Goal of spiritual practices

“All sadhanas (spiritual practices) are methods to decrease the thoughts and to increase peace and thus slowly man can become God. Not only does one enjoy peace oneself but can give peace to others as well.”

“The goal of sadhana is to eliminate the mind, which consists of thoughts and desires. The Self is beyond all these. To know the Self, the mind should be eradicated.”

“Everything will be known spontaneously if you do sadhana. Understand who you are. Know the Self. Then you can lead a life without attachment to anything. Such a state of mind will come if you do sadhana sincerely.”

“Mental purity will come through constant chanting of the divine name. This is the simplest way.”

“We are like pure rainwater that has become impure by falling in the gutter. The water in the gutter needs to be cleaned by connecting it to a river, and this is what sadhana does. Even though we are, in reality, the untainted Atman, because we are bound to the gross, physical world, there are impure vasanas (tendencies) present within us. We have to purify our minds by discriminating between the eternal and the ephemeral, and through meditation. And as we are purified by meditating, we grow strong.”

“Only through sadhana can we avoid being enslaved by circumstances. We should learn the spiritual principles by listening to satsangs, and then live according to those principles. We should free ourselves  and worship God, without any desires or expectations.”

“Meditation and spiritual practices give you the power and the courage to smile at death.”

“Spiritual practice reminds you, ‘I am not just a part, but the part of the whole — indeed, I am one with the whole.’ All prayers and remembrance of God or Guru remind you of the great truth that you are not a separate entity, that you are not just a limited individual, but that you are His, that you are He. When this loving remembrance arises within, you can never be away from Amma, nor can Amma ever be away from you.”

” In the beginning, there will be some waves in the mind. Through practice they will go. It is to control these waves that sadhana should be done sitting steadfastly in one place. The waves will not subside simply if you read some books. Instead, they will only increase. In the deep sea there are no waves. It is on the shore that the waves strongly break because there is little depth. Peace can be experienced when the mind becomes expansive and deep through sadhana.”

“Children, concentration of the mind devoid of ego is the bridge towards God. Samsara (the ocean of transmigration) is a vast ocean. The waves of this ocean (the vasanas) are huge and gigantic. The bridge of concentration is the only means to cross the ocean of transmigration. Only if we set foot on the bridge and cross over can we reach God. There is no external bridge to reach God. It is an internal bridge of concentration, which we ourselves have to build and cross over. It is God’s or the Guru’s grace which always supports and protects us from falling down during this ‘transoceanic’ crossing.”

Meditation is like a tonic

Question: Can meditation be harmful? It is said that a person’s head becomes heated when he meditates.

Amma: It is always better to be taught by a Guru how to meditate. Meditation is like a tonic. A tonic nourishes the body. The tonic comes with certain instructions. If you just ignore the instructions and swallow the whole tonic, it can be dangerous. Most tonics should be taken only according to a doctor’s instructions. Similarly, we should meditate according to the instructions of a Spiritual Master. The Guru first makes an assessment of your mental and physical disposition before prescribing the form of sadhana that is most suitable for you. Some people can meditate for any length of time without any problem. But this is not the case with everyone. Some people, in their initial enthusiasm, will meditate or do japa continuously for long hours, without following any rules of regulations. They do this out of a sudden urge. But it will make them lose their sleep and their head will get heated. This happens because they are meditating more than the body can tolerate.

Everyone has a limited capacity, depending on the state of their mind and body. If 500 people are crammed into a vehicle that can seat only 100, the vehicle won’t be able to run. And if we put double the amount of grain allowed into a mixer, it will overheat and become damaged; it may even burn up. Similarly, if you, in a surge of initial enthusiasm, do japa and meditation indiscriminately for long hours, your head may get heated and many other problems may arise. That is why it is advised that one should learn these practices from a Satguru.

We often hear people say, “We are God; everything is within us.” But those are just words. It doesn’t come from experience. The capacity of each instrument is limited. A 10-watt bulb cannot give the light of a 100-watt bulb. Spiritual practices have to be done according to the capacity of the body and mind. You have to be careful so that you don’t exceed the limit.

If you buy a new car, you shouldn’t drive it at the maximum speed at the outset. Only gradually should the speed be increased. Some restrictions have to be followed; otherwise the car will get damaged and become useless. It is the same with sadhana. A beginner shouldn’t meditate and do japa excessively, foregoing sleep in the process. Meditation, japa, physical work and studying the scriptures should all be done gradually in a regulated way.

Some people are prone to mental illness. If they meditate too much, their body will get overheated and this will enhance the agitation of their mind. They should be advised to do mainly physical work. If their attention is channelled towards physical work, it will help to reduce their mental agitation. Being engaged in work, their mind will wander less and can be controlled. If they are allowed to sit in meditation without doing any physical work, their problems will only become worse. But if their illness isn’t serious, they can meditation for 10 to 15 minutes a day — that will be enough for them.

Thus there are many types of people with different natures. Each individual has to be given different instructions. If you learn how to do spiritual practices like meditation just by reading books, you will not know what restrictions are required specifically for you.

Suppose we go to the house and there is a big dog outside. We will call the owner of the house from outside and wait until he has come and tied the dog up, so that it cannot harm us. But if we don’t have any patience and just open the gate and try to enter, the dog will bite us. Similarly, it could be dangerous if we just go ahead with our spiritual practices, without accepting the advice of a wise, experienced person.

A spiritual aspirant is on a journey through a forest full of cruel, ferocious animals. He needs the help of a guide who knows the path through the forest. Isn’t it best to have someone with us who can tell us, “There’s danger ahead. Be careful! Don’t go that way; go this way instead?”

It is useless to blame God when we suffer the consequences of acting on our own whim. A person under the influence of alcohol was driving a car. The car went out of control and hit a pedestrian. When the police arrested the driver, he said, “Sir, it wasn’t my fault that the car hit that person! The petrol is to blame!” We are doing much the same thing if we blame God for the dangers that we face owing to our own lack of caution.

There is a dharma (right conduct) for everything, and we should move in accordance with that dharma. Meditation has its own methodology. The spiritual masters have laid down the rules and methods for each type of practice. One should choose the type of spiritual practices that are most suitable only after taking into consideration the physical and mental propensities of the aspirant. The same method will not suit everyone.

Anybody can learn a theory. However, to be successful in the practical tests you need the assistance of a learned instructor, because it is difficult to master it on your own. In the same way, the seeker needs a Guru who can guide him or her on the spiritual path.

Bhajans are to awaken the real light within

Question: Amma, you seem to be giving more importance to bhakti (devotion) than to any other path. Why is this so?

Amma: When you say bhakti, do you mean just repeating a mantra and singing devotional songs? That alone is not bhakti. True devotion is discriminating between the eternal and the ephemeral. It is to surrender oneself to the Infinite. What Amma advises is practical bhakti — that is, how to apply bhakti in our day-to-day life.

The children who stay in the ashram read many books and they ask Amma questions. Amma usually gives them answers along Vedantic lines. However, while talking to the general public, Amma stresses devotion because 90 percent of the people are not intellectuals. They haven’t studied the scriptures, and so it is not possible to teach them the principles of the scriptures in just one day or by one darshan. Hence it is wiser to give them advice that they can actually live by. But Amma also advises them to read the scriptures. Advaita (non-duality) is the basis of everything. But it is practical devotion rooted in advaita that Amma advises.

Most of the people who come here have little knowledge of spirituality. They are simply in the habit of visiting temples. Only about 10 percent of the people give importance to reason and follow a different path. But Amma cannot neglect the others; they also need to be uplifted. So Amma gives advice according to the level of each person.

The prayers and devotional singing at the ashram are not just prayers — they are spiritual practices that are done to awaken the real light within us. They tune the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness; they allow us to expand from the level of body-mind-intellect to all-pervading consciousness. There is no need to search for a God sitting somewhere beyond the sky. God is the all-pervading Supreme Consciousness. Still, we advise people to meditate on a form because a medium is necessary to make the mind one-pointed. To construct a ceiling made of concrete, we first have to make a wooden frame, and it is on that frame that we pour the concrete. When the concrete has set, we can remove the frame. This can be compared to worshiping a divine form. In the beginning, a form is necessary to concentrate the mind and to develop true knowledge; but once the mind becomes fixed on the Supreme Consciousness, there is no longer any need for any adjuncts or instruments.

Only if we are humble can we receive God’s grace. Egoism has no place in the person who beholds God’s consciousness in everything. So the first quality that we need to develop in ourselves is humbleness. The aim of praying and singing hymns is to cultivate that humbleness. There should be humility in our every look, word and deed. When a carpenter takes up a chisel, he first touches it to invoke a blessing. The chisel is just an instrument he uses for his work, and yet he offers pranams to it. We, too, do the same thing when we begin to play the harmonium. Why should we offer pranams to our own instruments? It is to behold God in everything that we do this. In this way, our ancestors were aiming to remove the ego in us. Similarly, prayer is an expression of humbleness, and is a means of eliminating the ego in us.

Some people may ask “Can’t we pray in silence?” For some people it may be necessary to read in silence, while for others reading aloud is more effective. We cannot tell someone who reads aloud when studying, “Don’t read so loudly! You should read quietly, like I do!” Some people get more concentration by praying aloud, while others prefer to pray quietly. Similarly, for different types of people different spiritual paths are required. No path is basically different from another, because everything leads to the Supreme Principle. In each case we have to take into consideration how practical it is for us and move accordingly.

There are some who complain, “Amma, when I meditate with my eyes closed, a lot of thoughts continuously arise in the mind. When I sing bhajans and pray, I get full concentration.” The purpose of our sadhana (spiritual practices) is to make the mind one-pointed. The Vedantins who deny everything by following the “neti, neti” practice, saying, “I am not the body, nor the mind, nor the intellect,” are trying to realize the Supreme Self. This is also the purpose of prayers and bhajans.

Is there any religion in which devotion and prayer doesn’t have a place? You will find it in Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. And in every religion there is the Guru-disciple relationship. The Guru-disciple relationship can even be found on the non-dualistic path. So even on that path, duality, Guru and disciple exist. And isn’t devotion to the Guru devotion itself?

Through our prayers we are trying to imbibe the divine attributes; we are trying to realize the Supreme Truth. Prayer is not the method of a weakling — it is a powerful step towards God.