Theory to Practice
SPEAKING, humanity can largely be divided into two: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?'
CHARAN: 'That is an easy job, sir; I preach unto all.'
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.
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
do people not practise what they preach? There are several
reasons for it. Let us discuss some of them:
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:
was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayers
to God were: Lord, give me the energy to change the world.
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."
that I am an old man and my days are numbered, my one prayer
is: "Lord, give me the grace to change myself."
I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not
have wasted my life.'
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.
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
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.
Laziness and Complacent Attitude:
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
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.
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.
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.'
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)
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
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.
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.
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.'
the choice is ours - to be mere preachers or practitioners.