In order to more fully discover what keeps us stuck in life, we must take a look at what we withhold from the universe. When a plan or project doesn’t move forward, either effort has not been put forward or the effort does not match the scale of the obstacles in the way. Hindus pray to Mahaganapati, Lord of the Ganas (Servants of the Gods), also known as Vigneshwara, Remover of Obstacles, in order to get the flow of energy moving again, to break the cycle of low return on a low investment. The philosophy of the Vedas, otherwise known as Santana Dharma or Hinduism, teaches the relationship of cause and effect. Those of us who want a big return must also make a big investment. Wherever there is stasis, lack, or privation, there must also be some corresponding ill use of resources. To use resources (like time, money, and relationships) in the best way requires that we first align our use of these resources with our most deeply held beliefs. If we knowingly or unknowingly commit resources to projects that do not align with our values, we experience lack and privation. Second, the resources committed must match or exceed the obstacles in the way.
In order to overcome obstacles, we must either put our own resources towards overcoming them or partner with others who have similar interests. We can partner with other mortals, with the devas, or with our ancestors in seeking to advance ourselves down the right path in life. The skeptic will say that prayers to gods and ancestors can’t make any difference, but our tradition teaches otherwise. In order to stop withholding our gifts from the universe, we must first feel ourselves to be in a safe space. Fear causes the action of withholding, and this fear has its roots in the sense of insecurity. The person who feels more secure will commit more resources to the cause than the person who does not feel secure. The person who believes in a secular, materialist, autonomous, isolated self will feel less secure, for he or she believes that it really all does depend on the individual. The person who believes in greater values, like the Satsanga, the lineage, the ancestors, the community, etc., will feel more secure, for the responsibility of living according to dharma is spread across the generations and across a dense web of relationships. Practicing the rituals of the tradition affirms the link between generations (sages and ancestors to progeny), between orders of nature (human, animal, vegetable, mineral), and between metaphysical orders (divine, subtle and material reality). By giving the mind a firm foundation in these differing layers of reality, the practitioner of dharma begins from a position of strength. From this position of strength, the Work of inner and outer transformation proceeds more smoothly.
If we want to know why we are “stuck” in one particular area of life, we must ask ourselves, “What am I withholding from the universe?” This line of questioning will undoubtedly lead to some form of self-sabotage in which we have not given ourselves wholeheartedly to a spouse, to an artistic project, to an employer, to a spiritual vow. You might object to this form of inquiry, saying, “But I am afraid that someone will take advantage of me if I give myself fully.” This fear is certainly legitimate, and it is one reason why we invoke the protection of the Satsanga. When we give to the community, we also receive its support in return. At the same time, if the fear persists, we must ask whether the situation is dharmic in the first place. If we live in constant fear of exploitation, something must be amiss. The dharma does not require us to stay in a place where someone continually takes advantage of our labor. But we always must inquire into whether it is merely the ego that is at stake or some larger sense of justice. We are not required to protect the ego, but we are required to protect justice. Discerning between the two can take a lot of personal and communal struggle, and very few rules of thumb apply that can give us the answers in all situations.
Provided that no exploitation has taken place, and provided that we really believe in the goal that we profess, their can be no remaining excuses for not applying ourselves to the task fully and completely. Once that is done, the battle is almost over. When the victory in the mind has been won, the victory in the world will soon follow. The results may not be as grandiose as we expected, but we will certainly be better off than we would be if no effort had been made. To give a silly example, let’s say that I have a headache that I rank at a ’10’ (meaning the most pain) on a scale of 1-10. If I take a medicine, and I now rank my pain at a ‘7,’ do I say that the medicine did not work? No, because I reduced my level of pain by 30%. Should I go ahead and take the whole bottle of pills? No! I should only do what is proportional to the situation, working according to my path in life and what that path allows. Spiritual practices are most efficacious in the life of the individual when they do not fall above or below a certain recommended dose. How much should I exert myself? To the point that it causes me some pain, but not to the point that it causes major disruption in my life. Householders must behave like householders, and monks like monks, but there should be a certain “family resemblance” between the two paths of spirituality.
We can say then, that if we exert ourselves in sadhana, we will also exert ourselves in mundane ways, and vice versa. Failing to exert oneself, to give of oneself in a spirit of generosity, even extravagance, will not yield the desired result. Reality will be harsh and unyielding in this way, and yet, if we can really understand this law, we have a chance of succeeding, in spirituality or in any other area of life. I must not only give but give to the greatest of my ability, and then my new Self can emerge from hiding. This is a difficult teaching, but it also holds great promise.