Sadhana is the process of transforming ones nature from human to the divine. This is the real purpose for which we have been born. You can hope to achieve perfection only when you effect this transformation.
For purposes of sadhana, everything must be rendered sattwic. The place of meditation, food, apparel, company, thoughts and objects of contemplation must be sattwic. Conversation must be sattwic. The sound that you hear must be sattwic. Everything must be sattwic. Then only good progress is possible, particularly for beginners.
To grow in sattwa you must entirely overcome your lower nature. It is purification and change of heart alone that make sadhana possible. Never imagine for a moment that you are anywhere near the goal unless and until you strive with earnestness and diligence to rid yourself of negative tendencies, and get established in a pure, sattwic character.
Strong spiritual aspiration is the first step in the seekers path. Some people have a little curiosity for the spiritual line, but no real thirsting for liberation. They think that they will get certain powers or siddhis if they do some yogic practices. When they do not attain the powers, they lose patience and give up the practices, abandon the spiritual path.
Mere curiosity will not help you attain any spiritual progress. Introspect. Analyze your thoughts and find out whether you have real spiritual hunger or mere curiosity-mongering. Transmute your inquisitiveness into real thirsting for salvation by constant satsang, company of truth, study of inspiring books, prayer, japa and meditation.
Good intentions alone will not do. They must be backed up by good actions. If you think, I will take a bath when all the waves of the sea subside, this is not possible. The waves will never subside and you will never take a bath. Even so, if you think, I will start spiritual sadhana or meditation when all my cares, worries and anxieties cease, when all my sons are fixed up in life, when I have ample leisure after retirement, this is not possible. You will not be able to sit for even half an hour when you become old. You will have no strength to do any rigorous tapas, austerity, when you are in advanced senility. You must start vigorous spiritual practices when you are young, whatever your condition, circumstances and environment. Then only you will reap a rich spiritual harvest when you become old. You will enjoy the everlasting peace of the eternal.
You must enter the spiritual path with the best intention of attaining atma jnana, self-knowledge, but unless you are vigilant and diligent, unless you do intense and rigorous sadhana, unless you guard yourself against lust, anger and greed, egoism and selfishness, good intentions alone will not enable you to achieve success. Do something substantial in the path of sadhana instead of wasting your time in idle pursuits and lethargy. You have infinite strength within you. There is a vast reservoir of power within you. Therefore, do not lose heart. Begin sadhana now.
Stern self-discipline is absolutely essential. Self-discipline does not mean suppression, but taming the lower instinctive nature. You will have to break the virgin soil before you sow the seed. The seed breaks itself before it sprouts out as a plant. Destruction precedes construction. This is the immutable law of nature. You will have to destroy your brutal nature first before you develop a divine nature. There is no shortcut on the spiritual path. There is no royal road to the kingdom of immortal bliss. There is no half-measure on the divine path. Strict, hard discipline is wanted. Then alone can you conquer maya and control the mind.
Discipline is the training of your faculties, through instructions and exercise, in accordance with a settled principle of authority. You must discipline not only the intellect but also the will and emotions. A disciplined person will control his actions. He is no longer at the mercy of the moment. He ceases to be a slave of his impulses and senses. Such mastery is not the result of one days effort. One can acquire the power by protracted practice and daily self-discipline. Self-control is the greatest in one whose life is dominated by ideals and general principles of conduct. The final end of discipline is self-control.
The whole nature of man must be disciplined. Each element requires its specific training. Discipline harmonizes the opposing elements of his soul. Self-control will enable the aspirant to know the truth, to desire the good and win the right and thus to realize the reality. Every temptation that is resisted, every evil thought that is curbed, every desire that is subdued, every bitter word that is withheld, every noble aspiration that is encouraged, every sublime thought that is cultivated, adds to the development of will force, good character, and attainment of eternal bliss and immortality.
If you do not clean a plate daily, it will lose its lustre. It is the same with sadhana too. The mind becomes impure if it is not kept clean by the regular practice of sadhana and meditation. Meditation removes the dross of the mind in an effective manner. Therefore, practise meditation in the early morning regularly.
Persist in your spiritual practices. Be tenacious and diligent. You are bound to succeed. Even a dull type of aspirant will notice a marvellous change in him if he keeps up the practice of japa and meditation for two or three years in a continuous stream. Now he cannot leave the practice. Even if he stops his practice of meditation for a day, he will actually feel that he has lost something on that day. His mind will be quite uneasy.
Every bit of sadhana done is surely recorded without fail in your hidden consciousness. No sadhana ever goes in vain. Every bit of it is credited immediately towards your evolution. This is the law. Think not negative thoughts, but calmly go on with the sadhana. Be regular at it. Without missing a single day, proceed onward with your spiritual practices. Little by little, the power accumulates and it will grow.
Ultimately, the cumulative force of all the continuous earnest sadhana done perseveringly and patiently over a long period has its inevitable consummation at the supreme moment when it bears fruit in the form of blissful realization. Let the sadhana be regular, continuous, unbroken and earnest. Not only regularity, but also continuity in sadhana and meditation is necessary if you want to attain self-realization quickly. A spiritual stream once set going does not dry up, unless the channel-bed is blocked, unless there is stagnation. Meditate regularly.
A solitary place with spiritual vibratory conditions, a cool, sattwic place with temperate climate as in Uttarkashi, Rishikesh or Badrinarayan is an indispensable requisite for concentration of mind and meditation, because the brain gets hot during meditation. The banks of the Ganga or Narmada, Himalayan scenery, lovely flower gardens or sacred temples are places which elevate the mind and help in concentration and mediation. Have recourse to them.
Of course, the ideal condition cannot always be obtained. All places combine advantages and some disadvantages also. You must select a place which has the maximum advantages and minimum disadvantages. You should be alone with yourself and be able to remove yourself from the causes of distraction.
The meditation room should be regarded as a temple. Talks of profane nature should never be indulged in this room. No vicious thoughts of rancorous jealousy, avarice are to be entertained there. Admittance should ever be sought in it with a pious and reverent mind. For, what we do, what we think and what we speak of leave their impressions on the ether of the room and, if no care is taken to avoid them, they will exert their influence on the aspirants mind and, rendering his mind perverse and restive, make him incapable of attending to the practice. The words uttered, the thoughts cherished, the deeds done are not lost; they are always reflected on the subtle layers of ether encircling the room and affect the mind invariably. Effort should be made to overcome them as much as possible. This needs to be done for a few months only; when the habit is changed, everything will be all right.
The practitioner must take good, sattwic, substantial, light and nutritious food. Meditation is possible only when the mind is full of sattwa guna. The stomach should not be over-loaded. There is an intimate connection between the mind and food. A heavy meal is harmful. Take a full meal at 11 am and half a seer of milk at night. The night meal should be light for those who meditate. There must be capacity for sadhana. Then only meditation will go on steadily with ease.
Get up at 4 am, brahma muhurta. Sit comfortably in padma, siddha, sukha or swastika asana. Keep the head, neck and trunk in one straight line. Relax the muscles, nerves and brain. Calm the objective mind. Close the eyes. Do not struggle with the mind. Do not voluntarily and violently drive away intruding thoughts. Gently allow the divine thoughts to flow. Steadily think of the lakshya, point of meditation. Have sublime, sattwic thoughts. Vicious thoughts will, by themselves, vanish.
Make no violent effort to control the mind. Do not wrestle with it with force. It is a mistake to do so. But, rather, allow it to run for a while and exhaust its efforts. Even if the mind runs outside during your practice in meditation, do not bother. Allow it to run. Slowly try to bring it to your centre. In the beginning, the mind may run out eighty times. Within six months, it may run seventy times; within a year, it may run fifty times; within two years, it may run thirty times; within five years, it will be completely fixed in the divine consciousness.
Those who meditate for four or five hours at one stretch can have two asanas, either padma and vajra or siddha and vajra, in the beginning. Sometimes, blood accumulates in one part of the legs or thighs and gives a little trouble. After two hours, change the asana from padma or siddha to vajra or stretch the legs at full length. Lean against a wall or pillow. Keep the spine erect. Or join two chairs, sit on one chair and stretch the legs on the other. This is another contrivance. The pose or asana is really mental. Try to have a mental padma or siddha asana. If the mind is wandering, you cannot have a steady body or physical pose. When the mind is steady or fixed in Brahman, steadiness of the body automatically follows.
When sushumna nadi is working, that is, when the breath flows through both the nostrils, meditation goes on with ease and joy. The mind then is calm. There is an increase of sattwa guna when sushumna is operating. Sit for meditation the moment sushumna begins to flow. You can meditate only when the mind is beyond all anxieties. Retire to a quiet room or place where you do not fear interruption so that your mind may feel secure and at rest. Sit in a comfortable posture and be, as far as possible, free from external disturbing influences. Drive off negative thoughts. Become positive. Positive overpowers the negative. You can do nice meditation when you are positive.
Do not go to extremes such as mouna, fasting, etc. Keep up the golden medium. Lord Buddha did rigorous austerities in the beginning. This adversely affected his body. Later on he learnt to keep up the golden medium. Do not spoil your health. Rigorous asceticism is not required for the attainment of the final beatitude of life. It is simply a foolish torture of the human body. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (17:56):
The men who perform severe austerities un-enjoined by the scriptures, wedded to vanity and egoism, impelled by the force of their desires and passions, unintelligent, tormenting the aggregated elements forming the body, and Me also, seated in the inner body, know these to be demonical in their resolves.
The yogi observes the law of moderation at all times. He treads the middle path. He does not torture his body, but he does regulate his eating and sleeping, and his talking and working.
Sadhana is a lifelong process. Every day, every hour, every minute, is an onward march. The path may, in the beginning, appear to be very hard, thorny, precipitous and slippery. Renunciation of objects is painful at the outset, but if you make a strong determination and firm resolve, and struggle hard to tread the path, then it becomes very easy. It is like the spiral. In the beginning, great striving is needed, but gradually the circle becomes smaller and smaller. So also, the striving becomes less and less. The aspirant gains spiritual strength slowly. He marches faster and faster. Finally he does not go by furlong after furlong, but proceeds by mile after mile. He gallops and gallops. Therefore, be patient, be persevering, be steady. You have to plod on and scale many hills. You cannot climb Mount Everest in one jump, nor is there any jumping on the spiritual path. Self-realization is not like a six-year postgraduate course. It is the result of intense protracted sadhana.
When you progress in sadhana, you become interested and inspired, the heart expands and the feeling of joy increases. You feel the help from the invisible hands of the indweller of your heart. Your doubts are cleared by themselves by getting answers from within. There is an indescribable thrill of divine ecstasy from within. There is deep, abiding, everlasting joy and unruffled peace. This gives new strength. Then your footing on the path becomes firmer and firmer. The jivanmuktas, yogins, nitya-siddhas, amara-purushas, and chiranjivis lend their hands to the struggling aspirants. This spiritual support can be actually felt by sincere aspirants, and then the feeling of loneliness and of being neglected and forsaken vanishes entirely. At all times you are supported by a mighty power that works everywhere in the cosmos. Therefore you have nothing to fear.
Real spiritual progress is really and accurately measured by the peacefulness, serenity and calmness that you manifest in the waking state. You will have a healthy body and mind, the excretions will be scanty, the voice sweet, the face brilliant, the eyes lustrous. You will be ever calm, tranquil and poised, cheerful, fearless and contented.
Things that used to upset you before will not upset you now. Things that used to give you pleasure will produce disgust or a reverse effect now. You will have an unruffled and introverted mind. You will be dispassionate and discriminative. The mind will become one-pointed, sharp and subtle. You will be longing to practise more meditation. The idea that all forms are form of the Lord will get stronger and stronger, and you will feel the presence of God everywhere.
Act now. Live now. Know now. Realize now. Be happy now. Every death is a reminder. Every bell that rings says, The end is near. Every day rubs off from you one part of your precious life. Therefore, you should be very earnest in plunging yourself in constant sadhana.
Waver not. Fear not. Doubt not. Never fall a victim to fruitless regret. Today is the best day. Today is the day of your new birth. Start sadhana now. With folded palms, bid goodbye to past mistakes and faults. You have learnt your lessons. March forward now with new hope, determination and vigilance.