Anyone Can Preach But Only a Middling Few Can Practise What They Preached

Question: There are people who are good at giving spiritual advice to others but when their lives spiral into an abyss of pressure and turmoil or when they face crisis, they fumble, tumble and flip, not being able to practise what they preached. Why is that so?

Swami Dayananda: “Paying lip service to obligatory values is no more useful than the chorus of parrots in a tree, who were singing out, ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’ A wise old parrot had seen the hunter coming and had called our the warning. But the silly flock did not look at the ground to spot the hunter—to understand the fact of the situation—to establish a personal content for the words they had heard from the old bird. Instead, they continued to sit happily on the branches of the tree repeating the words which were empty of any real meaning for them: ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’ Even after the net had descended upon them, they wriggled and squirmed, caught in the web, screeching: ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’

“When I claim as my standards values in which I fail to see any personal gain for myself, I am in as risky a position, so far as expressing those values, as were the parrots in the tree, who mindlessly repeated the warning.”

(pg. 17, The Value of Values)

Helping Others

Swami Prajnanapada: “We can help others only to the extent of trying to secure for them those material things we desire for ourselves. One should realise that the same desires, the same needs are common to all. We can, therefore, help only in securing those things for them. In matters of knowledge, however, there is no helping until one is enlightened oneself. Any attempt to guide others before one has become enlightened himself will only result in misleading others.

Eswar Chander Vidyasagar was once requested to tender advice to a friend in distress. He replied that he was not prepared for another thrashing, and therefore, begged to be excused. The meaning is that he was not really in a position to guide and might probably misguide, which may lead to the thrashing. The blind should not try to lead the blind. They should first see light themselves, and, after they have it will be time enough to help.

This does not mean that you must necessarily wait until you get complete enlightenment to be of help to those in need, and who deserve the help. But the man who seeks help must have felt the imperative need for assistance. He must have tried his best to solve his problems and, not having solved them, comes to you for help. You may avail of such opportunities for help, making sure to stand on your own firm ground at the same time. You should never be carried away by sweet flattering words. Under these conditions, you may tell what you know. Your advice should be based on certain knowledge, solidified by experience. For, to know is to be. Without being there is no knowing. And to be able to help others, one must be a helper first, that is to say, one must acquire the ability and technique to help.

Advice should not be wasted on people for whom the need has not arisen. One must first satisfy himself that the other is ready to receive and follow the advice. The teacher must wait until a question is asked, until a doubt has arisen in the pupil’s mind. Doubt, doubt, doubt must first make its appearance. That is the criterion for the need for help. When will the doubt come? Only after going through the experience. So, encourage everyone to go through actions. When he faces difficulties or disappointments, doubts will arise and that is the opportune time to render help. Genuine doubt must first make its appearance. A casual enquiry or mere curiosity will not do. But to help, you must first equip yourself.

How did Krishna become an engineer? He went to an engineering college to equip himself as an engineer. He leanrt both the theory and practice of engineering and came to Tatas to practise it. If one wants to dance, one must be a dancer first. If I give you a good surgical knife, can you straightaway go and operate? No, you have to become a surgeon first, that is, join a medical college, learn both the theory and practice of surgery and then you can operate safely.

Mere theory will not do. So, to be of help to another, you must be a helper first, that is you must equip yourself with the ability to help. You must learn the technique of helping. You must make sure that you are competent to help. Your mind must be clear first. If you are yourself in doubt, you can hardly dispel another man’s doubts. If you feel confident, then, you can talk.

To talk to another, you must first understand him and deal with him at his own level. Otherwise, there will be no communications. When you talk to another, the very first idea that you should hear in mind is that he is different, and so you will have to adjust your way of talking to suit him. That is what is called talking ‘to’ him. You cannot have your own way for everyone.

Different individuals need different advice. What is suitable for one may not suit the other. Your advice should also be appropriate to his need. You should never impose yourself on him or impose an ideal on him, as that will create conflict. Nor should your advice be beyond his reach. The advice given should be practical. He must not find much difficulty in implementing it. It should be slightly difficult, so that it calls forth his effort, and these efforts culminate in success. For, success breeds success, and nothing succeeds like success. This will help him to build up his self-confidence.

You should then see if the recipient is fit to receive the advice. He should be eager, sincere and receptive. Then only will the advice stick. He must put his questions in the proper manner, and be ready to serve the guru in all the ways he can. That is the proper person to whom advice may be tendered.

The pupil should,on his part, never swallow the words of the guru. He must examine them, experiment with them and satisfy himself that they are sound. He must ponder over them from all angles, and make sure that the advice is correct. Then, he must turn them over in his mind repeatedly, so that they become his own. And, finally, he must put them into practice. Practice will make him perfect in due time.

Before tendering advice, first hear him fully and patiently,. Then, if you have a clear idea about it, you may express yourself. You may, or rather, you have the right to say only when you know the truth about it. Be sure of your ground and then talk. Otherwise, lend your ear to everybody.

In guiding, one is merely to place facts before the other and not opinions or conclusions. Let him, through the facts, form his own opinions, and draw his own conclusions. You may explain as much as you like but you must leave the decision to him. If the decision is wrong, he will learn by experience. You should encourage him to walk independently. And, always remember, that advice is for action. It shiould not be treated as a pastime, nor a debate. If you are not prepared to act, you may as well save the trouble of going in for the advice.

Having got the advice, you must make it your own by turning it over in your mind repeatedly and viewing it from all angles. Then, you will be convinced of the soundness of the advice. But conviction alone is not enough. By repetition and pondering over it frequently you must develop the strength of conviction. Then, this conviction will become irresistible and it will be translated into action. That is being.

(pgs. 109-112, Talks with Swami Prajnanapada)

Note: Swami Prajnanapada (1891–1974) was a traditional Hindu swamiji who taught Advaitic Vedanta. He was a direct disciple of Niralamba Swami (1877-1930), a friend and contemporary of Swamiji Sri Aurobindo.

Walk Your Talk

Swami Sivananda: “Live in the spirit of the teachings of the Gita. Mere talk and lecture will not help you in any way. You may know the whole of the Gita by heart and may deliver lectures for several hours. But they are of NO avail without wisdom. What is wanted is SOLID Sadhana with mental non-attachment and REGULAR practice of the teachings of the Gita,” (pg. 169, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

Swami Sivananda: “Spiritual life is not a mere idle talk. it is not mere sensation. It is actual living in Atman. It is a transcendental experience of unalloyed bliss. Tread the path of truth and righteousness. Stick tenaciously to the twenty instructions. Be regular in your meditation.

“Be patient. Practise introspection. Do selfless service. Develop Vairagya. You will attain immortality,” (pg. 132, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

Swami Sivananda: “Mere hearing of eloquent, valuable lectures will not do in the spiritual path. You will have to act according to them. You will have to give your whole heart, mind and soul to the practice. Then only will you have progress in the path. Follow the instructions of your Master and the teachings of the scriptures to the very letter. Give no leniency to the mind. Exact, implicit, strict obedience to the instructions is expected of you.” (pg. 44, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Swami Sivananda: “Men who read much and work little are like bells, which sound to call others and they themselves never enter into a church.” (pg. 118, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Swami Sivananda: “Instead of trying to become a Pundit with vanity and pedantry and thirst for applause, try to develop a clean unblemished virtuous life.”  (pg. 119, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Swami Sivananda: “High education, vast study of scriptures, wealth, rich offerings are not necessary for attaining God-realisation. What is wanted is purity of heart and sincere devotion.”  (pg. 120, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Swami Sivananda: “… attending or conducting Ramayana or Bhagavata may, no doubt, aid one’s spiritual aptitude. But, if you do not fulfill the fundamentals of ethics and morality, all the above observances would no way ensure Self-realisation. Therefore, first and foremost, please look to the rudiments of ethics and morality.” (pg. 135-136, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Swami Sivananda: “One may deliver a lecture on Advaita philosophy for several hours. One may interpret a verse in a hundred and one ways. One may give a discourse on one Sloka of Gita for a week and yet those people may not possess an iota of devotion or practical realisation of vedantic oneness. It is all dry intellectual exercises. Nothing more than that. Vedanta is a living experience. A Vedantin need not advertise that he is an Advaitin. The sweet divine aroma of Vedanta oneness will be ever emanating from him. Everybody will feel this. (pg. 76, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda).

Change Yourself Before You Attempt to Change Others

Swami Sivananda: “First of all, discipline yourself thoroughly. You must be a living, walking and talking example of divine life. That is the more effective way of preaching, and when you preach, your words will have the weight of your own personal experience and will have the courage of your conviction.”

(pg. 152, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

"Spirituality Means Willingness to Change" By Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

It is not uncommon that when a speaker is speaking to an audience that he or she will get insights from what they said and perhaps be affected even more than their audience. This will normally happen if a speaker has thought deeply upon a subject, if it’s a subject that they are keenly interested in. A theme like “Spirituality Means Change” is meant to be such a challenge to the speakers—so that as they prepare the talk, or give it, they themselves realise the implications of what they are saying and it goes in very, very deep. When this happens it cannot help but communicate itself to the audience.

Actually, most of us are not totally satisfied with our lives. We want change. So when we hear that spirituality means change, we can see many things in our lives that we would like to have changed. Especially we would like to have more Be good, Do good in our lives. And, also, we would like to expand our consciousness beyond its present narrow boundaries—to enter into greater understanding.

If that is so, why is it that we haven’t seen greater change in ourselves over the years? Why do most of us sometimes even feel that there has been no change, no improvement? Perhaps the discovery we will make this week is that while there definitely is one part of ourselves that wants to change, there is another part of ourselves that simply does not want to change. Each one will have to ponder this question for oneself, because no one else can know our interior exactly. But what we may discover by the end of the week is that there is a surprising balance between wanting to change and not wanting to change.

Therefore, one way of looking at the theme Spirituality Means Change would be to see that in the final analysis spirituality means the willingness to change. We have all tried to change things and been unable to do so; we all have things we want to change; we’re in a stalemate. What is the solution? Being willing to change.

That seems like a very reasonable suggestion. However, if we’re willing to change, then perhaps that implies that we will lose control over our lives. But, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow Me.” He implied, “I know best. I know the way. Trust Me. Let go of your control of your life and put it in my hands.” What did Lord Krishna mean when He said, “No one crosses samsara without taking refuge in Me alone.” What did He mean when He told us to abandon all dharmas, all our ideas of right and wrong, and take refuge in Him alone. “I will save you from all sins. Don’t worry,” Lord Krishna said. He meant that our ideas, our keeping control of our life is what is killing us spiritually. The solution is to trust Him, take refuge in Him alone.

And so, as we explore during this week the theme Spirituality Means Change, perhaps in the final analysis we will have to look at the subject in terms of Spirituality Means Willingness to Change.

First Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh during the annual Christmas Retreat, December 26th to December 31st, 2002.

The Best New Year Resolution By Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

December 31st each year is an important day in Sivananda Ashram. First, it is the anniversary of the installation of Lord Viswanatha in the temple by Gurudev’s holy hands. The worship celebrating this occasion will go on in the temple this morning until noon as it did 59 years ago when the murthi was brought up on the back of an elephant.

The second reason that December 31st is important is a reason in common with all the rest of the world. It is the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one—which signifies a change. And so our evening satsang
will go till past midnight to allow time to think about change and the worldwide phenomena of making New Year resolutions about things we want to change.

This puts into focus the significance of the theme of our Christmas Retreat, Spirituality Means Change. And the essence of what is required was brought out yesterday in one of the talks. The essence is the willingness to change. That is what New Year resolutions signify: “I want to change this particular thing. I am willing and anxious to change.”

But here is where we must be very careful to distinguish between what we could call a secular willingness to change and a spiritual willingness to change. A secular willingness to change is the ego deciding that it doesn’t like something about itself which it wants to change, and, in some cases, is determined to change. Very often this is a worthy objective, but the fact is that at least 999 out of a 1000 News Year resolutions amount to nothing. Indeed by January 31st most people can’t even remember what their resolutions were. Therefore, there is an obvious flaw in the ego’s willingness to change because it doesn’t seem to be able to back it up with real change.

On the other hand, there is a spiritual willingness to change that is in a totally different dimension. Perhaps we could even call it a vertical dimension. It is the willingness to change that is based on surrender to God, on not knowing what changes are in our highest interest, and, therefore, waiting for God’s guidance. It is a whole attitude to life rather than a determination to change something about life. In fact, properly interpreted, willingness to change is the key to successful daily living as well as the spiritual life. It is an attitude of the heart. It stems from humility. It is an openness. It is a childlike attitude towards life.

If this can be nurtured in our heart, then our spiritual life has to be progressive, because this humble willingness to change leaves the ego aside; it is not ego-based. It has a spiritual base because it is in harmony with the universe. The universe means change. Being willing to change means that we want to be in harmony with the changing universe. It means lack of resistance.

In that there is no place for the arrogant ego that wants what it wants and causes all our problems. Being humbly willing to change will lead to the solution to any problem and will also bless us in the years to come with a progressive spiritual life.

[Fifth Early Morning Meditation Talk given during the Annual Christmas Retreat—Spirituality Means Change—in Gurudev’s sacred Samadhi Hall, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh.:

Yours Prayers Increase Your Sorrow

Swami Paramatmananda, ….We should pray for the highest thing, not for lesser things, because lesser things just increase our desires, our vasanas. So, it amounts to praying to God to increase our bondage and our suffering when we pray for anything less than God-realisation. If we make that choice, it is all right, nothing wrong with it. But for one whose goal is to realise the bliss of God, if one feels that that is the ultimate, then, one has to pray only for that.

(Amma says), “New desires, new worlds are created. Along with that, you lengthen the chain of your anger, lust, greed, jealousy, delusion, and all other negative traits…praying for the fulfilment of petty desires does not involve any change in one’s personality. The person who prays in this way remains the same. His attitude remains the same.”

Many people say, “I’ve been praying to God for so many years and still I’m not making any spiritual progress. I go to the church every week, every Sunday. I do this and that and meditate.” Why? Why don’t they make any progress? One reason is this, that still their mind is occupied with, as Mother says, “petty desires”, not the highest desire for God.

So, this control of the mind, either through prayer or other means, is not just for us, not just for devotees, not just for spiritual people. It is for everybody. Because if you can’t control your mind, there is no way to succeed. It will always be distracted by various things, and the goal that you set before you won’t be possible to reach.

(pg. 63-64, Talks, Vol. 1)