What exactly is spiritual discipline (Sadhana)? What are some ways we can incorporate it into our daily lives in order to help us achieve Self-realization?
The concept of spiritual discipline, or Sādhana in Sanskrit, is very broad and includes various practices like repetition of God’s name (japa), devotional singing (bhajans), selfless service (seva), meditation (dhyāna), etc. A simple way to classify these practices is to use the name of SAI:
S : stands for Service. Selfless Service is the best way to turn away from the narrow interests of the little ‘I’ and expand the consciousness to the understanding of ‘We’. Swami has said:
“As long as you are clouded over with this possessive attitude, thinking only of yourself, your family, your people,your things, you can be certain that sooner or later you will be cast into sorrow. You must travel from the stage of identifying yourself with ‘I’ and ‘mine’ to the higher stage where you are constantly identifying yourself with ‘we’ and ‘ours’. From selfishness you must gradually travel to selflessness, from bondage to liberation.”
A : stands for Adoration. Group devotional singing is the royal path to the awakening of the Divine Presence within. Bhakti (devotion) is one of the best ways to destroy the ego, which is at the root of the feelings of 'I' and 'mine'.
I : stands for Illumination. Regular study of Sai teachings and participation in study circles (satsangs) is of paramount importance in getting spiritual wisdom. A verse of Adi Śankarācharya’s well known poem Bhaja Govindam, often sung by Sathya Sai Baba, says:
From spiritual company comes non-attachment;
from non-attachment comes freedom from delusion,
which leads to contact with the changeless Truth;
Contact with changeless Truth bestows Liberation.
Swami has often said that the three fourths of spiritual discipline is Atma-Vichāra, i.e. inquiry on the Self, contemplation on the question ‘Who Am I?”
Self-inquiry is of two types:
a) the process of negation or neti neti (not this, not this), through which the spiritual seeker detaches from the outer covers of the Soul, such as the body, senses, organs of actions, mind, intellect etc. All these are instruments to be used in daily life, but they don’t constitute our real Self.
b) the process of assertion of what we really are or Soham (I am He). This great truth is repeated by our breath 21.600 times per day. Always remember that we are much more than the body-mind complex. Our real nature is the immortal Self, which is not different than God.
This is not just a theoretical concept, but has much practical value in daily life.When one is detached from the outer self and is firmly established in the divine Presence within, one is capable of discharging the daily duties in the best possible way, by following the inner call to implement Human Values. One will always act with love, justice, serenity, integrity, selflessness, determination and discipline. In turn, this way of action will purify the body and the mind, and will lead the spiritual aspirant to the ultimate goal of Self realization.
For further instruction, please refer to the book Sādhana - the Inward Path, a valuable compendium of Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s quotations on Spiritual Discipline.In the foreword of this book, professor N. Kasturi writes:
“Sādhana is all of life; every act, thought and word is a step towards or away from God. And God is not high up in the heavens; He is in us, with us, beside us, behind us, before us. He is in every cell, as life; He is in every atom as activity. He is all this and more besides. Every human being is equipped with Intelligence by means of which he can inquire, investigate and experience the central Truth: God is his own Truth. Sādhana leads one to the Inward Path, the Nivrritti Mārga, as distinct from the Pravrṛtti Mārga, which leads him away into the objective world where the senses misinterpret and mislead. Bhagawan has come to put mankind back on the rails of Śraddhā (faith) and Bhakti (devotion), so that it can proceed smooth and safe to the Bliss of Self-Realization. Let us make these pages our Manual for Liberation. He will bless our journey, provided we start on it, for He is both Light and Love”.