That which tastes bitter in the beginning has a blessed effect in the end. Spiritual sadhana seems to be like that.
When Swami Rama was young, his master, Babaji, began his spiritual training by sending him to Swami Shivananda* (known as Gangotri Wale), in the majestic Gangotri region of the Himalayas. One of Babaji’s most advanced disciples, Swami Shivananda began to teach the boy the scriptures as well as the actual disciplines one needs on the path of spiritual unfoldment.
The training required that the teacher be tough, and there were times when the argumentative and rebellious part of Bhole (as Swami Rama was called then) came forward and he refused to be disciplined. Then Swami Shivananda, usually a man of depthless wisdom, patience, endurance, and tolerance, would send him back to his master. When this happened Babaji would remind Bhole that obstinacy, lack of discipline, and disrespect for the teacher can prevent an aspirant from advancing spiritually. Like a loving parent, he first gave the boy a gentle hint. Then he advised him like a friend. And finally, like a teacher, he told him emphatically to go back to Swami Shivananda and behave properly. In this way Bhole passed his early years.
By the time he reached his preteen years, Bhole had adjusted to a monastic, ascetic life. But those who enter spiritual life come from the world, and carry samskaras (subtle karmic impressions) which must be removed. So when Bhole became a teenager, his master guided him in undertaking powerful spiritual disciplines to burn even the subtlest seeds of previous samskaras.
To this end, Babaji brought Bhole to the holy city of Banaras and arranged to have a small hut built across the river from the city, facing the Ganga. A small thatched roof extended over the door, and he drew a line charged with a protective spiritual energy (lakshmana rekha) around the hut and instructed Bhole not to cross it except to perform his morning and evening ablutions. He then initiated Bhole in gayatri purashcharana, a long and specific course of meditation to be taken while he lived in solitude, and told him not to pay attention to anything or anyone outside the line until the practice was complete. “No matter what goes on outside the line,” he said, “pay attention to your practice and be aware of your goal the whole time.”
Babaji then lit a dhuni (fire) for Bhole under the overhang just outside the door. It was to be his only friend, night and day. A pandit from the city, who was also a disciple of Babaji, was assigned to provide food once a day, and Bhole was told to complete 2,400,000 repetitions of the gayatri mantra in sixteen months.
He began the practice. A few months passed, and people from the city came to know about this young, vibrant brahmachari (apprentice swami) and began to visit him, impressed by how calm and tranquil he was, and at the same time how vibrant and energetic. The less attention Bhole paid to visitors, the more impressed they were.
But there was also a group of hecklers who came to visit Bhole, determined to disturb him. And one day, when he had been doing his practice for eleven months, they challenged him to a debate. Bhole remained silent, but they persisted. Finally he lost his temper, crossed the boundary line, caught hold of someone’s neck, and pushed him toward the Ganga. The hecklers dispersed, but soon afterward the pandit who was supplying him with food appeared and handed him a telegram from his master. It read, “You have ruined your practice. Start over.”
With a strong resolve not to commit such a mistake again, Bhole began once more. Again, almost a year passed. The time for testing had arrived, and one night, around midnight, a dwarf came to the hut and sat in front of the fire, keeping outside the boundary line so there was a good distance between himself and Bhole. Neither broke the silence. The dwarf stayed almost two hours. The next night he came again at exactly the same time and sat there in silence, just as he had the night before. Night after night, the dwarf visited Bhole without disturbing him.
Then one night the dwarf brought Bhole a gift of jalebi (Indian sweets) and milk. The young renunciate was delighted, and from then on the dwarf brought jalebi and milk every night. Bhole began to wonder, however, how the dwarf managed to get across the river in the middle of the night when there were no boats, and where the dwarf found the jalebi when the shops were closed. So one night he asked him outright who he was, how he got there, and where he got the sweets.
The dwarf replied, “You are doing your job and I am doing mine. I never disturb you. By serving you I do my work the way I am instructed to.” He refused to say more.
Enraged, Bhole poured a few drops of water on his right palm and raised his hand to the dwarf, shouting, “Tell me who you are or I’ll destroy you!” The dwarf did not move. Once again Bhole demanded to know who he was. Still the dwarf remained silent, and finally Bhole lost control of himself. Repeating the gayatri mantra mentally, he threw the water on the dwarf—who vanished instantly! In the spot where he had been sitting there was only a bone.
Bhole knew that he had made a mistake once again—and sure enough, the next day the pandit came with another telegram from Babaji: “You have ruined your practice again. Be strong and conquer these negative and destructive tendencies. Bless you.”
Bhole began the practice a third time. And now, through the grace of his master, he completed it. Recounting this story years later, Swami Rama said, “Destructive tendencies keep coming up until they are completely conquered. It’s not easy to do this, but neither is it impossible. Blessed are those who make a sincere effort to work with themselves at every level.
“No matter which path you follow, no matter which practice you undergo, no matter which tradition you belong to, you need a disciplined mind. A confused mind is not fit to follow any path. Discipline is the answer—discipline together with vairagya, non-attachment.
“Whether you stay at home and pursue your sadhana or renounce your home, you have to face your deep-rooted samskaras. It takes a long time to get rid of them, so do not be disappointed when you find you cannot attain freedom during a monthlong retreat. Have patience and keep on working. Cleansing and replacing the contents of your mind is possible when you follow a systematic path of self-discipline.
“Stay away from teachers and preachers who profess to teach spirituality and meditation without also teaching discipline. No matter how sound their techniques, unless students are trained to become disciplined it is like sowing seeds in an untilled, barren field. All you really need is to look at the totality of your life, set your priorities, and create a bridge between life within and without. Discipline is the bedrock under that bridge.
“A good student can never meet a bad guru, but the reverse is also true. Similar attracts similar. If for some reason those who are dissimilar meet, the higher force intervenes and drives away those who are not prepared. Do not worry about who is good and who is bad. Increase your capacity. Purify yourself. Acquire the gentle strength within. God will come and say to you, “I want to enter this living temple that you are.” Prepare yourself for that situation. Remove the impurities, and you will find that those who want to know reality are themselves the source of reality.”
*(not to be confused with Swami Sivananda of the Divine Light Society)
Source: The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition explores the lives and teachings of eight prominent sages of this timeless tradition—men who knew how to be successful in daily life while experiencing the innermost truths of life here and hereafter. Pandit Tigunait brings the experiences and teachings of these great masters to life, with practical insights into how to discover and understand life’s richest secrets for ourselves. Purchase your copy of The Himalayan Masters: A Living Tradition and discover the perennial wisdom of the Himalayan sages.