~*~ FRUITS OF SPIRITUAL PRACTISE: by Swami Pavitrananda ~*~
- ~*~*~*~ FRUITS OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE ~*~*~*~
By Swami Pavitrananda
Swami Pavitrananda was the head of the Vedanta Society in New York
City from 1951 until his death in 1977. He was editor of Prabuddha
Bharata from 1931 to 1935 and was elected a Trustee of the Ramakrishna
Order in 1947. This article was first published in the Nov-Dec, 1967
issue of Vedanta and the West.
?Hold fast to the lotus feet of the Lord. Remember him constantly.
Don?t waste your time in idle thoughts. Struggle to control the
outgoing mind and fix it on God. Struggle. Struggle hard! Then you
will realize what joy there is in spiritual life, what fun it is. You
must overcome maya, ignorance, even in this life. It won?t be easy
unless you devote yourself to the work of the spirit. You must have
faith, intense faith. Let no doubt enter your mind.
?God cannot be known by the finite mind. He is beyond this mortal mind
and far beyond the human intellect. This apparent universe which you
see is within the domain of the mind. The mind has conjured it up; it
is its author, and the mind cannot go beyond its own domain.
?Behind the mind of which we are aware is a subtle, spiritual mind,
existing in seed-form. Through contemplation and prayer this mind
develops and with its unfoldment a new vision opens. The aspirant
realizes many spiritual truths. However, this is not the final
experience. The subtle mind also cannot reach God., the supreme Atman,
but it leads you nearer to him. At this stage the world loses all its
charms for the aspirant; he remains absorbed in the consciousness of God.
?Next comes what is called samadhi. The experience of samadhi is
indescribable, beyond is and is not. In this blessed experience, there
is neither happiness nor misery, neither light nor darkness. All is
Infinite Being?inexpressible.? ?Swami Brahmananada
In ancient days, long, long, ago, a sage of the Upanishads declared:
?I have known that supreme Being who is beyond the ocean of infinite
darkness, by knowing whom only one can conquer death. There is no
other way.? Perhaps that is the earliest document still in existence
of a person who came face to face with the ultimate reality.
There are other sages also mentioned in the Upanishads who spoke of
their direct experience of the ultimate reality thus: ?We have know
that reality. That is the only way to have bliss in life. That is the
only way to conquer death and to conquer life. Those who have not
realized that are objects of pity.?
Not only the Upanishadic sages. Saints belonging to all religions say
more or less the same thing. Some of the Hebrew prophets also spoke of
direct communication with God or ultimate reality. Buddha spoke of
enlightenment, which means great joy. He did not go into the details.
He did not talk of a personal God, but he spoke of infinite bliss.
Christ said that he had the direct experience. He said clearly, ?Who
hath seen me, hath seen the Father.? He was so positive. Records say
that once he was transfigured.
In the medieval age, many Christian saints spoke of their direct
experience. The pagan Greek mystic, Plotinus, said he had direct
experience of ultimate truth. His disciple, Porphyry, testified that
Plotinus had the experience three or four times, and he himself had it
once. In India, in the medieval age?in the age of devotion?many
saints, some of them unlettered, had direct access to god.
But the vision of God was experienced by persons not only in ancient
days and in the medieval age, there are reliable records of some
saints in modern times who had such experience. The experiences of the
Upanishads were repeated in their lives. Truth does not pay homage to
time. If it was realized in the past, it can be realized in the present.
In the modern age, in India, some had the direct experience of those
truths. Their realizations were tested by agnostics and atheists, by
persons who were not sentimental, who were not gullible, who had open
minds and modern education. More than that, the influence of those
persons who realized the Truth was immense, stupendous in their time.
And their influence is still going on.
If you keep an open mind, you will find that religion is not the dream
of an idle person; it is not ?other-worldliness.? It brings the ?other
world? right into the present world, into our mundane existence. It
has a direct relation to our mundane existence. Real religion brings
heaven down to earth.
We have not to wait for death to have an experience of heaven. If that
were so, heaven would not even be worth the attempt. If there is such
a thing as heaven, it must be brought right here. It is not a fact
that heaven is a limited geographical area beyond this world. There is
only one world, one existence, one life. As the Upanishads say, if
there is Truth, it must be realized in this very life, in this very
world, while living in this human body?otherwise, life is a failure.
Those persons who have realized Truth directly speak in such a bold,
clear-cut-way, with no ambiguity: Truth must be known here and now.
But in modern times we find it hard to believe that these things are
true. In spite of the fact that these truths have been directly
experienced by persons even in the modern age, still we find it hard
to believe that they are true. But ignorance is not the criterion of
truth. If we are ignorant, we find it hard to believe what is true. We
are to be pitied for our ignorance. We should try to find out how to
remove that ignorance. That is rational. That makes sense.
Even many people who have a little spiritual inclination will say that
these things could happen only in the remote past, in ancient times or
in the medieval age. One bishop said recently that these things
happened in the medieval age, as if they cannot happen now.
Some will say, ?The saints and prophets of the past were so great. It
is not possible for us to become like them.? And so they do not think
the struggle is worthwhile. And the result is, even what could be
expected of them, they do not do. They do not do even what they could.
Other people make an attempt, but they are unable to continue. Because
of their self-love or self-will they go astray. They become stranded
on the path. They do not get anything.
If we are to judge what happens in spiritual life, what are the fruits
of spiritual practice, we must remember one thing. In worldly life,
many of those who have had splendid success did not dream that their
success in life would be so great. They began their life in an
ordinary way, they were struggling, and success began to come. The
greater the success, the greater was their boldness. They began to
aspire for more and more. Success leads to success. In the beginning
they were not so bold.
Einstein was dull when young. His father despaired of him. Afterwards
things came out. So also in spiritual life. Let us not, just in the
beginning, think in terms of the highest. Naturally we shall get
frightened. We shall see a great distance between us and the ideal.
That is not the way to reach the ideal.
In mountain climbing, from the foot of the hill you see first a peak
perhaps one thousand feet high, and what lies beyond is covered. When
you go to the top of that peak, you find another thousand or two
thousand feet above you. I remember the first time I went mountain
climbing. From the foot of the hill we could see, at a great height, a
peak covered with forest. When we reached that peak, we saw another
big peak in front of us. That is what happens in mountain climbing,
until you reach Mount Everest.
This is the way one attains the highest worldly success. Why should
you think, as soon as you feel interested in religion, that the
spiritual struggle is not possible for you because you will not be
able to reach the highest?
When you go to school and learn the alphabet, you do not think at that
time that you will become a great scholar. Even those who become great
scholars afterwards have to begin with the alphabet and gradually
their knowledge increases. Before beginning our religious life we
should not ask, what does one gain? Or even being in religious life,
we should not ask, what have we gained? We should not think that way.
We do not take that attitude in worldly life; why should we do so in
The question is, are we dissatisfied with the present? That is the
important point. If we are not dissatisfied with the present, we
cannot aspire to real religion.
Most people are satisfied with the status quo, with eating, drinking
and making merry (provided you can remain merry always). The first
prerequisite for spiritual life is a great dissatisfaction with the
present. That does not mean preaching that the world is full of
misery. Let those who think the world is good be satisfied with it.
But fortunately there are persons who are not satisfied with the
status quo. They want to break this dream. However great might be our
share of joys, we cannot make any head or tail of this world. We do
not know where we come from, where we shall go, or what will be the
outcome of our effort. Each generation thinks it will bring the
millennium to this world. And each generation leaves the world as it
was before, if not in a worse condition. This is how things are going on.
But there are some persons who boldly refuse to spend their lives
going after earthly enjoyment?physical or mental. They do not want
enjoyment in heaven either. They want to know truth and nothing but
truth?not relative truths, but the essence of truth. Some are people
ready to sacrifice everything to know that truth. In their search for
truth, scientists sacrifice many comforts and become absorbed in
laboratory work. In the same way, when our dissatisfaction is great,
we feel that at any cost we must know the meaning of life, we must
know what is the real truth, not just partial truths.
That feeling also increases. You begin with some dissatisfaction and
you try to find out the remedy for that dissatisfaction. When there is
dissatisfaction, when there is a problem, sooner or later a solution
comes. It has been the experience of all saints that when there is
spiritual dissatisfaction in us, help comes. Sometimes help comes
unexpectedly. You may perchance come across a book, or a friend, or a
guide, or even a saint. That has been the experience of saints. Water
finds its own level. We also find our own level. When there is great
spiritual dissatisfaction, we begin to grow. Movement comes and we
find our level, where we are at home. But we do not remain at that
level. We go higher and higher.
What happens to those who deliberately try to live a spiritual life
and do spiritual practice? In the beginning some find it all
mechanical and dry, extremely dry. Others are carried along for a
while by the excitement of new things, the glamour of the mysterious
East. They will sit in lotus posture and stop their nostrils and think
they are becoming great yogis.
But afterward the novelty wears off and there comes depression.
Religious life is not a question of newness. You have to struggle and
struggle till you reach the goal. This is an eternal problem. Those
who are attracted by the novelty of something exotic are bound to be
disillusioned, unless before that time they gain strength.
One must be ready to struggle. If you really want a thing, you will
not grudge struggling for it. In the beginning, in most cases, the
struggle will be mechanical. There might be a little excitement, just
in the beginning; but after the novelty wears off, you have to
struggle by the common light of day. It is a stark reality. Don?t go
by dreams. For the time being, leave the dream higher up. Let our eyes
be on the ground. We are ?of the earth and earthly,? so we must
struggle from were we are. The result comes sooner or later, depending
on the person. Some people get the result immediately. Others may have
to wait a short or longer period of time. Then interest grows. That is
the important thing?interest grows. That means one is getting some result.
But even when interest grows, it does not at once take us higher up.
Interest grows, but doubt also comes?sometimes doubt about the truth
of what you are seeking, sometimes doubt about your ability to reach
the goal. These things will come, more or less, to everyone. There
will be ups and downs, as in every sphere of life, in every business.
But if doubt is conquered, you get greater strength, greater interest.
Love for God begins to grow.
Other things come, too. Your understanding becomes clearer and
clearer. Sentimentality drops off. Many persons sentimentally dream
about spiritual life, waiting for something spectacular to happen. But
as you do your spiritual practice regularly, your understanding
becomes clearer. You can easily detect what is wrong and what is
false. Your reason becomes sharp, you emotion becomes chastened.
The mind sometimes comes under great control. But one cannot be sure
of that. Sometimes the mind will be in a very favorable condition. You
might have some spiritual experience which gives you great joy, but
afterwards for a long time you might not have anything. It is
something like fishing. When you put the bait in the water, sometimes
there is a little nibbling, but afterwards nothing bites. According to
some, God tests you in that way. In any case, these are the facts of
As you progress, your ego becomes less and less. Introspection grows;
self-examination becomes automatic. You begin to see your
shortcomings. You clearly see your ego; you clearly perceive your
pride, your self-conceit. Ordinary people do not see their
shortcomings. Or even if they see them, they do not like to look at
them. They suppress their awareness of them. Some people even say that
you should not try to find out your shortcomings, because your ego
will resent it. But religious people will see their own shortcomings.
Sometimes it might be frightening.
When the mind becomes sharp, one can see more clearly, and one sees
one?s shortcomings. The greater your progress in spiritual life, the
greater will be your sensibility, the more you will see your
shortcomings. One has to put up with these things. This is the
struggle. Gross mind and subtle mind. When your mind becomes subtle,
you can easily detect what is in your subconscious mind.
One great saint said that when undesirable thoughts began to appear,
he would stop them, even in the seed form, before they came to the
surface. One learns the art of doing these things. One becomes
forgiving. One develops love for one and all. Not all at once. One
might not be engaged in social welfare activities, but that does not
mean one has no sympathy for others. Don?t think those who are engaged
in social welfare activities and make a loud noise, all have feelings
for people. Even as in religious life, some of those who start with
idealism afterwards become hardhearted. But in religious life one is
struggling against that. One is cautious. One feels good thoughts
coming, but harmful thoughts also come, one finds. One becomes patient
But don?t judge a religious person only by these things. You want to
see the list of virtues which it is said will be visible in the life
of a saint; and if, by that list, you find that a certain person is
not a saint, you think he or she is good for nothing, he or she has
not developed spirituality. It might be that they have cleared the
plate of their mind of many shortcomings, but a dark spot remains
somewhere, and they are struggling with that. This is the way one
grows. All the while one is growing.
A spiritual aspirant might not himself be aware that he or she is
growing. It is very difficult for people to find that they are
growing, because they are struggling. They are in the thick of the
fight. But those who are highly developed spiritually can watch and
find how a struggling person is growing. It is said that sometimes a
person who is passing through the worst period of spiritual struggle
might be experiencing the highest thing. Through that struggle one is
But spiritual life will not be all ?dark night of the soul.? As I
said, one will get joy also. Sometimes the mind will be very calm.
Interest will develop into love for God, genuine love. The pity is
that one has to pass through changes. The only remedy is perseverance.
Those who really want to develop their spiritual life will stick to
the struggle, because it is their life. What else will they do? They
have to stick to it. But it is not all a dismal fight. It is not a
hopeless task. At a period it might seem hopeless, but those who know,
or those who get advice from persons experienced in spiritual life,
expect that various obstacles will come. Laziness will come. False
understanding will come. You may think you are having spiritual
experiences when it is all imagination.
Those who come with sentimental aspirations at once will say that
their kundalini has risen to this or that chakra. Once when I was in
Seattle with the Swami in charge of our Center there, he wanted to buy
something for me. At the store I was waiting while he was shopping,
when a salesman came to me and said that he was the disciple of a
certain yogi. I said I had heard that that yogi was not still alive.
Well, he got his instruction from some disciple of a disciple of that
yogi. That was all right. But then he began to talk about his
kundalini, saying that after practicing for three or four months his
kundalini had risen to this chakra and that chakra. I looked at him
and wondered if he was out of mind. Really, I was alarmed about him.
He was such a nice person. I was worried about him. But if one shows
the least disbelief, such people are hurt. They are so sure they are
When there is sentimentality, that means one?s understanding has not
become clear, one?s reasoning faculty has not become sharp. It is
extremely necessary that your reasoning capacity be very sharp;
otherwise you will be deluded. Patanjali warns that we may be seeing
wrong things, we may be mistakenly thinking that we are getting
spiritual experiences. Some people have visions. But you cannot always
trust visions. A vision is tested by its after-effect, by the
transformation it brings about in your character.
A vision might be simply a dream, an imagination, a fantasy. When you
meditate, you are in another world, the thought world. Many fantasies
come and go. You might be thinking those fantasies are visions. But
they are not. If a vision does not change your life, if it does not
give you inner strength, it is not a true vision.
But some visions are true. Even if they do not change one?s life
completely, their memory gives one strength. I have heard from some
people?thoroughly reliable people?who had true visions. They said that
when a real vision comes, it is a splendid joy, an intense joy. It
comes all of a sudden unexpectedly. ?A great soul told me that when he
was having spiritual problems, passing through a crisis, all of a
sudden a vision came. It lasted. But even he told me that it was a
phase. One gets a vision, but the spiritual struggle goes on. However,
it is not the same struggle. One has got strength; one?s faith has
So there are true visions, but not all visions are true. Beware of
that. What you think is a vision might be your imagination.
Some people have visions, some do not. Because you do not get visions,
that does not mean that you are not progressing. In one English book
on mysticism, there is a nice distinction: imaginary vision and
intellectual vision. In an intellectual vision you do not see any
form. Your understanding become clearer, you perception becomes very
clear and strong. It is like getting the result after doing a
mathematical calculation. When one gets the result, one knows at once
that it is the truth, the correct result.
In the same way, in spiritual life, you may get a very clear insight
into some particular idea; you feel sure you have understood it. That
makes a great impact on you. This is also a kind of spiritual
experience. Sometimes an experience of this type is much better than
an ordinary vision. What happens as a result of true spiritual
experience is that your conviction grows.
Visions are secondary; the important thing is conviction. That gives
you strength. You may have a vision which gives you joy for the time
being?great joy, perhaps?but afterwards it is just a memory. That
memory may give a little stimulus, but it does not necessarily give
strength. What you want is strength and conviction. Real conviction is
as good as realization. Once feels so clearly the truth of a thing.
When these experiences come, you begin to feel more and more that you
are not the body, you are not the mind. You are separate from them.
Behind this world which you see with your senses, there is another
world which is much more real. In this world everything is changing,
everything is unreliable, including the mind. Swami Vivekananda once
said that everyone is irresponsible. Only those persons who have known
the Truth are responsible; everyone else is irresponsible. One does
not know what one will do.
But when there is conviction about the reality of the Spirit, one
grows. The mind comes under greater and greater control. Inner
strength comes. The important thing is that inner strength must come.
Gradually one begins to feel that one is not body and mind, that one
is something else. What that is one cannot define, but one is sure
that it is much more real than body and mind.
When one can clearly see that mind is unstable, unreliable, one gets
an idea of something beyond the mind. Sometimes one gets a glimpse of
that. Sometimes when the mind is under control to a great extent one
sees the reality of that thing more clearly. These experiences give
one strength. Even a saint might say that he has not achieved
anything, that he is still struggling. We might think, ?How is it that
even this man who has been struggling for so many years says he has
not achieved anything?? He has surely got something. But he counts
that as nothing. He wants more.
In this way one grows until one reaches a state where one sees, one
feels that the whole world is non-existent. Only oneself and God
exist. Two things exist. One has become almost zero. I say almost
zero, for otherwise one could not see two. That is a great state in
spiritual life. Afterwards, the two vanishes and only one remains, as
in the quotation I gave at the beginning. The highest state cannot be
described. It is neither ?is? nor ?is not.? ?Is? or ?is not? you
perceive with your mind, but at that time one?s self has become lost
in the eternity. Or, in terms of dualism, in terms of devotion, one?s
love for God has become so great that one has lost oneself in God.
When we compare the saints of different religions, we find that they
all say the same thing, though in different ways. One Sufi saint,
describing what happens in spiritual life, said that when you begin,
God is far away. We imagine God is somewhere in heaven, in some
geographical area, where we will enjoy the afterlife. One feels God is
far away. But why should God be far away? God is everywhere.
When one progresses, one feels God has come nearer and nearer. Still,
one thinks of God, one loves God, as a separate entity. The worshipper
and the object of worship are different. But when love for God becomes
intense, one?s separate existence vanishes. That is called the highest
state. That is called oneness, the ultimate reality, where nothing
exists except supreme joy.
How do we know that that joy exists? Those rare people who come to the
ordinary level after realizing the highest state, say that it was
great joy. Sometimes people from outside can see that a knower of
truth has so much joy in him or her.
Many people witnessed this in Ramakrishna?s life. Sometimes he would
be in what is called samadhi, the transcendental state. His eyelids
would not move; even if someone touched his eyeball, there was no
response. To all intents and purposes the body was dead. His doctor,
who was atheistic (though a very good man), found that his heartbeat
stopped during his samadhi. But people would find great joy beaming
through his face.
M., the recorder of The Gospel of Ramakrishna, when he first saw
Ramakrishna in samadhi, thought it was strange that, though he was
altogether oblivious of the surroundings, great joy was beaming
through his face, coming through his apparently dead, inactive eyes.
That joy is so great, Ramakrishna would say, that it cannot be
expressed in words. The Narada Bhakti Sutras a classic book on
devotion, gives the simile of the dumb man who tasted something very
sweet. He could not express his experience. Even we cannot express it.
About a sweet food, we can say only that it tastes sweet; more than
that we cannot express. But over and above that, a dumb man cannot
talk at all.
In the same way, one cannot say anything about the experience of the
highest truth. Ramakrishna would say that everything has been defiled
except the knowledge of Brahman. Defiled means that it has been
uttered with the lips.
How do we know that what is experienced in that state is real, and not
a hallucination? We know that it is a reality from the life and
teachings of wisdom that fall from their lips. Ramakrishna had no book
learning, but his wisdom put to silence scholars, philosophers,
leaders of society. When he would speak, they would sit silently and
drink in every word that fell from his lips. That is what happens.
This experience is a reality.
In our ignorance, we might say that there is no truth in religious
experience. What can you say to one who is ignorant? If such a person
would go to Ramakrishna, or any saint, he might simply smile and not
answer. He would not care to give any answer unless he felt pity, or
he felt there were spiritual potentialities in that person.
But in our spiritual life, struggle is a part of the path we take. And
if we follow the path, it is up to us how far we can go. Everyone who
makes the attempt is certain to get something. Wherever there is real
spiritual hunger, it will be appeased, and one will be satisfied.
?Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for
they shall be filled.? The words are so appropriate, so accurate.
If one has spiritual hunger, one will be filled. Spiritual hunger is
more important than physical hunger. Those who struggle for their
spiritual life, those who do spiritual practice and continue it, are
sure to get something. Simply because you have tried for a period with
care or carelessness and not got the result does not mean that others
will not get it. Some will get it, more or less. To what extent, to
what degree one will get it depends on one?s potentialities, one?s
assiduity, one?s perseverance.
A great saint whom I knew said once (though not directly to me) that
in worldly life you find that many persons fail in many things. One is
not sure of success. But in spiritual life, he said, there is not a
single instance of a person who sincerely tried and did not get any
result. If one tries, one will surely get something.
But to get results, we cannot practice parenthetically, as M. would
say. M. was a literary man; when giving advice, he used very accurate
expressions. You cannot have spiritual life parenthetically?within
brackets or between two dashes. We cannot busy ourselves with worldly
things and do spiritual practice parenthetically. You cannot have
religion, as Swami Vivekananda said, like an Oriental vase to decorate
your table. If you have it as a decoration, it will remain a
decoration. Not even that: it will dry up. Cut flowers will dry up
tomorrow or the next day.
Describing the different stages of spiritual life, Buddha said that
first comes the practice of ethical virtues, then faith, then energy.
But that energy is of a different kind. When you have faith, your
energy becomes different. You assert your claim. ?Why should truth be
denied to me?? Conviction has arisen. It is not simply a dreamy idea.
From that conviction comes energy. Ramakrishna used to say to the
Divine Mother. ?Thou didst reveal thyself to Ramprasad, so why not to
me?? This is how one prays when energy comes.
Then afterwards comes concentration, afterwards comes wisdom. These
are the higher stages. But as in ordinary life we find our level, in
spiritual life also, according to our struggle, according to the
intensity of our spiritual practice, we shall find our level. But no
one will go hungry if he has real hunger. One will get one?s fruits at
the right time. The greater the hunger, the greater the fulfillment.
That is spiritual life.
By: Swami Pavitrananda
"God is Consciousness that pervades the entire universe of the living
~ Sri Ramakrishna
~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Shivani Sannyasini ~*~*~*~*~*~