Swami Sivananda said that just as there is an education system from kindergarten to university, similarly there is a schooling system in spiritual life. God exists, so you have to think about Him. You have to meditate and pray. You have to purify your heart. He said that the kindergarten of spiritual life is service. Then comes loving others. The next class is Give, give and give. Dont say, You give to me, say, I give to you. This is primary spiritual schooling serve, love and give.
After this, Swami Sivananda said that we should purify the self: purify the mind, heart, intentions and actions. Practise non-violence, truthfulness, celibacy, non-possessiveness, living a life of poverty, non-stealing, cleanliness, contentment and so on. Purification means that just as you clean your dirty clothes by putting them in detergent, so you put your heart in detergent. Soak it in detergent and clean it.
How? Swami Sivananda said, Suffering and pain is the crucible into which nature throws a man whenever she wants to make him a sublime superman. You have to accept pain and suffering. Dont be afraid of pain. Dont depend on the things of worldly life. Riches will not go with you! What did Jesus say? It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I dont mean that you shouldnt become rich, but you should not depend on wealth as your security in life. Security in life is purification.
After purification, Swami Sivananda spoke of meditation. He said that meditation is like going to college, it is higher education. In meditation or prayer you enter a state of shanti, peace or tranquillity, where you become one with God. There is only God in front of you, whether in the form of Rama, Christ, Guru or Govinda. Finally comes realization.
So, serve, love and give are elementary education. Purifcation is intermediate education, and meditation is college education. Realization is post graduate education. This is the curriculum of spiritual schooling. Swami Sivananda gave me the mantra, Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realize, be good, do good, be kind, be compassionate, bear insult, bear injury. This is very difficult, but it is the highest sadhana!
Is achieving artha and kama possible in spiritual life?
Prosperity (artha), desire (kama), virtue (dharma) and liberation (moksha) are the four legs of the table of life. The table must have balance, so all four legs must be equally strong and stable. This means that the whole of life should be divided into four ashramas or periods. The first twenty-five years of life, brahmacharya, are for education and experience. The next twenty-five years, grihastha, are for hard work, living with ones wife and children, relatives, friends and society, toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, maturing. The third quarter is vanaprastha, when you have to retire and think about your spiritual self. Who am I? How am I related to the universe? What is God? How am I related to Him? What is this nature? Who created it? When did He create it? What is dharma? What is adharma? Finally, the fourth period of life, sannyasa, is for moksha, realization, merging the self with God.
Those who go via this route should dedicate one part of their assets and earnings for others. They should share their brain, their talents, capacities and material achievements with the have-nots of society. In the Vedas, Puranas and Smritis we are advised that householders should perform yajna. According to the Bhagavad Gita, yajna does not just mean a ritual where some of the pooja items are consigned to the flames and thereby dedicated to God. The word yajna consists of three syllables, ya, ja and na, which refer to the three processes of every act we perform, viz. utpadan, uparjan and vitarana, i.e. production (ya), earning (ja) and distribution (na).
In the life of a householder sharing ones wealth with others is of the greatest value. It is the first duty of each householder. The produce from your farm, the profit from your business, the salary you earn from your job must be shared with other members of society who are less fortunate than you. Do not forget that you owe a share of your wealth to the needy members of society. Remember that you do not have an exclusive right over the wealth you call your own. Grihastha ashrama is a system of distribution. You cannot lay an exclusive claim to your earnings.
You can earn only because of the social network of interdependence. Everybody depends upon everybody else. Spiritual life in relation to artha and kama is possible only when you share your wealth with others, when you distribute your wealth equitably. If you earn and spend only on yourself, or save and deposit your earnings in the bank in your own name, then dharma and moksha cannot be attained, and spiritual life cannot be lived without them. This kind of self-indulgence is only deception. It is leading an undisciplined life. Grihastha ashrama does not only mean reproducing and earning wealth; it definitely includes proper distribution of wealth in society. You must give back to society whatever it has given to you in the form of personal wealth and prosperity.
Social services are what society needs. Society needs hospitals, orphanages, food distribution centres in famine-ridden areas, so contribute your share. You should not spend or utilize all your income or achievements only on yourself. If you do this, then you are a miser. Dont be selfish. There are problems everywhere, so you have to give a part of your earnings and assets to alleviate them and fulfil your social obligations. That is your social debt because you cannot develop, earn or prosper without a proper, stable society. You should definitely understand this.
So artha means prosperity and kama means desire. What is that desire? The desire to have wealth, to have a good wife or husband and to have children. These are the three main desires. Most people want a good partner, a comfortable house or flat and, if possible, a car, and then a child. Everybody likes to have a child. These three desires are not an impediment in spiritual life, rather they are an expression of your nature. Just because you want to have a child or attain prosperity does not mean you are worldly. This is very clearly explained in the Bhagavad Gita and its commentaries. Arjuna asked Krishna the same question, and Krishna said, No. You must follow the dharma which nature has designed for you.
If you are a householder, then you should be a householder, and in the world everybody is a householder. Everybody has a wife or husband, everybody has a child, except for a few sannyasins who are a minority in this world. So how can you think that God will not be pleased with you if you also have them? God will be pleased with you, but please remember that your child is not the only child. There is some other child also who needs your love.