Foundations of a Spiritual Journey

Foundations of a Spiritual Journey

Strength for success

Your spiritual journey requires a strong foundation to support you through the doubts, fears, and distractions that will inevitably challenge you. Find out how to build that strong foundation in this article from the Chopra Center.

By Roger Gabriel (Raghavanand)

You can think of a spiritual practice as something similar
to building a beautiful, tall mansion set in lush gardens. This mansion is like
no other. When finished, it will be filled with exquisite works of art,
celestial music, and treasures beyond compare. Everything you could ever want
or need will be in exactly the right place at the right time. Peace, harmony,
joy, and love will radiate to everyone who visits. This mansion is called Enlightenment.

Like any construction project, your mansion might be
subjected to strong winds, storms, and even people who try to tear it down. It
is very important that your mansion has the support of a strong foundation so
it can withstand whatever difficulties and obstacles it may have to face.
Likewise, your spiritual journey requires a strong foundation to support you
through the doubts, fears, and distractions that will challenge you along the

The base or ground floor of your spiritual practice is
called Sadhana. To raise your mansion to its lofty heights, you
need strong pillars. In your spiritual practice, these are SatsangSeva, and Simran


Inside you is a Light—the Light of Awareness. If you nourish
this Light, it will always remain lit and will grow in brightness. You don’t do
this through external means, but through:

  • Introspection (Gyana Yoga)

  • Devotion (Bhakti Yoga)

  • Ritualsmantras, sharing,
    togetherness (Raja Yoga)

  • Selfless actions (Karma Yoga)

Although at first your practices may be fragmented and
piecemeal, with time they merge into an effortless flowing continuum, reflected
in everything you do. 

Sadhana is your daily spiritual practice and can
encompass many different things:

How You Live Your Life

Ultimately, Sadhana becomes how you live
your life so it also includes the Yamas and Niyamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

  • Yamas: Nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing,
    not wasting energy, avoiding greed

  • Nyamas: Purity, contentment, austerities,
    study, devotion

Sadhana can be to accomplish any specific
spiritual goal but is generally thought of as your journey of self-discovery.
It is your path from ignorance and limitation to freedom and enlightenment. It is a personal practice but aspects of it
can be done collectively. However, it is done for your own personal growth—it’s
self-enrichment, not to impress others or for any external reward.

You choose what to include and what brings you the greatest
spiritual benefits and fulfillment. Your practices will change as you grow and
evolve so you shouldn’t be rigid with it. The Vedas say
that infinite flexibility is the key to immortality. You must
learn to listen to your body and what intuitively feels correct.

The Paths of Sadhana

In the traditions of India, there are two recognized paths
of Sadhana:

  1. The recluse

  2. The householder

The recluse withdraws from regular worldly activities to
engage in his or her spiritual activities. Many spend their lives wandering
from one holy site to another, never staying for more than a few days in any
place. Some live in ashram communities or alone in remote locations. Others
perform austerities such as remaining standing or holding one hand aloft for
years. Sometimes this path is taken when a person has fulfilled his or her
regular family responsibilities but is also chosen by younger people.

The reclusive path is obviously not suitable for the average
person who chooses the path of the householder and combines his or her
spiritual practices while living in the world with a family, career, home, etc.
This path generally has more distractions but, with the correct attitude and
focus of purpose, can be equally rewarding. Whichever path you choose and
whatever you include in it, you should always do the best you can and be true
to yourself.

Sadhana helps to realign you with your dharma, your true purpose in life. Karma, in its expression as memories and desires, will
often distract you from your purpose. Sadhana ripens the
karmas so they fall away like fruit from a tree, leaving you free to progress
on your journey.


The single most powerful tool to support your Sadhana is
a personal mantra, learned and used correctly. A personal mantra is the
reflection of your essence—the Universal Being. It is the ultimate focus of
light, sound, meaning, and intention and holds and reflects the entire

It’s important to remember that Sadhana doesn’t
create Enlightenment. Enlightenment and perfection have always been yours.
Your Sadhana peels back the layers that have covered it for
too long. Sadhanaallows you to once again live the glory and
magnificence you truly are.


It is not uncommon for people to feel isolated on their
spiritual path. Being part of a community of people with similar goals can
provide needed support when questions and doubts arise. Meeting together with
other like-minded people seeking the ultimate Truth of life is known as Satsang.
It can be a gathering of spiritual seekers, being with good/righteous
companions, or a meeting of people of equal knowledge to share their
understandings. Satsangs may include:

  • Listening to or reading sacred texts

  • Reflecting on, discussing, and assimilating their

  • Contemplating the source of these words

  • Looking for ways to bring their wisdom into daily

Satsang can also mean to sit in the presence of
Guru or enlightened teacher. This may also be referred
to as Darshan. This offers the great opportunity to listen to
someone who has already completed the journey and can now help guide you
through the obstacles that may confront your spiritual progress. The ancient
wisdom of the Upanishads tells of the times when advanced students “sat close”
with their enlightened teachers in Satsang.

Organizing a Satsang

You don’t have to be a teacher or have a great spiritual
understanding to organize a Satsang—anyone can do it. Just assemble
a group of somewhat like-minded friends. One person should be chosen to direct
the discussions and keep things on track, but everyone should have the
opportunity to speak and share their thoughts. It’s good to start with a shared
intention between group members, maybe a particular theme or context to spark
some spiritual insights. Your Satsang could include doing
chanting, reading sacred texts, or listening to a recording of a

Solo Satsang

When you sit alone to read and study the teachings of a
great enlightened master, you create a Satsang with him or
her. Even though you can’t ask questions and enter into a discussion, the Grace
and Truth of the teaching will enter your hearts. 

Inner Satsang is to sit quietly with
yourself. This could be to contemplate the answers to questions such as:

  • Who am I?

  • What is my purpose?

  • What are my spiritual goals?

When you practice your silent meditation, to raise your
consciousness to a level of realization, this becomes a Satsang with
your own Soul.


Seva means selfless service or actions performed
without the expectation of any reward. Actions that uplift by understanding the
needs of others and random acts of kindness can all be considered Seva.
These acts could be for another person, a group of people, or society in

When you accept or appreciate that the same divinity is
within everyone, serving other people becomes a devotional practice of
indirectly serving the Divine. Ultimately, selflessly serving your fellow
humans and serving God are the same.

Some spiritual communities expect people to perform Seva.
While offering Seva opportunities falls within the definition,
expecting someone to perform Seva as some form of payment
misses the point.

I’m sometimes asked if I know of an ashram in India where
someone can go to perform Seva. While helping in an Indian ashram
can be an interesting experience, it’s not necessary to travel all that way.
You can do Seva anywhere. In fact, Westerners trying to help
in India can sometimes create the opposite effect. I’ve always tried to be of
service at the ashram to which I belong and while they tolerated me helping
with the cleaning, preparing vegetables in the kitchen, or serving food, it was
obvious that any one of them could do the work much faster and more efficiently
than I could. One day, I decided to bring this up with my Guru so I asked him
which Seva would be best for me to do. He thought for a few
minutes and then said, “Ashram official photographer” and that’s what I

Look for Seva Opportunities

Seva can be something you actively seek out such
as volunteering at a shelter or joining a group to collect trash. It can also
be something that happens spontaneously like helping to carry someone’s
groceries, driving a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment, or giving someone you
pass on the street a smile and a warm hello. When you are actively involved in
the world, Seva opportunities are limitless. Be aware, look,
listen, and be ready to offer. An Indian saying says, “It’s easy to be a
saint on the mountain top, the real proof of saintliness comes when you return
to the market.”

Internal Seva

Your meditation practice can be a form of Seva if
your intention is not only to expand your own consciousness but to also raise
the collective consciousness of the world.


Simran is to remember that the purpose of your
life is to be spiritual in everything you think, do, and say. It’s making
everything part of your spiritual practice. Simran is an act
of remembrance. 

It’s the continuous remembrance of the finest aspect of the
self, and/or the continuous appreciation or feeling of the Divine Presence in
everything. This state is maintained continuously while carrying out everyday
worldly activities and leads to the realization of the highest aspect and
purpose in one’s life.

Simran can also mean the spiritual practice of
repeating a personal mantra given by an enlightened master. The
mantra repetition is continued until the point at which previously formed
karmic patterns are broken. At this time, the mantra is no longer
necessary and is dropped in favor of the subtle feeling of the presence of the
Divine in all aspects of life.


Do everything in your life, even the simplest of tasks, to
the best of your ability. Become the witness of your activities and look for
the Divine in everyone and everything around you.

Your beautiful mansion actually already exists. It’s just
waiting for you to move in and enjoy!


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