Mind this, I am speaking of patience in connection with people who want to undertake spiritual practice, not with those who do not want to practise anything at all. Such advice won’t apply to the latter, and I would recommend that they not pay attention to what I have just said on this point. For those who are reluctant to practise spirituality, everything seems to conspire against such practice, and a little determined effort on their part would be desirable.
Well, as I said, most religions take the view that meditation, prayer, worship, devotional singing, and similar things are valid spiritual practices. There have, however, been a few religious teachers who have added more practices to these generally recognized ones. I have specifically in mind in this connection Sri Krishna and Swami Vivekananda, both of whom taught karma yoga as equally valid. Everybody thinks, I know, that karma yoga, the path of action, is not really a very high-class spiritual practice. If I tell someone to practise karma yoga, he will think, The swami doesn’t believe I can meditate; that is why he is asking me to do that. I shall show him!’ And he shows me; really he shows me but not in the way he thought he would show me. You see, no one thinks that karma yoga is really a spiritual practice.
Even our great Shankara in his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, which embodies the teachings of Sri Krishna and is the first great book on karma yoga, has said that the practice of karma yoga succeeds only in purifying the mind, and then, when the mind is purified, other practices begin. In other words, Shankara reduced karma yoga to a subsidiary spiritual practice. The essential practices, according to him, are upasana, or mental worship, and contemplation and meditation. That is, only through jhana, knowledge, which is derived through contemplation, is one able to realize God. That is his interpretation. Even those who have not taken such an extreme view of spiritual practice as Shankara and have not interpreted the Gita as he did, feel that karma, or action, is not in itself a path to spiritual realization. For example, in contrast to Shankara, Ramanuja maintained that the path to God-realization is a mixture of karma and jhana. He said it is jhana-karma-samuccaya, the coordination of knowledge and action’. But here Ramanuja interpreted action in the very restricted sense of performing ritualistic practices such as external worship, and even before that, of doing one’s duty according to the codes enunciated by the great sages. He did not mean any and every action as such; there was that restriction in his definition of karma.