Spiritual Fitness 3

The Principle of Competence (adhikāri-vāda) plays a major role in the way spiritual training is given and received. We have seen how the principle matured during the Vedic period and, in recent centuries, was misused by some to impose arbitrary conditions of eligibility to determine who can be taught and given access to resources. Many of those conditions have become irrelevant today with the easy availability of books and the advent of the internet. It is virtually impossible now to meaningfully deny access to resources.

But lack or denial of access is never really the only hurdle. Merely having access to all the resources in the world doesn’t in itself guarantee success. The simple truth is that we can take in only as much as we can digest—and only what we truly digest can nourish us and make us stronger. At its heart, adhikāri-vāda simply means that the benefit we derive is directly related to the capacity we have. Luckily, our capacity to take in and to digest is not a fixed quantity. We have the ability to develop and deepen our capacity. Our ability to benefit from the available resources can increase if we work hard, it can also decrease if we are negligent. The practice demands constant attention and care.

Terms such as fitness, competency and capacity convey an idea, but it’s still somewhat vague. If we need to work on our spiritual fitness, we need something more concrete. Vedanta texts provide a template for every seeker (sādhaka) of truth to measure their spiritual fitness. It is traditionally known as Four Practices (sādhana-catuṣṭaya):

  1. Discernment (viveka)

  2. Detachment (vairāgya)

  3. Development of “Six Treasures” (ṣaṭ-sampatti)

  4. Desire for Freedom (mumukṣutva)


Spiritual fitness can be assessed on the basis of these four practices. How well I do these practices determines how much nourishment I can truly absorb from the spiritual resources available to me.

The goal is spiritual freedom (mokṣa). I can attain the goal only if and when I am fit to attain it. Acquiring fitness, or becoming an adhikārī, should therefore be my primary concern. Sometimes the goal can appear so fascinating, its description so intellectually captivating and emotionally fulfilling, that I may delude myself into thinking that I’m already there, instead of investing enough time and energy in doing what needs to be done to reach the goal. Swami Vivekananda referred to this tendency as “our great defect in life” (CW 2. 1):

“Our great defect in life is that we are so much drawn to the ideal, the goal is so much more enchanting, so much more alluring, so much bigger in our mental horizon, that we lose sight of the details altogether. But whenever failure comes, if we analyze it critically, in ninety-nine per cent of cases we shall find that it was because we did not pay attention to the means. Proper attention to the finishing, strengthening, of the means is what we need. With the means all right, the end must come.”

The means is to become an adhikārī—and to measure how close we are to being an adhikārī (or how far from it), we have the Four Practices. In future posts, we shall take a closer look at each of these practices.

My spiritual journey really begins when I make persistent effort to cast my life in the mould of a true adhikārī. The very first thing needed is a sincere and correct self-appraisal. I should know where I stand. How can I start on a journey without knowing where I am, where I want to go, and which the best way is to reach my destination?

Self-appraisal is not easy. We think we know who we are. Nothing could be more deceptive. Most people know more about others than about themselves. An objective assessment is relatively easy. What makes self-examination difficult is the need  to objectify one’s own self. It’s almost like getting out of myself to take a hard look at who I am. This is extremely difficult when the ego is too strong. Some amount of ego-reduction is necessary for an accurate self-assessment.

Where this cannot be achieved in some measure at least, self-examination produces only erroneous results. It is like looking at one’s image in a convex or a concave mirror (or worse, in a mirror which is a twisted combination of both). People have either an exaggerated and bloated image of their virtues and capacities, or a highly diminished view of their capabilities and strength. Both are dangerous. The former usually takes the form of vanity and arrogance; the latter, of self-deprecation and false humility.

It is helpful to remember that humility does not consist in repeatedly telling myself and others, “I am a nobody. I know nothing.” If I persist with this practice, it may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I am likely to remain all my life a “nobody” who knows “nothing.” True humility comes from a position of strength, not weakness. It consists in a genuine spirit of surrender to God and only a spiritually strong person can be truly humble.

We have therefore to steer ourselves clear from these dangers that lie in self-examination. We don’t have to share our findings with others, but we can at least be honest with ourselves. Every one of us has both strengths as well as weaknesses. It is tempting to showcase our strengths and hide our weaknesses. That’s a futile exercise though. Our strengths and weaknesses are revealed to others anyway through the way we live and especially in our unguarded moments.

What others think of me is not as important as what I think of myself. Do I really know who I am? Having some idea at least of my strengths and weaknesses, I shall have a personal frame of reference to help me understand what I ought to do to become a better adhikārī than who I am at present.

I can be whoever I want to be, and I can reach whatever goal I set for myself, provided I first make myself an adhikārī.

from Vedanta Blog - Vedanta Society https://ift.tt/Pal6tSK

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