As with every undertaking in life, so also in the practice of Yoga, some aptitude or competency is required. Some people take to meditation like fish to water, while others labor all their life to unveil the light which lies latent within. Aptitude can be developed through right living and right thinking and is carried over into future incarnations, guiding us into contact with saints and Yogis who can lead us to enlightenment. The Guru adapts his teaching based on the aptitude of the disciple since all are not capable of assimilating and realizing the Truth in identical manner. This is also the reason why different kinds of meditation techniques have developed over time. These are some selections on the subject of aptitude from various sages.
The discipline of Tantra differentiates between three classes of spiritual aspirants: animalistic (pashu), dynamic (vira) and illumined (divya). In the words of the noted exponent of Tantra, Arthur Avalon
Arthur Avalon: …men vary in capacity, temperament, knowledge and general advancement, and therefore the means (for Sadhana also means instrument) by which they are to be led to enlightenment must vary. Methods which are suitable for highly advanced men will fail as regards the ignorant and undeveloped for they cannot understand them. What suits the latter has been long out-passed by the former. At least that is the Hindu view. It is called Adhikara or competency. Thus some few men are competent (Adhikari) to study Vedanta and to follow high mental rituals and Yoga processes. Others are not. Some are grown-up children and must be dealt with as such . As all men, and indeed all beings, are, as to their psychical and physical bodies, made of the primordial substance (Prakriti-Shakti), as Prakriti is Herself the three Modes of Nature (Gunas) – light (Sattva), dynamism (Rajas) and sluggishness (Tamas) – and as all things and beings are composed of these three Modes of Nature in varying proportions, it follows that men are divisible into three general classes, namely, those in which the Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas Gunas, predominate respectively. There are, of course, degrees in each of these three classes. These three classes of temperament (Bhava) are known in the Shakta Tantras as the Divine (Divyabhava), Heroic (Virabhava) and Animal (Pashubhava) temperaments respectively.
Question: “Revered sir, one man quickly succeeds in spiritual life, and another doesn’t succeed at all. How do you explain that?”
Ramakrishna: “The truth is that a man succeeds to a great extent because of tendencies inherited from his previous births. People think he has attained the goal all of a sudden. A man drank a glass of wine in the morning. It made him completely drunk. He began to behave improperly. People were amazed to see that he could be so drunk after one glass. But another man said, ‘Why, he has been drinking all night.’
Ramakrishna: “All men are by no means on the same level. It is said that there are four classes of men: the bound, the struggling, the liberated, and the ever-free. It is also not a fact that all men have to practise spiritual discipline. There are the ever-free and those who achieve perfection through spiritual discipline. Some realize God after much spiritual austerity, and some are perfect from their very birth. Prahlada is an example of the ever-free.
(Selections from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)
Sri Raman Maharshi occasionally indicated that there were three classes of spiritual aspirants. The most advanced realise the Self as soon as they are told about its real nature. Those in the second class need to reflect on it for some time before Self-awareness becomes firmly established. Those in the third category are less fortunate since they usually need many years of intensive spiritual practice to achieve the goal of Self-realisation. Sri Ramana sometimes used a metaphor of combustion to describe the three levels; gunpowder ignites with a single spark, charcoal needs the application of heat for a short time, and wet coal needs to dry out and heat up over a long period of time before it will begin to burn.
(David Godman. Be As You Are, p 18)
Heaven’s call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds;
The doors of light are sealed to common mind
Sri Aurobindo: He who chooses the Infinite has been chosen by the Infinite. He has received the divine touch without which there is no awakening, no opening of the spirit; but once it is received, attainment is sure, whether conquered swiftly in the course of one human life or pursued patiently through many stadia of the cycle of existence in the manifested universe.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: The Four Aids
Disciple : Is it true that men with spiritual bent are born with “Adhikara – qualification – for it?
Sri Aurobindo : Yes.
Disciple : Can one acquire Adhikara – such qualification, i.e. if one has not the Adhikara at first can one get it by some means?
Sri Aurobindo : Yes, A man can acquire Adhikara. That is what we mean when we say “he is not ready” and when we say “he can prepare himself” it means he can get the Adhikara.
Disciple : Such a man can also acquire Adhikara by the company of saints.
Sri Aurobindo : Yes, of course.
(A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 3, p 175)
Amal Kiran, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo: …Indian Yoga speaks always of adhikara, “fitness”, in a special sense, for any venture into the unknown beyond the earth. If the fitness is not already there, it can be acquired by a slow process of self-discipline. Without it, one lies exposed to disrupting forces which would insidiously take hold of one and, even if several experiences are enlarging and elevating, the final upshot may be disastrous. The subject may become either helplessly insane or powerfully paranoid. In ancient times there was a wide-spread wisdom which made each man recognize his own place and the need of preparation in order to move up in the psychological series. Modern man believes in equality and liberty and the right to rebel and be his own master. He flouts the idea of total submission to a spiritual Guru or Teacher…
(K.D. Sethna. Science Materialism and Mysticism, p 351)