learning liberation

(what does enlightenment mean to you?)

swami radha, reflecting in the sunroom circa 1970.
photo courtesy yasodhara ashram.

Rather than reading about enlightenment, each person has to clarify what he or she understands it to be. I would say that the more you know yourself, to that degree you are enlightened. If you really know yourself, you might know that you are not able to put everything into perfect action to the satisfaction of other people. But you are not here to please other people, to project an image. Enlightenment in that sense has as many levels as awareness.

The other term we can use is Liberation. If you can liberate yourself and if you welcome anybody who helps you to liberate yourself from your limitations, you have already achieved a degree of understanding. There is no enlightenment without understanding. But if you immediately shrink back and react instantly when someone points out a weakness, you can be sure your ego is involved. Give yourself time to overcome that spontaneous, immediate reaction. You have to accept your reactions, but you don‘t want to carry them around for the rest of your life. You also have to accept your own divinity.

In other words, you first have to honestly admit where you are. If you don‘t know yourself, how can you be enlightened? Naturally your understanding of yourself will become more than a psychological knowing. You will become more open to Divine inspiration and eventually to a wisdom that radiates from other sources to which, by your own efforts, you have made yourself available.

Liberation is an ongoing process, not an end state. It is a refinement, which language cannot express fully. It is like going down into a mine and finding diamonds. In their original, rough state, the diamonds are not beautiful and sparkling, and you may not even recognize them at first. They have to be cleaned, cut and polished. On the individual human level, cutting and polishing is the process that may seem to grind away your strength, energy, mental and emotional powers and endurance. But, upon reflection, the same events that could wear you down can actually contribute to greater clarity if you have the good will to observe the potential and to learn about yourself. Besides good will, you need to take action based on what you learn, and to recognize that there is wisdom in insecurity. All the senses have to be sharpened and developed to grow to a point of being truly useful. And we need to develop the sense of discrimination.

The path of Liberation is an extremely difficult one. Different incidents will occur and as we tackle one area, we lose sight of another. When we are unskilled, we may use an axe when we need a fine scalpel. Learning takes time, and before we?ve learned one thing the next is already demanding our attention. How do we retain what we have already learned? It’s not so different from trying to keep track of essential information in our modern information age when there is a barrage of input. We may think we need to specialize, but the moment we do we lose the input that may be relevant at some later date.

In the beginning it may appear impossible to manage this challenge of continuous learning, but again we have to look at an example from ordinary life. When we learn to drive a car, there are so many aspects to pay attention to — the handling of the car itself, the mechanical side, looking into the rear-view mirror, watching the street and the traffic. In the beginning it feels as if we?re trying to be in too many places at once. Yet eventually driving becomes easy and smooth. What seemed impossible is achieved. It is the same on the path of Liberation. Awareness will expand.

Self-reflection is very important. You may do mantra, meditation, Hatha Yoga, all of the spiritual practices, but if it doesn‘t settle in the depths of the mind, the lotus will not make even one shoot. Many gymnasts and figure skaters move beautifully; why don‘t they have realization? Reflection is essential. Any practice will have little result if it becomes an automatic routine. Use mantra chanting to express your emotions and as a way to let go of your intellect. Say to the Divine, “Here I am. You have given me these feelings. I have not handled them right. I need help.” That is where humility comes in. If you don‘t have humility, somebody else will have to come along and humiliate you in front of others. If that happens, instead of getting angry, see if you can thank that person for being Divine Mother?s instrument in liberating you from your monkey mind.

The power that we obtain through mantra or meditation is neutral, and what you do with this power is entirely your decision and your responsibility — an awesome responsibility. You will come to the edge more than once in your spiritual life where you can switch this power into the opposite. And this is why your commitment is so very important. In the proportion to your commitment, grace will sustain you. If the ego takes over, your so-called enlightenment means nothing. All the power that is acquired — and many people have very strong, powerful personalities — is hooked into the ego and self-will. So the responsibility is entirely the individual?s. Sticking to your commitment means really dealing with your ego and self-will. It’s as simple as that. And there is nobody and no power that can release you from that responsibility.

In my first few years as a sanyasin I read the eighteenth discourse of the Bhagavad Gita many times, and tried to motivate everyone with Krishna?s words: “If you will fix your mind on me, and devote yourself to me, you will come to me.” We can use whatever words are in fashion: concentration, focus, imagination and visualization, but they all fall into the same category of really being present with what you are doing.

The Light, the life force, is permanent. Everything else is impermanent. The energy that sustains the whole universe can take all shapes and forms. We give that energy shape and form through our speech and actions. See what an awesome power you really have?
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

  read more of swami radha's past columns

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