The Rugged Path
A personal letter from Swami Sivananda Saraswati
“Realization of the Absolute is not a talk, is not a play.
It is the most difficult and the hardest of all tasks.
It demands the price of one's very self.
Will you really and willingly pay it?
It demands your ego.
It demands your very being
as the cost for Self-realization.”
Nothing that is worthwhile is to be achieved without undergoing a corresponding amount of pain and suffering. No enduring ideal can be attained without tire and sweat. The seed splits and perishes to put forth the plant. The flower lays its life to give place to the sweet fruit. It is in the furnace that gold emerges from the ore. Even so, the price of sainthood is to be paid in the interim period of utter loneliness, privation, and struggle which the really aspiring soul passes through. Every soul on the path of God-realization harbours no illusions about the true nature of the spiritual path. There is absolutely no royal road in spirituality.
Adversity is a divine blessing in disguise. Adversity develops the power of endurance and will-force. Adversity develops fortitude and forbearance. All the Prophets, Saints, Fakirs, Bhaktas and the Yogins of yore had to struggle hard against adverse circumstances. The Almighty Lord puts His devotees under severe tests and rigorous trials. Every soul on earth is being tested by God for his sincerity and patience. He puts the aspirants into various kinds of troubles. He will make man utterly hopeless and helpless and watch and see whether one has the real devotion for Him or not in such straitened circumstances. We cannot say exactly what form these trials will take. But the sincere devotee is never afraid of such kind of tests.
A grim endurance of all vicissitudes and a dogged resolution to persevere to the end are essential if one has to realize his ideal. the aspirant has ever to be alive to the stealthy power of unconscious habits creeping into him. Man is a sybarite by nature. One may be really very zealous in his austerities and vows in the beginning, but if one is not on the very proper guard, slowly the vigour will be relaxed, comforts will creep in the mind and man will be caught very miserably. If the body is allowed to relapse into softness and luxury, it will be found that it is well nigh impossible to discipline it again. The mind immediately takes advantage of even the least sign of weakness in the most sincere aspirants. It is like a tiger crouching on its haunches about to spring. One has to keep a very close watch over his own self and should be ever alert with a vigilance against the sudden onslaught of Samskaras.
In truth, spiritual life is for eternity, and realization is infinite. It is not like a period of work, giving place later for a nice vacation. The same high pitch of purity and discipline has to be maintained if life is to mean anything at all. No relaxation of rigour and caution can be afforded. For, the mighty power of cosmic illusion is not a trifle to be toyed with. A fit of passion is enough to blow away the result attained by years of slow and painstaking effort. Remembering this, let the aspirant be ever watchful unto prayer, as the mystics have said. Man's achievements are of no avail before Maya's charms. She reigns supreme on the stage of the divine play. None can dogmatically say that he is beyond all temptations. It is the Lord's Grace alone that not only makes a man pure, but also keeps him pure till the very end. Man on his part is but to exercise a constant humility and an active vigilance.
The great lessons of genuine humility and unremitting caution have to be firmly grasped and borne in mind by everyone who would make any headway on the slippery path that leads from darkness to Light, from the unreal to the Real and from mortality to Immortality. Realization of the Absolute is not a talk, is not a play. It is the most difficult and the hardest of all tasks. It demands the price of one's very self. Will you really and willingly pay it? It demands your ego. It demands your very being as the cost for Self-realization. If that is everyone's goal, if that is everyone's ideal, should not the more experienced ones impart that secret to the lesser ones? Should not every child in the cradle be initiated into the mysteries of existence?
Now the very serious question arises as to why Sanyas is at all necessary. The essential spirit for which Sanyas is being taught to worldly men is this: It is the only life-giving teaching. All other teachings are mere play of words. Never feel for a moment that you are unfit for Self-realization, that you are unfit for Sanyasa or Vedanta. This cowardly nature will not leave you if you do not exert to know the Truth as it really is. Keep before yourself the formula: "Better to aim at a lion and miss it, than hunt a jackal and catch it." Better to aim at Sanyasa and Vedanta and fail in its practice than to live a worldly life and succeed in it.
Really Sanyasa and Vedanta always go hand in hand. One does not become complete without the other. Wherever there is practical Vedanta, there must be Sanyasa of the highest type. Sanyasa without Vedanta or Para-Bhakti becomes a mockery and a vanity. Vedanta without Sanyasa becomes a mere dry intellectualism. When, in a man, Sanyasa and Vedanta melt into one, there crops up a sage of supreme wisdom. Sanyasa empties the individual of the ego and the negative phenomena and Vedanta fills it with positive Truth, the supreme Reality. By a combination of both, blind faith should be turned into rational faith and reason should be turned into personal experience.
One has to be completely dead to the narrowness and the delusion of the world if he is to live in the grandeur and the beauty of "life in the Spirit". This essential truth can never afford to be forgotten. Dreams of bringing God to the sensual earth is nothing but the exhibition of human vanity which is purely the outcome of failure in distinguishing between what is really true and existent and what is not. Hence let us all take our lessons from our elders and what our forefathers have left for us. Let every father take the example of Yagnavalkya. Let all children take the example of the four Kumaras. Then only life is said to be perfectly lived. Let each and everyone of us ever remember that we are born for the supreme purpose of absolute emancipation and for nothing else. Let us all empty ourselves of the ego through Sanyasa and may we all fill ourselves with the essential truths of Vedanta.
Tat Twam Asi
- Swami Sivananda