At Itava one day a renunciate and great soul came and asked: “Bhagvan! What is the reason of not realizing the ultimate reality despite great effort?” Śrīcaraṇ (Guru Dev) gave the following problem-solving answer:
The only reason is lack of sādhana (spiritual practice). To know the ultimate reality is the most subtle subject. For this, sādhana also has to be the subtlest. If you want to reach the ultimate reality then you have to reach the highest perfection. Man is therefore not able to reach this state of perfection if worshipping is not done in the right way due to insufficient practice. That essence (i.e. the ātmā) is attainable and can be realized. However, spiritual practices and worshipping do not touch the ātmā at all. But by spiritual practices one can gain direct experience of it. For this spiritual practices are necessary.
The inner organ (mind, intellect, ego) has become so dirty due to the endless lifetimes in the cycle of birth and death that man cannot immediately realize the knowledge of the ultimate reality. This is a different thing if one gets the special grace of a great sage. But generally one must go ahead gradually, climbing up the stairway step by step. The stairways are the spiritual practices.
According to the different types of eligible persons there is a difference in the most effective method of sādhana. The sadguru determines the best method for the practitioner, taking into consideration the intellect, local and temporal conditions, etc., of the aspirant. For some people the ninefold path (avenues) of bhakti is advantageous, for some only three of the nine are adequate, but first of all listening is necessary.¹
The disciple (sadhak) gets the full knowledge only when he first listens to the teaching of the guru, then tries to understand it, and finally meditates about them repeatedly. (Śukarahasy Upaniṣad 42).
One can only escape one’s doubts by listening to the teachings of the sadgurus. Then, one should carefully study that what one has heard, and then meditate repeatedly on that and practice it until the object of his study has been realized. In this way, having progressed step by step in considering Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That), the ultimate truth is finally is experienced. In this way the disciple has completed the initial phase of listening and contemplating and then he is eligible to experience the ultimate reality.
If nowadays listening is not done properly, how can there be careful study? And if careful study is not right, how can there be prolonged and repeated meditation on that to be realized? If prolonged and repeated meditation is not done properly and sufficiently, how can the disciple get the authority of understanding of Tat Tvam Asi? And, without having been authorized, how is realization of the ultimate truth possible?
In the Upanishads it is written that purity of food is of foremost importance for spiritual practices because the mind has an unbreakable relationship with food. There is also a rural proverb that says: “As is the food, so is the mind.” Nowadays food frequently becomes spoiled. How then can there be realization of the ultimate truth?
People have become so selfish that they only offer food to someone with some selfish desire. Once in Punjab an ascetic went to someone’s house begging for alms. The woman brought two roṭī (bread-cakes). But before giving them to the ascetic she made three circles (movements) over her sick son. The ascetic said “Mother! This buffalo is tied to the door. Make circles over the head of the buffalo as well.” The point of this is that impure food was given to that ascetic. When the food is not right, how can the spiritual practice be right? If the mind of a man is made pure by spiritual practice but then made impure by impure food, how can the mind be purified?
The purity of food is not gained only by washing and polishing. Rice is not pure even if it is washed. One must consider the means by which the rice was acquired. If the procurement is according to the scriptures, then the rice is pure. If it was gained by theft or robbery or other illegal means then it will be impure always. By eating such impure food the mind will become even more impure. Therefore when thinking about pure-impure food, first consider where it comes from and how it was acquired. A spiritual practitioner should have peace of mind, self- restraint and the completion of his spiritual practices, along with purity. Then knowledge of the highest truth is not difficult. Those who have realized the ultimate did so through this path. Those who perform all these spiritual practices gain realization of the ultimate, even today.
¹ The nava-vidha bhakti (ninefold path of devotion) consists of (1) shravanam (hearing the names and glories of the Lord), (2) keertanam (chanting His glories), (3) smaranam (remembering the Lord), (4) paada sevanam (serving the Lord’s feet), (5) archanam (worshipping the Lord), (6) vandanam (offering obeisance to the Lord), (7) dassyam (serving the Lord as His servant), (8) sakhyam (developing friendship with the Lord), and (9) aatma nivedanam (total surrender to the Lord).