Sadhana : The why & how of a Spiritual Practice

A Spiritual Practice is high on our prescription list whenever we encounter deranged vata, high anxiety, extreme stress, grief, deranged vata, or when people struggle with chronic or debilitating illnesses either with themselves or in the role of a caregiver.

This prescription comes straight from the Ayurvedic texts as the Acharyas tell us that a physical disease has its roots in the mind and our responses to situation. Therefore cleansing, and control of the mind and reining it with structure, discipline and “good mental food” is part of the ayurvedic Dinacharya.

A sustained and disciplined Spiritual Practice helps us choose happiness. We learn to respond to difficult situations from a better and more balanced place. It also gives us tremendous control over our physical body, reins in illnesses and weaknesses and helps us achieve our goals.

Regular spiritual practice is key to healthy and happy life

Many times when we have suggested starting a Spiritual Practice, we have been asked what this means and what all it would constitute. This post is therefore our detailed answer to this question.

Before we begin, here is a disclaimer from our end. The post describes what we believe is an ideal Spiritual Practice. This in no way means that we are qualified Gurus . We too are seekers on this path, and have shared our personal experiences through this post.

We have limited this post to Spiritual Practice derived from Santana Dharma (Hinduism) alone as this is what we follow. We are not qualified to suggest a Spiritual Practice for other faiths / denominations. For these, we suggest you read this post as a starting point and then speak to an elder / teacher within your faith to take this further.

An Introduction to Spiritual Practice :  from the Adi Kaavya

The very first shloka of Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, which is the Adi-Kavya , the first ever written work, gives us very deep & complete insights into the nature of both Sadhana & the Sadhaka.

Srimad Valmiki Ramayana is the holiest of spiritual texts and is highly regarded as being equal to the Vedas themselves. This work of divine origin is endowed with several layers of deep meaning and each stage of meaning reveals itself to the aspirant who applies himself with steadfast devotion. So we can be absolutely sure that we are on the right path if we take instructions from this work, which has been personally blessed and authorized by Lord Rama himself.

The Ramayana - a foundation for all spiritual Practice

The first Shloka is as follows :

तपस्स्वाध्यायनिरतं तपस्वी वाग्विदां वरम् ।

नारदं परिपप्रच्छ वाल्मीकिर्मुनिपुङ्गवम् ।।1.1.1।।

 

The word-by-word meaning of the above sloka is as follows :

“The Ascetic Valmiki enquires of Sage Narada, who is the most pre-eminent of sages , one who is most eloquent in speech and who is completely engaged in austerities and the study of vedas.”

There are 4 important concepts clearly expounded in the above sloka :

a. Shabda : words of a great Guru

The word of a great person ,a very reliable authority. The ascetic Valmiki, begins his enquiry by approaching Sage Narada, who is clearly established in all the worlds as an true and reliable source of correct information. So this illustrates the point that we should always begin a serious endeavor on the authority of a great person of unquestionable character and knowledge. We cannot afford to take any risk and base our actions on the word of an unknown on un-reliable person.

Shabda of teh words uttered by a great Man forms the basis for spiritual practice

In fact, in Indian knowledge systems , there are a standard set of  accepted methods of proof (Pramana) of anything, including a proper Spiritual Practice which are

    • Pratyaksha – direct perception
    • Anumana – Inference
    • Shabda – the word of a great authority or source

Hence “Shabda” or the words of a wise and Great Guru is critical for the foundation of any kind of Spiritual Practice.

Similarly, the whole system of Ayurveda has been based on the 3 methods of proof of Pratyaksha, Pramana and Shabda. Therefore when we make an Ayurvedic taila or a choorna, we do not base it on our own instinct or a new trend. Instead we choose herbs, preparation methods from the texts which is based on the Pratyaksha + Pramana + Shabda of the Great Acharyas. This reliance on a long, well thought out clear tradition with clear antecedents is what makes the ayurvedic formulations fool proof, error free, safe and still potent and good to use – this .

Ayurveda is also based on the 3 pillars of proof of Indian classical texts

b. Guru-Sishya : teacher – student relationship

The need for a Guru,  in Indian tradition is to guide, encourage and bless us . In sadhana, a true guru is of paramount importance and this is one the most important pillars of Sanatana Dharma .

Guru sishya relationship: cornerstone of sanatana dharma

Many volumes can be written about the vital role of a Guru in our life. This is why this concept is illustrated clearly in the Taittiriya Upanishad as “ Acharya Devoh Bhavah” i.e. the teacher is to be revered as a god. In the shloka mentioned above, Valmiki approaches Sage Narada as a Sishya would approach a Guru.

 c. Tapas-Svadhyaya : austerity, sacrifice and self study

These two great words Tapas & Svadhyaya reveal the heart of spiritual practice.

Tapas , which means austerity or discipline , contains a wealth of meaning for a single word. Spiritual Practice is a discipline, for which we need to put in effort and hard work, perhaps give up un-necessary distractions and apply ourselves.

Tapas: the practice of prioritising Sadhana and making sacrifices for Sadhana

Our sincere effort is the fuel for the spiritual practice and nothing is going happen if we don’t discipline ourselves. The actual details of the sacrifices and disciplines will apply to every part of our life from food rules, sleeping and waking times, taking care of our body, right company, thoughtful speech, honest vocation, commitment to our duties & family (dharma) etc

 Svadhyaya, literally means the daily self-study of the vedas. So this essentially means applying ourselves to regular, daily study of holy texts and scriptures. This definition does NOT apply to reading self-help books or reading technical books for your work and certainly not to fiction.

Swadhyaya - dedicated self study and practice of Spiritual Sadhana

This definition strictly means the daily ,devoted self-study of holy texts like the vedas, Upanishads , itihasas, puranas, smritis ( also ,from #2 above , when you get doubts in svadhayaya, you will automatically feel the need for a guru !)

In the shloka, Sage Narada is described as Tapas-Svadhyaya Nirattam – one who is constantly engaged in the austerities and study of the Vedas, and these qualities that mark him as a great sage (Muni Pungavam)

d. Sadhana is mandatory for All:

Even for the exalted Sage Narada, who is of divine origin, constant daily sadhana is mandatory. In fact, it is the daily disciplines that elevate him to his pre-eminent status among sages and he cannot stop his sadhana after achieving greatness.

There is a clear directive in this shloka that spiritual sadhana is required for everyone regardless of their status and it is a constant endeavor. This is another important lakshana (mark) of a true Guru – He / she is constantly practicing their spiritual sadhana with utmost rigour, before advising you. You must always assure yourself that a prospective Guru is first upholding Tapas & Svadhyaya, before giving them that exalted position of your teacher.

Swadhyaya mandatory for all everyday

Why do we need a Spiritual Practice?

 Sadhana, or spiritual practice is simply the work required to reach a state of permanent god-consciousness, which is an end in itself.

As Shri Ramanujacharya states in his seminal work , the Sri Bhasya, True Bhakti or perfect god consciousness is demonstrated as “Avichinna Taila Dhara Vat” – which means that true Bhakti or god-consciousness is perfectly smooth, continuous and un-interrupted like the flow of Taila (oil) from one container to another.

Bhakti is described as Avichinna taila dhara

A human being is a composite of 3 entities – the Mind (Manas) , the Physical body (Shareera) and the Soul (Atman).

The mind perceives the world through the 5 sense organs and if unchecked, the sense organs completely take control and leads the body into all kinds of troubles and diseases. A stable and steady mind , with the sense organs in control , helps us lead a life of balance and harmony. The control of the 5 sense organs appears as an important theme in the Bhagavad Gita and Sage Patanjali famously starts his instructions on yoga with the statement : Yogah citta-vritti Nirodah.

But beyond the mind and the body, we have the soul, the Atman.

Sadhana is for the Atma

It is very obvious to all of us that there is a “spirit” within all of us – which we call the Atman or Soul , hence the term “spiritual practice” – because these is an in-dwelling soul, the Atman , which is clearly different from the physical body covering it, we are able to differentiate between life and death. This spirit within us, is what animates us and gives the sense of “life” to the body outside. Hence like we need food, sleep and exercise for the physical body, we surely need daily sadhana or spiritual practice for our soul.

 

The presence of “3  parts” to each of us is clearly illustrated in Ayurveda, especially in the sections on conceptions. Here the Acharyas have clearly stated that without the presence of a willing soul / atma, conception cannot take place. Hence the parents to be are asked to do a strong spiritual Practice in order to access their higher state of being, make a connection to the divine and Invite a pure and evolved soul to make its journey in this world through them as Parents.

Conception does not occur without a willing atma prepared to be born to the parents to be

The Acharyas tell us that Parents with evolved Spiritual consciousnesses through daily Sadhana of a Spiritual Practice are able to attract highly evolved souls as Children. Such parents are considered to be blessed and worthy of high praise, as they are able to give the world highly evolved beings who can do their Dharma well and help many other people in their journey. It is not enough for Parents to be to be simply in good physical health and take their ante natal vitamins according to ayurveda. They should also be practicing to uplift their spiritual quotient in order to both attract and raise an evolved soul.

The importance of Sadhana or Spiritual Practice in Indian tradition

Classical Indian texts tell us that there are 3 pillars for the foundation of a  spiritual life :

  • Tattva – the Nature of reality (and the discussion on the relation of man and god)
  • Purushartha – the Goals of life , which are Dharma , Artha , Kama & Moksha
  • Sadhana – The means to attain the Purusharthas mentioned above.

Sadhana has a triple purpose in Indian Spirituality. It helps us understand and come to terms with “Tattva” . It also helps us achieve our Purusharthas with ease, clarity and balance.

But over and above these 2 goals, Sadhana is a goal unto itself. This is because it is the means to achieve the both happiness in material life and also help us attain the ultimate aim of Moksha. Therefore there is a tremendous body of divine knowledge in India which has been developed by the Great Masters to guide us and give a clear blue-print on how to live our lives.

The purpose of Sadhana is 3 fold: to understand relaity, achieve life goals and as a goal in itself

Sustained Sadhana clarifies and purifies our intellect , making it fit to receive Jnana , true knowledge which leads to Moksha. While this is the big picture , Sadhana also bestows a lot of bliss , happiness and strength to succeed in the material life as well.

Ayurvedic texts also clearly discuss the importance of spiritual practice in the section on Dinacharya or daily regimen. The 5 fundamental elements, Akash, Prithvi, Vayu, Agni & Jala combine uniquely to form the 3 doshas of the body – Vata, Pitta & Kapha, so too the human mind operates in 3 gunas or modes know as Sattva , Rajas & Tamas.

The texts say that the derangement of the 3 doshas causes physical disease and the derangement of the 3 Mano-Gunas causes mental or psychic diseases. Right conduct in our daily life helps maintain correct balance of the Mano gunas and this is achieved through consistent spiritual disciplines.

What constitutes Sadhana or Spiritual Practice?

 Once you are clear in your mind that you need a spiritual practice, the next question obviously is this: What constitutes Sadhana or Spiritual Practice?

  • Is it meditation? Is it Prayer ? Visiting temples ?
  • Is it living mindfully in the present moment ?

Luckily, these questions have been troubling mankind from the dawn of time and we have a number of instructions derived from Great Masters who have drawn direct references from authoritative texts.

The Indian tradition of Vedas, Upanishas, Itithasas, Puranas , Smritis are vast , extensive , comprehensive , authoritative and mind-boggling.

For example, the Bhagavad Gita in 18 chapters is the most authoritative text on Yoga and in the 4th chapter , lord Krishna defines 12 different types of Spiritual Sadhana to achieve perfection. Yet these are at the abstract , conceptual level , and it is difficult for us to translate these instructions into our daily lives.

Gita is an authoritative text on Sadhana

It is beyond the reach of most of us to make an authentic and wide study of these texts and arrive at a program for ourselves , hence we rely on the works of Great Masters to give us a program – however a vital point to note here is this : The spiritual practices are NOT the opinions or thoughts of these masters, they have merely helped us navigate the vast world of authoritative texts and their works are always based on first principles.

One must also remember that there are some fundamental philosophical differences in the works of the masters. So if your family has traditionally followed a particular school of thought (Sampradya) , then you must stick to that school and not try to look beyond the instructions of that school.

I have given below some examples of texts on spiritual practices by great masters , to give an idea of what is Sadhana. While there are numerous texts in India  , these are some of the well known ones.

a. The Narada Bhakti-Sutras

 In this post we once again take the assistance of Sage Narada – who we met at the beginning. In his Bhakti Sutras, Sage Narada gives us 84 extra-ordinary Sutras divided into 5 chapters, with clear guidance on the goal and the sadhana techniques to achieve the goal.

Sage Narada has written the Bhakti sutras for achieving spiritual prowess

b. Sadhana Panchakam of Adi Shankaracharya

 A student of the eminent Advaita Vedanta Philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya, asked him the direct question – What is the essence of Spiritual Practice ?

Adi Sankara composed the Sadhana panchakam

In response, the great master composed the “Sadhana Panchakam  or  “5 verses on Sadhana” . In these 5 concise yet comprehensive verses, he lists 40 different instructions on how to lead a spiritual life and achieve the ultimate aims of human existence.

c. Sadachara Smriti By Sri Madhvacharya

Sri Madhvacharya, the Dwaita Philpsopher , along with Adi Shankaracharya & Sri Ramanujacharya are the 3 prinicipal teachers of Vedanta. To help his followers,he has composed a short work in 35 Sanskrit shlokas called “Sadachara Smriti” – Or the instructions in Right Living.

Madhwacharya wrote Sadachara Smriti

This work is great starting point for spiritual practice , as Madhvacharya gives very clear prescriptions on how we should structure our day and this work is very lucid and not at all abstract. But as with all great masters, he has ensured that these prescriptions are comprehensive and complete. Even though this is a small text , it is very profound in its impact.

d. Dasabodha of Samarth Ramdas

 Swami Samarth Ramdas, was a 17th century Advaita philosophy Guru and the spiritual preceptor to Chattrapati Shivaji. He has composed a massive tome called “Dasabodha” or “ instructions to disciples” , which is another valuable work for those following that Sampradaya on how to construct their lives.

Samarth Ramdas wrote Dasabodha

Similarly many valuable works by the masters of different Sampradya’s exist in order to guide the followers on a well-structured spiritual path. Some more examples are :

  • Shodhash Grantha of Shri Vallabhacharya
  • Sadachar  Prakash of Shri Nimbarka
  • Shiksa Ashtakam of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

 

For one or more of the following reasons , I have deliberately referred to works by Sages of ancient India and not great men of recent times.

  1. Recency bias : Many of the modern masters are very close to us temporally , so we have a large amount of internet based resources , books , videos, pictures , discussions and hagiographic accounts given by direct disciples – the large volume of readily available online information clouds out the ancient masters but that is not a good reason to NOT know the ancient masters.
  2. Purity of doctrine (or) absence of Syncretism : The ancient masters outlined their doctrine in its pristine form with great adherence to textual evidence. Due to several hundreds of foreign invasions of India in the last few centuries, the modern masters had no choice but to follow a syncretic path and in my opinion it is very important to know the original doctrine well before studying the syncretic works.
  3. Re-energizing dormant Spirituality : By their own , admission, many modern masters acknowledge that they have nothing new to teach – their purpose is to merely re-energize the dormant spirituality in society through the timeless principles of Dharma
  4. Importance of Disciplic Succession : This is a very important point to ensure authenticity of teachings. All Sampradayas should have a clear Guru-Parampara or Disciplic succession , which traces the lineage of the current head all the way back to the Supreme creator of the world. By establishing this lineage through authentic accounts, we are assured that we are following a sound doctrine. Sadly, many modern teachers have literally sprung out of thin air, with no clear initiation by a acknowledged Guru and neither do they have proper successors. So it is extremely risky to trust our spiritual bank account to teachers without a clear lineage. It may work or it may not. The risk is too high.

7 Key Themes of All Indian Schools for Spiritual Sadhana

 After you conduct a comprehensive study of all instruction manuals of Indian systems of Sadhana, some important common elements can be easily observed

a. Preparing the body, to be fit for Sadhana :

Without fail , in all spiritual texts and Ayurvedic textbooks , we are exhorted to wake up before sunrise, in Brahma Muhurta, have a Snana, wear fresh clothes, apply the religious marks on our body as per our tradition and then remember God and our Gurus. This is the ideal, recommended start to our day for both spiritual progress and great health.

Prepare the body for spiritual practice

The steps outlined above for preparation to be fit for Sadhana i.e waking up early, having an Abhyanga-Snana, wearing fresh clothes, are all potent Ayurvedic practices that is deeper than what is obvious. They help build discipline, balance the 3 doshas and are designed to remove tamas and sloth from the mind and the body.

For example: In Ayurveda, a very potent medical tool to balance aggravated Kapha dosha in diseases like diabetes is to simply regulate sleep. By controlling the number of hours slept, the time of waking up and regulating afternoon naps, we are able to achieve an extraordinary balance in kapha dosha leading to regulation of blood sugar levels. This example is given the illustrate the power behind each of the so called simple preparatory steps listed in this point.

The application of religious marks on our body is an extra-ordinary subject in itself and deserves a separate article to fully describe its importance. In Sanatana Dharma this could encompass wearing a tilak, a bindi, an urdhva pundrum , or a “thiru neetru pattai ” (viboothi), gopi-chandan, etc. Both the substance used to wear the appropriate religious marks (vibhooti, thiruman kaapu, Kumkum, gopi Chandan), and the act of applying the mark on your forehead has deep spiritual significance – and helps clarify and open the ajna chakra. We will write a separate, more detailed post on this in the future.

Prepare teh 3rd eye for higher consciousness

b. Remain in God-Consciousness in everything you do

Remaining in God-consciousness is central to all Spiritual Sadhana :, in every thing we do. An atheistic or secular Sadhana has not been defined at all in all Indian traditions and is in fact to be strictly avoided. The method of god-remembrance is through chanting shlokas, japa , lighting lamps, worshipping at temples and a proper and complete Upasana ( or worship of the Physical form of god) at our home.

Even when we exercise and take care of the body, god consciousness is encouraged. Despite the non religious nature of yoga abhyasa today, its roots lie in the deepest form of God Consciousness. Here the entire body is worshiped as a temple with God / divinity residing within. So yoga and pranayama is done both as a method of cleaning the inner temple and also to go closer to the divinity within.

While the above form a specific portion of our day, i,e our daily Puja / Worship, we are encouraged to remain in God consciousness through the day in everything we do. So we are asked to practice God consciousness while brushing our teeth, eating, cooking, dressing, commuting, working , surfing the net, chatting with colleagues, etc.

Remain in god consciousness throughout the day
So this state of being slowly begins to permeate through our speech, thought, desires, the way we respond to external situations, the way we eat, etc. This state of entering and remaining in God-Consciousness is the secret key to all spiritual success.

c. Paramount Importance of Nitya-Karma (daily duties)

Nitya-Karma or our daily obligations are to be performed without fail , on all days. These supersede voluntary spiritual activities like visiting a temple. Nitya Karmas are well defined and examples are : waking up before sunrise, Snana, Sandhya-Vandana , Upasana , eating as per proper food rules , choosing a Dharmic Vocation , doing that vocation to the best of one’s ability , performing the role of spouse or parent with utmost dedication.

In Indian spiritual tradition, we are assured that no matter what our life stage is, the proper discharge of duties itself constitutes half our spiritual sadhana. Hence seeking a  spiritual path is open to all, not just renunciates, or anyone from a particular gender, creed, community , etc.

Similarly the proper discharge of our responsibilities be it at home, or at work is itself considered a sadhana. This is especially true when we choose the right vocation / career and seek to fulfill our highest moral and spiritual values through our work.

The loving & involved discharge of our duty is also part of Spiritual Sadhana

Even if we chose not to work, raising our children well, looking after our parents, or developing ourselves is also considered Sadhana in Sanatana Dharma.

 d. Need for a Guru :

There is no spiritual practice in a perfect vacuum or all by oneself. It has been clearly established in all Indian doctrines that a true Guru to guide us is absolutely necessary. How to find our true Guru is an important subject in itself.

 e. Svadhyaya :

This is another vital pillar of spiritual practice. The Daily, devoted self-study of holy texts and scriptures. This is an absolutely guaranteed route to purifying and elevating the mind.

 In Indian tradition, we are advised to keep copies of certain essential texts at home like the Ramayana, a portion of the Ramayana like the Sundara Kanda, Devi Mahatmayam, and the Bhagavad Geeta. In addition we can also keep copies of certain Puranas like the Bhagawata Purana, Padma Purana, etc.

The daily reading of good spiritual texts is a part ofSadhana

A small portion of our day can be devoted to reading a small portion of any of these texts every day, or even just a single stotra. The reading and re-reading of these texts give great spiritual strength, resilience, clarity of purpose and purity of thought.

For example: in many south Indian homes, a reading of the Sundara Kaanda (the portion of the Ramayana which spans a single day encompassing Lord Hanuman’s search for Sita Devi in Sri Lanka) is considered strengthening and auspicious especially in moments of great trouble. We are asked to practice reading of this Kaanda alone when people are ill, unwell, when we are going through a  tremendous crises of faith and when we seem to have exhausted all our logical options.

Another example is the dedicated reading of the Devi Mahaatmayam during Navratri. Over 9 days, during this spiritually charged period, we read the entire story behind the origin of Devi Durga, the battles she fought and are taught using divine parables the virtue of great courage, resilience, femininity, divine spirit, etc.

These practices are a beautiful exercise in positive visualization, strength giving and brings tremendous purpose and clarity. It is also a very handy tool to engage with the mind and spirit at a higher level, and give the mind a better rock to hold onto during moments of crisis.

Different people connect with different such texts. We encourage you to try out a few of the above options and see which one resonates most with you.

The safest spiritual books to start with are Ramayana, Ramcharitra Manas, Bhagawad Gita , Bhagavata Purana and Sundara Kanda. Among Puranas, please choose the Sattvic Puranas to start with.

Please avoid Puranas which are not supposed to be kept and read at home like the Garuda Purana. When in doubt, please consult the elders in your family or your family’s Upadhyay. This information is not reliably available online.

 f. Satsanga , Satsanga , Satsanga :

The company of Holy & good people. From the dawn of time , every Indian Sampradaya has been exhorting the importance of Satsanga – which is the company of Holy & Good people and how by the mere association , we are accelerated on the fast track in spiritual progress. Equally important is the avoidance of bad people or Dur-Sangati. One must actively thirst/yearn for Satsanga and also be very aware of who we keep company with. Satsanga is extremely powerful and totally overlooked.

Choose your Sangha (community) carefully

 The concept of Satsangha is repeatedly explained in the Ayurvedic texts, along with Shlokas on right conduct, learning to keep the mind in control, etc. The Acharyas opine that even a very well brought up person from a family with good values can be led astray with Dur Sangha. In fact the choosing of our friends, associates, workplace and which colleagues we would like to associate with is a critical step in our spiritual evolution. The right company can help us progress and progress with us. The wrong company can completely devalue our spiritual progress and set us back by a few decades.

 g. Japa (Repetition of a Mantra or the Lord’s Name):

Japa ,the constant mindful , mental chanting of a mantra or the Lord’s name is very central to all spiritual Sampradayas. It is truly good fortune to get initiated by a Guru who can chose an mantra for you. If not, you can easily chose a mantra of your favorite Ista Devata and start Japa. The masters have assured us that this pillar of spiritual practice is guaranteed to put us on a good path and take us where we need to go.

The simplest and most potent Japa to start with is “Rama”. This japa was able to even transform a simple robber to a Maha rishi and a poet when he mechanically chanted this mantra in reverse unknowingly (“Mara, “Mara” chanted by Valmiki).

Kapa chanting is a potent tool of Sadhana.

 So What should I do to Start my Spiritual Practice Right Away ?

This is the most obvious difficulty for all of us neophytes – where do I start ? What concrete and easy steps can I take right now ? So based on personal experiences, here are a number of easy and effective starting  points

Learn your Gotra & Nakshatra :

Across India, we have a tradition of identifying our biological lineage through the Gotra system and also the ruling Nakshatra on the day of our birth. In sanatana Dharma, every one and their family has a gotra. No one is left out of the Gotra system.

However, Many of us are not even aware of the names of our Gotra / Nakshatra. If this is the case, please check with your family and firmly identify your Gotra & Nakshatra.

The Gotra system traces our biological ancestry to a set of sages who were present at the dawn of time. These sages are extra-ordinary and realized souls who are eager to help us and ensure our welfare.

In Indian tradition these Rishis are “Nitya Suris” – immortal and ever present across all worlds. As our ancestors, they are awake to our calls asking for our help and are ever ready to reach out and help you.

Rishi from Gotra is a potent seer and guru

But they cannot interfere in your life without you actively seeking their help. You must seek them. They have utmost respect for your free-will and choice. By merely knowing their name and meditating on them, you will activate a very powerful source of guidance and benedictions. We have already discussed the vital importance of a Guru , and your ancient ancestor will help you in that quest along with other blessings.

Identify your Family’s Sampradaya :

In India, it is very likely that your family belongs to a well-established Sampradya, like those discussed earlier. In the spiritual quest , there is No greater advantage than traditional family adherence to a Sampradya. If you can easily identify this, then you should not look for other Gurus and other systems.

Your family has likely found success through the principles and practices of this Sampradaya and it is not correct to abandon this tradition with serious cause. Moreover, you already have the blessings of the Gurus of this lineage – all you need is to activate them.

Most vitally, all spiritual quests must make the family unit stronger and not weaker. If a member of the family suddenly starts off on a new Sampradaya or aligns themselves to a new Guru , it can cause serious rifts in the families progress. This is the problem with many new cults of god-men. They really isolate a key member of family from their tradition and cause serious troubles. It is usually a very bad idea to abandon a long-held family Sampradaya in favour of a new ,shiny Guru.

Create a Small Puja Room / Alcove ( your spiritual office)

 Spiritual Sadhana is serious work. It will not happen in your balcony or living room. You need to allocate an official space for this quest. If not available already you can create a small alcove with pictures of your Ishta-Devta.

You should light a lamp with cotton wicks and A2 cow ghee along with incense sticks daily in this space. There is special relationship between high quality Cow ghee and Agni – cow ghee is considered “the havis” or “best offering” for Agni Bhagawan. It also carries immense spiritual vitality and clarity and helps purify the space around it. This is the reason we suggest lighting a pure ghee lamp – when lighting a lamp, it is important to make offerings which are of the same or better quality than what you consume or use.

Currently there is a practice of offering slightly inferior quality ghee or “lamp oil” in your Puja, This is absolutely wrong. In our spiritual practice, we are appealing to the highest of our selves and then connecting that highest of selves to the divine. So every offering we make to this highest of selves must be pure, elevated and of extraordinarily high quality.

This spiritual office, is also the area for respectfully storing your holy texts , to do your Svadhyaya & Japa. With regular sadhana, this becomes a highly charged space which can re-charge your spiritual batteries and re-energize you. If would be very ideal if you can allocate a closed room for this purpose.

The pooja room is your spiritual office

 

The allocation of a “spiritual office” is an important investment. IF the energies in this room are regularly built up through your daily sadhana, this is like a charged battery waiting to uplift you when you are low. Therefore it is ideal to keep this space private and work in this space everyday to recharge yourself and the space.

 Start Swadhayaya :

The Srimad Valmiki Ramayana , Bhagavad Gita ,Sundara Kaanda portion of Ramayana ,the 5 Satvika Puranas ( Bhagavatam, Narada, Vishnu , Varaha & Padma) , the 10 principal Upanishads are amazing starting points for Svadhyaya. Of course these are all in Sanskrit , so it would be ideal to procure a copy that has the original Sanskrit text along with English translation for your Svadhayaya.

Begin your swadhyaya

Beyond these timeless texts, we also have great regional texts like the Ramcharitmanas, which are also good starting points. From personal experience, even the careful study of the English translation of an important text, we can derive tremendous benefits.

Start Japa & Puja of Ishta-Devta

 Many of us would have an Ishta-devta or favorite deity ,especially from childhood memory , one who has captivated us in some way.

Doing a simple puja to the Ishta Devta through decoration with fresh flowers, lighting of good ghee lamp and offering food for the Ishta Devta is a good way to invite their presence into your life. It is quite simple to learn the basic moola mantras of these deities and start chanting them with regular frequency daily. This again activates powerful latent forces within us and from outside as well.

Puja & Japa of Ishta devtha

This practice also powerfully re-charges our home space. The aura of the home is more positive, healing and gives us vibrancy, positivity and the ability to heal.

 Visit Temples Regularly ( if possible , ancient Temples) :

India’s temples, built as per specific Agamas, are its priceless treasures. They are all around us, open every single day without fail from ancient times, have free entry and are guaranteed to help us in many different ways.

The mere act of visiting a temple near you home daily or once a week is yet another exceptional spiritual practice and will surely benefit us massively. But we need to make the conscious effort to visit temples , to actively seek the priceless spiritual gifts within them.

We suggest visiting ancient temples which are well worshipped in to access the huge fount of stored positive spiritual energy within them. A good temple visit can give you a full battery recharge and wipe your mind free of negative and depressive thoughts with fresh and renewed purpose and clarity.

Visit more temples

The faith and belief of the devotees, sincerity of the priests, construction of temple to conserve spiritual energy as per Agama , Vastu & Shilpa sastra and power concentrated in the Archa Moorthy all work together to give you this cleansing and spiritual experience.

A temple must be visited as a separate visit in itself at first. We suggest proper preparation like visiting the temple after fresh Snana, wearing of clothes especially chosen for the temple (traditional dress is best), and on a comparatively empty stomach.

In our experience a temple visit can fill you with pranic shakti and energy – if you have visited on a full stomach, this can leave you uncomfortable, disoriented and sometimes with feelings of nausea as the body has literally received too much nourishment.

 Actively seek Satsanga

 Satsanga is a very important and over-looked spiritual Sadhana. It is the company of holy and good people. Now this is why the earlier point of regularly visiting temples is vital. You are un-likely to find Satsanga in a bar or a mall or even in your office. For urban Indians, the ancient temples are their best friend in developing Satsanga. Down-right bad people are un-likely to be found in temples as well.

As you perform Sadhana by the other methods mentioned above, your spiritual antennae will develop and guide you in identifying these holy & good people. With spiritual sadhana, many down-right bad people will also stop crossing your paths. You must actively seek Satsanga –  finding it is an art and an interesting journey.

 

To Sum up:

In traditional Indian works, is to customary to begin with a request for blessings from the almighty. So there was a deliberate choice of starting this post with the first shloka of Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, which is sure to bless all our endeavors with success.

 In traditional Indian works it is also customary to end with a Phala-Shruti Shloka, which means a shloka which explains the benefits that will accrue to the reader as a result of reading and following that work.

 Since our sincere endeavor in this post is to provide a simple outline of Spiritual Sadhana, we choose to end this post with the Shanti Mantra from the Taittirya Upanishad , which nicely summarizes the objectives of this post and we are sure that the regular chanting and meditation upon this mantra will help us in the spiritual path.

 सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Sadhana : The why & how of a Spiritual Practice

  1. Incredible. Amazing. Detailed and yet left me hungry for more. Also feels good to know I’m not as big a slacker as I think. Thank you so very much, I cannot explain how much I needed exactly this at this stage of my life. I’m going to bookmark this, come back to it again and again and use this as a basic guideline to find my own rhythm. Also, sharing. This needs to reach more people.
    A request Srinivas – please make this a series, following up with those areas which you’ve mentioned as “another detailed discussion in itself”. I would await more posts with baited breath.

  2. Beautiful , divine and very beautifully laid – it’s very reassuring to read the alignment to ancient scriptures , the family samoradhaya and the ishta deivata . This is truly a very thoughtful and well written first step guide .

  3. Excellent post. Realised the mistakes I do in my nitya karma.

  4. This is a post that I can revisit any number of times and learn something new. Simple and to the point. Srinivas, do you recommend any particular publication house for acquiring said texts? Gita press is one I know of.

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