Dada Vaswani shares steps to spiritual growth

Hold on to nothing if you seek to grow spiritually and be truly happy

Man looking towards sky with arms outstretched | A seeker of spiritual growth

Silence is two fold. There is an outer silence—absence of noise, freedom from the shout and tumult of daily life. And there is inner silence—freedom from the clamour of desires, cessation of mental acrobatics, stilling of conflicting forces: it is peace that is beyond understanding. The seers of ancient India called it turiya, which means “fourth”—it is the fourth stage. May you and I aspire to reach this stage. Not until we have reached it, can we hope to experience unbroken joy, peace and harmony.

How to reach this stage of turiya? This is a problem of spiritual life. We struggle, we strive, and we starve—on three lower stages; when we feel hungry, our hunger cannot be satisfied by even most delicious dishes; when we feel thirsty, this thirst cannot be quenched by the choicest drinks. Our hunger and thirst continue to grow. Then it is out of the yearning heart goes forth a cry “O, for someone who may take us out of our little selves into the larger life of the Spirit, someone who has drunk out of the elixir of life and eaten the prasadam of God’s grace.” Such a one, for want of a loftier name, is called a “Guru”. I love to speak of him as “Beloved”. You will look at him, he will look at you, he will look into you and will read your heart like an open book. Each will recognise the other and he will softly whisper in your ears, “Come, my child. Follow me.” And without a single question or doubt, you will follow him wherever he leads you, unto the very ends of the earth, unto hell even!

Aspire for spiritual growth

The search of the worldly man is for goods of the earth, its pleasure and power; the quest of a true seeker is for a guru. Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find.” By ‘seek’ he did not mean, ‘seek a guru’. A guru is not a dictator, not a task master, nor a hypnotist, who will paralyse your will. A guru is a friend, a helper, a brother, a burden bearer, a guide and a way. He is so humble that very often he does not even acknowledge being a ‘guru’, but for those, who would be his ‘disciples’, he is a friend and fellow pilgrim. It is only after the seeker has found one such person that is when his spiritual journey begins.

It is so difficult to get a true ‘guru’ these days, when religion has become just a shadow of reality. We cannot leave home and wander, from place to place, in search of a real man of God. Only one thing is possible—aspire that it may be your fortune to draw near to someone touching the hem of God. The law of the seeker’s life is ‘aspire,’ even as the law of the worldly men is ‘perspire’—see how men perspire in pursuit of things which the world gives and the world takes away.

Aspire—like the smoke of a fire, always rise upward. Let the fire burn within you. The fuel for this fire comes from a communion with saints. Commune with them by serving the poor; for the poor are their rupas—their broken forms. Commune with them in your heart, in the hour of silence and solitude. For silence and solitude are as essential to spiritual growth as sunshine and water.

A saying ascribed to Jesus goes, “Devotion has 10 parts, nine of which are found in silence and one in flight from men.” Enter into silence and commune with the saints. Commune, by reading their words of wisdom and the story of their lives, and their spiritual striving and attainments. Study and reflect upon these teachings.

Read but remember that books will not take you far. There is always a chance of falling into a pitfall—vanity of learning. Read little, practice more. Let your reading reflect in your daily life. So become a ladder unto yourself to reach beyond you.

The true guru, in a variety of ways, teaches two things—viveka (conscience) and vairagya (desirelessness). Viveka is the inner faculty which discriminates the true from the false, the abiding from the passing. All that you see with your eyes is a fleeting glimpse of transient things like bubbles on the surface of a lake. Your beautiful clothes, big bungalow, and your friends and parents will pass. Atman, the spirit alone will abide. So strive to reach atman.

And vairagya is non-attachment, desirelessness. It grows with the realisation that desires are a madness which make us move incessantly on the wheel of birth and death. If master desires, you become truly free and only then you enter into the peace that defies description. Not until the cords of desire are snapped, can a man hope to make true spiritual progress. Nag Mahasaya, a mystic from Bengal, says, “It’s like trying to row an anchored boat”. Viveka and vairagya both are gifts of a true guru to his disciple.

Simple steps to practice

Do not seek pleasure

By this I do not mean become an ascetic. But do not objectively seek pleasure—do not desire anything. Accept whatever comes to you. If today’s lunch is not tasty, do not fret, accept it as prasadam from God. If the dress you are given to wear is not pretty as your sister’s, do not feel upset.

What I eat or wear today will not be remembered tomorrow. Sadhu Vaswani often told us that in moments when we feel we are being overpowered by circumstances, it would do us good to whisper to ourselves “This too shall pass.” Life is like a river, it flows on, it cuts through pleasant forests, and sometimes through desert lands. When it passes through cool, green forests, it does not say, “I shall stop here and enjoy.” And when it has to pass through deserts, it does not say, “I will refuse to flow.” So, we must go on always seeking the sea of life—God himself.

Do not hold on to possessions

Cultivate the spirit of what Aldous Huxley calls ‘effective’ poverty [being indifferent to money] as against ‘effective’ poverty [possessing no money]. A man may have no money and yet he may crave for things money can buy. Another man like Raja Janak, may have wealth, yet be detached from the position, possession and power. If you get an impulse to give something away, give it without hesitation.

Once, I was out walking with Sadhu Vaswani, a naked beggar met us on the way. He asked Sadhu Vaswani for his shirt, which he parted with ease. The beggar then demanded his cap, which Sadhu Vaswani gave away too. Until we have learnt to renounce, we cannot grow spiritually.

The great Sufi mystic-poet Jalaluddin Rumi speaks of King Ibrahim whose heart longed to see God. But he was still very attached to his throne. One day, while in his palace, he heard steps on the roof. He looked out of the window and asked, “Who goes there?” The answer came, “We have lost our camels and are searching for them.” In amazement, the king cried out, “What idiot searches for camels on a rooftop?” And the answer came, “O king! We are no worse than you, who, while sitting on a throne, tries to seek union with God.” Nurture the thought that nothing belongs to you, nothing is really yours. If something of value is stolen, learn to say to yourself, as Epictetus said, “I have given it back.”

Claim nothing for yourself

So learn to give without expecting anything in return. Give the love of your heart to all who come to you. If they do not love you in return, let it not put you out. Continue to give the best to others, even though you may get nothing or worst in return.

Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus, which saved the Catholic Church in the hour of great crisis. He devoted his time and energy to building this great organisation. They asked him once how would he feel if the Pope were to issue an order closing down the Society. This man, who had attained the state of holy ‘indifference’ said, “A quarter of an hour of prayer and I should think no more about it.”

Don’t be over-anxious

Do not be over-anxious about anything, even your spiritual progress. Remember, the Master our Lord, knows what is best for us. If He wishes us to go slow, there must be wisdom in it. To be anxious is to waste a lot of energy which may otherwise be used for good purpose.

Learn to resign yourself to His will. “Thy Will be Done.” Let this be the one prayer of your heart. The Russian arch–priest, Father Pimen, once said, “He is no soldier of Christ who grumbles at his billet.”

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J P Vaswani
J P Vaswani (2 August 1918 – 12 July 2018) ), affectionately called "Dada", was a spiritual leader with a difference. His message of love and forgiveness resonated deeply with millions of people around the world. He spearheaded Sadhu Vaswani Mission, which he took over after the passing away of his master T L Vaswani. The mission has centres around the world and continues to do humanitarian work. Dada has received the prestigious U-Thant Peace Award for his dedicated service to the world peace.