Nayatma balhinena labhyaya - This atman cannot be attained by the weak - is the upanishadic pronouncement.
Obedience is born of strength, faith and devotion. I am an instrument and you are its manipulator. I move as you make me move. I speak as you direct. My doings are all your doings. In ananyaya bhakti, that is the state of unswerving devotion, the sadhaka submits to the spiritualised nature of an illumined one. He recognises nothing but his Lord, and his activities are ever directed towards the divine. He has no individuality apart from the Lord. Obedience is an intrinsic part of him. obedience without 'self' consciousness.
Hanuman, the most perfect example of devotion, strength and obedience, was able to leap across the ocean to Lanka on the strength of Ram's name, while Ram had to build a bridge! Another example of a great yogi who epitomises this sublime state of obedience is Gorakhnath. Guru Matsyendranath, wanting to test his disciples, commanded them to jump from a spot which would have meant certain death. All the disciples took to their heels except Gorakhnath, who unhesitatingly followed his master's command. He was, of course, saved by Matsyendranath's yogic powers.
Like guru and disciple, mother and child are also psychically linked. The mother is the slave, and the baby is the divine master. When the babe calls, the mother acts without 'self' consciousness. As soon as the babe grows and begins to assert itself, the mother becomes 'self' conscious; duality creeps into the relationship.
Likewise, when a 'self' conscious state exists in the disciple, there are bound to be fluctuating states of obedience, according to the mental and physical imbalances of the sadhaka. It is this egoistic feeling that 'I am the doer' which leads to delusions of grandeur, imagining oneself to be indispensable. This retrogressive state leads the sadhaka downhill.
Before we can realise the role of obedience in relation to spiritual evolution, a stable base has to be created for the mind. Just as when we receive a mantra from the guru, and start practising japa, the mind oscillates from one thought to another. With persistent yoga abhyasa, the mind becomes calm and the trinity begins to take shape. You, your mantra and your guru all merge into oneness. In the same way, one enters the state of spontaneous obedience, where there is no awareness of being obedient. It is a state where the awareness of being obedient is not experienced, because of dis-identification between the thinker and the process of obedience.
This transcendental state of obedience becomes a way of life. No more conflicting thoughts plague the sadhaka. Obedience occurs spontaneously just as one leg moves forward and the other leg follows. No questions are asked; there is no analysing, no doubts or fears, and most of all, no making excuses and justifying one's act of disobedience. In this sublime state, obedience becomes a role which the less one identifies with, the better one can play it.
This transcendental state of obedience can be compared with humility. Conscious humility in a sadhaka is a form of ego manifesting. A saint is cot aware of his humility; he is humility personified. In other words, awareness of obedience is a transitory stage which has to be transcended in order to obtain the higher experience. This can only be experienced when the ego is erased. There are no shortcuts. In Swami Satyananda's words, 'The aim of a sannyasin should be to merge his thoughts and actions with the cosmic will. One must try to follow the gentle voice of intuition, for it is this that whispers the instructions of the cosmic will.'
How do sadhakas, while living in a state of self-complacency, become aware of the cosmic will? When the mind is like a railway station, and precious moments are wasted in useless pursuits and controversial conversations? Self-complacency is spiritual suicide, cancer of the soul! Self-awareness is what distinguishes a man of spiritual calibre from a man of the world. The self-complacent sadhaka lives a life of lies, a spiritually diseased state, and on the road to obedience, self-complacency points in the opposite direction. Sometimes a sadhaka may obey through fear of the preceptor. The guru is then regarded as a rewarder or a punisher. In this diverse state, the sadhaka is unable to experience complete identification with the preceptor. A sadhaka may also be obedient in an ostentatious way, for show, for advertisement, or for self-glorification. These attitudes are detrimental for spiritual progress. In Swami Sivananda's words, 'Simply looking at the face of the guru is not devotion. Disobedience even in little things is not devotion. Indiscipline is not devotion. Self-justification is not devotion. Self-assertion is not devotion.'
A true devotee does not deviate from the path of obedience for any reason whatsoever. While being independent in thought and action, he is willing to follow the instructions of the guru and adhere to them. The sublime state of obedience is a stepping stone towards the path of samadhi. Sannyasins as 'divine soldiers' should be ever ready to march into hell for a heavenly cause.