Five Verses On Spiritual Practice

By Rudra Shivananda

The great spiritual reformer and teacher, Shankaracharya wrote voluminous commentaries and treatises but when asked to give the core essence for spiritual seekers, he composed five verses called the “The Essence of Spiritual Practice in Five verses.” Let us look at the first two verses:

Study the scriptures diligently
Perform well the rituals and actions
as described in the scriptures
Worship god through the performance
of ritual
Keep the mind from desire-originated
Let your sins be destroyed
Let the seeker inquire into the defects
of re-incarnation
Make a firm resolve to attain to the
True Self
Leave your own home immediately
Verse 1

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The first verse is the preparatory phase – the phase of the worldly person engaged in activity who is making an effort to learn more about spirituality. One should refer to reliable and time-tested works of wisdom to engage in the study of the self –this should be done regularly in order to overcome the resistance of our materialistic tendencies.

In the days of the Shankaracharya, it was customary for each person to perform his or her own rituals of worship, rather than go to a priest and every youth was taught the proper methods and mantras for this purpose. We are advised not to utilize the rituals for the sake of material gain or for pleasure but for the sake of removal our negativities so that we can move forward towards liberation from karma.

A meditation that the acharya recommends is to recollect the pain and suffering involved with re-birth driven by the wheel of karma. Once sufficient positive tendencies and good habits have been cultivated and a distaste for cycle of birth and death, then one
is ready to make the resolution to seek Self-Realization.

The advice to leave one’s home should be understood from the perspective of the time when it was necessary to journey great distances to find a Master who could guide the seeker towards the final goal and also the need for staying at an ashram for extended periods of time in order to gain the wisdom necessary. At the present time, it may not be necessary to go to such an extreme as with the communication age, everything seems to be within reach – spiritual teachers travel all over the world and there are workshops and retreats galore. However, it is good to keep in mind the level of dedication that the acharya is advocating and examine our own use of time and resources. Certainly, a realignment even for the house-holder is necessary as a serious spiritual practice requires a minimum of several hours per day!

Seek the company of the wise in satsang
Develop firm devotion to Brahman
Develop virtuous qualities mental
tranquility and restraint of senses
Let him renounce all rituals

Let him approach a wise sage
Let him serve the sage
Then let him inquire about the indestructible
Let him hear the mahavakyas – the
essence of the Vedas
Verse 2

Once we have started on the spiritual journey in earnest, then one should cultivate the company of the spiritual Masters and try to listen to them whenever possible – even watching videos or listening to CDs are acceptable. One should now drop all rituals or worship and focus on devotion to the one Divine with meditation on the vastness and orderliness of the universe and by singing praises of the Eternal Now. The acharya recommends simultaneously the cultivation of virtues such as nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing etc., in order to qualify for becoming a spiritual disciple. It is necessary to make a search for a sage – one who has attained to the state of Self-Realization – the search should include common-sense research to ensure one is not taken in by someone who is either deluded or making a pretence of their level of perfection. Once one has decided on the Master and prepared one-self appropriately, one can then approach such a Master with humility and an attitude of service.

In olden days, the seeker would be required to stay at the ashram from one to three years taking care of the place and looking after the needs of the Master, during which time, he will be tested time and again to ensure that he is ready for the higher teachings. Nowadays, the service would be more fund-raising or organization-oriented and will be defined by the Master. When the Master indicates that the seeker is ready, then the seeker becomes a disciple and will be given the appropriate guidance and


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