Signs of readiness for the spiritual path

Our soul evolves over thousands of lives, playing a variety of roles – labourer, athlete, businessman, politician, artist, philosopher, scientist and so on and so forth.  In the chapter Ladder of Self-transcendence in the Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo outlines this gradual evolution from the barbarian to the philistine and then to the person of culture and intellect.   The final stage of this evolution begins when the joys of phenomenal life  (socializing, eating, traveling, etc) cannot fill the void in the heart and one begins  to question the purpose of life.   This marks the start of the spiritual journey.  The Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram, Mira Alfassa, detailed three signs which indicate that one has reached this stage in life.

An absolute supernatural darkness falls
On man sometimes when he draws near to God:
An hour arrives when fail all Nature’s means;
Forced out from the protecting Ignorance
And flung back on his naked primal need,
He at length must cast from him his surface soul
And be the ungarbed entity within:

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Issue

Disciple: Are there any signs which indicate that one is ready for the path, especially if one has no spiritual teacher?

Mother: Yes, the most important indication is a perfect equality of soul in all circumstances. It is an absolutely indispensable basis; something very quiet, calm, peaceful, the feeling of a great force. Not the quietness that comes from inertia but the sensation of a concentrated power which keeps you always steady, whatever happens, even in circumstances which may appear to you the most terrible in your life. That is the first sign.

A second sign: you feel completely imprisoned in your ordinary normal consciousness, as in something extremely hard, something suffocating and intolerable, as though you had to pierce a hole in a brass wall. And the torture becomes almost unbearable, it is stifling; there is an inner effort to break through and you cannot manage to break through. This also is one of the signs. It means that your inner consciousness has reached a point where its outer mould is much too small for it – the mould of ordinary life, of ordinary activities, ordinary relations, all that becomes so small, so petty; you feel within you a force to break all that.

There is yet another sign: when you concentrate and have an aspiration, you feel something coming down into you, you receive an answer; you feel a light, a peace, a force coming down; and almost immediately – you need not wait or spend a very long time – nothing but an inner aspiration, a call, and the answer comes. This also means that the relation has been well established.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1950 – 1951): 12 February 1951

Disciple: When can one say that one has truly entered the spiritual path?

Mother: The first sign (it is not the same for everybody) but in a chronological order, I believe, is that everything else appears to you absolutely without importance. Your entire life, all your activities, all your movements continue, if circumstances so arrange things, but they all seem to you utterly unimportant, this is no longer the meaning of your existence. I believe this is the first sign.

There may be another; for example, the feeling that everything is different, of living differently, of a light in the mind which was not there before, of a peace in the heart which was not there before. That does make a change; but the positive change usually comes later, very rarely does it come at first except in a flash at the time of conversion when one has decided to take up the spiritual life. Sometimes, it begins like a great illumination, a deep joy enters into you; but generally, afterwards this goes into the background, for there are too many imperfections still persisting in you…It is not disgust, it is not contempt, but everything appears to you so uninteresting that it is truly not worth the trouble of attending to it. For instance, when you are in the midst of certain physical conditions, pleasant or unpleasant (the two extremes meet), you say to yourself, “It was so important to me, all that? But it has no importance at all!” You have the impression that you have truly turned over to the other side.

Some imagine that the sign of spiritual life is the capacity to sit in a corner and meditate! That is a very, very common idea. I do not want to be severe, but most people who make much of their capacity for meditation – I do not think they meditate even for one minute out of one hour. Those who meditate truly never speak about it; for them it is quite a natural thing. When it has become a natural thing, without any glory about it, you may begin to tell yourself that you are making progress. Those who talk about it and think that this gives them a superiority over other human beings, you may be sure, are most of the time in a state of complete inertia.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1950 – 1951): 12 February 1951

19 thoughts on “Signs of readiness for the spiritual path

  1. contoveros

    I don’t care about a lot of things I used to care a lot about. Like straightening up the house, washing the car, mowing the lawn.

    I would much rather spend my time reading blogs like this and sharing my thoughts with others who are like me.

    Have I reached the spiritual point? I want more to life and I am going to get it the old fashioned way.

    Doing nothing. Except loving more and more.

    michael j

  2. Sandeep Post author


    Have you reached the spiritual point? That’s difficult for me to answer. My intention was merely to provoke introspection 🙂

    Everybody gets bored with the chores of life and wants to escape. That may not necessarily indicate readiness. One must also feel the third sign which is an indication of the psychic opening – that feeling of aspiration and joy for something greater and more pure.

  3. contoveros

    I attended a Tibetan Buddhist retreat four days ago and believe I still am feeling some effects today. I was “hung over” the very next day, unable to function well and stayed in bed.

    But upon rising, I was in love with everything and “Love was in Everything.” I spoke to some Buddhist students who said this was common following such a purification we experienced at the retreat. We chanted one mantra 580 times. Felt like 580,00 times, but it did something to remove what was still clinging to me . . .

    But the feeling extended into Monday, when I shared talks of “miracles’ and how happy one could be in a monestary; and then felt “in the flow” of the Divine Love all the next day. And that was among the military at a Veterans Administration headquarters.

    Today, I am simply trying to catch my breath. But feel that I have been “touched” and must respond through my writing and the physical contacts I make daily.

    i love it! i love me. i love you.

    Not perfect. Still have moments of doubts, uncertainties and fears. But I “know” the path I’m on is for the benefit of all if i can simply get out of the way.

    I saw your ulr(?) and decided to write to you to say “hello.”


    michael j

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Good for you, Michael and thanks for dropping by to say hello 🙂
      “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” (William Blake)

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  5. nandhini

    Dear Sandeep,
    I’m new to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’s teachings.I just chanced upon this blog and WOW.. U’ve got quite a lot of stuff.But I’m not sure where to begin.In one of your reply to some one’s comment you’ve said “Sri Aurobindo used to ask beginners who were NOT ready for Yoga to practice the method of witness consciousness….”
    I’ve been trying to do just that for some time now.I learned it from Exkhart Tolle’s books.But it is not as easy as it sounds.I’m hardly able to sustain my presence continuously for a few mins.Should I be doing something else like yoga asana or pranayama or concentration exercise to be able to witness with ease.Its so difficult to watch one thoughts and almost impossible to watch one’s emotions……Its almost like trying to hold my breath!

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Dear Nandhini,

      you’ve said “Sri Aurobindo used to ask beginners who were NOT ready for Yoga to practice the method of witness consciousness….”

      I meant beginners to his path (i.e. those disciples who he had admitted to the Ashram). I will modify that remark to correct this misunderstanding. Sri Aurobindo, and all good Gurus, tend to calibrate the meditation practice that they recommend to the aptitude of the individual in question. There is no generic formula available. In the absence of a Guru, you must test and see what combination works best for you.

      You are right in that it is premature to expect oneself to completely shut off thoughts in the beginning. What you could attempt instead is to induce the whole body from head to toe into a sustained state of passivity during which you remain alert and not fall asleep. The mind needs some support (called Alambana in Sanskrit) in order to stay still as I explained in Taming the Monkey Mind

      You could use the eight-fold path of Patanjali as a guide and work through the following steps:
      1) Begin by reducing frivolous conversation, controlling food intake and reducing the indulgence in TV, Internet, movies, etc.
      2) Choose a powerful Mantra to chant. Bhakti (devotional chanting) is necessary to evoke the soul.
      3) Yes, Pranayama as you suggested will also be helpful.
      4) Once you have attained a semblance of stability, then try to see if can watch the thought process. It may take a few years but you have to persevere. The state of the mind evolves with repeated practice as discussed in Types of Meditation

  6. Michael j Contos

    I often see a “Divine” touch in things happening around me. I look for signs and open myself to them.

    I am either going “crazy” at last, or “sane’ for the first time in my life. Last night, I actually whispered into the darkness the following: “Into Your Hands I commend my Spirit.”

    Today, I want nothing more than have adhesion between my spirit and His.

    michael j, journeying along in awe of Life

    1. Sandeep Post author

      It’s a long journey punctuated with ups and downs. If you keep practicing, the experiences will stabilize.

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  11. mike

    Also, Sri Aurobindo said that we don’t even begin the Spiritual Life until we have the Psychic Realisation. So. l imagine most of us have a long way to go lol. – forgive my presumption.

  12. ipi

    A conversation with Pranab-da, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother:

    Dada seems a little distant today. As if he is deeply absorbed in some thought. But he is continuing to do his office work, talking to people, giving instructions on various matters. But you can feel that he is absorbed within in some deep thought.

    At one time he himself admitted that he thought about one particular subject very often. I have even tried to capture this in poetry. I think about this Ashram of ours where so many people have come attracted by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s yoga-sadhana. Some have become old, some are no more, some have lost their head. Some after staying here for some time have left. Some have got married and settled down to a worldly life. About these we normally say that they have deviated from the path of yoga, that they are failures.

    However I feel this is not the right way of looking at things. This sadhana is a war. That is why we talk about the battles in sadhana. Those who are drawn to the path of sadhana are inevitably attracted by an inner pull of the soul. They are different from the ordinary, average persons. They are exceptional. Nobody can come to the path of sadhana without hearing the call of God. They are all like soldiers in a war. Some retreat, some advance, but all of them according to their capacity and rank take up a position in this necessary battle. If some of them get injured in this battle, or some fall or die, does that mean they were worthless, unsuccessful? They, in fact, blaze the way for those who are following behind. With their self-dedication, or whatever little fruit they have got from sadhana they advance the course of the collective sadhana. Everyone contributes in some way. Some more, some perhaps less. It is not right to despise or belittle anybody. In the victory over Lanka you cannot play down the contribution even of an ordinary squirrel. We all do whatever we are capable of to advance on the path of yoga.

    I also think that in each epoch everybody, people, yogis and sadhaks and all their unsuccessful attempts and deviations only go to facilitate the sadhana of those who will follow. They make the realisation of future generations easier. This is why we see that sometimes on some front of the sadhana we might win a very quick victory whereas some very simple obstacle we are unable to overcome. Often a very difficult thing is achieved with great ease and for achieving a very simple result we have to labour very hard. Who can say how much of what we have won is the contribution of those who preceded us in the sadhana, those who have risen and fallen so many times?

    Someone remarked: ‘In the Veda there was a rishi called Yajna. He has said: ‘I saw in my mind’s eye the glorious praise of all the sacrifices and sadhana of our predecessors. The sadhana of the Vedas was called ‘sadhanpantha’ by the rishis, ‘purveshang pantha‘—sadhana is walking on a path. This is why the rishis never claim any of their achievements or realisations as their own. They believe that our ancestors, since eternity, have created in the tradition of sadhana a structure for sadhana. We have to see that this tradition of meditation and sadhana is not broken—ma chhedi vayato dhiyam.

    I feel the same way. With those who have accepted the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana, it is not important to judge who has achieved how much because all of them have contributed to help us become successful. This is why we bow before everybody.

    Dada said further: I have read in the Gita that when Arjuna, overwhelmed and confused by Sri Krishna’s explanation of the difficult moments of yoga, asked Him: ‘He who takes to yoga with faith but then for lack of attentiveness, falls off the path, cannot he realise anything? He who could not achieve anything in this life or in spiritual life either, what will become of him? Having failed on both sides will he be dissolved by the wind like a little cloud?’

    Sri Krishna answered Arjuna: ‘One who has deviated from Yoga is destroyed neither in this world nor in the world beyond. That man who does good suffers no misfortune anywhere.’

    Look at our Ashram itself. All those boys and girls who after their studies go out, none of them is bad in any way. They are all in a very good situation, with a good job and position. The people outside are quite astonished by their success and prosperity. Not one of them is in a bad condition. I would say that this is the result of all that the tradition of sadhana carries on the course of yoga. This is why our yoga is called collective yoga. And this is why all those who came before us, or are with us today or will come in the future, all their combined successes and failures, qualities and shortcomings have traced the path and will continue to do so. And we should always remain grateful to each one of them for our future victory as well. I bow before them all.

    * * *
    (Pranab Bhattacharya, By The Way Part-Ii, pp 145-147)

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