the Importance of Self-Effort

By Swami Kripananda

Coming from a family that valued both self-discipline and spontaneity, I felt completely at home when I first came to the Siddha Yoga path. After I received shaktipat initiation from Baba Muktananda, what I learned from him was a natural progression from what I had grown up with. As I continued to pursue Siddha Yoga sadhana, one of the scriptures of India that Baba asked me to read was the Yoga Vasishtha. The translation of this scripture from the original Sanskrit is a lengthy work of seven volumes.

The importance of self-effort, or right action in sadhana, is one of the central themes running through the Yoga Vasishtha. In this scripture the sage Vasishtha makes use of vivid imagery in order to instruct his disciple, the young Lord Rama, on the value of right action in the present moment. One of those images that has lodged in my mind is that of two battling rams fighting each other. Naturally, the stronger will overcome the weaker. The sage Vasishtha explains that it’s the same with the self-effort we make versus what seems to be our destiny, that is, the old impressions from our past karmas. Which will win out? It depends entirely on us. Which one are we going to throw our energy behind? If we sit back and do nothing, considering that we’re victims of the past, what we’re actually doing is giving our support to that ram that represents our least desirable tendencies, and he’ll be the victor. However, if we decide to make a commitment to sadhana and put forth the right self-effort in the present moment, then we’re supporting the ram that represents the most beneficial and uplifting power, and that one will be the victor.

Right self-effort is described in the Shiva Sutras by the aphorism prayatnah-sadhakah—“A seeker is one who makes an effort.”1 Here prayatna, “effort,” means the diligent and persevering actions that lead to the knowledge of our divine Self. When we make this kind of effort, it will bring about freedom from limitations and the experience of the Truth.

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I became familiar with several Native American cultures. Once I heard the following story, which is an ancient parable from the Cherokee tradition:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee warrior told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside everyone. The elder said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves that live inside us all. One is the negative tendencies: anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is the positive tendencies: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The two wolves fighting within us—like the two rams from the Yoga Vasishtha—provide an image that serves as a metaphor for our inner sense of conflict. The wolf of negative tendencies is fighting to the death with the wolf of positive tendencies. This battle rages inside each one of us. These two parables serve as a powerful reminder of the battle that every human being must face. Whether our battle is between anger and peace or resentment and forgiveness, it’s important that we consciously feed the values that matter most to us.

When we do the Siddha Yoga practices, for example, we are feeding the right self-effort. The Siddha Yoga practices are brimming with the power of divine shakti. Once Kundalini Shakti is awakened through the Guru’s grace, as we sit to meditate, this energy pulls our awareness inside to deeper and subtler levels of our being. It is here that we experience the awesome presence and flow of divine power within us. It is here that we come to know the great love and peace and wisdom we’ve always been seeking. This is the Self that we always strive to remain aware of. We want the beauty of this state to be reflected in all of our actions. And the purpose of Siddha Yoga sadhana is to enable us to do just that.

I want to emphasize the fact that self-effort in sadhana is not strenuous; rather, it is natural to our being, and it is deeply rewarding. In fact, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda has often encouraged Siddha Yogis to select one practice to immerse themselves in for a given period of time, so as to fully experience its rasa. I cherish all the Siddha Yoga practices, and at various points in my life, I have focused on different practices. My favorite practice, however, has always been meditation, and I’ve been diligent about my daily practice of meditation over the past fifty years. For example, I’ve always made the effort of going to bed early so I can get up early and meditate during the brahma-muhurta, the “time dedicated to the Absolute,” the hours between three and six o’clock in the morning. This is a time when nature is hushed, silent. In this tranquil atmosphere, I find that it is very easeful to glide into meditation and experience the profound silence and peace within me.

One of the lessons on self-effort that I learned early on in my sadhana is the necessity of being flexible. Particularly when I was traveling on Siddha Yoga Teaching Visits, my meditation hours fluctuated according to my schedule. But no matter what was going on, I continued to make the effort to take time for meditation because I treasure this practice, and I found that it helped me to become anchored within myself. I saw the considerable difference between the seva I offered after meditating, and the seva I offered after not meditating. When I brought the effects of meditation into my daily activities, my dealings with others were much more harmonious and easeful. The bumps of annoyance and attachment to my own point of view were somehow ironed out.

“A seeker is one who makes an effort.” Don’t you love this sutra?

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1 Shiva Sutra 2.2; Jaidev Singh, Shiva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979) p. 86.