Obsessive-compulsive spirituality by Dr Ramesh Bijlani

The spiritual path attracts all kinds of people, each  endowed with some peculiar psychological strengths and weaknesses.  The Bhagavad Gita 7:16  (see Four types of Divine seekers) speaks of four types of spiritual aspirants: those who seek refuge  from worldly troubles, those who seek intellectual satisfaction in spiritual knowledge, those who wish to use the Divine strength to fulfill worldly ambitions and above all, those who synthesize devotion and knowledge and seek union with the Divine without expecting anything in return.  In this context, Dr Ramesh Bijlani, who is currently affiliated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi, has written a perspicacious article detailing some pitfalls that can be observed in young, over-eager spiritual aspirants.  This rest of this article is excerpted from his blog.

“Among the visitors to spiritual organizations like Sri Aurobindo Ashram are some dead serious, sincere and intense young people who claim to be on the spiritual path but seem to be on the verge of losing their mental balance, if they have not lost it already. The question naturally arises what makes something as laudable as the spiritual path a risky road to walk on. The risk lies in a faulty approach to spirituality. Young people who become miserable as a result of their engagement with spirituality invariably treat spirituality as yet another worldly achievement. They go about searching for techniques that would take them to the peak by the easiest, shortest and fastest route. They treat spirituality like mountaineering. They want to climb nothing less than the Everest, and feel entitled to do so because they are ready to spend all their energy looking for and learning the best techniques. They may try several techniques simultaneously, or in quick succession, with great vigour. They may go straightaway to the advanced pranayamas, or meditate for hours or days at a stretch under the mistaken impression that if something is good, more of it should be better. Then they start looking for signs of progress. So obsessed are they with getting there as quickly as possible that they attach great importance to their ‘visions’, ‘dreams’ and ‘experiences’. They try to hold on to these real or imagined events, try to repeat them, improve upon them, and talk about them, either to seek approval and confirmation, or to impress people. But instead of getting the peace that may be expected on the spiritual path, they get only more and more disturbed. Unless they correct the fatal flaw in their approach to spirituality, they end up on the psychiatrist’s couch.

In order to understand how the approach of these sincere but misguided young people to spirituality is flawed, let us digress to an ordinary young person. He wants wealth, power, and prestige. In the pursuit of what he wants, he becomes completely absorbed in himself. Our young man on the spiritual path wants to reach spiritual heights. In the pursuit of what he wants, he also becomes completely absorbed in himself. Hence there is no fundamental difference between these two young men. They both want something badly. They are both afflicted with acute self-absorption. The desire in both cases is intense, and the impatience of the seeker is palpable. The difference lies only in what they want. In a sense, our spiritual enthusiast is the worse of the two. The seeker of wealth, name and fame may at least temper his pursuit because of ethical considerations and out of decency. But the one wanting spiritual victory may be blatantly egoistic because he does not feel any scruples are necessary in pursuing the noblest of goals. The result is that spiritual enthusiasts frequently find themselves entangled in one or more of the following deadly traps.”

Dr Bijlani goes on to cover a few traps such young and ambitious seekers fall into.

  1. The transactional trap
  2. The scholastic trap
  3. The signboard trap
  4. The school-leaving certificate (SLC) trap
  5. The misplaced curiosity trap
  6. The grandiose trap
  7. The greatness trap

For the rest of the article, see http://auromirayoga.blogspot.com/2010/12/obsessive-compulsive-spirituality.html

Related Posts


17 thoughts on “Obsessive-compulsive spirituality by Dr Ramesh Bijlani

    1. Sandeep Post author

      One has to stay balanced as even the Buddha had discovered. He had practiced such extreme self-mortification that he had been reduced to a skeleton and couldn’t progress any further. At the time, a dancing girl was passing by singing the following song:

      “Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned,
      Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
      And we will dance away the hearts of men.
      The string overstretched breaks, the music dies,
      The string overslack is dumb and the music dies,
      Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.”

      The Buddha heard the song and realized that he must try neither too hard nor too little.

  1. ipsa

    Remark by Sri Aurobindo which was noted in the Mother’s Agenda , June 3 1967.

    “It may be said generally that to be over-anxious to pull people, especially very young people, into the sadhana(practice) is not wise. The sadhak(practitioner) who comes to this yoga must have a real call, and even with the real call the way is often difficult enough. But when one pulls people in in a spirit of enthusiastic propagandism, the danger is of lighting an imitative and unreal fire, not the true Agni, or else a short-lived fire which cannot last and is submerged by the uprush of the vital waves. This is especially so with young people who are plastic and easily caught hold of by ideas and communicated feelings not their own ­ afterwards the vital rises with its unsatisfied demands and they are swung between two contrary forces or rapidly yield to the strong pull of the ordinary life and action and satisfaction of desire which is the natural bent of adolescence. Or else the unfit adhar(physical support AKA body) tends to suffer under the stress of a call for which it was not ready, or at least not yet ready. When one has the real thing in oneself, one goes through and finally takes the full way of sadhana, but it is only a minority that does so. It is better to receive only people who come of themselves and of these only those in whom the call is genuinely their own and persistent.”

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Passage from the Life Divine where Sri Aurobindo states one must not disturb the ignorant and unprepared:

      To enlarge the sense-faculties without the knowledge that would give the old sense-values their right interpretation from the new standpoint might lead to serious disorders and incapacities, might unfit for practical life and for the orderly and disciplined use of the reason. Equally, an enlargement of our mental consciousness out of the experience of the egoistic dualities into an unregulated unity with some form of total consciousness might easily bring about a confusion and incapacity for the active life of humanity in the established order of the world’s relativities. This, no doubt, is the root of the injunction imposed in the Gita on the man who has the knowledge not to disturb the life-basis and thought-basis of the ignorant; for, impelled by his example but unable to comprehend the principle of his action, they would lose their own system of values without arriving at a higher foundation.

      (Life Divine, CWSA vol. 21-22, p 58)

  2. Pingback: Dreams of spirit « Michaelwclark.com

  3. ipsa


    I gather from his letter to you that he has been following a very sound method in his practice and has attained some good results. The first step in Karmayoga of this kind is to diminish and finally get rid of the ego-centric position in works, the lower vital reactions and the principle of desire. He must certainly go on on this road until he reaches something like its end. I would not wish to deflect him from that in any way.
    What I had in view when I spoke of a systematic sadhana was the adoption of a method which would generalise the whole attitude of the consciousness so as to embrace all its movements at a time instead of working only upon details – although that working is always necessary. I may cite as an example the practice of the separation of the Prakriti and the Purusha, the conscious Being standing back detached from all the movements of Nature and observing them as witness and knower and finally as the giver (or refuser) of the sanction and at the highest stage of the development, the Ishwara, the pure will, master of the whole Nature.
    By intensive sadhana I meant the endeavour to arrive at one of the great positive realisations which would be a firm base for the whole movement. I observe that he speaks of sometimes getting a glimpse of some wide calm…. A descent of this wide calm permanently into the consciousness is one of the realisations of which I was thinking. That he feels it at such times seems to indicate that he may have the capacity of receiving and retaining it. If that happened or if the Prakriti-Purusha realisation came, the whole sadhana would proceed on a strong permanent base with a new and entirely yogic consciousness instead of the purely mental endeavour which is always difficult and slow. I do not however want to press these things upon him; they come in their own time and to press towards them prematurely does not always hasten their coming. Let him continue with his primary task of self-purification and self-preparation.

  4. Pingback: Why spiritual experiences do not repeat? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. mike

    l remember SA saying Sri Ramakrishna was also very impatient in his younger days, and that he suffered for it. But, later he took the ‘baby cat’ approach [l think that’s the term] by leaving it all with the Mother [probably the Psychic attitude], and things went much more smoothly.

    “Let him continue with his primary task of self-purification and self-preparation.”

    lt’s this preparatory period that causes the struggle together with the impatience of youth, of course. Without Peace and Calm as the foundation, this are very difficult.
    l know it’s been one hell of a struggle in my life. l’ve felt like giving up many, many times. lf it wasn’t for the many experiences that helped to counteract the doubts, l would have gone from the Path years ago.
    l still have an abundance of problems, which l now learn’t to leave with the Divine Grace to sort out.
    l’ve definitely fallen by the wayside on several occasions. God knows how l got through that lol.
    lf it wasn’t for certain experiences and visions l had when l was younger l would be leading a very different life now.
    Fortunately, the experiences l had when l was younger – like descent of Peace, Force etc… – kept me going. l only found out much later that these experiences were the same as those in SA’s integral Yoga – also confirmed by someone at the ashram with a long association with Mother and SA.
    A lot of dream-experiences with SA and Mother also seemed to confirm where l belonged.
    But, one of the greatest helps was the ‘Letters on Yoga’. They explained so much.

    1. mwb6119

      Mike said:

      “l know it’s been one hell of a struggle in my life. l’ve felt like giving up many, many times. lf it wasn’t for the many experiences that helped to counteract the doubts, l would have gone from the Path years ago.”

      I can relate to this and a lot of what you said here Mike. In my case, even after all these years, and at this later stage in life, I still find it the most difficult process to go through. How sometimes I wish I had remained material-minded (not really, but I think you understand). Sometimes I think, “Why me?”

      1. mike

        “How sometimes I wish I had remained material-minded”

        Yes, mark l’ve had those stray thoughts, until l look more closely at ordinary life and how ppl hide behind a facade of illusory happiness. ln short, the state of consciousness l see around me everyday, in the common-herd, so to speak [people SA says are satisfied with ordinary consciousness], is enough to quickly eradicate that idea lol. lt’s just the lower vital looking for satisfaction – without ever getting satisfied..
        The ‘dark night of the soul’ does seem unending, though LOL..

      2. mwb6119

        Your comment parallels the thought of Dr Bijlani on Culture:

        “The word culture is reserved for a level of expression several notches higher than civilization. A civilized society is an organized society with some evidence of mental activity. A cultured society gives evidence of a higher order mental activity, not just any mental activity. The hallmark of a civilized man is that he uses appliances. Wealth can precede a high level of mental development, and is enough to acquire appliances. That may make a person civilized, but not cultured. Those who have acquired wealth recently (the neo-rich) know it, and therefore, having acquired appliances, they hasten to acquire education. They decorate their houses with book shelves, start reading newspapers and popular magazines, and learn to express, parrot-fashion, the fashionable opinion on current affairs. But all this only makes the person look cultured – for such a person, the proper term is ‘philistine’. Getting cultured is a much slower process than getting civilized. The hallmark of a cultured man is independent, original and critical intellectual activity with no aim other than the pleasure of the activity itself. Thus, culture expresses itself through mental activity which may not have any immediate utility. Such activity at the emotional level leads to fine arts, at the rational level leads to philosophy and science, and at the supra-rational level leads to ethics and morality.” http://auromirayoga.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=3

        When I was a teen I was captivated by a BBC production titled “The Prisoner”, w/ Patrick McGoohan, which resembles the same idea.

        What Dr Bijlani outlines in this article here in Sandeep’s blog appears to fit the “civilized youth”, especially here State side.

        Also, Mike, I left a comment over on the “Meditation” blog of Sandeep’s, but it did not appear on the Recent Comment Thread. Here’s a copy:

        February 28, 2014 at 9:07 am
        Any thoughts on this quotation by The Mother?

        “A sincere consecration of all you are and all you do is for the
        sadhana much more effective than meditation.”
        The Mother
        ref. MCW, vol. 14, Words of the Mother – II, p.100

        I’ve never meditated – I’m not for or against it. Most my progress came by concentration: focusing attention with eyes-open while busy with daily tasks.

        Also, I heard that meditation is not for everyone.

        PS: regarding the above … forgot to mention reading. Concentration and reading, but no meditation. No guru. 🙂

      3. Sandeep Post author

        Mark : What Dr Bijlani outlines in this article here in Sandeep’s blog appears to fit the “civilized youth”, especially here State side.

        The similarity exists because we are both paraphrasing Sri Aurobindo’s observations in the “Human Cycle” – I believe its the chapter on “Civilization and Barbarism” I think.

  6. Pingback: A movie on Sri Kumaré, the Guru | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Pingback: The Grace is at work everywhere | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  8. mike

    “A sincere consecration of all you are and all you do is for the
    sadhana much more effective than meditation.”

    Mark, yes, this is all l attempt to do these days, or simply aspire as much as possible in my own way. As Mother said elsewhere, it’s not necessary to meditate, but when we feel drawn within, we need be still – more or less…. concentrate l suppose..

    “I’ve never meditated – I’m not for or against it. Most my progress came by concentration: focusing attention with eyes-open while busy with daily tasks.”

    No, l haven’t meditated in the traditional sense for a long time.
    When l started out on the Yogic path it was with Santmat [Radha Soami sect] through a sikh Guru [kirpal singh], and 2 hours meditation a day was compulsory [with mantra] – and at ajna centre and putting thumbs in the ears to here the subtle sounds. l was able to do it then, and l had quite a few visions but when l entered SA’s Yoga the need to meditate seemed to leave me – perhaps l was just lazy lol….

    “When I was a teen I was captivated by a BBC production titled “The Prisoner”, w/ Patrick McGoohan, which resembles the same idea.”

    Yes, l’ve watched that too. On a Spiritual level he was trying to burst the bubble of illusion that controls the masses, l suppose. They made an american version in [B]2009[/B], but it only had 6 episodes [the actor was the one who played Christ in mel gibson’s movie].

    1. mwb6119

      “simply aspire as much as possible in my own way.” Same here. I never got very far by forcing an effort. And it takes time to find what fits each individual without the assistance of a guru.

      “2 hours meditation a day was compulsory” That’s a bit too rigid for me. I like SA’s 45 minute approach. 🙂 I’m starting out slowly, about 20 minutes a day and then gradually build up to 45. We’ll see what comes of it.

      I went to Portmeirion, Wales to see where the original was filmed. Beautiful region.


Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s