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The five steps or pillars of sadhana which will be discussed in this

short writing are:

There are other steps or pillars of sadhana, but here, I would like to
concentrate on these five. Within each of these five pillars there are
many steps. If you try to jump to the highest step right in the
beginning you can harm yourself. Therefore you practice these under
guidance and you take them one step at a time. Take them according
to your capacity or maybe just five percent above your capacity, so
that the exercise of them increases your capacity.
All of the pillars are interdependent. You cannot practice only one
without practicing the other four. When you practice one properly
then the other four come automatically. You could just as well say
that silence is the major one and the other four are its supporting
pillars. Or you could say that stillness is the major one and the other
four are the supporting pillars. Because of this we might say that the
pillars of sadhana are a flower with five petals.

Let us begin with the pillar of

There are several possible divisions in stillness.

1. Whole body stillness

For example, the stillness in your complete posture. It may be
practiced in all three body positions:
lying down,
The stillness of the posture is the stillness of the meditation posture.
Then comes a state of stillness in your yoga postures. There should
come a point in a yoga posture when in that position you are
absolutely still. One should contrast that stillness with the movement
which brings you to the center point of stillness of that posture.
2. Stillness of the active senses
For example, stillness of the hands, stillness of the feet, and so on.
When you are standing, are your feet really absolutely still or are they
shuffling about? One day I was in the embassy of the Netherlands in
Delhi applying for a visa, and they were allowing only one or two
persons in at a time. Others were standing outside the main gate. The
main gate was open at the bottom and I could see the shoes of the
people standing outside. It is very interesting to watch just peoples
feet, or just peoples hands, moving. You can tell much about their
character. Many times when my Master taught me stillness of the
active senses he would call me to discuss some matter, and he would
deliberately do something to excite me. And as soon as I got excited
my hands would shoot up. He would look at my hands, say nothing,
and I knew that I was getting unnecessarily excited.
Stillness of the active senses has three divisions:
a. Stillness of all five active senses simultaneously
b. Stillness of one active sense while the other senses are in motion.

c. Within the active sense, one side active and the other side without
any motion. This is learned through tension-relaxation exercises or
exercise without movement in which you tense one hand and relax
the other. Can you move your right hand fast but have your left hand
remain absolutely relaxed?
3. Stillness of the cognitive senses
Stillness of the cognitive senses also has divisions.
a. All cognitive senses still at the same time
b. One or two of the senses are still, while the other senses are active.
I am not sure if you can actually move one eye and keep the other eye
still; that would be quite an accomplishment. But there are practices in
which something similar is possible. For example, when we practice
concentration on inner sound, we shut off the left ear and we listen
only with the right ear. That does not mean that you put a cotton ball
in the left ear. You just switch off the connection with the left ear.
And then comes:
4. Stillness of breath
Stillness of breath is of two kinds.
a. One is that which we normally practice as the first meditative
exercise, breathing, which is as smooth and gentle a flow as
b. The other one that is more popular but not taught in our tradition
as widely as in the tradition of Hatha Yoga, is holding the breath at a
certain stage of Pranayama. Here I would like to repeat a warning that
I have often given on this question of holding the breath. Holding the
breath is a very powerful exercise. The first mistake people make is to

start to practice retention before having mastered correct breathing

technique, breathing from the diaphragm, the stomach and the navel.
While still prone to chest breathing, they begin doing retention. As a
result what is being held is not breath; it is a gasp, and it is held
urgently. So the mind is being jerked in the process instead of being
calmed through retention. Secondly, with retention, whatever
samskaras and inclinations are in a person are strengthened. So if a
person has the bad habit of breathing incorrectly retention will make it
firmer. Psychologically, whatever negative forces are stored in a
person will become stronger, so the angry person will become angrier.
A lustful person will become more lustful. In our tradition we do not
recommend retention until the correct breathing technique has
become natural. Learning correct breathing technique also cleanses
the mental contents. So for our purpose at this time, the stillness of
breath that is recommended is just simply slow and gentle breathing
according to the correct breathing methods.
5. Stillness of mind
This is where we enter into meditation through relaxation,
concentration, and contemplation. We need to be aware of an
important thing about all five pillars of sadhana that we are
discussing. And that is that there is a two way progression:
from outside inwards and from inside outwards.

For example, by stilling the body you still the mind.

That is the movement from outside inwards.
The easier way is to still the mind causing the body to become
automatically still with very little physical training.
This is inside outwards.

There are many students whom our Master, Swami Rama, never
encouraged to take up Hatha Yoga, such as all the inner washes and
so on. For example; I have never done those myself. I asked him,
Do I need to do those Swamiji , Do I learn them? He said, No, not
necessary. Your part is the inner part. So I have learnt to still my
body by stilling the mind. In fact, I have made no effort to still the
body. I have made no effort in practicing silence. I have not struggled
with the question of celibacy. I used to fast before my Master came
into my life in 1969, and asked, Why do you do all of these things! I
have done them already. Many students, many disciples, when they
meet their Master, have to do all this tapasya . I have a life of luxury
because my Master did it for me. My progression has been from
inside outwards. When you have developed stillness of the mind, all
the other pillars come automatically. Among the eight constituents of
Yoga, the fifth one is pratyahara .
People do not understand the differentiation or definition of
pratyahara . It is when the mind is calmed down. The power of the
senses merged into such a mind becomes calm and still; that is
pratyahara . The exercises that we do for point to point breathing in
the Yoga text are called pratyahara because those exercises cause the
mind to become calm and the senses to merge with the mind. So, this
movement from the calmness of the mind to the external pillars is
automatic, is the easy way.
The movement from outside in is the more difficult way. If the mind is
fasting you have no desire for all sorts of food. For example, I have
found that when I practice silence, the desire for taste automatically
begins to disappear. Now, in such an experience
the movement can happen both ways.
The silence of speech calms the mind and then the movement from
inside outwards occurs, the calm mind removes the desire for physical
taste. But it does not always happen and not with every one. I have

seen people trying to practice one of the five pillars and making up for
that deprivation by indulging in something else. For example, on the
fasting day talking too much because they are compensating by one
activity of the mouth for the loss of the other activity of the mouth.
Or, they may, in the days of silence eat more than usual. So you must
watch that the practices of any of these five pillars of sadhana are not
merely physical ones. They should lead to an inward movement of
mind and the mind should then automatically create the other four
pillars in you. You may do this with any of the five pillars in whatever
sequence you prefer.
The ultimate aim of stillness is samadhi . It is said that if you can sit
absolutely still for three hours and thirty-three minutes you can have
samadhi ; absolute stillness means not even a wink of an eye, not even
a twitch in the body. But it does not happen without a lot of sadhana
of the other practices.
Now let us discuss the pillar of
Fasting is a kind of silence.
It is a kind of celibacy.
It is a kind of stillness .
It is stillness of one of the active senses, the sense of taste. It is a
stillness of one of the inner organs. It is stillness of the entire
endocrine system. They are all related to each other.
There are many kinds of fasting.
1. The best fasting is eating moderately.

Texts on Ayurveda and on Yoga give us this advice: that half the
stomach should be full of food. Space should be left in one quarter of
the stomach for water and one quarter should be left for breath.
2. Eat five mouthfuls less than enough to fill the stomach.
This is the most difficult fasting. Some physicians suggest that one
should not have any water half an hour before and half an hour after
eating except for a few sips or limit liquids to the water which is
already in the juices of the food that you are eating. I have personally
found this to be very beneficial. But it is up to you to experiment.
3. Partial fasting
There are special days of fasting in all cultures of the world. The
Christians have certain special fasting days. During the period of Lent,
partial fasting is taken on for forty days; in the sense that you give up
one or two items of food. In India when pilgrims make a pilgrimage
to Haridwar and Rishikesh or are en route through these cities to a
sacred place in the mountains, upon reaching their destination, besides
doing their puja or worship offering, also make the offering of giving
up one favorite food forever. It could be potatoes or it could be
mangos. This is very common practice. This is also a form of partial
fasting. Muslims fast for the thirty days of Ramazan. This is also
partial fasting, because they eat before sunrise and after moonrise, or
after sunset. They do not take water even in the hottest desert of
Arabia during that time. One day I was flying from New Delhi to New
York, a twenty four hour flight. There were Muslim travelers who did
not eat or drink anything during the entire flight. They arrived at New
York at 3 p.m., so there were still many hours yet before they could
break the fast. That kind of fasting gives you great inner strength.
The purpose of fasting may differ. Complete or partial fasting may be
done for physical health or cleansing. Or there is fasting as part of a

There is a tradition in India that teaches that if you know that you have
done something wrong then instead of waiting for your karma to
ripen until some other lifetime you make it ripen now. There are two
words related to this. One word is pashchat tapa , which means
feeling an inner burning after having committed a transgression. The
improper translation of this word in the west is guilt feeling. There is
no guilt, rather it is simply an acknowledgment of my imperfection,
my failure and responsibility. I cleanse myself of that karma by
prayaschitta , which means progression of the mind, making the mind
move forward. You free yourself through an act of penitence. For
prayaschitta one may undertake a pilgrimage, a long period of
silence, or different kinds of fasting.
4. Fasting for the collective good
Gandhi made it into a national spiritual technique. When the nation
did not do what he advised them to do, he declared himself
incomplete and did tapasya of fasting to purify himself with the idea
that if he was purer they might listen to him. This is actually a very,
very ancient tradition in India. It also happens in families and is used
almost as an emotional blackmail. It is very common for people, if
they are angry, to just stopping eating. This goes on for a day or two
and then the whole family starts gathering around and asking, What
is the matter, come on, say something. It has its uses; it has its
misuses; but quite often it works as a total family purification. You
see, in the Indian temperament, and perhaps the Asian temperament
in general, instead of acting out aggressively towards others, you
transfer that force toward yourself in some form of self sacrifice.
5. Fasting on certain sacred days
In India there are also certain days that are sacred. In different
families, different days are sacred. For example the astrologer may say
that Mars is a bad planet for you. Now, the astrologers in India not

only give predictions, they also give a preventative measure or remedy

for the negative forces. The astrologer might give you a special mantra
to do 125,000 times that will pacify the angry planet. At the same time,
you might be asked to make a donation of 11 pieces of 1 1/4 yard red
cloth, or a donation of a certain type of grain such as wheat or sesame
seed, or you might be asked to give away a measure of a particular oil
or a particular metal: gold for the sun, copper for Saturn, and so on.
The astrologer may also tell you to fast on the day of Mars, that is
Tuesday. So people fast on a certain day for a certain period of time.
People also have their favorite form of divine incarnation and certain
days of the week, or of the year, which are the sacred days of that
divine incarnation. Many people right here in Rishikesh fast on
Tuesday because it is the day of their favorite deity Hanuman. Many
people in the spiritual tradition fast on Thursdays because it is the day
of Jupiter, the guru of devas, gods, and in this way the guru is
honored. For each of these types of fast, you decide on the degree of
fasting; it could be only on fruits or it could be only on juices and so
6. Physical limitations on fasting.
There are certain diseases during which one should not fast. Or, during
certain types of diseases one can take special fasts, such as having
certain types of juices. Fasting is internal cleansing. If you undertake
any kind of a long fast, make sure that you know the principle of
internal cleansing. Some of the practices of Hatha Yoga are useful for
this. During a fast you will need to decide which postures and how
much of them you can do. For all of this you must consult an expert.
Never enter any spiritual practice with the ambition that you are going
to do the highest, the utmost, the extreme. Be moderate.
7. The complete fast
Again, the complete fast may have a physical purpose and it may
have a spiritual purpose. Between the two, physical and spiritual, the


fasting will help the practice of the other four pillars of sadhana . I
have experimented with all kinds of complete forms of fasting and
observed their effects: for fifteen days eating only vegetables, for
fifteen days living only on milk, for fifteen days drinking only water
mixed with a little lemon juice and a little honey. These are
experiments you can make. As with any other of the four pillars you
should gauge your capacity and stay within that capacity.
There is one final purpose of fasting. There are certain religious
traditions in India such as the Jainas. Among them this purpose of
fasting is very well known. This is when a monk of a very high
spiritual standing decides that he has accomplished the spiritual
purpose of his life, and he or she then decides to give up food and
water and slowly, while spending the time in deep meditation and
japa, finally leaves the body. Do not confuse this with suicide. Suicide
is a result of disturbance of mind but this kind of abandoning of the
body in the Jaina tradition is a result of complete peacefulness of

The third pillar of sadhana is

Like the other pillars silence also has many levels.
1. The principle of silence in practice is part of our proper
upbringing everywhere.
We are taught a certain amount of silence right from childhood when
our parents tell us not to shout so loud or not to gossip about others.
These are all parts of the principles of the practice of silence. In some
matters we automatically keep silence. For example, certain things


between conjugal partners, are kept silent. A wife is not supposed to

bear witness against her husband, and vice versa, in a court of law.
One does not have to break marital confidence. So often when we are
surrounded by noise we long for silence. The principle of silence is
extended to moral and ethical silence. You know somebodys secret;
you keep silent about it.
2. Every night we are forced to become silent for eight hours.
Sleep is an involuntary practice of silence.
3. The practice of silence can also be a part of the practice of
For example, when someone is angry and you are patient with him
and do not shout back. Here, silence becomes a part of forgiveness.

4. Silence concerning selective spiritual matters

For example, one does not tell ones mantra to anyone; one is silent
about it. The purpose of that silence is to absorb the mantra to
oneself by retaining the energy that you would otherwise lose by
5. Silence about spiritual experiences
One does not speak to others about the spiritual experiences one has
had unless you are a teacher and some reference to some spiritual
experience will be helpful to a student. Make especially sure that you
are not speaking of any spiritual experience out of ego to show off,
Oh look what great spiritual experiences I have. Just as husband
and wife do not speak to others about certain matters between them,
teachers and students and gurus and disciples do not speak of certain
matters that are between them. The guru knows the secrets of your


mind and keeps them concealed from others. Or the guru does not
reveal prematurely anything about the future that he knows. He could
sit down and tell every event that is going to take place in a disciples
life, but he remains silent.
6. Silence is also appropriate in the relationships among disciples.
For example, you know that your spiritual preceptor scolded a fellow
disciple. You keep silent about it. What passes between the preceptor
and another disciple is between them; you have nothing to do with it.
Another aspect of silence between the preceptor and the disciple,
concerns the disciple growing more and more sensitive to silent
communication on the part of the preceptor. It may be done in the
form of actions done by the preceptor which indicate something to the
student without the preceptor saying so in words. Or it may be one
small gesture that gives a very detailed direction to the disciple who
has become sensitive. And then there is teaching in silence without
any action and without any expression in which direct knowledge is
passed from the guru to the disciples mind.
7. Periods of time when you choose to be silent as a spiritual
Whatever principles you apply to fasting you may apply to silence.
Let us say that you have two hours in the house all to yourself and
you decide to be silent. There is nobody to speak to so you say you
have practiced silence. Its like the story of a very religious man I read
about a long ago. Three days a week he used to fast because of a
religious conviction. He was very, very, very poor and he said, I am
so glad I am a religious man who fasts three days a week, otherwise I
would have to starve. Starving is not fasting. So what is the
difference between starving and fasting? In one there is intention and
in the other there is not the intention. Without the intention it becomes
a suffering; with intention it becomes purification. It is the same with
silence. When you begin your silence, even for one or two hours, you


must do in your mind a sankalpa; you must express the intention, I

shall be silent. The mere silence of speech is no silence at all. Silence
must be the silence of the mind. It must be a peacefulness of the
mind. Also during that one or two hour period, what kind of silence
are you practicing? Are you turning on the television? Then it is not
silence. Pacifying the emotional turmoil, pacifying the conflicts of
thought during that period is silence. Slowly you can deepen the
practice of silence, not listening to a cassette, not reading a book, not
writing a letter. But also not sitting there and getting bored. Do
something with your mind, practice contemplation or do your japa.
Slowly you increase your period of silence. It may be half a day, a
week, or longer or more frequently. And one thing to watch out for is
that many people who are not used to the practice of silence do
become emotional. If you are ambitious, then you can set yourself
the goal: in three years time or five years time to take a forty-one day
Silence is of two kinds.
a. One is called akara mauna where only the speech communication
b. The other is called kastha mauna where there is a level of silence
which one expresses nothing, even with the eyes or hand gestures.
Then there is also a different division of two kinds of silence.
a. Maintaining silence of speech is one level.
b. The other level is that in which you practice the silence of the mind
without having to practice the silence of speech. This is the most
difficult kind of silence. In this practice of silence the mind is kept
silent and only a very small part of the mind is used for speaking.


A meditation teacher needs to be a master of this kind of silence. It

is with this kind of silence that one can run organizations, one can
sit in board meetings, and one can do all of ones activities and still
be silent. You also need this kind of silence when you are
confronted with the negative emotions of others. You can even
protest and express anger if necessary while maintaining silence of
this kind.
There is a word in Hindi, kiriya . It is used when someone swears by
some thing. It is short for saccha kiriya , that is an act of truth. An
act of truth is performed by using the accumulated power of some
form of secret you have kept for a long time. There are many stories
about such acts of truth. Here is one of those stories.
It is said that emperor Ashoka, in the 3rd century BC, was standing by
the river Ganges (Ganga) near his capital. In the history of India
Ashoka is well known as the most noble king.
Being an emperor
Ashoka could naturally follow whatever whim he wished. So he said
to his ministers, I wonder if it is possible for anyone to make the river
flow back towards the mountains! The ministers, not wanting to
offend the emperor, very gently told him, Sir, many things are
possible but perhaps this is not one of them. A courtesan was
passing by. She said, You are all wise ministers, and who am I to
speak in the presence of a great emperor, but may I have permission
to speak please? So, she was granted permission. She said, Even
someone as lowly as myself can make the river flow backwards.
They asked her to demonstrate. She stood there, closed her eyes and
did a saccha kiriya , an act of truth. And the emperor saw that,
indeed, the river was flowing backwards towards the mountains.
That is enough, he said, Let the river flow naturally. And she let
the river flow. The king and his wise men asked her what her secret
was. How could a prostitute have such power? She said When I
was younger and circumstances led me into this kind of life, I said to
myself that there is very little good I can do in this life to raise myself,
but I must do something. So I made one vow to myself, that though I


lead the life of a prostitute, whether a prince comes to me or a leper

comes to me, in mind and body I will treat them absolutely equally.
And I have kept to that secret truth in my life. I have not let it out to
this day. It is by the power of this truth that I have been able to make
the river flow backwards. However, for this kind of power you must
keep your truth a secret.

Now we come to the very difficult topic of

There is a whole detailed art and science of celibacy. This is the most
difficult practice for modern people. Celibacy is in the same category
as stillness and fasting. It is a kind of silence. It is a silencing of ones
senses because sexual activity is an activity in which the five active
and five cognitive senses and the mind, all eleven, are totally absorbed
at the same time.
So whereas fasting and silence are partial practices, celibacy is the
totality of fasting, silence and stillness.
The tradition of celibacy is found in all the religious and cultural
traditions of the world. Unfortunately I find in the western world that
the poor Catholic nuns and monks are not taught the reason for it.
Nor are they taught the fine art and science of the practice of celibacy.
1. One form of the practice of celibacy is marriage.
Being celibate in relation to all men and women except the married
partner is a form of celibacy. In India it is still the common rule that
eighty percent of men and women have had no sexual experience
before marriage. So that when they take the vows of renunciation it is
much easier for them. There is no point in fasting or keeping silence


while your other senses remain restless. By mutual agreement a

husband and wife can set aside one day of the week for prayer and
rise above the flesh. Further, because marriage is an initiation and
sacrament, for the first three nights after the wedding the bride and
bridegroom in India always remain celibate in preparation for the
sacred life ahead. The marriage is not based on rushing into the
relationship of flesh but is understood as something deeply spiritual.
Again just as with silence and fasting, so with continence within
marriage, go slowly. I have seen people thinking that celibacy is an
essential part of spiritual progress, so they suddenly become celibate
within marriage, and then boast about their accomplishment. But this
only creates immense tension in both partners. Be moderate about it.
Reduce the frequency and thereby increase the intensity of love. In
this way you can appreciate the other partner beyond the physical
appearance. There are many other subtler things for husbands and
wives to enjoy in each other. In deciding to set aside a day of
celibacy, just like a day of fasting or of silence, where the two sit in
silence together, the richness of that nonphysical silence will be such
that you will realize what the spiritual union of two persons means.
You may choose to slowly increase the frequency and duration of
such stillness, silence, fasting, and celibacy.
2. In India it is customary to refrain from sexual activity at least
one night or three nights before any sacraments or during
sacred days.
For example, the parents giving away their daughter as a bride is a
sacrament. They maintain celibacy on the previous night and fast on
that day. Only after the bride has been given away do they break the
In the traditions of India we have four stages of life.


The first stage is brahmacharya , the period of the celibate student

seeking spiritual and secular knowledge.
The second stage is grihastha , the stage of householder in which you
practice celibacy by exclusion. One gives oneself as a gift exclusively
to the person one loves.
The third stage is known as vanaprastha or the forest dweller. People
who take the vows of this forest dweller stage, may stay right at home,
but the husband and wife thereafter become friends rather than
marriage partners. They agree to devote the rest of their lives together
to finding God. Let God and the spiritual Guide be the link between
us. Let our human love rise to the level of divine love. In ancient
times those who took such a vow initially slept with a stick between
them. It is a more difficult period of life spiritually than the period of
renunciation. One may fail, one may succeed, one may fail again, and
then may succeed more and more often. When my Master advised me
to take the vow of vanaprastha he said, Sex is just a habit and like
any habit it can be changed . So vanaprastha , the forest dweller
stage is the stage when husband and wife spend time together in
prayer, in sadhana , in spiritual practices, encourage each other, help
and guide each other and share God between them.
The fourth stage which a very few rare ones reach is the state of
renunciation, sanyasa, when stillness, silence, fasting, and celibacy all
come together and become natural.
Once upon a time there was a king. The king had a brother. The
brother had left the kingdom long ago to go and become an ascetic.
Having received blessings and powers through his
tapasya he
returned and lived on the other side of the river from the royal palace.
He lived in a mud hut as an ascetic, as a sadhu.
The kings wife became pregnant. Now, in India there is a tradition
that a pregnant woman should spend her time in spiritual pursuit, so


that a spiritually awakened child is born. And there are certain

practices, certain things the woman does during pregnancy, which the
family helps to make possible. The kings wife had the strong desire
to sit at the feet of her husbands brother the saint. She expressed this
desire to her husband. Oh yes, he said, go tomorrow and spend
the day with my brother on the other side of the river. The tradition
is that you never go to a holy man empty handed, you always bring
him some gift, some fruit, some such offering. So in the morning
before leaving, the kings wife prepared some food and was ready to
go. As she had to cross the river, she said to her husband, Have you
arranged a boat for me? He said, What do you need the boat for?
She said, To get across. He said, No, no you do not need the boat.
Just go stand by the river and do asaccha kiriya , an act of truth.
She said, What act of truth? I dont have any powers. He said,
Take mine. Go, stand by the river, close your eyes and say in your
mind, Since my husband the king was initiated by his Master three
years ago, if my husband has never broken his vow of celibacy, by the
power of that truth, may the river part and let me go across dry.
The kings wife was very puzzled because she was carrying his child,
but she went and stood by the river and made the act of truth. And
right in front of her eyes the river parted and made way for her to
cross. She could not understand it.
She went to the sadhu, served him, received his teachings, fed him the
food she had prepared and in the evening it was time for her to return
to the palace. But again she had no way to cross the river. The sadhu
said, Do a saccha kiriya , an act of truth. Stand by the river, close
your eyes and say in your mind, If thesadhu, the master whom I
have served this day, has never since his initiation by his Master
broken his fast, may the river part and let me go across. The kings
wife was again puzzled because she had been feeding him the whole
day. But she went to the river and did the act of truth and, for the
second time, the river parted and she went across. Now, really
confused, she went to her husband and asked, What is going on? I
am carrying your child and you make me swear by your three-year


celibacy. I fed the sadhu, your brother, the whole day and he makes
me swear by his fast. Then the king, who was also a wise man,
explained, Lady, mind is a vast force. If in one little corner of the
ocean there is some small amount of dirt, the rest of the ocean is still
clean and pure. Mind is even vaster and deeper than the entire ocean.
Others live by only that little part of the mind which is active. They
see only that part of the ocean, that tiny corner where there is some
dirt. So to them the mind has no fasting and the mind contains no
celibacy because they have been breaking the vows. For them, that
little portion of the sea being dirty, the whole sea is dirty. Those who
are on the path to enlightenment know the rest, the vast expanse, of
the mind. And with that awareness the little indulgence in marital
duties or the little eating in the day does not break their celibacy and
does not break their fast. Myself and my brother, I as a king and he as
an ascetic, have understood this and in the major portion of our minds
we are always celibate, always fasting, always silent.
The fifth pillar of sadhana is
Why is the conquest of sleep necessary? For one thing, if you could
sleep two hours less, how much more you could do. But more than
that the conquest of sleep is conquest of the second state of mind out
of the five that I have mentioned in the commentary on theYoga
Sutras . The conquest of sleep is to overcome the state of stupor, the
state of tamas. The conquest of sleep cannot occur without
purification of emotions. Swami Rama said that no one sleeps more
than three and half hours. The rest of the time we dream. Dreaming is
a disease because we dream to deal with suppressed emotions. If we
purify our emotions we need less and less time to dream and are
enabled to experience more of the sattvic sleep. In less time you
achieve a deeper rest and you wake up in a joyful state of mind. But
be moderate. Just as with the other pillars of sadhana , reduce your


sleeping hours slowly, otherwise you can drive yourself crazy. In the
process of trying to get rid of the disease of dreaming, you can end up
with diseases that arise from deprivation of sleep. So, reduce your
sleeping time by 15 minutes at a time. Spend those 15 minutes in
shavasana practices or meditation before going to sleep at night.
Then you have calmed your emotions and you will not feel as if you
have slept 15 minutes less. Slowly go to half an hour. As your
emotions purify and as the shavasana practices leading to yoga-nidra
intensify, your need for actual sleep will become less and less.
Twenty years ago when my Master used to tell me that I should not
need to sleep more than three and a half hours, I used to wonder how
it would be possible! Now I seldom sleep more than three-and-a-half
hours. I do sometimes because of physical illness, but otherwise
three-and-a-half hours is enough. If you have the right kind of mind
when falling asleep you will wake up with the right kind of mind,
because a certain level of mind remains active underneath the blanket
of sleep. And just where your mind left off before falling asleep, that
is where it picks up as you wake. Over the last fifteen years I have
developed a habit that (even if I sleep for two hours) when I wake, I
get into the shavasana position and wake up throughyoga- nidra.
Then I am alert and joyful.
This is not a practice of suffering a deprivation, but a practice of the
subtle art of life. I learn languages in the time that I am falling asleep
and when I am waking up. My inspirations, my poetry, my lectures
come at that time. My answers to problems and my decisions come at
that time. These benefits come about because the time while falling
asleep and the time of trying to wake up is not wasted. Few
techniques for conquering sleep have been devised anywhere, in any
other path. However, there are the following instances. In India, it is
common to do jagaran , in the Punjab known as jagrata , the all night
vigil of worship to ones favorite deity or the listening to sacred
scriptures. In the Christian tradition there are matins , morning prayers
at four or five in the morning. In the monasteries one can hear the


recitation of prayers at that time. The morning mass is one of the

most sacred and in strongly Catholic societies one sees people going
to the church washed and clean at that early hour. For the injunction
of the namaz five times a day in Islam the most sacred, the most
important one, is at 4 a.m. Similarly in the Indian tradition, brahma
muhurta , from 3 to 4:30 a.m. is the most sacred and is the time one
should get up and do ones prayers. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna
repeatedly calls Arjuna Gudakesha, lord of sleep, because it is known
that when the lower three states of consciousness, wakefulness,
dream, and sleep have been mastered only then samadhi ensues.
Again and again Krishna seems to remind Arjuna, Now that you
have conquered the third state of consciousness, sleep, you are ready
for the teaching I am about to impart. These are examples of partial
conquest of sleep similar to those of partial fasting, partial silence,
certain nights of celibacy, and partial stillness.
There are other pillars of sadhana besides these five, such as the
progression of japa, relaxation, concentration, contemplation,
meditation; but that is another direction of sadhana . Yet another
channel of sadhana is the practice of purifying ones emotions, so
that you can practice principles like non-violence.
All of the five pillars ofsadhana are supportive of each other. If you
practice only one, your practice is incomplete. They all should be
balanced with each other. On the other hand if you perfect one, the
others will also be perfected.

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