possible. The physical and the mental environment is to be consciously created and purified by us all. Everybody should try to contribute as much as possible by purifying his whole thought-world and trying to create harmony and calmness in himself and in the others.

Constant Practice of Concentration

If thou are not able to fix thy mind on Me, then do thou seek to reach Me by constant practice (abhyasa).

Constant practice of meditation and of repeatedly withdrawing the mind from the objects to which it wanders and trying to fix it on one thing is necessary. There must be constant daily practice, daily concentration, so that the feeling colours the whole mind. All these thoughts must be driven deep into the subconscious in order to purify it and to destroy the old impure impressions with which it has been fed.

Constant reflection is necessary so that a permanent wave is formed in your mind. There must be permanent current flowing in one direction, not many currents flowing at random and wasting all the energy which has to be used by the aspirant for a higher purpose. Every sincere devotee should stop all channels through which his energy is being wasted and draw up a fixed daily routine which is to be followed scrupulously, patiently, unerringly, day by day. This is very important if you want to have success in spiritual life, but very often people don't care to do this. They go on listening to nice talks without ever doing anything themselves. The goal can never be reached by vicarious striving.

Struggle, struggle, struggle! There is no other way. Let us not be cowards, let us not be afraid of struggles and failures and pain, but go on, steadily, patiently, unerringly, towards the one goal of our life. And here, very much depends upon the regularity of our spiritual practices and daily studies and readings.

Very often we are careless in this. We have to be more careful about our thoughts and doings for our own benefit as well as the benefit of others. There is too much idle gossip, too much thinking of unnecessary or even harmful thoughts. And all these will have to be eliminated before we can make any real progress towards the goal. It is essential for us to create the right mood before sitting for meditation. Steady regular practice in the right mood--that is what every aspirant has to go in for and to go on with.

Evil thoughts arise even in the mind that has been made strong, but these can do it no harm. Unless this world has been effaced completely, desires and passions can never be annihilated--I mean in their subtlest form.

When one realises the Atman as dwelling in all things and finds all things dwelling in oneself, the sage ceases to hate.

Until then the passions arise in the mind, but if we have strengthened our moral fibre through our practices and studies, we are able to stand them, and they can do us no serious harm.

Need for Purified Intellect

Reasoning and speculation carried to their utmost limits are by themselves unable to help any one in arriving at any satisfactory conclusion regarding the production of the universe. The Vedanta, perceiving their uselessness, calls in the help of actual experience there to solve the problem. But in order to reach the state of experience there must be clear thinking, intellectual studies pursued with regularity as a firm spiritual practice and a general development and culture of the intellectual faculty. Then only the question of transcending it would arise, not before. We do not want dullards in spiritual life--mere parasites living on hazy ideas and sentiments--least of all in the Vedantic path.

Try to develop your intellect and intellectual faculties and to make them as subtle as possible. There must be a harmonious co-ordination of intellect, feeling and will--purified intellect, purified feeling and purified will--not the intellect, feeling and will of the ordinary man. We should develop perfect harmony between intellect, feeling and will. There is an absolute necessity of having real Jnana side by side with real Bhakti, but Bhakti must never degenerate into mere emotionalism or sentimentalism, just as Jnana must never become dry intellectualism without any heart.

To the extent we are able to make our mind subtler and subtler through continence, through spiritual practice, through intellectual studies, to the extent our body and mind become purer and purer, we get a vision of Truth. Nothing can be done without a life of ethical culture and purity. Tapas is the one word in spiritual instruction: renunciation, austerity, purification of our intellect, feeling and will; and without tapas there cannot be any progress on the spiritual path.

We must have fine sensitiveness. We must develop a fine sense of proportion and become very well-balanced. When we look at a thing, we must learn to look through and through it, not only to see the appearance, the mere surface. That won't do. We must learn to go below the surface and see the reality, and never to take things for granted without verifying them ourselves. Vedanta must not be made a comfortable religion. We must make our nerves so strong through ethical culture that we areno longer made mere creatures of circumstances. Great endurance is necessary. Don't be like weathercocks, don't be slaves of your mind!

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