To become truly acquainted with the Sadhaka-state of the Master’s life, we must, first of all, know what Sadhana is. An objection may be raised: why do you increase the bulk of the book by raising this topic, when India has all along been engaged in it in some form or other? Which other nation of the world has applied and is still applying its powers to realize directly the truths of the spiritual realm as this country has done since the very dawn of time? In which other country have so many incarnations of God and knowers of Brahman been born? Therefore, it is superfluous to recount the fundamental principles of spiritual discipline to us, who are already acquainted with them

1. The erroneous conception of ordinary people about Sadhana

Although what has been said is true, a real need will be served by the recounting, for people generally have fantastic ideas about Sadhana in many places. Having lost sight of the goal, they think they come across Sadhana when they meet with the practice of extraordinary physical hardship, the bringing together of rare objects, strange actions in out-of-the-way places, holding the breath, nay, even the fantastic doings of deranged minds. Again, they regard as Sadhana those peculiar practices which were originally prescribed by some great souls for bringing to normality certain minds obsessed with evil impressions and habits, quite as much as those which are now being preached, holding good for all minds and practised as such. There are still others, who, lacking in dispassion and wistfully craving for the enjoyment of the fleeting objects of senses such as beautiful forms and delicious dishes, spend their lives in vain efforts under a delusion that the Lord, the cause of the universe, could be constrained by means of certain Mantras and practices, as snakes are. Therefore, it will not be out of place here to make a brief survey of the truths about Sadhana, discovered by the effort and perseverance of the sages and seers of India through millennia.

2. The ultimate result of Sadhana is the realization of Brahman in all beings

The Master used to say: “Seeing Brahman or God in all beings is the last word of Sadhana.” It falls to the lot of man as the ultimate development of spiritual discipline. Thus say the Vedas and the Upanishads, the most authoritative scriptures of the Hindus. Whatever you see in the world, gross or subtle, sentient or insentient — bricks and beams, mud and stone, plants and trees, men and animals, gods and demigods — are, they say, the non-dual Brahman. It is the reality of Brahman alone that you see, hear, touch, smell and taste in various forms. Although all your day-to-day dealings throughout your life are with It, you are not conscious of It, and you think you are dealing with different things and persons. This will probably be easily understood by the reader if we describe here, by way of questions and answers, the gist of the doubts that arise in our minds on hearing the above statement and of the refutations thereof by the scriptures.

Question: Why is this fact2 not directly felt by us?

Answer: You are in a delusion. How can you detect it till it is removed? It is by comparison with real things and states only that we detect external and internal delusions. Similarly, you must have that kind of knowledge if you want to detect that delusion.

Question: Well, what is the cause of that delusion? And when did it arise in us?

3. Truth does not become immediately known on account of delusion and ignorance; as long as one is in delusion, one cannot know its cause

Answer: The cause of delusion here is the same as it is everywhere. It is ignorance. How can you know when that ignorance arose? As long as you are in ignorance, your efforts to know it are in vain. As long as one dreams a dream, one remains convinced that it is real. When sleep breaks, the dream is compared with the waking state and is known as unreal. You may raise the objection that certain persons have sometimes the conviction that they are dreaming when they are actually in the dream state. But, there also they get that conviction from the memory of the waking state. Similarly some people are seen to have the memory of the reality of the non-dual Brahman when they are conscious of the world in the waking state.

Question: Then what is the way out?

Answer: The way out is to remove that ignorance. I can tell you with certainty that ignorance and delusion can be removed. The ancient seers were able to remove them, and have left us instructions about the method.

Question: Very well. But before we proceed to know those means, we want to put one or two more questions. You assert that to be unreal, which we and so many others see and feel to be real; and you call that alone to be real which a few sages have seen and experienced. May it not be that their immediate perception was wrong?

4. What the seers saw the world to be, is alone true. — The reason for it

Answer: There is no such rule that what many believe is alone true. I say that the direct knowledge of the seers is true, because, they attained freedom from fear in all respects and enjoyed eternal peace, freed from all kinds of misery, with the help of that knowledge. Moreover, they became aware of a great purpose underlying all the efforts and endeavours of human life ending in inevitable death. Besides, right knowledge always unfolds in the human mind forbearance, contentment, compassion, humility and other noble qualities and endows it with a wonderful magnanimity. We know from the scriptures that the seers possessed those uncommon qualities and powers and we still come across them in people who, following in their footsteps, have achieved perfection.

5. Delusion, although shared by many, is not right knowledge

Question: Well, how is it that all of us have the same delusion? What I identify as a beast is also known by you as a beast and not as a man; and so it is with everything else. It is a matter of no little surprise that at the same time so many people are in the same delusion about all matters. It is everywhere seen that if a few people have a wrong knowledge of a certain thing, others have the right one. But here that truth does not hold good at all. Therefore, what you say does not seem to be probable.

6. All have the same delusion, as the universe is an ideation of the cosmic mind which, however, is not itself deluded

Answer: You find here an exception to the rule, because you do not count the few seers among the people. Otherwise the reply is there in the question itself. But, in reply to your question, how all people are under the same delusion, the scriptures say: in the limitless infinite cosmic mind the universe has arisen by way of ideation. And as the individual minds of yours, of mine and of all people form parts of, and are comprised in, that cosmic mind, we all have to experience the same ideas. This is why we cannot, by our individual efforts, ideate a beast as anything else. It is for the same reason that although one of us attains right knowledge and becomes free from that delusion, all others continue in it as before. One thing more: although the idea, the universe, arises in the all-pervading mind of the omnipresent Person, He does not get entangled like us in the bondage of ignorance. For He, the all-knowing Person, sees the non-dual reality of Brahman interpenetrating the ideation, both in and out of the universe born of ignorance. It is because we cannot do it that our case is different. For, as the Master would say, “A snake has poison in its mouth. It takes its food daily through it, still it remains unaffected by the poison. But anyone whom it bites, meets with instantaneous death.

7. The ideation of the universe is beyond time and space. Prakriti is beginningless

Therefore, from the standpoint of the scriptures it is seen that the universe, which is an idea in the universal mind, is, in a way, an ideation of our minds also. For our limited individual minds have an eternal, inseparable relation with the aggregate universal mind, like that between the limbs and the body. Again, it cannot be said that there was a time when the aforesaid ideation was not in existence in the universal mind and that it came into existence afterwards. For, the two things, name and form, or space and time,3 without which there could be no diversity, are included in the idea of the universe; or in other words, they have an eternal and inseparable coherence with the said idea. By a little calm thinking the reader will be able to understand it and know why the Vedas and other scriptures teach that Prakriti or Maya, the ultimate material of creation, is beginningless and beyond time.4 If the universe is an idea of the mind and if the beginning of that idea is not within what we understand by “time”, it comes to this that simultaneously with the idea called “time”, the idea called “the universe” exists in the universal mind, the support of that idea. As our limited individual minds have been experiencing that idea for an infinitely long time, they have a firm belief in the real existence of the universe. And having been debarred from the immediate knowledge of the reality of the non-dual Brahman for a long time, they do not know that the universe is a mere idea and are now unable to detect their error. For, we have already said that it is by a comparison with real things and states only that we can detect external and internal errors.

8. The effort to know the universal cause beyond time and space is Sadhana

Now it is clear that our conception, experience, etc., of the universe have assumed their present forms as the result of our habits accumulated over an almost infinitely long time. So, if we want to have the right knowledge of the universe, we shall have to be acquainted with the entity beyond name and form, time and space, mind and intellect and all other things comprised in the universe. The effort to have that acquaintance has been described as Sadhana by the Vedas and other scriptures; and in India men and women, in whom that effort exists, with or without their knowledge, are called Sadhakas.

9. The two paths of Sadhana: (1) not this, not this, and (2) this, this

Generally speaking, the aforesaid effort in search of the reality beyond the universe, has taken its course along two main channels: One is what has been called in the Sastras — Neti, Neti, not this, not this,5 or the path of knowledge; and the other — Iti, Iti, this, this, or the path of devotion. The aspirant following the path of knowledge has from the beginning a conception of the ultimate ideal; and always remembering it, goes forward consciously towards that ideal. The traveller on the path of devotion remains very often ignorant of where he will go ultimately. He accepts higher and higher ideals one after another as he goes forward and at last becomes directly acquainted with the non-dual reality beyond the universe. This is the only point of difference between the two; for, the travellers on both the paths have to renounce the conception about the universe held by the common man. The man on the path of knowledge tries to renounce it in all respects from the beginning; and although the devotee proceeds by partly renouncing and partly retaining it, he too at long last renounces it wholly and arrives at the truth, “One without a second”. The renunciation of that common conception of the universe, coloured by our selfishness, which has made enjoyment the only goal of life, has been called by the scriptures, detachment or dispassion (Vairagya).

As human life is ever changing and ends in sure death the knowledge of the transitoriness of the world arises easily in it. Therefore it is probable that, in the past, the search for the ultimate cause of the universe at first took the path of “not this”, “not this”, together with the complete renunciation of the common conception of the universe. And that is why the complete development of the path of knowledge is seen to have taken place in the Upanishads before the path of devotion became complete in all respects, though both were simultaneously in vogue.

10. The goal of the path of “not this, not this,” is to know “What am I”

The Upanishads bear witness to the fact that man advanced along the path of “not this”, “not this”, (i.e., the eternal cause of the universe is not this, not that, nor anything else) and became introspective in a short time. He found that of all the things of the world, his body and mind were the first to connect him with it; hence it was probable that he would get the knowledge of the cause of the universe sooner if he proceeded to search for it through his body and mind than through anything else. Again, “just as by pressing with fingers one grain of rice in the cooking pot one can know whether all the grains in the pot have been well boiled or not”, so, as soon as one knows in oneself the eternal universal cause, one is able to know it in other things and persons also. That is why the knowledge of “What am I?” becomes the only aim of the aspirant on the path of knowledge.

11. Nirvikalpa Samadhi

We have said before that the notion about the universe held by the generality of people has to be renounced both by men on the path of knowledge and by those on that of devotion. By the complete renunciation of it man becomes free from all mental modifications and is thereby fit for Samadhi. This kind of Samadhi is called in the scriptures Nirvikalpa Samadhi. We have told the reader elsewhere6 how the aspirant on the path of knowledge makes the effort to know “What am I?”, how he attains the Nirvikalpa Samadhi and what kind of experience he has at that time. Now, the reader should be told a little of how the aspirant on the path of devotion arrives at the realization of that superconscious state.

We have designated the path of devotion as the path of “this”, “this”. For, although the traveller on this path has the actual knowledge of the transience of the world, he believes in God, its creator, and has the conviction of the reality and existence of the world created by Him. The devotee looks upon the world and all things and persons in it as related with God and makes them His own. He shuns whatever he believes to be an obstacle on the path leading to the realization of that relation. It becomes the devotee’s immediate ideal to become absorbed in Him through the love of and meditation on one or other of His forms7 and also to perform all actions out of love for Him.

12. How Nirvikalpa Samadhi is attained on the path of “this, this”

We shall now discuss how one can, forgetting the existence of the universe, reach the Nirvikalpa state of consciousness by being absorbed in the meditation on forms of God. We have said before that the devotee accepts as his chosen Ideal some particular form of God and continues to think of and meditate on that form He cannot in the beginning bring before his mind’s eye, at the time of meditation, the complete picture of the person of his chosen Ideal. Sometimes the hands of that mental picture, sometimes the feet and sometimes only the face appear before him. These again, dissolve, as it were, as soon as they are seen; they do not continue to stand before him. As a result of practice, when meditation becomes deep, the complete picture of that form appears before his mind’s eye. When meditation gradually becomes deeper, the picture continues to stand motionless before him till the mind begins to stir. Afterwards, according to the greater intensity of meditation, the devotee becomes conscious of the movement, the smile, the speech, and ultimately the touch of that living form Then the devotee sees, with his eyes open or shut, the benign presence of that form and its graceful movements wherever he wills. The devout aspirant gradually comes to have the visions of various divine forms springing from his own chosen Ideal, as the result of his faith that “his chosen Ideal has, out of his own accord, assumed all forms”. The Master used to say, “A person who has the vision of one such form in that living fashion, gets easily the vision of all other forms.”

One thing is clear from what has been said before. One who has the good fortune to have the vision of such living forms feels that those forms in the realm of ideas experienced during meditation, have as real an existence as those of the things and persons of the waking state. Thus, as the feeling deepens that these experiences of the world of ideas are as real as those of the external world, the conviction that the latter also are a projection of the mind is intensified. Again, during deep meditation, the experiences of the realm of ideas become so powerful in the mind of the devotee that he does not have the slightest knowledge of the external world for the time being. This condition of the devotee has been designated by the scriptures Savikalpa Samadhi. Although, owing to the strength of his mental power, the external world vanishes from the mind of the devotee at the time of such Samadhi, the realm of ideas still persists. The devotee becomes conscious of exactly the same misery and happiness in moving with his chosen Ideal during his meditation as we feel daily in moving amidst the things and persons in the external world. All his ideas, without any exception, that arise at that time in his mind have only his chosen Ideal for their object. The scriptures have called that condition of the devotee’s mind Savikalpa Samadhi, because at that time the series of the mental modifications of the devotee have only one thing for their main object.

Thus the gross external world vanishes from the mind of the devotee owing to the meditation on a particular object of the realm of the ideal world, and when one idea becomes dominant, all other ideas disappear. The attainment of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is not very remote from this devout aspirant who has been able to advance so far. Thus, the mind of the person, getting rid of the belief in the existence of the external world to which he has been accustomed for an infinitely long time, becomes endowed with much power and determination. The whole of his mind goes forward with enthusiasm in the direction of the enjoyment of divine bliss when once there arises the conviction that the enjoyment of that bliss becomes more intense if the mind can be made completely free from modifications. He then ascends to the highest plane in the realm of ideas by the grace of the teacher and God, and establishes himself firmly in non-dual knowledge and attains eternal peace. Or, it may be said that the very intense love for his chosen Ideal shows him that plane and, urged by it, he realizes his identity with that Ideal, like the Gopis of Vraja.

13. Incarnations of God combine in them both the aspects, the divine and the human. So they sometimes appear as perfect even during Sadhana. Hence the need of studying their lives from both the points of view

These are the ways laid down by the scriptures for persons treading the paths of knowledge and of devotion to arrive at their ultimate goal. But, as the two natures, the divine and the human, are found in the incarnations of God all their lives, sometimes they are seen even during their Sadhana period to the endowed with the knowledge and power proper to perfected persons. This happens because they naturally have the power of roaming on both the planes, the divine and the human. Or, because their divine nature is inborn and spontaneous, sometimes it pierces the external veil of their human nature and manifests itself from time to time. Whatever may be our conclusion, these facts have made the lives of the incarnations of God impenetrably mysterious to the human intellect. It does not seem to be probable that this intricate mystery will ever be solved completely. But it is very certain that endless good accrues to man when he studies these lives with reverence. In the past Pauranic age the human nature of the incarnations of God was kept hidden and the divine one alone discussed. In this sceptical modern age, the divine nature of those characters is being completely disregarded while the human one is being studied. In the present instance, we shall make an effort to explain to the reader, by a discussion of those characters, that both the natures co-exist in them. It is needless to add here that we would not have been able to look upon the character of the incarnations of God in that way, if we had not had the privilege of meeting the Master.

  1. ^The meanings of these two words will be made clear in II.1.8. — Tr.
  2. ^viz., that we are dealing with the one all-pervading Brahman and not with individual things and persons. — Tr.
  3. ^From — “curvature in time-space continuum.” — Tr.
  4. ^Prakrti, being the cause of time and space, is beyond them. — Tr.
  5. ^Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6 and in fact, all the Upanishads advocate it. The rest of the Hindu scriptures, based on the “work” portion of the Vedas, emphasize the path of “this”, “this”. — Tr.
  6. ^Vide III.3.12.
  7. ^We look upon the worship of the Brahmo Samaj as a meditation on a form of God; for when anyone meditates on a personality possessed of noble qualities but not form, he is bound to think of one or other of such things as ether, water, air, fire, etc.