You can think of a spiritual practice as something similar to building a beautiful, tall mansion set in lush gardens. This mansion is like no other. When finished, it will be filled with exquisite works of art, celestial music, and treasures beyond compare. Everything you could ever want or need will be in exactly the right place at the right time. Peace, harmony, joy, and love will radiate to everyone who visits. This mansion is called Enlightenment.
Like any construction project, your mansion might be subjected to strong winds, storms, and even people who try to tear it down. It is very important that your mansion has the support of a strong foundation so it can withstand whatever difficulties and obstacles it may have to face. Likewise, your spiritual journey requires a strong foundation to support you through the doubts, fears, and distractions that will challenge you along the way.
The base or ground floor of your spiritual practice is called Sadhana. To raise your mansion to its lofty heights, you need strong pillars. In your spiritual practice, these are Satsang, Seva, and Simran.
Inside you is a Light—the Light of Awareness. If you nourish this Light, it will always remain lit and will grow in brightness. You don’t do this through external means, but through:
- Introspection (Gyana Yoga)
- Devotion (Bhakti Yoga)
- Rituals, mantras, sharing, togetherness (Raja Yoga)
- Selfless actions (Karma Yoga)
Although at first your practices may be fragmented and piecemeal, with time they merge into an effortless flowing continuum, reflected in everything you do.
Sadhana is your daily spiritual practice and can encompass many different things:
- Yoga asana
- Pranayama breathing exercises
- Study (spiritual teachers, seminars, books)
How You Live Your Life
- Yamas: Nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, not wasting energy, avoiding greed
- Nyamas: Purity, contentment, austerities, study, devotion
Sadhana can be to accomplish any specific spiritual goal but is generally thought of as your journey of self-discovery. It is your path from ignorance and limitation to freedom and enlightenment. It is a personal practice but aspects of it can be done collectively. However, it is done for your own personal growth—it’s self-enrichment, not to impress others or for any external reward.
You choose what to include and what brings you the greatest spiritual benefits and fulfillment. Your practices will change as you grow and evolve so you shouldn’t be rigid with it. The Vedas say that infinite flexibility is the key to immortality. You must learn to listen to your body and what intuitively feels correct.
The Paths of Sadhana
In the traditions of India, there are two recognized paths of Sadhana:
- The recluse
- The householder
The recluse withdraws from regular worldly activities to engage in his or her spiritual activities. Many spend their lives wandering from one holy site to another, never staying for more than a few days in any place. Some live in ashram communities or alone in remote locations. Others perform austerities such as remaining standing or holding one hand aloft for years. Sometimes this path is taken when a person has fulfilled his or her regular family responsibilities but is also chosen by younger people.
The reclusive path is obviously not suitable for the average person who chooses the path of the householder and combines his or her spiritual practices while living in the world with a family, career, home, etc. This path generally has more distractions but, with the correct attitude and focus of purpose, can be equally rewarding. Whichever path you choose and whatever you include in it, you should always do the best you can and be true to yourself.
Sadhana helps to realign you with your dharma, your true purpose in life. Karma, in its expression as memories and desires, will often distract you from your purpose. Sadhana ripens the karmas so they fall away like fruit from a tree, leaving you free to progress on your journey.
The single most powerful tool to support your Sadhana is a personal mantra, learned and used correctly. A personal mantra is the reflection of your essence—the Universal Being. It is the ultimate focus of light, sound, meaning, and intention and holds and reflects the entire Universe.
It’s important to remember that Sadhana doesn’t create Enlightenment. Enlightenment and perfection have always been yours. Your Sadhana peels back the layers that have covered it for too long. Sadhana allows you to once again live the glory and magnificence you truly are.
It is not uncommon for people to feel isolated on their spiritual path. Being part of a community of people with similar goals can provide needed support when questions and doubts arise. Meeting together with other like-minded people seeking the ultimate Truth of life is known as Satsang. It can be a gathering of spiritual seekers, being with good/righteous companions, or a meeting of people of equal knowledge to share their understandings. Satsangs may include:
- Listening to or reading sacred texts
- Reflecting on, discussing, and assimilating their meaning
- Contemplating the source of these words
- Looking for ways to bring their wisdom into daily life
Satsang can also mean to sit in the presence of a Guru or enlightened teacher. This may also be referred to as Darshan. This offers the great opportunity to listen to someone who has already completed the journey and can now help guide you through the obstacles that may confront your spiritual progress. The ancient wisdom of the Upanishads tells of the times when advanced students “sat close” with their enlightened teachers in Satsang.
Organizing a Satsang
You don’t have to be a teacher or have a great spiritual understanding to organize a Satsang—anyone can do it. Just assemble a group of somewhat like-minded friends. One person should be chosen to direct the discussions and keep things on track, but everyone should have the opportunity to speak and share their thoughts. It’s good to start with a shared intention between group members, maybe a particular theme or context to spark some spiritual insights. Your Satsang could include doing a meditation, chanting, reading sacred texts, or listening to a recording of a teaching.
When you sit alone to read and study the teachings of a great enlightened master, you create a Satsang with him or her. Even though you can’t ask questions and enter into a discussion, the Grace and Truth of the teaching will enter your hearts.
Inner Satsang is to sit quietly with yourself. This could be to contemplate the answers to questions such as:
- Who am I?
- What is my purpose?
- What are my spiritual goals?
When you practice your silent meditation, to raise your consciousness to a level of realization, this becomes a Satsang with your own Soul.
Seva means selfless service or actions performed without the expectation of any reward. Actions that uplift by understanding the needs of others and random acts of kindness can all be considered Seva. These acts could be for another person, a group of people, or society in general.
When you accept or appreciate that the same divinity is within everyone, serving other people becomes a devotional practice of indirectly serving the Divine. Ultimately, selflessly serving your fellow humans and serving God are the same.
Some spiritual communities expect people to perform Seva. While offering Seva opportunities falls within the definition, expecting someone to perform Seva as some form of payment misses the point.
I’m sometimes asked if I know of an ashram in India where someone can go to perform Seva. While helping in an Indian ashram can be an interesting experience, it’s not necessary to travel all that way. You can do Seva anywhere. In fact, Westerners trying to help in India can sometimes create the opposite effect. I’ve always tried to be of service at the ashram to which I belong and while they tolerated me helping with the cleaning, preparing vegetables in the kitchen, or serving food, it was obvious that any one of them could do the work much faster and more efficiently than I could. One day, I decided to bring this up with my Guru so I asked him which Seva would be best for me to do. He thought for a few minutes and then said, “Ashram official photographer” and that’s what I became!
Look for Seva Opportunities
Seva can be something you actively seek out such as volunteering at a shelter or joining a group to collect trash. It can also be something that happens spontaneously like helping to carry someone’s groceries, driving a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment, or giving someone you pass on the street a smile and a warm hello. When you are actively involved in the world, Seva opportunities are limitless. Be aware, look, listen, and be ready to offer. An Indian saying says, “It’s easy to be a saint on the mountain top, the real proof of saintliness comes when you return to the market.”
Your meditation practice can be a form of Seva if your intention is not only to expand your own consciousness but to also raise the collective consciousness of the world.
Simran is to remember that the purpose of your life is to be spiritual in everything you think, do, and say. It’s making everything part of your spiritual practice. Simran is an act of remembrance.
It’s the continuous remembrance of the finest aspect of the self, and/or the continuous appreciation or feeling of the Divine Presence in everything. This state is maintained continuously while carrying out everyday worldly activities and leads to the realization of the highest aspect and purpose in one's life.
Simran can also mean the spiritual practice of repeating a personal mantra given by an enlightened master. The mantra repetition is continued until the point at which previously formed karmic patterns are broken. At this time, the mantra is no longer necessary and is dropped in favor of the subtle feeling of the presence of the Divine in all aspects of life.
Do everything in your life, even the simplest of tasks, to the best of your ability. Become the witness of your activities and look for the Divine in everyone and everything around you.
Your beautiful mansion actually already exists. It’s just waiting for you to move in and enjoy!