Friday, February 7, 2014

The concept of 'sAdhanA'

Here is an attempt to look at a predominantly experiential cultural concept, through the eyes of a participant observer.

“Long distance running is not just about physical fitness, its an attitude” a friend of mine had told me when I first started training for marathons. Anybody who has run a marathon would agree that taming one’s mind and keeping it focused is probably as big a challenge as building physical fitness needed for the long runs. It is also increasingly being understood that the practice apart from building physical endurance, can also build mental stamina that manifests in other aspects of one's life – especially in one's drive and disposition - what my friend loosely called “attitude”.  And many times this mental enrichment that accrues can far outlive the marathons.

This is true not just for long distance running, but for sports, music, arts or any such thing that can be passionately pursued over a long period of time. Whoever has pursued Indian music or dance would know, this process of nourishing the mind through a practice, is called ‘sAdhanA’. In the Indian civilizational milieu, music, dance, an art form, martial arts or for that matter any inspired action (called kriyA) is considered an aid to one’s spiritual growth.
When somebody talks of taking up music as a sAdhanA, as my teacher often did, it means taking it up as the highest form of worship. It means preparing one’s mind to receive the knowledge, by focusing on cultivating the patience, perseverance and passion (and also the dispassion) required for its practice. By focusing on these rather than just on the skill, one can build mental stamina, an ability to watch one’s own mind, a greater level of tolerance, greater focus, lesser fluctuations of mind, an ability to enrich oneself constantly and also the ability to pursue happiness through the action. In short something similar to what the Buddhists in the West refer to as ‘Mindfulness’[1]. But while Buddhists believe it is possible to achieve this essentially through meditation, other Hindu spiritual traditions believe that like meditation, it can be achieved through music, through dance, through sevA (selfless service) or through inspired action of any kind.

sAdhanA considers the journey itself as the destination; the process itself as the goal and the results that accrue because of the practice like success, fame, money, appreciation etc as just the by-products (prasAda) and not the goal of the process.

sAdhanA hence involves detaching oneself from the fruits while engaging passionately with the process of learning or action and experiencing the pure joy of that moment (what Bhagawad Geeta calls nishkAma karma).  ‘Concentrate on your action; leave the fruits unto themselves’ says the Bhagavad Geeta.  Baba Ranchoddass in the film ‘Three Idiots’ puts it in simpler words when he says “Don’t run behind success, let success run behind you”. This is not any metaphysical proposition but a very practical and a common sense technique that can help the practice of any knowledge and also make it transformative and enriching in one’s life. While, it could be stumbled upon by anybody independently, when such pursuits are combined with the experiential exploration of one’s own inner self,  sAdhanA as a concept, explicitly acknowledges this inner journey, systematically understands it and consciously focuses on it. 


1. On a different but related note, a six week course on 'Mindfullness Meditation' named "Search Inside Yourself (SIY)" is being offered at Google for its employees to help them build emotional intelligence and reduce stress.  


  1. Pavan Savoy: Wonderful read ! Discipline followed to achieve a goal and not the goal itself is sAdhana , but what kind of goal should it be? If my goal is to be rich and discipline of stingy-ness I follow to save money is sAdhana?
    I hope you post next on concepts like "niyatha karma" and "dharma sAdhanam"...

  2. Very true Pavan. your question becomes even more pertinent in the context of how Indian civilizational worldview looks at the question of 'morality' (figuring out the difference between good and bad) and ones responsibility (consequences of ones actions).


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