There is a story behind this saying. One moonlit night, some drunken men took it into their heads to go on a boat ride. They went to the ghat, hired a boat, sat at the oars and started rowing. They rowed and rowed the whole night. Early in the morning, when the effect of drink had gone, they found to their surprise that they had not moved an inch. ‘What is the matter? What is the matter?’, they asked one another. They had forgotten to raise the anchor!
“I hear constant complaints from people: ‘We are doing our spiritual practice, but we do not make any progress.’ The reply is here: At the time of your spiritual practice are you able, at least to some extent, to free your mind from worldly matters and give your purified mind to God? That is the point. We need training in all paths. Some of you might have read Swami Vivekananda’s books, Janana-Yoga, Karma-yoga, Bhakti-yoga and Raja-yoga. Whatever path one may follow, one needs discipline, proper training of the mind, and creation of the proper mood. If the mind is trained and the mood is created, one can carry on one’s spiritual practice with great success.
“Our trouble is, in worldly matters we may be methodical, but in spiritual affairs we are sloppy and impulsive like children. I have seen grown-up people and big officials often talking like children. First of all, a mature inner personality is to be built up. Many of us are persons but have no personality. We are individuals, but have no individuality. Through moral practice, through the discharging of duties, through regular worship, a spiritualized personality is to be built up. It is only then that our spiritual practice becomes fruitful. Our japa and meditation will then prove to be a source of great blessing.
“I repeat, in all the paths, in all the Yogas, a strict discipline is necessary. If I follow Karma-Yoga, my mind must be completely calm. I must try to be detached from the things of the world and from the fruits of karma.
“If I follow Bhakti-yoga, I must have the attitude of total self-surrender to the Divine. Further, there must be great yearning for God, a spiritual hunger that cannot be appeased by anything of the world. Through prayer, through japa, through meditation, and ultimately through divine contact, the spiritual seeker appeases this spiritual hunger and finds supreme peace and bliss in divine realization.
Many want to follow Jnana-yoga, but the mind is to be trained so that it can follow the path of extreme self-analysis—‘I am not the body; I am not the mind; I am not the ego or the senses; I am the Spirit.’ For this the teachers of Jnana-yoga insist on certain preliminary qualifications. The aspirant must have perfect dispassion for enjoyment in this and future lives, and must have the capacity to discriminate between the Permanent and the impermanent. Further, he must have great self-control, sraddha (faith) in the supreme Spirit, forbearance, and must be able to practise concentration. Finally, he must have intense longing for liberation.
“Many people say, ‘Oh! I am not able to practise concentration.’ Knowing the persons, that their minds are not pure enough, I say to them, ‘It is good that you don’t have concentration.’ If an impure mind gets concentrated, it becomes like a bombshell. Aren’t we concentrated when we are angry, when we are full of hatred and jealousy? That concentration is no good. It is actually dangerous. So, an amount of preliminary spiritual; discipline is necessary. The path of Yoga, according to Patanjali, consists of eight steps or disciplines. You have to practise these disciplines systematically. One cannot get established in spiritual life all of a sudden.
(pgs. 288-290, Meditation and Spiritual Life)
[Note: Swami Yatiswarananda was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmananda, who in turn was a direct disciple of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa).