Enriching Studies and Ennobling Company
Once you choose the spiritual life it becomes important what company you keep. For each person carries his own vibrations and they correspond to his type of life, his thoughts and feelings, his doings, his consciousness. They may be good and helpful or not good and therefore unhelpful, if not positively harmful. There are those whose atmosphere vitiates spiritual aspiration. Verbally or otherwise they create doubts, introduce stresses of disequilibrium and in many ways set in motion waves that are inimical to your progress. You need to be vigilant and avoid the company of such people. There are, further, some who are like vampires; they suck your vitality and leave you tired, dry. They may be interesting in their conversation, fascinating in other ways, but they leave you exhausted. You must make it a point to be away from these.
You would ask what is to be done where it is not in your hands to avoid them. Circumstances may be such that you are obliged to be in their company quite often, if not every day. There is a way. And that is not to have personal interchange with them. You can move with them, work with them in their company, but there should be no inner sympathy. Cultivate a kind of impersonal relation. They will not be able to affect you.
Seek the company of the good, the holy, those who have advanced on the Path. Sat-sang, company of the holy, plays an important part in spiritual life. A sage likens such a personage to a blazing fire. Every log of wood that is thrown in its precincts—whether dry or wet—gets warm and ready to catch flame. It is processed and readied by the very fact of being in close proximity to the Fire. When you are in the atmosphere of a person who has touched some depths or reached some heights, you automatically imbibe his vibrations. Known or unknown to you they have a powerful effect on you. Without much effort, obstructions in your nature begin to get dissipated, helpful movements like purity, aspiration are strengthened. A ripening goes on behind the surface.
Where do we get such saints and sages whose very company acts as a catalyst, you will ask. True, there are not too many these days and it is not always practical to search for them. But such sat-sang need not be sought necessarily in a physical sense. There are books containing the writings or utterances of such God-realised persons and they are full of their spiritual vibrations. Such books carry their charge, each word is instinct with their power of spiritual dynamis. Make it a point to devote some time daily to a reverent study of such authentic literature. Swadhyaya, disciplined study, is a long prescribed way to prepare oneself for spiritual life.
Certainly you do not need to read books on philosophy, though if they interest you, you may study them. They can help your mind to widen its understanding of the principles and processes of life, the goals and interests of the human mind, as seen and perceived by the expounders of philosophies. Know, however, that philosophies in general are mental speculations and systems. They do not necessarily help you in your sadhana. On the other hand, if you take each philosophical dissertation as gospel truth, you may get confused. Or you may know many philosophies and rest there in the smug belief that you have arrived.
What you want is experience, not theory. So give preference to books on spiritual practice, yoga, sadhana. Choose books that are an authentic record of the experiences and utterances of those who have attained to the Divine Consciousness. Choose, as far as possible, books that are related to the Ideal you have chosen, the Path you tread. For, as you know, there are many paths. There is the advaita, non-dualism, dvaita, dualism, puma advaita, integral realism and so on. The disciplines and the philosophies of each differ. Keep in mind their different starting points and their different goals when you read their treatises and take in only what helps you in your line. It is best first to study the writings that relate to your chosen path and only afterwards look into others in order to get an overall view and widen the mind.
To read what those who have gone before you have said has many advantages. You learn the steps, you stand warned of the pitfalls, you get a map of the route, so to say. You know the meaning of experiences that may come along the way. You benefit by their experience. You live in their atmosphere. The more you study them, the more you are prepared to walk on the same road. You get many indispensable hints that help you to advance quickly.
Do not try to understand everything at once. The mind has difficulty in grasping things that are truly beyond it. Your mind must learn to be passive and let the knowledge enshrined in the books grow on you. Read once, read twice, read thrice. You will begin to understand more each time. Not all books of a spiritual nature can be understood by the mind. The Mother speaks of understanding by the heart. Keep that in mind. There are works that can, when approached in the right spirit, take you straight to the destination. They are magazines of spiritual power and light. Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, The Mother, the Gita, the Isha Upanishad are instances to the point. There are others too. You have to study them with humility, devotion, treat them not as literary productions but as personalities with an enduring impact on those who come to them.
Of course it is not enough to read and know. It is required of you that you practise what you read, put it into your daily life, orientate your thinking and feeling in terms of what you read.
Do not try to read too much. Read quietly and slowly as much as you can digest. Note the main points of what you have read, either in the margin or preferably, in a separate note-book. Include a brief recapitulation of these points in your nightly look-back on the events of the day. As you make this a regular part of your daily programme, you will find that this reading gives you a spiritual nourishment that gives tone to your whole day.