The Path of Evolution

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

What do you feel about this time in history, because it seems we are on the edge of something new?

The history of mankind has been a history of spiritual evolution. Right from the primitive stages up to modern times, man has always been a seeker. He has been trying to solve a riddle and to know something which remains unknown.

Up to a few centuries ago, people used to live spiritual lives, but in the last two or three centuries something happened to our society as a whole. People turned towards materialistic ways and the mind became extroverted. Gradually awareness of external things, whatever was visible to the senses, predominated in the mind. With this gradual departure from inner awareness, the individual began to feel a kind of pain and panic within.

The more extroverted one becomes, the more pain one feels. As a result, in the last two or three decades a great change has taken place. Man has begun to strive for self-realization because he has realized that the way of life of his ancestors and his community has not been able to provide peace and serenity. We see around us people living in luxury and comfort, wealth and affluence, but they are unhappy. Thus something has to be added or eliminated from the lifestyle; some transformation has to take place.

If you have been suffering from a particular physical disease and have been following a particular diet for the past twenty or thirty years, I would ask you to consider changing the diet. When one has been following a particular pattern of life and it has been causing problems, then one feels the need to make a departure from that pattern. That is what is happening to people in our age, and it is happening everywhere.

Ours is the age of spiritual evolution; we are at a crossroads. It is for us to decide which way to go. If we go back, we know exactly what is there, but what exists in all other directions is unknown to us.

All saints, sages, scriptures, religions and thinking individuals have said only one thing. You may live in the world because you have a physical body, but your base should be in the spirit. It has been said in different ways. What is that spiritual base? Withdraw your mind and become more aware of the inner spiritual plane. This revolution, this idea, we hope will grow.

—England, 1979

How can one learn to accept oneself?

Self-acceptance is a great achievement in anyone's life. In every personality there is a partial rejection of oneself. There are many who spend their whole lives rejecting themselves, directly or indirectly. This is because of a conflict of ego. There is a partition between one part of the ego and another part.

This attitude of non-acceptance, however, is also a blessing because it is through such non-acceptance that one strives for perfection. If you accept yourself, then there is no intention or need for perfection. Therefore, you should be careful that acceptance of yourself by yourself is not achieved at the wrong time.

How can we get rid of illusions so that life will not be so painful?

The first point is that if one becomes free from all illusions, life will become unbalanced. There will be mental imbalance. Therefore, nature has created illusions to maintain balance.

For example, you believe that your husband is yours because he is your husband, but that is an illusion. It is your faith; it is a concept that you believe in, but if this illusion is destroyed, there will be imbalance. Everybody follows an illusion, and if it is destroyed, there will be imbalance in society.

As you become more and more balanced in life, nature also withdraws the illusions one by one. Therefore, you should not try to destroy these illusions through the intellect or reasoning. You should try to improve the quality of your mind, and as you develop spiritually these illusions will drop away by themselves.

—Spain, 1983

Can you explain the difficulties that one comes across on the spiritual path?

When you start your journey on the spiritual path, you must understand that you are treading a path hitherto unknown to you. It is the path of evolution of your consciousness. The consciousness has traveled so far to represent the human incarnation. Every time the consciousness passes from one incarnation to another, it faces a crisis. Whenever transformation and transition take place, there is always a crisis.

Therefore, let us use the word crisis, not the word difficulty. When you make a transition from childhood to youth, you face a crisis. The soul's journey through different incarnations is beset with a great many crises. These are the various experiences that one goes through during one's spiritual practices and sometimes it is very difficult to handle them.

If you follow the natural process of evolution, then you may have the crisis, but you will not feel the intensity. However, when you make a deliberate effort to traverse the spiritual path and evolve your consciousness, then there is a lot of intensity in the crisis.

What often happens is that when we practice spiritual sadhana, we miss many of the essential items related to it. Most of us are in a great hurry to reach the ultimate point. Therefore, we ignore the essential preparations and the basis. Many a time we involve ourselves in intense meditation, but we have not purified the mind. We have not rectified the elements of the body, so there is intensity in the crisis. We have horrible experiences and unbearable feelings. Many times we are not able to handle the expressions of our behaviour.

If we practice intense meditation, the temperature in the body also alters. As a result, the digestive process changes and sometimes diseases pertaining to the digestive system occur. Sometimes diseases pertaining to the respiratory system also occur because the inner body temperature is not able to follow the natural process of respiration. I come across many aspirants of this type. They come with stomach complaints, respiratory problems, nervous fluctuations and depressions.

People believe that if they practice meditation, they are practicing the real yoga. But you must understand that whatever sadhana you practice creates changes in the physical body as well as in the mind. Meditation and the sadhana of kundalini yoga are not merely metaphysical. Many of us are mistaken when we say that asana affects the body and meditation affects the soul. In fact, asanas and meditation have an overall effect on our whole personality. So after practicing for some time, people begin to feel unwell. They become lazy. And there also comes a time when they begin to doubt whether what they are doing is right.

All these and other forms of crisis occur when we do not follow a systematic and gradual course of spiritual practice. However, the most intense crisis in spiritual life is impatience. People want to get there overnight, without really understanding what they need. They simply want practices that will give them samadhi in the shortest possible time. Since the body and mind are acting on each other, it is very necessary to understand that whatever sadhana you do should be properly regulated. You must integrate the elements of karma yoga in your sadhana. This should then be tempered with bhakti yoga, improved by raja yoga, and surveyed properly through jnana yoga. Then the experience of the crisis will be less intense.

We are dealing with the evolution of consciousness in our practices; therefore, we must understand that it may take more than one lifetime. If everybody were to achieve realization in one lifetime, there would be another universal crisis!

Can we accurately evaluate our own personality?

People usually have certain assessments of their own personality: "I think I am not a good person" or "I think I am a very good person". This is evaluation. However, usually one underrates or overrates oneself. Correct evaluation or assessment of one's own personality is rarely possible.

You can never see your face although you may think you are very ugly or a little ugly, or that you are absolutely beautiful. That is your assessment of your face. Even if you look at yourself in a mirror and make an assessment of your face, it is hardly correct. However, what others say about you cannot be correct either, because if I do not like you I will say you are horrible. If I like you, then you are beautiful to me.

Evaluation of one's own personality in general is very, very difficult. There is another important point. Everybody behaves differently at different times. Sometimes you are full of compassion, sometimes full of hatred, sometimes full of anxiety and sometimes full of peace. Now, what are you? Which particular personality are you going to assess?

Therefore, it is no good trying to evaluate one's own personality. One has to be careful about just one thing. Do not offend another person. Try to be as mild and as sweet as possible. And try to be as practical as possible. We live in a world of interactions. You are not an isolated being; you are part of a homogeneous society. If you are careful and cut, prune, modify and adjust your behaviour, then your image will also be beautiful. But evaluation of one's own personality is always risky.

How can we develop deeper understanding and avoid reactions when dealing with people?

It is not very easy. Society is of course homogeneous, but it has different prongs and everybody is reacting differently to different behaviours. So how we should conduct ourselves in relation to others has always been a matter of discussion.

There are some eternal rules known as dharma. Dharma does not mean religion, but eternal virtues. One eternal virtue is forgiveness; even if someone harms us, we should be able to forgive them. Another is non-violence, which is non-offence, not expressing hatred towards anybody, whether in speech, action or thought. The third virtue is patience; even if another person behaves inappropriately and we behave better, we hope that he will respond positively. And even if he doesn't, we have the patience to wait for him to change. The fourth virtue is perseverance. In this way, there are several eternal virtues and we can pick them up one by one.

I have been working on one plan for many years: practicing truth and non-violence. I picked up just one thing for myself, not to speak ill of anyone. Even if there was a criminal before me, or a murderer or a first rate debauchee, I decided that I would not speak against anyone. Even if someone spoke against me or tried to destroy me, I would not speak against him, and I would also see to it that nobody spoke against him. Both a good man and a bad man must be protected by me.

I started this as my root virtue, and I found that after some time, automatically, my language became very positive. So, we have to start with one root virtue. We can't go on practicing everything at the same time, because then we will be confused, and we will not progress. We will find blocks everywhere. So, I concentrated on one point in the beginning. In the course of time, my whole attitude changed. A time came when I could not even think ill of anyone. And now, when anyone speaks against someone, I feel he's wasting his time and I'm wasting my time.

How can we handle negative thoughts?

If negative thoughts come into your mind, you should not oppose them. If you oppose them, they come in disguise. This general behaviour also has to be maintained during meditation.

The law of the mind is very complex. Sometimes there are negative thoughts in the mind, but you think positive things. Sometimes at the base of the mind there are positive forces, but what comes on the plane of feeling is negative. It is of course not possible to enumerate the different psychological phenomena. However, I have noticed that frequently when thoughts of divinity, God or virtue come into the mind, the base is absolutely negative and often when negative thoughts are flowing in the mind, the basis is very, very spiritual.

Take the lives of Buddha and Christ. At the point of awakening of knowledge, what was Buddha's experience? He was afflicted by negative forces, and it was the same with Christ. He was afflicted by Satan. What does it mean? Was the base sattwic? Was the base devilish? No, the base was the awakening of enlightenment, but the expression was negative.

This is a natural process. When your body is undergoing the process of purification, that is, when your nature is trying to clean the body and throw out the negative toxins, you get a fever, headache or diarrhoea. The same thing happens to the mind. The negative process is a process of purification. The opposite is also true; you may seem to be very healthy, but your body might be accumulating toxins.

Therefore, I have come to a conclusion about these matters. If there is negative awareness in the mind, it has a positive message for us. At the same time, if our mind is full of positive thoughts, it means nothing. Ultimately, enlightenment must come when both the base and the top are the same. Take the example of a very dirty pond, full of mire, fermented and filled with muddy water. Suddenly a lotus springs from within the pond, for a lotus usually flowers in muddy water. Similarly, sweet-smelling flowers can produce poisonous insects, or milk can produce dangerous bacteria on fermentation. How did negative things come from something positive? How could a beautiful lotus emerge from a dirty pond? It is because the positive and the negative are continuously interacting with each other. These are the two great forces in nature. You can find them in this physical body, in the mind and in the objects of creation. So, go on practicing your meditation. Let good visions come, let bad visions come, but continue, and a time will come when both will pass away. Then permanent peace will dawn in your mind.

—Switzerland, 1980