Sadhana & The Guru

The practice of Real Yoga means that the practitioner is on the Way of Self-realization or Self-mastery, and has adopted, or is being compelled to adopt, a way of life and dedication to their path that sees them safely to the Goal. In the Western Tradition, this process is simply called The Great Work. In the world of Yoga or Tantra it’s called Sadhana.

The word Sadhana comes from the Sanskrit roots saadh & lena and basically means ‘to bring something under complete control’. This is the advice of Patanjali with regards to the mind and his legendary definition of Yoga itself viz. “yoga-citta-vritti-nirodha”: Yoga is the control over the fluctuations of mind.” It’s also the advice of Krishna to Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita, the Gita being just one profound source text of wisdom on both the paths of Jnana as well as Bhakti Yoga. There is some debate amongst the sages, however, as to whether or not true Sadhana may be undertaken without the guidance of a Guru.

The arts and sciences of mind are broad and deep and an uncontrolled mind can present some of the biggest life challenges. This fantastic mind we have can be our staunchest ally in the quest for fulfillment of our destinies, or our biggest enemy. The mind is the interpreter of sensory input. It is the storehouse of memory. It is the mechanism at the center of our intellection and cognitive functions, the determiner, the activator. Until unless this mind of ours is brought under conscious control, it is forever acting upon whims and fancy and habits formed of experiential input to date which allow it to weave the most complex tapestries that seemingly enslave us to its machinations. Thus it is the advice of sages past to understand this construct mind and realize its relationship to our true, innermost Self, in order that we might realize the Highest.

In the Gita, the mind is compared to the reins which guide a team of horses, themselves metaphors for our sensory response to external stimuli. In this story, the horses are guided by a charioteer named Krishna, the personification of our Higher Self. It is the ideal situation, for the embodied soul, here named Arjuna, who has surrendered to his Guru (Krishna); there is no mental friction between the two. Arjuna has overcome the voice of his ego and given the reins (his own mind) into the hands of his Higher Self for steady guidance across the battlefield on which this story is set. Read more about this imagery central to the Gita here.

In the practice of Sadhana, we take control of the mind through different practices. Much like a horse trainer will safely halter and tie his horse with a lead rope and panic snap before placing the bridle, so we, too, have some preliminary practices and processes to follow, to train our minds to stop wandering a bit before we can engage with it fully. A horse trainer knows that one may saddle or bridle the horse first, but that the horse should under no circumstances be tied by the bridle. A good trainer also knows to groom the horse before riding. And just like a wild horse, our mind is going to buck our approaches until it has resigned itself either to its trainer’s power or professionalism or kindness or love, or just the simple fact that the trainer quite obviously knows what s/he’s doing. At some point the horse will become comfortable with us and we will be enabled to ride. This achievement requires persistence, dedication, effort and a great affinity for the work.

Now, if you are not an experienced horse trainer, it makes sense that you receive a bit of guidance on the best practices for engaging a wild horse. Some people who grow up in the city and have never been to horse country might imagine that the taming and proper care of a horse is really not that big of a deal, but will soon realize, when that horse violently jerks, that just a bit of knowledge may have been beneficial. Real harm can be done to oneself as well as the horse without following these best practices.

In similar fashion, the Guru instructs you in the ways of binding the mind, how to train and control, what to do when it resists, how to care for it and what to look out for in terms of response. And yet there are prodigies that come upon the Way naturally; they are born with a knack and are intuitively guided. A few might look at the tools and know immediately which is to be used when and to what purpose. They will know the benefit of hygiene and how to change a shoe and be so innocent of nature that a simple handful of mane on a bare back will be sufficient to purpose. But these people are few. Most will benefit from instruction.

Exactly in the same manner it will be your Guru only who’ll tell you how to bind your mind, how to train it, and how to control it when it resists you. They say that one doesn’t learn how to tame a horse by reading a book or watching a YouTube video. Well, maybe a little. But there’s something about having the loving hand of a dedicated guide, someone who has walked the path ahead of us and knows the terrain, the shortcuts and pitfalls that is just so much more practical and beneficial than a textbook. Sure you can read the collective works of Carl Jung over a period of years and practice all that and probably take yourself far, but imagine having the man himself to converse and consult with and to oversee your studies. It’s the same with Sadhana.

And so it comes down to finding a genuine Guru, or a great teacher, or excellent source material to work with. Great teachers are to be found here and there; do you have the discrimination of mind necessary to recognize one among the many not so great and much more readily available? Excellent source material is available as well, and the same problem exists. How to determine the wheat from the chaff in this age of every opinion published, everyone’s voice the voice of truth? My own story of how I came into the relationship with my Guru is found all over my blog, and I’m happy to talk about all of that anytime. I’ll also take every opportunity to guide you towards reputable sources, authors and teachers and when you find something that resonates with you, go with it; explore it with a deep interest and suck the marrow right out of it. Make it yours. Model the Masters. Learn the processes and practices that will take you to the Goal of Real Yoga.