The spiritual aptitude (adhikara) needed for Yoga

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.

(Arthur Avalon. Shakti and Shakta, Chapter 26 Shakta Sadhana)

Ramakrishna Paramahansa

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)

Ramana Maharshi

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)

Sri Aurobindo

Heaven’s call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds;
The doors of light are sealed to common mind

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – II: The Eternal Day: The Soul’s Choice and the Supreme Consummation

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)

15 thoughts on “The spiritual aptitude (adhikara) needed for Yoga

  1. Pingback: Signs of spiritual apitude « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. Sandeep Post author

    Further remarks by Ramakrishna Paramahansa on spiritual aptitude (four classes of people):

    “Everybody is not at the same level. There are four classes of human beings: the baddha jivas (bound ones), the mumukshu (seekers after liberation), the mukta (liberated) and the nitya jivas (ever-free). It is not that all these people have to take to sadhana (spiritual practice) – there are nityasiddhas (ever perfect) and sadhanasiddhas (perfected by sadhana). Some people attain the Lord after practicing a great deal of sadhana, while others are perfect from their birth, for example Prahlada. The Homa bird lives high up in the sky. When it lays its egg, it falls toward the earth. During the fall, the egg breaks and a chick emerges. Even then it goes on falling. It is still so high up that it develops its wings during its fall. When it is close to the earth, the chick realizes that if it hits the earth, it will be crushed. At once it shoots upward toward its mother, uttering, ‘Mother, mother, where are you?’”

    “The nityasiddhas, like Prahlada, practice sadhana later in life. They have already attained the Lord before the practice of sadhana. It is like the bottle gourd or the pumpkin which fruits before it flowers. (Looking at Rakhal’s father) A nityasiddha, even if he is born in a lower family, does not become less spiritual than he was. The gram, even if it falls on a dung heap, still sprouts into a gram plant.”

  3. ipi

    Swami Vivekananda:

    Every being that is in the universe has the potentiality of transcending the senses;even the little worm will one day transcend the senses and reach God. No life will be a failure;there is no such thing as failure in the universe. A hundred times man will hurt himself, a thousand times he will tumble, but in the end he will realise that he is God. We know there is no progress in a straight line. Each soul moves, as it were, in a circle, and will have to complete it, and no soul can go so low but there will come a time when it will have to go upwards. No one will be lost. We are all projected from one common centre, which is God. The highest as well as lowest life God ever projected, will come back to the Father of all lives. “From whom all beings are projected, in whom all live, and unto whom they all return;that is God.”

    Swami Vivekananda. Sadhanas OR Preparation for Higher Life, P.28

  4. Pingback: How can Sri Aurobindo smoke and drink while practising Yoga? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. ipi

    It is difficult to say that any particular quality makes one fit or the lack of it unfit. One may have strong sex-impulses, doubts, revolts and yet succeed in the end, while another may fail. If one has a fundamental sincerity, a will to go through in spite of all things and readiness to be candid, that is the best security in the sadhana.

    Sri Aurobindo
    (Letters on Yoga; Part I; PP 551)

  6. ipi

    Empty Contemplation

    I have never seen people who have left everything in order to go and sit down in a more or less empty contemplation (for it is more or less empty). I have never seen such people making any progress, or in any case their progress is very trifling. I have seen persons who had no pretensions of doing yoga, who were simply filled with enthusiasm by the idea of terrestrial transformation and of the descent of the Divine into the world and who did their little bit of work with that enthusiasm in the heart, giving themselves wholly, without reserve, without any selfish idea of a personal salvation; these I have seen making magnificent progress, truly magnificent. And sometimes they are wonderful. I have seen sannyasis, I have seen people who live in monasteries, I have seen people who progressed to be yogis, well, I would not exchange one of the others for a dozen such people…. It is not by running away from the world that you will change it. It is by working there, modestly, humbly but with a fire in the heart, something that burns like an offering.


    Book:The Sunlit Path

    The Mother

  7. mike

    “And sometimes they are wonderful. I have seen sannyasis, I have seen people who live in monasteries, I have seen people who progressed to be yogis, well, I would not exchange one of the others for a dozen such people”

    Why am l not surprised by that. Monks, priests, nun’s have always seemed a little pretentious to me, Although there are those that do work in the world [how many are doing yoga or advancing spiritually, is another thing].
    As for myself, l live like a monk, but without the trappings, and it’s tough – if l could live alone on a desert island, l would LOL.
    Of course, l think Mother is talking about ppl who go into seclusion to meditate/contemplate l suppose.

    “It is not by running away from the world that you will change it. It is by working there, modestly, humbly but with a fire in the heart, something that burns like an offering.”

    That’s what it’s all about, though.
    Also, what Mother said elsewhere is important too:

    ‘ To want to change the world without changing yourself is a vain chimera’

    Here’s the definition of a ‘chimera’ in the Mother useage:

    “A fanciful mental illusion or fabrication”

    1. mwb6119

      “mike May 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      [how many are doing yoga or advancing spiritually, is another thing].”

      After our brief correspondence I appreciated this reply of yours (entirety above).

      All in all, I understand that I may never reach any level of perfection on this Integral Path. I do believe it will have some (said) effect, but I am not worried that I will inevitably win or lose. I do wonder how not having first-hand experience with the Teachers effects a persons ability to proceed – even then The Mother had to ask certain people (sadhak’s), who stopped showing signs of development, to leave the Ashram. Regardless, I will proceed on the path as long as I sense that I should do so. 🙂

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  12. gopal.M

    All Life is any way Yoga, but i guess, All Life is not Integral Yoga !!! But even then the lines keep blurring when we keep pushing with the will from time to time, this is my experience.

  13. Pingback: Sandeep Joshi | The Mother's Lasso

  14. Sandeep Post author

    Initially, Vivekananda kept bringing his friends to Ramakrishna for initiation but Ramakrishna rejected them due to lack of spiritual aptitude

    The following passage from the biography by Saradananda:

    The Swami thus took many of his friends to the Master then. But we were told, from time to time,
    by both the Master and the Swami, that the divine insight of the Master penetrated to their inner nature and arrived at different conclusions.

    The Swami said, “When I found that the Master did not bestow that kind of grace on them which he had done on me by accepting me and instructing me in spiritual matters, I used to ask him importunately to bestow it also on them. On account of boyish flippancy I was ready on many occasions to argue with him.

    I said, ‘Why, sir? God is indeed never so partial as to bestow His grace on some and not on others. Why should you then not accept them as you have done me? Is it not certain that
    one can attain spirituality and realize God if one wills and makes efforts, just as one can become a learned scholar if one puts forth an effort?’

    The Master replied, ‘What can I do, my child? Mother shows me that there is the beastly mental attitude of a bull in them; they cannot realize spirituality in this life; what can I do? And what is it you say? Can anyone become in this life, what he wishes to, by mere will and effort?’

    I said, ‘What do you say, sir? Can’t one become what one wishes to, if one wills and makes efforts? Surely one can. I cannot believe what you say about it.’

    At that also the Master said the same thing, ‘Whether you believe it or not, Mother shows me that.’

    I never accepted then what he said. But, as time passed on, more and more did I understand from experience that what the Master said was right and what I had thought was wrong.”

    (Saradananda, Ramakrishna Great Master, p 842-843)


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