Cultivating Spiritual Awareness

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

How can we live in the presence of guru and God in our daily lives?

There are no guidelines on how to practise and live spiritual life. The basic framework has been given in the yogic, tantric and vedic traditions, but ultimately we have to manage our own thoughts, ideas, beliefs and convictions. Until we do that, there is no spiritual development.

Spiritual development is not mechanical. It does not mean that if we do a certain practice, we will get a definite result. As long as we are doing something physical or mental, that is fine, because we know what the end result of asana and pranayama, or mantra practice, or meditation practice will be. However, it must be emphasized that the practices can only lead us to a certain point. Beyond that we have to adjust, modify and alter our mental expressions and develop a new perspective. Developing a new vision marks the awakening of the spiritual faculty within us. Hatha yoga or raja yoga do not indicate the awakening of spiritual faculties. Understanding, modifying and changing the mental vrittis indicates the beginning of spiritual awareness.

How do we modify or fine-tune our ideas, thoughts, convictions and beliefs, which are the basic building blocks of our nature? The answer has been given in the Yoga Sutras. The yamas and niyamas have to be lived. It is not necessary to practise all five yamas or all five niyamas, but it is important to master one yama or one niyama.

The highest practice one can do to cultivate spiritual awareness is ishwara pranidhana, which is the final niyama. Ishwara pranidhana means ‘let thy will be done’. Allowing oneself to be the recipient of the divine will is the highest virtue that can be cultivated. It is the highest state of mind that can be developed and experienced. It is the culmination of jnana, the culmination of bhakti and the culmination of karma. When jnana, knowledge, bhakti, faith or devotion, and karma, behaviour or performance, fuse into one and are directed to fulfilment of the divine will, ishwara pranidhana, then that would be the highest state we can aspire for as spiritual aspirants. Ishwara pranidhana indicates letting go of the personal hang-ups, the personal attachments and the holding onto things that we consider dear. Remember that contentment, santosha, comes before ishwara pranidhana.

Ishwara pranidhana is the last of the niyamas. If you follow the sequence of the yamas and niyamas, it is number ten. Beyond that there is no other yama or niyama. Being number ten, ishwara pranidhana indicates that a certain amount of preparation has taken place already and you are experiencing the divine will. Through the generation of faith and innocence, letting go of the self-oriented, self-centred awareness, one is able to finally tune oneself to God’s energy or guru’s energy.

Ishwara pranidhana also indicates a level of surrender where we are not subject to our mental whims and desires. In normal life we find it difficult to surrender to something that is different from us. It is even difficult to surrender to God or to guru. If we try, certain thoughts come, certain influences affect our belief, doubt creeps in, questioning begins and we again fall prey to the mental influences. Christ’s disciples had to face doubts. Spiritual aspirants who are trying to follow a spiritual lifestyle have to face those confusions and doubts, because surrender is never complete in our lives.

Surrender simply means not being a slave to the mental whims, fantasies and desires. Right now we have surrendered ourselves to our mind. The mind says, “Do this” – we do it. The mind says, “Say this” – we say it. The mind says, “Desire this” – we desire it. The mind says, “Reject that” – we reject it. We have become slaves of our mind. The real meaning of surrender is coming out of this situation and surrendering to the cosmic divine nature, becoming master of the mind and tuning oneself with the higher Self. This surrender is the first step of ishwara pranidhana – ‘let thy will be done’. It is also a philosophy, a concept, an idea, that we try to develop. One who can develop this philosophy and live accordingly, who can cultivate that spiritual strength and energy within, is recognized as a disciple and eventually, in the course of time, as an enlightened being. The highest spiritual value to be cultivated in life is ishwara pranidhana. The moment you live that, your yoga also reaches its point of culmination.

Ishwara pranidhana is identifying with the inner pure nature. Once you have identified with your inner nature, you have attained ishwara pranidhana, and you don’t remain you. That is the turning point in the aspirant’s life. Everything is guided by our ego. Our thoughts are guided by the ego, our expectations are motivated by the ego, our efforts are energized by the ego, our responses and reactions and identifications are associated with the ego.

If you have a confrontation with your enemy, do you react to the person or to the ideology that person conveys to you? There is a clash of egos, you both have different viewpoints, and the person and the ideology become separate. So most of the time you will react to the person because there is no acknowledgement of the ideology. If there was recognition of the ideology, then the person would be redundant, and become the follower of the ideology. But we always watch the person and we respond accordingly.

However, we don’t respond to the person, but to the reaction that we feel within us for that person – anger or hatred. So we are responding to our own emotion. We are reacting to our own anger. These are the traits that a psychologist or psychoanalyst tries to discover about the cause of a disturbance or imbalance. Again it is so coloured by the ego that it becomes impossible to know where we are reacting, with what we are identifying. We are identifying with ourselves and definitely not with the other person or with the situation.

The practice of ishwara pranidhana is identifying with your inner nature. If you experience ishwara pranidhana, then you have let go of the identification with jealousy and anger, with desires and passions, with all the so-called ‘normal’ responses. Once this identification is gone, one’s responses change and are no longer self-oriented. Instead of being focused on oneself, one is now focused outwards like the beam of a torch.

Ishwara pranidhana is not only a mental sadhana. Outer changes also help to attain ishwara pranidhana. What made St Francis of Assisi a saint? It was not his realization of God or Christ, or religion, or his compassion and love. It was the vow he had taken of poverty and chastity. To move from a life of luxury to a life of poverty and to maintain the discipline is very difficult. Do we have the capacity to make external changes in our life, to take a vow and live it, or are we too weak and infirm? A vow, or vrat, reflects a change in lifestyle. Test yourself. Undergo a little physical hardship. One night a week sleep on a mattress on the floor. One day a week miss one meal and have something light to eat for the next. In this manner by adjusting certain situations and conditions and disciplining yourself little by little, you will find that your lifestyle will influence your mind and your mental receptivity.

The yamas and niyamas are not a mental process only. They are a process by which you become aware of yourself. As you become aware of yourself, you have to fine-tune your channels. But at the same time, the outer external change and discipline is equally important. Without it the yamas and niyamas cannot be lived.

What are the components of meditation?

First of all, meditation is a process of removing stress from our personality. Meditation becomes a technique of stress management, through which the psychological and emotional frustrations are cleared.

After that, meditation becomes a way of providing the mind with a focus – concentration. This is the second component. The state of concentration is so fine that there are no distractions and dissipations from the senses affecting it. Concentration is not internalization. It is just taking control of the four wild runaway horses, holding the reins of manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara, and directing them to move on the path that you have decided.

Then the third component is the process of internalization, diving deep into the inner nature, and discovering what the building blocks of our personality are – the samskaras, the karmas, the influences, the impressions, the foundations of our mental, and psychological, emotional nature.

The fourth component is then connecting with the positive self, connecting with the creative strength. When we connect with this positive energy and cultivate positive qualities in our life, then meditation takes us from the conditioned nature to sattwa, the luminous nature of the self. And then meditation helps us to overcome our ego connections. The individual self is transcended.

After transcending the individuality, samadhi is experienced: absolute harmony and balance. In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna, “Can you describe how a person who is realized lives, acts, walks, talks, sleeps, eats and moves?” Krishna replies, “That person’s actions are no different to ours. He moves like you and me, he eats like you and me, he sleeps like you and me, he thinks like you and me. The only difference is that he has overcome the duality of life. Whereas initially we do everything for ourselves and are the centre of the universe, now love and compassion have become the centre of the universe, and everything else revolves around that.”

This statement indicates the progression of meditation from the management of anger, frustration, stress and phobias to the development of self-awareness, to connecting with the positive nature and discovering peace and harmony, to living a complete life by not connecting with ourselves but with the world around us. That is the relevance of meditation today.

Self-realization is attainable, but not necessarily needed. What is needed is the ability to manage ourselves in a better way. Let us start with that. If we can learn how to handle ourselves in a better way, maybe we will discover that we don’t need to be realized, that we are in that state of realization all the time.