There is no insurmountable difficulty for one of strong determination and iron will.
There is always a complaint among aspirants, 'I am meditating for the last twelve years, yet I have not made any improvement. I have no realization.' Why is it so?
Real spiritual development and progress in sadhana are indeed very hard to attain. The workings of maya are so very subtle, so very difficult to overcome, and human nature is fundamentally so unregenerate, that it refuses to be transformed from its vicious state to a state of virtue, goodness. To achieve any measure of success in spiritual life is a difficult and uphill task. It is divine grace alone that can raise the aspirant from darkness to light.
On the spiritual path you must be prepared to meet with hundreds of failures, innumerable difficulties, and obstacles. In the beginning it may appear to be very hard, thorny, precipitous, and slippery. To walk on this path is like walking on the edge of a sharp razor. You will fall down several times, but if you are sincere and earnest in your practice you will rise up quickly and walk again with more zeal, boldness and cheerfulness. Every stumbling block will become a stepping stone to success or ascent on the hill of spiritual knowledge. Every fall will give you additional strength to rise up to a greater height on the ladder of yoga.
Do not let failures discourage you, but go on doing your best. Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures, as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future. Just think of the causes which led to your failures and try to remove them in the future.
Trials are for strengthening the aspirants and their rapid spiritual growth. One will grow quickly if one can adapt oneself to any kind of environment and circumstance. If God gives trials, side by side He also gives new strength, patience and fortitude to bear the trials. There is no room for lamentation. Say once more, 'Thy will be done.' All saints and sages, all prophets and seers had to pass through tremendous struggles and severe ordeals before they reached the goal.
Your spiritual growth is gauged by the extent of your victory over external circumstances and environments, troubles and difficulties, adverse conditions and antagonistic influences. A yogi or a sage always keeps a balanced mind in all conditions of life. He stands on a firm base the eternal, unchanging, immortal soul and so he is called steadfast. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (2:15):
Yam hi na vyathayantyete purusham purusharshabha;
Samaduhkha sukham dheeram somritatwaaya kalpate.
The man whom these torment not, O chief of men, balanced in pain and pleasure, steadfast, he is fit for immortality.
Muster all your strength and courage and every time you fall, rise up quickly and walk again with more zeal, boldness and cheerfulness. Allow every stumbling block to become a stepping stone to your spiritual transformation.
This world is full of difficulties and troubles. No one, save a yogi, bhakta or jnani is free from worldly trouble and miseries. Go wherever you like. It is all the same. Uttarkashi in the Himalayas and Kashmir are lovely places with good spiritual vibrations, but fleas bite at night and make it difficult to sleep. Deva Prayag in the Himalayas is a very good place, but there are horrible scorpions. There is sunstroke at Benares. You get pneumonia and dysentery in Badrinath.
Sound disturbs the mind a great deal in meditation. It is the sound that sets the mind in motion and causes the mind to think. A sound with meaning disturbs more than a sound without meaning. A continuous sound as the silent murmur of a river is not as disturbing as an abrupt, sudden, sharp, broken sound. The mind does not feel a sound when it is used to it.
Scents, soft beds, novel reading, dramas, theatres, cinemas, vulgar music, dancing, flowers, company of the opposite sex, rajasic diet, all these excite passions and cause disturbance of the mind. Too much salt, chillies and sweets cause intense thirst and disturb meditation. Too much talking, walking and contact with people also disturbs the mind in meditation.
The chief inner obstacles that stand in the way of meditation are sleepiness, passions, a confused state of mind, fancies and wild imagination or manorajya. Owing to the force of samskaras, the mind is constantly imagining and building castles in the air. This is termed manoratha in Sanskrit. This is a serious obstacle in meditation. It should be stopped by vichara, reflection. When the mind has been withdrawn from objects, do not allow it to go into sleep or manorajya.
Sometimes, during the course of meditation, the mind suddenly slips into its old grooves of sleep. People think that they are meditating, while they are actually sleeping. A mixture of drowsiness, tandri, and manorajya is mistaken by aspirants for deep meditation and samadhi. The mind appears to be established in concentration and free from vikshepa, distraction. This is a mistake. Stand up for ten minutes and dash cold water on the face and head if drowsiness comes. Practice of pranayama, sirshasana, sarvangasana and mayurasana, and a light, sattwic diet will help to combat these obstacles.
The mind that lusts after many things through sense desire is not concentrated on one object. Being overcome by sense desire, this mind will not enter into progress in meditation to put away the sensuous element. The mind that is harassed by ill-will concerning an object does not proceed forward. The mind that is overcome by sloth and torpor, is unwieldy and obsessed by worry and flurry, does not repose but flirts about. Struck by perplexity, it does not go on the path that leads to the attainment of meditation and samadhi.
Very often, depression comes in meditation in neophytes owing to previous samskaras, influence of astral entities, evil spirits, bad company, cloudy days, indigestion and constipation. It must be removed quickly by cheerful thoughts, a brisk walk, singing, laughing, prayer, pranayama, etc.
Sometimes the aspirant gets stuck and cannot proceed further on his path. He loses his way and walks in some other direction and misses the goal. Sometimes he is assailed by temptations and various oppositions, becomes falsely contented, and thinking he has reached his goal stops all sadhana. Sometimes due to laziness and carelessness, the sadhana drops.
Some aspirants leave sadhana after some time. They expect many siddhis, psychic powers, and great fruits quickly. When they do not get some, they give up the sadhana. Know that there are several ranges of consciousness between the ordinary human consciousness and the supra-consciousness of Brahman.
Different veils have to be torn down on the way; many lower centres have to be opened up; many hurdles have to be crossed over before the final goal is reached.
The greatest harm is when the aspirant becomes deluded by maya into thinking that he has already progressed considerably in spirituality. He deceives himself with regard to the unattached attitude where one can commit any kind of act and yet remain untainted. This self-deception puts a bar to all progress. Under this very grave delusion he allows himself to be unrestrained and runs wild, intolerant of criticism, resentful of even the least opposition, regardless of advice and correction, and utterly disregardful of the feelings of others. All sense of discrimination, equal judgement and introspection completely vanish from him. Even the common courtesy and culture possessed by the ordinary worldly man take leave of the aspirant on account of his presumption of spiritual growth and advancement in wisdom.
Saints and yogis will never think that they have controlled the mind. Only the deluded sadhaka will imagine he has controlled the mind and get a terrible downfall. It is the very nature of life, mind and nature to be constantly in motion. When there is an idea in the mind that the highest goal is yet to be achieved, you will always move towards it. If you imagine that you have got to the top, you will anyhow have to move, and that movement will be downward. You will have a downfall. Various siddhis and other powers will come to the yogi who has controlled the senses, prana and mind. But these are all hindrances to self-realization. They are stumbling blocks.
If your japa, meditation or contemplation thickens your veil and fattens your egoism, it is no longer a spiritual sadhana. Remember this point well. It is only a kind of occult practice. Watch, introspect. Practise self-analysis and kill ruthlessly this formidable egoism. This is an important sadhana. Egoism will lurk like a thief and assume various forms like a chameleon.
Power, name, fame and wealth stiffen the ego and take hold in the personality. Hence, renounce them if you want to walk the spiritual path. Individuals who are always on lecture tours or travelling about from place to place are at a disadvantage as far as spiritual transformation is concerned. Physical comfort, popularity and fame will distract their mind. They may talk eloquently on spiritual matters, but unless they are advanced they will not know how far they have progressed in conquering their own mind.
Do not deceive yourself at any step along the way by thinking that you have acquired a detached attitude to life wherein you can perform any sort of act and yet remain unaffected by it. This self-deception puts a bar to all progress.
Do not stop the sadhana when you get a few glimpses of realization. Continue the practice till you are fully established. This is important. If you stop the practice and move about in the world, there is every likelihood of a downfall. The reaction will be tremendous. Examples are not lacking. Numerous persons have been thus ruined. A glimpse cannot give you perfect safety. Do not be carried away by name and fame. You can renounce your spouse, children, parents, house, friends and relatives, but it is very, very difficult to renounce the intellectual pleasure, the pleasure from name and fame. I seriously warn you. One who can draw happiness from the atman within will never care a jot for this trivial, paltry worldly affair. The world is a mighty big thing for a worldly man, but it is a mere straw, a dot, a bubble, an airy nothing for a knower of Brahman. Be circumspect. Ignore all these trivial things. Be steady with your practice.
To grow in yoga is not an easy matter. Sadhakas must take to the path sincerely. Always feel that you are just a beginner and strive diligently to acquire the primary virtues of kindness, charitableness, patience and forbearance. Be ready to serve others with humility and put up with provocation and abuse without retaliation.
Carefully avoid the dangers of self-deception by constant vigilance and introspection. Do sadhana regularly and pray for the grace of God. Imagine not that you have scaled to the heights of spirituality. Know what true spirituality is. Before you claim to be a sadhaka fully realize the importance of becoming a changed person, ethically and morally.
You will have to note very carefully whether you remain stationary on the spiritual path even after many years of spiritual practice or whether you are progressing. To achieve success in any measure in spiritual life is the most difficult and uphill task. Be thoughtful, careful and vigilant. Find out the disturbing causes and remove them.
It is only after you have given everything of yourself to the task that divine grace will raise you up from the darkness into the light. It is the greatest mistake to think that the mere act of renunciation is sufficient achievement in your spiritual life. If renunciation makes you feel that you have become superior to the rest of mankind and has bestowed on you the right to preach and the dictate to others, then the very purpose of your renunciation gets blasted. You destroy the very foundation of your spiritual life by this egoistic assumption.
Sometimes, you may go downwards also, if you are not very vigilant and careful, if your vairagya wanes and if you are slack in meditation. Reaction may set in. When an aspirant practises sadhana in seclusion there is nothing there to test his spiritual progress. He will not know to what extent he has conquered his weaknesses like lust, anger, greed, selfishness, etc. Qualities like compassion, love, adaptability, tolerance, spirit of selfless service, etc. qualities that are vitally necessary for spiritual transformation can be effectively developed only in the midst of activities.
Doubts or uncertainties are great obstacles on the path of self-realization, even for an advanced student. Be firm and unshakeable in your faith and conviction to transform yourself. Face these passing obstacles and allow nothing to disturb you. Again and again the battle must be won.