Today I want to talk about a teaching that Baba Muktananda imparts about Siddha Yoga sādhanā. I will be explaining how you can further your understanding of this teaching and put it into practice.
Baba Muktananda says:
The essence of sādhanā is the constant remembrance of the goal of sādhanā, the Self.1
I want to draw your attention to the language Baba uses in this teaching. There are fifteen words in the teaching. The six main words are essence, sādhanā, constant, remembrance, goal, and Self.
When I first came to the Siddha Yoga path and attended hundreds of satsangs with Baba and heard him use these words in his talks—essence, sādhanā, constant, remembrance, goal, and Self—it was my experience that these words were like potent mantras. And these words have guided my sādhanā in the years and decades since, much like a compass when I needed to regain my bearings and focus.
In order to bring greater clarity to your understanding of this teaching, I will give you the Sanskrit terms for these six words.
The word for “essence” in Sanskrit is सार (sāra), which also means the essential part of something. Sāra connotes that which is real, true, and genuine.
साधना (sādhanā) is the Sanskrit word generally used to refer to spiritual discipline or practice. Sādhanā is derived from the closely related term sādhana, which is defined as “means” and “tool.” Sādhanā is that which is instrumental in leading you to the goal.
A word for “constant” in Sanskrit is निरन्तर (nirantara). When we perform an action without any gap or lapse, it is nirantara.
A term for “remembrance” in Sanskrit is अभिज्ञान (abhijnāna), which means to bring forth knowledge from the past or knowledge which already exists within you. Abhijnāna also means “recognition,” which is a synonym for remembrance.
A word for “goal” in Sanskrit is ध्येय (dhyeya) and means that which is contemplated at all times, that which is to be always kept in mind, meditated upon, or studied.
A term for “Self” in Sanskrit is आत्मन् (ātman), which means the Self or supreme Soul; ātman is the principle of life and Consciousness.
When Baba gave his talks, he primarily spoke in Hindi. Sanskrit is the language from which Hindi originates. Therefore, knowing the Sanskrit terms for the words in Baba’s teaching gives greater insight into what Baba may have intended when giving this teaching.
A text of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, the Shiva Sutras, states in one of its aphorisms: kathā japaha. “The Guru’s word is mantra.” This aphorism elucidates how we can approach the study of Baba’s teachings this month. When we regard the Guru’s words as mantra, this perception helps us imbibe the enlivened wisdom they contain. Moreover, the aphorism tells us that—like a mantra—the Guru’s words shine with the light of the Truth and thus can unerringly illumine our way to God.
Since I have benefited so immensely from understanding and practicing Baba’s teaching, I want to elucidate for you in more depth what the words in this teaching mean and how these words can become a compass for you.
Let’s begin with essence, or sāra in Sanskrit. In the context of Baba’s teaching, sāra also means that which is best, highest, most excellent, and sound. This means that in addition to being an effective method for making spiritual progress, remembrance of the Self is the most beneficial and highest focus for our mind. Knowing this helps us choose wisely what we give our attention to.
Another meaning of sāra elucidates that which holds the subtlest essence of something. Even though you can’t see or touch it, when you smell the fragrance of a gardenia, you understand it is the pure essence common to all gardenia blossoms. Likewise, constant remembrance of the Self is like the “fragrance” of sādhanā. Just as by smelling its perfume we know that a particular flower is a gardenia, similarly, we know that if we are constantly remembering the Self, we are doing sādhanā.
The Sanskrit word sādhanā refers in Baba’s teaching to our spiritual discipline as a whole, including the main Siddha Yoga practices we strive to do regularly—chanting, meditation, seva, and dakshina. Baba’s teaching highlights that continually focusing our attention on the Self is the through-line, the golden thread that unifies and fortifies our sādhanā. It is our focus on the Self in each practice that in turn enhances the subsequent one, just as each gem on the crowns worn by Indian deities is made even more beautiful by the ones next to it.
In the Indian scriptures, the term for constant, nirantara, is extolled as an indispensable quality for a seeker. To reach the exalted goal of Self-knowledge, a seeker’s efforts need to be continuous and persistent. Have you ever watched a swan taking flight from the surface of a lake? It has to flap its wings for some time in order to gain the velocity to become airborne and fly gracefully. In the same way, when our reflection on the Self is nirantara, we gain the momentum to soar in our sādhanā.
On the path of yoga, abhijnāna, or remembrance, means focusing the mind on spiritual truths. In the context of Baba’s teaching, abhijnāna is remembering or bringing to your consciousness that which you already know. We use the mind’s alchemical power to transform our awareness, our sense of who we are, so that we gradually reclaim our true nature as the Self. The Yoga Vāsishtha says, “As you think, so you become.” Accordingly, Baba teaches us that to reach the goal of sādhanā we must keep remembering the Self, which means striving to experience it as our own inner awareness from moment to moment.
A proven practice for remembering the Self is mantra japa. Touching each bead of your japa mala reminds you of the spiritual truth you are repeating. After a while, simply seeing your japa mala, or the beads of a necklace, or fruits and berries that resemble beads, reminds you of your focus on the Self. Remembrance, when you nurture it, creates pathways in your mind that keep leading your mind back to your goal in sādhanā.
Dhyeya, the Sanskrit term for goal, means that which is contemplated at all times, and which is always kept in mind. It also means that which is to be meditated upon or to be studied. The definition of dhyeya gives us a more nuanced understanding of Baba’s teaching, because it highlights that setting the Self as our goal is more than a one-time decision, a “set it and forget it.” Rather, to hold the Self as our goal requires active engagement on our part. It is when we reflect on and meditate on the Self that it truly becomes our goal.
Steering a sailboat illustrates this dynamic focus. When you’re heading to a harbor that is upwind, you must sail in a zigzag pattern, constantly trimming your sails and adjusting direction to catch the shifting breeze and allow for the changing currents. You continually recalibrate your course in order to reach your destination. It’s the same in focusing on the goal of sādhanā—you continually assess and then do what the moment calls for.
Ātman is a revered term for Self in Sanskrit. The Vedas trace this word to two roots: अत्, at, meaning that which moves or pervades everywhere, and the root अन्, an, which means to breathe. The Self is defined as the eternal, blissful, and all-pervasive Consciousness that is the true nature of a human being. The Self is within us and around us, and is the source of our own breath. I learned from Baba: “The ātman pervades everything in full measure and is the support of all. Every visible object, therefore, rests in the ātman.”2
I have just elucidated the six main words from Baba’s teaching:
The essence of sādhanā is the constant remembrance of the goal of sādhanā, the Self.1
Whenever I have felt that I was starting to get lost in the dense forest of my own mind, I simply had to remember Baba’s teaching. Reflecting on Baba’s words was like looking at a compass—I would instantly reorient myself toward a focus on the Self. Recalling this teaching would put me back in the satsang, back in the Intensive hall, back at Baba’s feet.
Let me describe for you how I practice this teaching, which may give you ideas of ways to implement it in your life.
First, I inwardly ask the Guru’s grace to illumine my understanding of the teaching, and then research it in a few Siddha Yoga books or the scriptures to learn about the main concepts of the teaching in more depth.
Second, I sit quietly and hold the teaching in my mind and heart with the intention to experience the teaching within myself. Sometimes images or analogies come up, and I note them in my journal so that I can explore them further.
Third, I hold the teaching in my awareness as I offer seva, meditate, perform routine tasks, and—this is important—during the moments when I move from one activity to another during the day. Every few minutes I ask myself, “How can I remember the Self in this moment?” Depending on the activity or situation, I might choose to focus on the inner witness, the mantra, the pure awareness, or “I am.” Or I might focus on recognizing a quality of the Self, such as inner bliss, serenity, or love.
This third step continues from hour to hour, day to day. Through holding the teaching in my consciousness and returning to it repeatedly, the teaching becomes my “home base,” a steady center that I can enter at any moment.
Fundamental to our study and practice of the Guru’s teachings is receiving each word with the awareness of the profound power and meaning they hold. Once again, here are the six main words of Baba’s teaching. Let them resonate in your heart and mind as you read them: