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The Quest for the Royal Road: Dignity of Spiritual Pursuit

Published: 26.02.2016

In the Indian way of sadhana, sannyasa and karmayoga have been given the same importance. It has been said in the Gita:

Sannyasa and karmayoga both bring the highest good.[1]

The Jain Tirthankaras prescribed the way of sadhana based on the practice of sanvar and nirjara. We can describe sanvar and nirjara as sannyasa and karmayoga respectively. Sanvar is based on abnegation, nirjara on activity. Complete sanvar or complete sannyasa is not possible in the initial stage of sadhana. It was for this reason that nirjara or karmayoga was prescribed. Bearing in mind this impossibility Shri Krishna said:

For those who possess the bodies, it is not possible to give up all actions. That is why he who gives up the fruits of his action is called a recluse.[2]

Bhagwan Mahavira has also accepted the state without yoga for the sadhaka in the final stage of sadhana. Before that yoga, or the complete control of the activities of the mind, speech and body is not possible.

In the present-day thinking, sannyasa and karmayoga are being considered separately. Maharshi Aurobindo gave no place to sannyasa in his process of sadhana. He prescribed only karmayoga. Similarly, there are some ideologies which have become completely opposed to sannyasa. But I see no contradiction between sannyasa and karmayoga. In my view, sadhana begins with karmayoga and sannyasa is its highest stage. To attain the stage which is free from the body, sannyasa is unavoidable and it is necessary to pass through the stage of karmayoga to reach the stage of sannyasa.

How can there be any contradiction between karmayoga and sannyasa when sannyasa is not possible without karmayoga and liberation is not possible without sannyasa?

By sannyasa I do not mean any particular apparel which is merely suggestive of sannyasa. Just by donning that attire, not only other people do not learn anything about sannyasa, but even the sadhaka does not remain conscious about his sadhana. Explaining the significance about adopting the apparel of a sramana, Bhagwan Mahavira said that its purpose is to be able to exercise restraint and to reach the stage of becoming an ascetic. That keeps the sadhaka constantly aware of his sadhana. He is reminded every moment that he is a sramana. From that point of view, the apparel of an ascetic too has its own importance and use. But by mentioning sannyasa, I am not referring to the ascetic's apparel but to that state of the Soul which raises itself above the world of the senses by itself. Without reaching that state, the Soul cannot attain its goal. Even the pursuit of karmayoga, by passing through the state of non-action, takes one to the desired goal.

Sadhana can be done in the midst of the people or in a desolute forest. Both have their own significance and have their own regulations. Both these traditions of sadhana were prevalent even in the days of Bhagwan Mahavira. But in some quarters, more importance was given to sadhana done in solitude. Bhagwan Mahavira mentioned three types of sadhana:

  1. Sadhana related to the Self or sva-sadhana
  2. Sadhana related to others or para-sadhana
  3. Sadhana related to the self as well as others or sva- para sadhana, and ordained that sva-para sadhanashould be practised in his Order. That is, the ascetic should do their own sadhana and also inspire others to do the same.

If a sadhaka has no control over his mind and senses, what would be gain by retiring to the forest? If his mind and senses are under control then also what would he gain by going to the forest? The question is not about being in the city or in the forest, but of mastering the senses. For the individual who has mastered his senses, there is no difference between the city and the forest. But there are certainly some hazards of living in the midst of the crowds and they cannot be ignored. If a sadhaka lives among the people while his sadhana has not yet become mature, there is greater danger of his slipping. In the face of unconquered inner physical passions, ambitions, desires for worldly prosperity and external temptations that encourage all these feelings, it is, very difficult for a sadhaka to maintain his equilibrium. It is more important to ponder over this problem in the present age in which comforts and conveniences attract everyone.

From this point of view it seems to me that some groundwork needs to be done regarding sadhana. A mumukshu[3] in the early stage of his sannyasa accepts five mahavratas[4] as well as some other vows concerning routine rites. This is the background for the acceptance of the rules for performing religious rites. He does not become a completely non-violent person in thought, word and deed, merely by making a resolve to be non-violent. One has to strain very hard and pass through many ordeals to reach that state. If he finds himself in a crowded atmosphere before this process begin there is a danger of his adhana getting interrupted. Therefore, it is necessary that rather than taking the resolve to follow the vows as the ultimate goal, even while regarding those vows of utmost importance, the process of taking the first steps in that direction should be started. A specific course of study would also have to be decided, for that purpose. Study, meditation, penance, yoga, etc. would be included in it. For the uninterrupted pursuit of this process, a sadhaka would also have to keep away from public contact. I am certain that this practice in a definite time frame, would bring maturity to sadhana and the sadhaka would understand the significance of sadhana as well as the nature of the world and liberation.

The question of the relation between sadhana and religious sects is quite complex. The sects came into being to help the sadhakas in their sadhana. But in course of time, the element of sectarian insistence grew and true form of sadhana became secondary; and also the tendency to show one better than the other became dominant. Sectarian fanaticism sowed the seeds of conflict and religion which was meant to spread love among the people became the cause of discord and conflict. Today people's consciousness is again awakened. In this situation, it is necessary that the religious sects divert their attention to their main purpose. Let them help the sadhakas, not hinder them, so that the sadhakas reach a certain stage of sadhana. The sectarian pressure has neither allowed sadhana to acquire any lustre, nor have the sadhakas been able to reach their goal.

Now remains the question of accepting the scriptures. Should the sadhaka follow any scriptures during his sadhana period? There is much confused thinking about this. But I see no reason for any confusion. Scriptures are expressions of experiences. Whenever any saint attained his goal, he described the nature of sadhana and the vicissitude in the course of his pursuit in the light of his own experience, and it became a scripture. We may derive some benefit from those experience if we wish. But even if we do not do it, the value of those words of experience would not be minimised in any way. I consider scriptures a great help in sadhana. The vedas, Upanishads, Buddhist Tripitaka and Jain Agama literature are our valuable heritage. I would certainly like to point out that those who have minimised the value of those words, have made a mistake by either beginning to worship the scriptures or found fault with them instead of deriving any benefit out of them. We did not try to reach the depth from which the scriptures have been written. In the West, very concentrated research is being carried out on this subject. It has succeeded in unravelling a number of mysteries of the spiritual world, which has attracted millions of youths from the West towards spiritualism. Whereas the young generation in India is turning away from it. The only reason for this is that the scriptures have been merely worshipped here, their significance was recognised only in words but no attempts were made to turn that knowledge into an experience.

Spiritual movement in the West has also drawn India's attention towards it. Spiritualism, meditation, yoga, etc. are being widely discussed in India as well. This should be taken as an auspicious sign. But we should not forget that the true spiritual pursuit is possible only when we present it in a scientific manner on the basis of our own experience.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agama
  2. Bhagwan Mahavira
  3. Body
  4. Consciousness
  5. Gita
  6. Karma
  7. Karmayoga
  8. Krishna
  9. Mahavira
  10. Meditation
  11. Nirjara
  12. Para
  13. Sadhaka
  14. Sadhana
  15. Soul
  16. Sramana
  17. Tirthankaras
  18. Upanishads
  19. Vedas
  20. Yoga
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