Definition of Sadhana
Can you please define for us, the activity that constitutes “Sadhana”?
Sadhana is any activity which we perform for the express purpose of demonstrating our devotion to God.
How important is to do your daily Sadhana program at the same place and time everyday?
The more we perform at the same place and same time, the easier it becomes. It becomes second nature to us. Then it becomes our true nature.
First, when we are out and about, our minds are engaged in various contemplations, so it is all the more difficult to make them sit still. Second, when we have new surroundings and new timings, it is that much more difficult to compose ourselves and get into the bhava of true devotion. When we perform at the same time and place, we go deeper and are less distracted. After some time the mantras remember us, rather than our having to memorize the mantras.
Please recommend the most important texts/classes from your “college of higher learning.” Is there a best order of study?
There are three distinct aspects of our practice:
1. Puja, which includes japa and meditation.
2. Path, which is the recitation of the scriptures.
3. Homa, which is the sacred fire ceremony.
To learn the pujas start with the smaller ones first: Shiva and Durga Beginners. Then work your way to the intermediate pujas like Hanuman. Then go to the advanced like Shiva Advanced and the Cosmic Puja. Add some new material from each book on a regular basis, expanding your worship 15 minutes a month.
To learn the Path, how to recite the scriptures, take a scripture and chant for a specified period every day. There are many of them: Chandi, Bhagavad Gita, Devi Gita, Guru Gita, Lalitha, Sundar Kanda – There are many to choose from. Start with a few chapters and become comfortable with them, and then add more chapters every week. If you take the Chandi, for example, start with the Armor, Bolt, and Pin, and then add the Highest Meaning, the Tantric Devi Shukta, and the Key to Perfection. Then keep adding to it every month. Let your sadhana grow organically.
There is a beginner’s homa in the Hanuman Puja, a more advanced homa in the Shiva Advanced. Also there is a Video CD. Then start reciting the Sahasra Namas: Shiva, Kali, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Annapurna, we are just finishing Gayatri (almost ready for publication).
In the evenings, study the philosophy behind the sadhana: Kashyap Sutras, Before Becoming This, Life of a Saint, Devi Gita. We’re working on a new translation of Ramakrishna’s story. There are many to choose from, and you can integrate the internet classes into the study. Also look at our stories and articles on our web site. You’ll find menus for the pujas, stories, parables, quite a collection.
Can one start at the beginning of the text, go as far as possible in one sitting, take a break and come back where they left off? Over a period of a week, for example, until the text is finished?
Yes, as long as we are students, She will certainly forgive us. We are trying to do our best. The prescription to perform the entire recitation in one asana is for those who are striving for the highest goal. The rest of us will perform to the extent of our capacity, and then continually try to increase our capacity. That is the tapasya.
The use of the terms “sankalpa”, “sadhana”, and “tapasya” often confuses me. I would very much like information on how to differentiate between them. I wonder exactly what each means in relation to the others and it would be helpful to have examples of each.
“Sadhana” means any spiritual practice. This can be Puja, Path, Homa, Singing, Dancing or any action that you perform in a disciplined way with the intention of bringing you closer to the Supreme Divinity.
A “Sankalpa” is a vow to perform any Sadhana for a definite purpose. For example most Sadhus make a “Sankalpa” to perform a specific Sadhana for 9 days, 30 days, 108 day, 1008 days or as long as they feel necessary, usually beginning on an auspicious day in the lunar calendar. Taking a Sankalpa is a great way to create a strong discipline and is a way to direct Sadhus life energy.
Tapasya means, “To create heat” and for our purpose means an expanded intensified Sadhana.
How do you stay inspired in your resolution/ sadhana?
In the Ramayana there are nine steps of Devotion explained:
1. Associate with saintly people
2. Enjoy stories of divinity and divinely inspired beings
3. Feel the privilege to perform selfless service as an expression of love
4. Sing of divine qualities or characteristics without any selfish motivation
5. Recite mantras with full faith
6. Perform all actions with tranquility, and see every circumstance as an opportunity to manifest perfection
7. See the world as equal to God, and regard the company of saintly beings as a greater opportunity than the perception of God
8. Be satisfied with whatever we receive as the fruit of our actions, and do not contemplate the faults of others
9. Remain with simplicity all the time, renounce conniving for selfish ends, and take delight in faith in God with neither exultation nor unhappiness.
These are the nine steps of devotion.
Try these in order to keep your inspiration alive.
Do you and Maa emphasize worship above the prayer and meditation? Or, is this appearance only, due to time and circumstance, the needs of devotees, etc.?
That is the only part you can see from the outside. When we sit still with our eyes closed, how can someone from the outside determine if we are meditating, worshipping or praying?
Swamiji, can you please suggest a daily practice that I could do as a beginner — and as someone new to Hinduism and to Maa?
Beginner’s Shiva Puja.
How does a sadhak reduce body consciousness?
The longer the asana, the more intense the contemplation, the less reflection on body. Expand your asana.
Many of us have regular practices – maybe even 5 minutes a day, of puja/japa/meditation that we have done over the years. Then there are the short term intensives that one attends – a spiritual retreat for example or satsang with a saint, or short term sankalpas. Which of these approaches is more conducive to spiritual growth? A series of short term sankalps of varying intensities or one long term sankalpa of moderate intensity?
Both in combination make for real spiritual growth. The short intensive sadhanas inspire us to make our regular practices longer and more meaningful.
Is it true that group sadhana is stronger than individual sadhana? If this true, is it preferable to try and chant with others as often as the situation permits? Also are there any scriptural references to the number of people that when chanting in a group makes the chanting more powerful?
There is a time for each type of sadhana. Sometimes it is more appropriate in a group, sometimes individually.
In Devi Bhagavatam there is mention of 3, 9, and 108 participants.
When we work in the world, we get a pay check and if we give it to somebody, we do not have anything left for ourselves. Is it the same if we dedicate/give the fruits of our sadhana to others? If it is the same, how do I give away the fruits of my practice without leaving myself in the muck? It seems a good thing to dedicate one’s practice to others, but I wish to progress, myself, too. Could you also suggest how best to do it?
Love is such a thing: the more you give it, the more it grows. You never run out. We give our sadhana in different ways: by dedicating it to others, by exemplifying it for others, by teaching its practical aspects, by incorporating it into our lives and living it. It’s a little different from your pay check.
Is there any specific technique you recommend for dedicating our sadhana to others? And are there any issues that need to be considered? I recall you replying to a question about one of the curses, and you said it applied only to those who are doing the practice for another. When does this sort of thing become an issue? Thank you for your time.
If we are selling our services to pray for others, to change others’ karma because of our prayer in exchange for a material benefit, we are clearly in violation of the spirit of the scripture. If we are praying from our sincere desire to help others, with no expectation for ourselves, then this prayer has purity and we can hope to achieve results.
Shree Maa said, “Spiritual practice feeds our souls”. For me the analogy of food is such a deep one. It seems that the true value of both food and sadhana lies in our ability to convert it to energy for some relevant use, not in the mere accumulation. I wonder if sadhana for the sake of sadhana is also counter productive. Maybe in both instances it may make me “fat”?
Certainly our intention in performing sadhana is of paramount importance.
What is the essential practice/attitude/method for realizing/opening and living from our heart? How do we merge heart and mind and live from there, right now? How do we merge?
What is the effect of continuous sadhana on the personality of the sadhak? Can it transform an impatient person to a patient one, an ill-tempered nature to a sweet one etc.? Are there any signs to look for – in terms of improvement of qualities? Thank you for your time.
Yes, yes, yes! You will feel the difference, BUT …The old samskaras could come back at any time without warning. Therefore, we must be ever vigilant.
16. What is your guidance on the usage of the contemplations/inquiry: Naan Yar [Who Am I?]or So Ham [I Am.]? Is there a danger of egoic intrusion in this contemplation? In other words, is devotion fully engaged? Do you recommend this kind of sadhana?
It is one aspect of sadhana. Our focus will constantly evolve. Sometimes we are jnanis, sometimes bhaktas.
Can you please tell us anything about purification?
“Apavitra pavitra va …
The impure and the pure reside within all. Who remembers the Lotus-eyed Consciousness is conveyed to radiant purity!
What is the best way to manage illness, stress, fatigue, various bodily pains, so we are not lost in them, but endure them, even maybe rise above them. Can we minimize such problems as part of our goals and planning?
Yes, that is the function of Sankalpa, a spiritual vow or promise. It says that no matter what the mind may say, no matter what the body may feel, I am going to recite this puja or text of worship. When we complete our vows we understand that the pain was just another thought – not enough to deflect us from the completion of our goals.
What technique would be most efficient for cultivating the will to support the Sankalpa? I am thinking devotion to the Guru, but perhaps also something else to quicken the energy?
Devotion to the Guru is certainly a key element. But in addition let’s subscribe to a new definition of who we are and what are our goals in life! If I can’t trust myself, then who can I trust?
On the one hand, we advocate expanding the length of our sadhana and disciplining ourselves to remain in the asan, on the other hand we say that saying the name of Ram once is sufficient. Which is correct? Can you please help me understand?
They are both correct. The sinful King, if he has faith, will sin no more. The sadhu, who wants to do more, should do more!
If the most advanced Yogi had planned a lengthy sadhana, and while settling himself in to this purpose [he had made a vow to do without fail] a hurt and dependant creature — a human child — fell into his field of influence and required care in order to continue life in her body. Would the yogi regard this as an intrusion or an expression of the Goddess? Would the yogi ignore this being or postpone his sadhana and care for the creature? Or somehow adapt his sadhana?
Adapt the sadhana.
Would he do japa as he is caring for the injured one? Would he see her as the Goddess and serve her as devotional practice? Would he ever succumb to the feeling, “I am not doing real sadhana”? How would he light up his life with God, and use the experience to drive himself farther into the divine nature than his human mind could have imagined?
By continuous japa of the mantra: What a privilege it is to serve God by doing Her work in this way!
Recently i failed to do my sadhana for a day after not missing 1 hour for a year. I sort of internally imploded due to lack of sleep and overwork trying to be several people at once. How does one have the fullness of experience and love for all beings from deep within lacking any fear or resistance like a true saint, or am i only idealizing such a being and such a possibility? Should i ignore this worry or take it as a deeper prompting to advance internally in a way previously unknown to myself? Is it inappropriate or appropriate to contemplate one’s own shortcomings in this manner?
In the Chandi we see the Great Ego, Self Conceit and Self Deprecation sending army after army to attach the Goddess time and time again. Even after the Goddess has held the Ego by Her foot, he keeps changing his form, struggling as at were, to get away from Her. It is not a phase — it is a constant battle to hold the ego in check, to make him surrender to the Divine.
In Vedic Religion, many masters speak and the puranas record the sages and yogis attaining Siddhi or boon via Tapasya. What is the relationship between Tapasya and Siddhi or Boon being granted by specific deities?
It is incumbent upon every deity to grant a boon to those who perform tapasya with pure devotion. That is a law of dharma. It is also true that a deity may test the sincerity of the devotee, and may give the boon of His or Her own choice at the time of His or Her own choice.
Some tapasya seems to be merely torturing the body which is the temple of Divine (like standing 12 years or sleeping on the nails ). Can, in the case we are living in a very cold climate, going out early morning with short sleeve and thin pants and doing martial arts training under 0 degree Centigrade can be considered as Tapasya, thereby accumulating the merits for the boon or Siddhi?
Like every other action, there is tapasya which is sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Torturing the body is tamasic, martial arts training is rajasic, and the state of mind which wants to surrender to God and demonstrate the sincerity of your devotion is sattvic.
I know there are as many ways as there are beings and inclinations. I know there are layers and layers of energetic movement with each mantra and technique. What about just sitting still and being with God? When is this approach appropriate? When is it possible?
All of the worship that we have shared teaches and trains our awareness to come to the stillness, to be in the presence of God. But there is no technique by which to make that quantum shift in consciousness by which we just let go. That is called Grace.
In part it is earned by our actions. All the worship, meditation, prayer makes us worthy of receiving that Grace. But also that Grace “descends from above” and is granted to those She has “chosen,” for reasons only She knows.
You can’t practice being in the stillness. You can practice approaching the stillness. That is why we teach techniques of worship, how to sit, breathe, chant, and be silent — all the things we can do until She grants that Darshan. The rishis called it neti neti – not this, not that; the Buddhists called it Sunya, the absolute silence or Void; we call it Nirvikalpa, beyond any idea. You are calling the it Stillness. I believe they are all the same.
When is brahmamuhurtha?
Brahmamuhurtha comes before the dawn.
Devas and sages are with us
I have read many stories of devas and sages appearing and helping at times of need (usually potentially fatal accidents), so I see that we are indeed not alone. I have thought that the sages, in the same way that we might hear the activities of our neighbors on adjoining properties, are aware of worship (of whatever kind) when it occurs and are free to join in, help, or simply enjoy. I imagine that some fragment of bhava catches their awareness, and they are drawn in, much like hearing a favorite song on someone else’s radio in the distance. I imagine that they enjoy the activity, the effort, the desire for God, for moksha, much as we enjoy the efforts of children to learn and grow. And of course, they delight in God. So when we turn away from normal activities and enter alone into our sanctum for practice, perhaps we are not alone after all. My question is, is this true, or am I imagining things?
It is true.
The pure and impure reside in all objects. Swamiji, this looks more like acceptance of the quality of impurity. Why purify ourselves in sadhana instead of accepting the impurity within us?
Regularity in sadhana
Learning to recite scriptures
Sankalpa, Sadhana, Tapasya
Making our sadhana strong
Worship over prayer and meditation
Reducing Body Consciousness
Short intensive or Regular non-intensive Sadhana
Serving through Sadhana
Manifesting our sadhana as love
Sadhana and Personality
Who am I?
Managing illness and pain in the course of sadhana
Cultivating the will for a sankalpa
Sadhana and compassion
Break in Sadhana
Tapasya and Siddhis
Sitting still and being with God
Purification through sadhana versus accepting the impurity in us