Understanding Hinduism: Sadhana
(This article was published in UDAY INDIA weekly on December 4th, 2010 in both internet and print editions)
“Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined but is only to be experienced. ”
– Dr S Radhakrishnan (Bhagavad Gita)
Unlike monotheistic religions which speak about one God, one prophet and one book and lays stress on developing unquestionable faith in the theology, Hinduism lays stress on the individual’s journey towards truth. It is a way of life in the sense that it’s not confined to one thought, one ideology to which all must adhere to, but instead it speaks about the all pervading truth (Sat/Dharma) and how it is important for every individual to realize this truth first hand on his own. Hence, we find the Vedas boldly declaring, “Truth is one, paths many”1. Every individual must create his own niche and pursue truth in his own way is the essence of Hindu philosophy. For this very reason we find people practicing upasana (worship) of various deities (Devas), adhering to different schools of philosophy (Shakhas) and following the traditions and practices (Acharas) of different cults (Kulas) in Hindu tradition. But what is common to all Shakas, all Kulas, is the need of sadhana to progress through that path.
Sadhna, in general may refer to any effort/action (Karma) that is put to achieve a specific goal. But in many Hindu philosophical literatures, it specifically refers to any effort put to achieve a spiritual goal. Literally the word “Sadhana” is derived from root word “sadh” (to accomplish) and refers to any means or instrument to accomplish a desired objective. Swami Chidananda of Divine Life society defines sadhana as “the active effort to obtain that which is possible of being obtained through effort”.
It is interesting to note that, even though sadhana includes rituals and practices like mantra jap, havan, puja etc, it is usually assumed to be confined only to them. But it is not so. Sadhna may refer to any spiritual effort put by an individual. It may be a person deciding to speak only truth, to lead a non-corrupt life or to remain celibate throughout his life, all these are sadhna only. The key is, the effort must be put with sincerity and must be practiced relentlessly. Further, any activity practiced in harmony with surrounding nature and the entire cosmos constitute a spiritual sadhana.
Every sadhna is an action i.e. Karma, hence many argue that no amount of sadhna/karma can deliver enlightment as it can be attained only by the grace of God and hence by surrendering to him. But this grace of God is not randomly given; instead it dawns on only those who are Adhikaari (competent) to receive it. The absolute dedication and surrendering towards God does not come spontaneously to everyone. Sadhana helps an individual to develop this surrender and dedication and achieve the Adhikaara.
The goal of any spiritual sadhana is to increase concentration and make the mind still. It helps to make an individual detached and become Stitahprajna (stable/equilibrium). But this detachment is neither disinterest towards objects of outer world nor apathy towards people; instead it is pure selfless love for the whole cosmos without any discrimination or selfish attachment. What actually Sadhana does is to burn away the burden of past karmas that are blocking one’s journey towards the source. Hence, the ultimate end result of any spiritual Sadhana is Jnana (Enlightment) and complete merger with the Cosmos/God.
One may follow any paths (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja, Hatha etc), any methods (Vaidika or Tantrika), but in all of them, one must do sadhana in one form or the other to reach the highest truth. In Jnana marg, one may have to contemplate on saying of scriptures and practice tapas. In Bhakti marg, one may have to contemplate on deity, sing his praises and remember him. In Karma, one may have to perform selfless action in service and in Raja and Hatha yoga, one may have to train the body and mind, but all these are nothing but different kinds of sadhana. Both the Vaidika Yajna and Tantrika Puja are sadhana only.
In most traditions, it is mentioned that any sadhna should be done only after proper initiation from Guru. And this has made many people who have no Guru to shy away from doing any kind of jap or puja. But it must be remembered that proper initiation is required to only those people who do sadhana for achieving specific results or who do advanced practices. But common people who wish to express love for the divine and want to make progress in spiritual path need not worry about not having a guru. They may do any jap or puja or havan and surrender to the deity. Still if anybody has inhibition about doing sadhana without initiation, one may take Lord Shiva, the first guru as one’s guru and pray to him and continue with the sadhana. Ultimately, what matters most is devotion in the heart.
Finally, Sadhana is a medium to connect with the cosmos and to live life harmoniously with the surroundings. Further, it helps one to understand one’s life’s purpose and to realize the ultimate Truth.
1. Rig Veda (1.164.46):
सद विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं यमं मातरिश्वानमाहुः ||
“Truth is One, sages call it by various names like Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan”