All scriptures point out the real, lasting happiness is gained through an inner spiritual evolution. Yet in our attempts at scriptural study and mediation we find that this inner contentment ever eludes us. We come away disappointed and ask ourselves: What am I doing wrong?
The spiritual masters are emphatic in their advice: The Mind must become free of its worldly preoccupations. Only a relatively free, pure mind is capable of reflecting upon the subtle truths. To make the mind relatively free, an aspirants must undergo a process of spiritual preparation.
From the pages of On The Path we will gain insights into the qualifications of a seekers. These insights may bring to us a true sense of discipleship and an inner humility to evolve into a more glorious expression of life.
In order to become a master, one must first be a disciple. As seekers, we have all heard this. But how many of us, in the course of our spiritual pursuit, heed it? When aspirants of realization discover that the scriptures prescribe listening, reflecting, and contemplating upon the scriptures, they proceed to do so ardently. But what is too often omitted from the seeker’s scheme is the preliminary word of the prescription: “artha,” or “thereafter.”
Many of the Vedantic scriptures begin their teachings with this one potent word: “thereafter.” “Artha” means that the study can proceed “only after having purified the mind and rendered it a fit instrument.” In other words, if the mind has not been prepared, the study will not be fruitful. Vedanta asserts that one who has a purified and fit mind can attain Self-knowledge instantaneously upon hearing the Vedantic truths. So when we persevere year after year in study arid contemplation and yet make slow progress, it is a clear sign that we need to further prepare the mind.
The Hindu textbooks traditionally begin with the cultivation of the necessary qualifications for discipleship. The Upanisads are replete with stories of seekers who had to undergo rigorous preparation before gaining permission to study with the master. In the Prasna Upanisad, for instance, six seekers approached a master to clarify their doubts. Though the seekers were already very advanced, the master exacted a one-year trial period of austerities before he would hear their questions. In Chandogya Upanisad, a disciple was accepted by a master, only to be sent to the fields to care for a herd of cattle. In many Upanisads, such as Katha and Kena, the masters test the aspirants with series of temptatioiis to assess their preparedness.
Such stories reveal that no amount of scriptural study can bless us unless our minds become fit and pure. A scholar without a prepared mind becomes a spiritual parrot. Be first a disciple, only then unfoldment can take place. But what are the mental qualities of a true disciple?
Adi Sañkara, the great exponent of Advaita Vedanta, clearly enumerates the qualifications. They all place greater importance on mental attitude rather than on prior knowledge of the scriptures. It is the mental mood that makes a seeker fit or not. But all too often we seekers neglect making our minds fit instruments to receive the Truth.
As seekers living in the working world, it is much easier to set goals such as: I will rise earlier, I will attend spiritual meetings, I will study Sanskrit and holy texts. But how many of us resolve: I will surrender all my negativities, I will remain cheerful and uncomplaining, I will turn my attention inward? Achieving these goals requires constant vigilance. Yet without these mental qualities, mere physical austerities and intellectual study will not bless us. In order to identify with the Self within, our old identifications must be rejected. Nowhere does a human being’s identification lie so strongly as with his own mind and its multitude of thoughts. The enchantment with one’s mind is strong indeed, but without shaking it, we will never be able to shift our vision to our higher Self—which lies beyond the mind.
Sañkara prescribes a remedy with which to chop away the intense attachment to our minds: discrimination between the permanent and the impermanent. The main responsibility of a seeker is to develop a mind that is quiet, alert, and vigilant. Through honest, detached observation of our thoughts, we become aware of the futility of our preoccupations. In that awareness, the strength of our preoccupations diminishes, and we begin to experience a larger sense of freedom. Once the mind is free of distraction, an unimagined quietude descends : In that quietude, the only real desire of the heart will surface – the desire to end all separation, to become one with the all-pervading blissful Reality.
This process of earnest discrimination between trivial and the Real will lead the disciple to abandon his attachments. As the mind becomes purified of its self-centeredness , a torch of yearning for the limitless Self is lighted. Once the yearning is deep, spiritual progress is inevitable.
Sri Sankara describes this process with four terms: viveka (discrimination), vairagya (dispassion), satsampatti (mental control), and mumuksutvam (desire for liberation). When these qualities are present in a seeker, the mind can absorb, directly and immediately, the teachings of the Self. No further efforts on the part of the aspirant is required.
The articles in Part One emphasize the need for a single-pointed desire for liberation, above all other desires. Part Two looks at the aspirant’s efforts to surrender his preconceptions and open his mind in reverence to the holy teachings. Part Three presents ideas on discipleship from other traditions, illustrating that all religions have the same goals for their disciples : to cleanse the mind and open it to the higher experience.
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