We can impartially judge something only when we stand apart from it. Detachment cannot exist when we have a sense of intense ownership or possessiveness. That is why an author or an artist consults reviewers for their opinions.
Our attachments lend false beauty to things; blinded with the pride of possession, we often fail to see the ugliness of cherished possessions. Just as we, blinded by attachments and prejudices, fail to see the real nature of things and beings, so also we, deluded by our lack of detachment, remain blissfully ignorant of our own weaknesses and faults. The divine life starts with the practice of detaching ourselves from our body, mind, and intellect, and impartially estimating the motives, intentions and purposes that lie behind our thoughts, words and deeds.
Such impartial witnessing is called introspection. It is not easy to accomplish. Self-analysis and self-criticism are hard tasks. At every stage, our self-conceit and egoistic self-congratulation covers our faults and shortcomings and invests them with a false charm.
The best time to introspect is at the close of the day’s activities. After dinner, a restful repose floods the mind. This is the sacred hour for negation and assertion. The psychological person in you is, at this moment, receptive and vividly transparent. Let the day’s activities, actions, motives, thoughts, and feelings stream by.
In the beginning, attempts at self-analysis may prove to be unsatisfactory. Your first analysis may seem like the narration of the ideal life lived by a god! Nevertheless, continue the practice. Seek to discover weaknesses, faults and animalisms in each day’s transactions. This process is called ‘detection’.
Within a week, it will be revealed that yours is not, in any sense, a god’s life. Dark reports should not discourage you. The darker the reports, the greater should be the effort to readjust your values and redirect your thought currents. Inner reformation always comes with revelation. When you have detected the weaknesses and are ashamed of them, at that moment, those traits are dead. This stage is known as ‘negation’.
At this point, you have won only half the battle. As soon as you apprehend and defeat a weakness, substitute its opposite virtue in your personality. Thereafter, look for its play during each day’s dealings, and you will find how the new virtue grows to be a natural trait in you. This stage is called ‘substitution’.
Introspection, detection, negation, and substitution – these constitute the preliminary processes in the purification and tempering of the seeker. Without this mellowing treatment, one is not fit for the strains of spiritual growth. Neglect of this unavoidable preparation for divine life has landed many enthusiasts on the wastelands of despair.
Unless he establishes contact with God, no divinity can flow into the seeker. Contact is a condition in the fulfilment of which spiritual growth comes into play. This contact is established by living the divine life.
Even then, the potential divinity cannot flood the mind of the person trying to live the divine life if he is already too full of the ‘undivine’. ‘Empty thyself, and I shall fill thee,’ is an eternal promise. This emptying of undivine contents starts with introspection, and is effected through careful, consistent detection and negation of grosser instincts. Substitution is the secret of invoking divine grace.
The author is founder of Chinmaya Mission.