"As long as I live, so long do I learn" Ramakrishna






















































































VEDANTA KESARIFrom Theory to Practice | Editorial | May 2004  









               From Theory to Practice




     SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING, humanity can largely be divided into two: preachers and practitioners.

     Preachers preach, advise, counsel, caution and sermonise. They are not bothered about how much they themselves are willing to or are able to practise what they preach. They just like to preach. It is a matter of habit with them. Practitioners, on the other hand, want to practise what they have understood and are convinced about spirituality. They are not necessarily silent on preaching but their focus is on practice, on putting into life what they consider spiritually beneficial.


     Mere preachers are basically theorists. They revel in theorizing. They admire the intellectual intricacies of a theory but do not (sometimes cannot) care about ways to practise it. A theory illustrates a set standard and lays down the ways and means of materializing it. Preachers feel enchanted by theories and also feel that they must give it to others for their benefit. They like to give, without realizing that they too need what they are giving away! All their sincere intentions notwithstanding, preachers do not serve the core purpose of religion in its true sense. They are the proverbial spoon which distributes honey without knowing its sweetness.


     Religion is not a set of dogmas and beliefs but a set of practices aimed at transforming humanity from whatever state one decides to take it up. Through these practices or activated principles, the practitioners of religion march ahead in their spiritual journey. Religion without 'practice' has no meaning. A true follower of religion is not the one who preaches but the one who practises. Religion is born of practices; principles are formulated later. Principles are the guideposts that a traveller leaves behind for others' benefit; travelling is primary.


     We are what we practise. We always practise what we deeply believe, not necessarily what we publicly subscribe to. Our practices originate from our beliefs. When we take up an ideal, to begin with it may be just a theory for us but as we practise, and gain insight, our beliefs deepen and get strengthened. What is required is the willingness to take pain and undergo all the hardships involved in practising our beliefs. To the extent we are able to practise our beliefs, so much religious we become. Just that much; no more, no less.


     Preaching is, however, a noble pursuit. At least a person thinks of a lofty ideal. He speaks of it. But most preachers become insensitive (thanks to self-conceit and mechanical repetitions) to the life-giving message contained in what they preach. Preaching, then, becomes a business for them. It earns them money, fame and reputation. Having thus been caught in the cycle of applause and rewards, a preacher may, in time, even become sceptical of what he preaches. Like a talking machine, he may just prattle on without end and without really meaning it.


     Swami Vivekananda points out this grim fact through the following illustration which forms a part of 'Matter for serious thought', written by him in Bengali. (CW, 6:193)

     'I say, Ram Charan, you have neither education nor the means to set up a trade, nor are you fit for physical labour. Besides, you cannot give up indulging in intoxications, nor do away with your wickedness. Tell me, how do you manage to make your living?'

     RAM CHARAN: 'That is an easy job, sir; I preach unto all.'

     That is how preaching becomes a lucrative business and is abhorred by sincere practitioners of religion. Elsewhere in his writings, Swami Vivekananda further says, 'I have no fear of talkers of religions/ Empty words, devoid of sincere practice, cannot cause any fear to the sincere practitioners of religion.


     Adi Shankara, the illustrious exponent of Hindu scriptures (8th century AD), in his comprehensive introductory remarks to his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita says that dharma declines on account of its non-practice, because of preponderance of (other) desires in the minds of religious people. In other words, when the practitioners of religion cease practising religion, and indulge in (i.e. practise) non-religion, dharma declines.
Indeed a religion declines, and takes a downward plunge when the number of its practitioners dwindles. The state of religion and number of practitioners are directly proportional to teach other.


     Why do people not practise what they preach? There are several reasons for it. Let us discuss some of them:

     1) Faulty World-view: Most people think that if the 'world' is set right, all things will be in order. They do not realize that charity begins at home. They want to mend others and put them on the 'right path', often failing to see how much of it they themselves need. But as one grows in life, this simple truth becomes clear. A Sufi saint speaks of this cycle thus:

     'I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayers to God were: Lord, give me the energy to change the world.

     As I approached middle age and realized that half my life was gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: "Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me. Just my family and friends, and I shall be content."

     Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, my one prayer is: "Lord, give me the grace to change myself."

     If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.'

     But it is easier said than practised. It requires a lifetime (as in the above case) or an equal measure of maturity of understanding to appreciate this truth.

     2) Extrovert Mind: A restless mind fails to gauge its own needs and requirements. By definition, a restless mind is running outwards, to the objects of the senses. It wants to grab them. It seeks happiness from outside, and that makes it restless. One may have learnt instructions regarding spiritual life intellectually but unless mind is pure and free from restlessness, one cannot reap its benefits. One may speak of noble virtues but one's heart is elsewhere. 'They (meaning mere preachers)', says Sri Ramakrishna, 'are like vultures, which soar very high, but keep their gaze fixed on the charnel pit. What I mean is that these pundits are attached to the world, to "woman and gold."' (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 419) A training of mind, harnessing its outwardness to channels of inner life is essential to spiritual practices.

     3) Unwillingness to Pay the Price: Practice involves sacrifice. No pains, no gains. Sri Ramakrishna would say if you want a 16-anna worth of cloth, you will have to pay 16 annas. In other words, one must be willing to undergo all the hardships involved in practising spiritual disciplines. One cannot practise spiritual disciplines by proxy either. Like eating or resting, spiritual practices too have to be taken up directly. We must bear in mind that in the realm of practice, the responsibility rests with us. It is we who have to practise and if it is we who wish to reap the results, it is we who have to pay the price. Willingness to sacrifice what is dear to us but obstructs our path - that is what paying the price means.

     4) Laziness and Complacent Attitude:

     Oftentimes it is sheer laziness that causes this state of affairs. Overpowered by Tamas, the quality of inertia and indifference (refer Gita, XIV.8), we just do not strive to do something with regard to what we preach to others. It looks too much to rise up and face the challenge squarely. Complacent like the proverbial buffalo, we remain satisfied with mere preaching or feel no urgency to check our life for any possibility for improvement. We place ourselves on the platform of 'No change required for me'. The fact, however, is generally far from our assumptions.


     There is, however, no substitute to practice. Swamiji held that the aim of religion is to manifest the inherent divinity by controlling our twofold nature (external and internal). Controlling means practising, making efforts, striving hard to let the inner light express itself in our life. This requires practice. Practice has one more meaning: repetition. A musician, for instance, practises the same melody or composition several times before he masters it. So also in spiritual life, same practices are done over again to obtain the promised results.

     In the realm of perfection, no dabbling is permitted. Be it playing football or playing piano or doing one's spiritual practices, one has to work hard. A mere curious hands-on experience would be of no avail.

     Once after a particularly brilliant concert, Beethoven, the great Western classical musician, was in the centre of congratulating friends and admirers who praised his piano magic. One unusually enthusiastic woman exclaimed: 'Oh, sir, if only God had given me this gift of your genius/ 'It is not genius, madam/ replied Beethoven, 'Nor magic. All you have to do is to practise on your piano eight hours a day for forty years and you will be as good as lam.'

     Similarly, Sri Ramakrishna was once taken to a circus, where he saw an English woman's feat on a running horse. He later said, "The other day, at the circus, I saw a horse running at top speed, with an English woman standing on one foot on its back. How much she must have practised to acquire that skill!' (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 182)

     Spiritual practices loosen our inner fetters. It is like the patient chiselling of a piece of stone by a sculptor. Unmindful of rest, food and sleep, he goes on hitting at the same spot, again and again, until the image of God hidden in the stone emerges out.

     All spiritual giants the world has seen had only one purpose for their advent - how to make religion more practicable. They do so not just through their teachings but by living what they preach. Practice also has an eternal companion - dispassion. Practice has to be accompanied by dispassion. Together these twin companions bring success in spiritual life. Practice means doing and dispassion means clearing the obstacles. Practice when not accompanied by dispassion become ineffective, like rowing an anchored boat. Joined with dispassion, practice takes ahead the aspirants with speed, safety and surety.

     Spiritual practice means practising those techniques and following such a life-style as would lead to the purification of mind. Mind becomes pure through practice. One has to practise meditation, practise prayer, practise self-control, practise moral discipline - in short, practice is the secret of success.

     To sum up, practising spiritual disciplines is what makes us religious - not mere intellectual acceptance of a dogma. We would be nearer to God only through practice, and not by mere talking about it. We have to get rid of the false notion of setting 'others' right, calm down the mind, be willing to pay the price for what we want, and overcome our laziness and complacency, in order to carry on spiritual disciplines. What is required is a pure mind, fit for spiritual realization and that is what religion should aim at. For, as Swamiji said, 'one man who has purified himself thoroughly accomplishes more than a regiment of preachers.'

     Ultimately the choice is ours - to be mere preachers or practitioners.


     Prabuddha Bharata

     Vedanta Kesari

     Vedanta Mass Media


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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