Why is intellect an obstacle in spiritual progress?

Why is intellect an obstacle in spiritual progress?




1. Satsangs (spiritual meetings)

1.1 Individual spiritual practice (sadhana)

Spirituality is a science of spiritual experience. A spiritual experience (anubhuti) cannot be obtained without practising Spirituality. Hence, at the discourses / satsangs (spiritual meetings) special attention is paid to individual spiritual practice. In fact, individual spiritual progress is the focus of these discourses / satsangs.

For spiritual progress one needs to practise Spirituality and in order to be able to practise it regularly, faith is essential. The faith of a seeker in the primary stage grows with intellectual knowledge. However, for a seeker in the advanced stage, faith increases with spiritual experiences which are beyond the comprehension of the intellect. So, in these discourses / satsangs theoretical information is provided to augment the intellectual knowledge of the seeker and to acquaint him with spiritual experiences beyond the intellect, experiments are conducted.

1.2 Nature of the satsang

Satsangs conducted by Sanatan Sanstha are generally of a duration of an hour and a half. This time is utilised as explained in the following table. If the duration of the satsang is one or two hours then accordingly suitable changes are made in it.

Topic Minutes
1. Praying and chanting 3
2. Narration of spiritual experiences and
introduction of new seekers
3. Theoritical discussion from holy texts
published by the Sanstha
4. Demonstration of first-aid techniques 10
5. News from subtle world and writings of
Dr. Jayant Athavale published in the Daily and
Weekly Sanatan Prabhat
6. Spiritual viewpoints from the Daily Sanatan
7. Clarification of doubts 10
8. Evaluation of service rendered in the previous
9. Discussion of mistakes made by seekers and
learning from them
10. Planning of service for the next week 10
11. Gratitude 2
Total 90

Detailed information on this is given below.

A. Commencement with a prayer

It is because of the grace of the Guru or God that one gets an opportunity to attend satsang. To derive maximum benefit from the satsang, it is started by praying thus, ‘O Gurudev/Lord, please endow me with the intellect to understand what is taught at the satsang which I have got a chance to attend solely due to Your grace. I earnestly pray unto You so that I comprehend what is taught at the satsang not only intellectually but also with the divine consciousness that it gives.’

B. Group chanting

After offering prayers, the Names of Lord Ganapati and Lord Krushna are chanted for three minutes. This helps in two ways, by enhancing the sattva component in the atmosphere so that what is taught is grasped well and by removing the obstacles caused by distressing energies.

C. Theory from the holy texts

Theoretical spiritual knowledge is imparted through various holy texts and discourses. However Spirituality is a practical science. The faster one puts this theoretical knowledge into practice the faster one advances towards The Lord. One is able to merge with The Lord faster if one makes attempts to overcome defects in personality, assuage the ego and enhance devotion and spiritual emotion (bhav) unto The Lord. To facilitate this, on a daily basis points are taught from the holy texts published by the Sanstha viz. ‘Spiritual practice to overcome defects in personality’, ‘Spiritual practice to overcome the ego’, ‘Spiritual practice for awakening spiritual emotion’ and ‘Teachings of H.H.Bhaktaraaj Maharaj’. Seekers derive benefit from celebrating festivals and observing vowed religious observances (vrats) if they are done correctly from the spiritual viewpoint. That is why this is emphasised upon at the satsangs.

D. Demonstration of first-aid techniques

Social upliftment and national security are important aspects of spiritual practice for the sake of Spirituality; so every seeker needs to be trained in first-aid.

E. Subtle news

News from the subtle world is published in the Sanatan Prabhat time and again to alleviate blind faith and allay fears regarding distressing energies such as ghosts, to prevent deception by fake sorcerers and to teach seekers how to pray unto deities to get rid of distressing energy problems. Study of the subtle dimension gives the information necessary to combat distressing energies.

F. The spiritual angle in the ‘Sanatan Prabhat’

‘Suggestions to seekers’ are published regularly in a special column of the Sanatan Prabhat. It is important to practise them, record the experiences derived from them and study the outcome. One should also analyse whether one has made any attempts to change one’s thinking, behaviour or attitudes inspired by the campaign against denegration of deities, editorials, etc. in the periodicals.

G. Clarification of doubts

Many will wonder what is the need of satsang (spiritual meeting) despite numerous lectures or spiritual discourses being conducted and thousands of holy texts on Spirituality being available everywhere. The reason is that no matter how much theoretical information is provided at the discourse / satsang one may not be able to practise Spirituality properly without clarification of one’s doubts. It is not possible to clarify one’s doubts by asking questions at general spiritual discourses (kirtans, pravachans), lectures or simply by reading holy texts. Therefore the nature of these discourses / satsangs is not to give a masterly discourse. People are encouraged to ask questions and almost half the time is spent in clarification of specific doubts.

Importance of asking questions: Since this subject is to be taught through questions and answers, it is important for each one to participate wholeheartedly. One should not hesitate to ask questions, as otherwise they will be the losers. Our Guru H.H. Bhaktaraj Maharaj used to say ‘Only the curious (jidnyasu) are really deserving of knowledge’. Only if one is curious does one feel the need to ask questions like ‘why ?’ and ‘how ?’. If one has not understood some point discussed at a satsang then before the completion of the analysis of that point and prior to the beginning of a new topic, one should ask questions related to it so that it is clarified. Otherwise, when the next point is being discussed the previous one will go on lingering in one’s mind. Consequently, the person will not be able to pay proper attention to the next point.

Suggestions for those who wish to ask questions

  • One should not ask worldly questions. Only questions pertaining to Spirituality are answered at the lectures / satsangs. Satsang is not a court (darbar) of a bhagat (type of a sorcerer) where solutions to worldly problems like inability to get married, to secure a job and so on are given. There is yet another motive behind not answering worldly questions. It is to teach the seeker to ignore worldly problems, that is problems arising out of the Great Illusion (Maya).
  • One should not ask questions just for the sake of asking them. At one satsang a person not practising Spirituality, asked, “How many definitions does the Final Liberation (Moksha) have ?” just for the sake of asking a query.
  • First ask those questions which will be more useful for individual spiritual practice like, what practice should one follow ? Is my spiritual practice appropriate ? How can one overcome obstacles encountered in spiritual practice ? What is the interpretation of my spiritual experience ? What is the implied meaning of spiritual literature ? And so on and so forth.
  • The questions should be of benefit to others as well. This means that the questions asked mainly should be such that they enable everyone to learn something useful about spiritual practice.
  • Once everyone has finished asking questions related to spiritual practice, one may ask general questions on Spirituality.
  • Since the lecture / satsang has limitations of time one should ask questions so as to make maximum use of the available time.

H. Discussion of errors made by seekers and learning from them

Often one makes mistakes either due to personality defects or because one does not follow the recommended procedures in a task. The Lord is perfect hence He does not make mistakes. Since we too wish to attain perfection like Him, we need to become aware of our mistakes so that they are not repeated in the future. Besides we also learn from others’ mistakes. This is the advantage of group discussion of mistakes of seekers.

I. Gratitude

Harbouring the spiritual emotion that one has been blessed with spiritual guidance at the satsang and has grasped it with the intellect only because of The Lord’s grace, one should express gratitude unto The Lord or the Guru. Otherwise there is a chance of inflation of ego that ‘I have learnt something at this satsang’.

Do not use perfumes, scented oils, etc: At times, deities manifest themselves at a satsang. During such times, some seekers have a subtle spiritual experience of some fragrance. Hence, the rule that seekers coming to the satsang should not use perfumes, etc. so that there are no doubts about such an experience being spiritual in nature. Some seekers get this spiritual experience within just five or six months of their attending satsangs.

2. Spiritual practice (Sadhana)

Spiritual practice refers to the day-to-day efforts made in pursuit of spiritual progress.

2.1 Importance

Once a scholar (pandit) was crossing a river in a canoe, along with the boatman. They spent a while in conversation. The scholar referred to a number of holy texts and asked the boatman if he had studied them. When the boatman replied in the negative, the scholar commented that since he had not studied the holy texts his life was wasted. As this discussion continued, the canoe sprang a leak and water rapidly entered it through the crevices. Seeing this, the boatman asked the scholar, “Maharaj can you swim ? Our boat is going to sink now.” The scholar replied, “I have read several books on swimming and gathered a lot of information on it, but I cannot swim.” Since only the boatman could swim, he survived. The scholar’s theoretical knowledge was of no use to him. Similarly, to be able to cross this vast ocean of worldly life happily, one should practise Spirituality and not just acquire verbal knowledge.

2.2 Spiritual practice with expectation (sakam) and without expectation (nishkam)

If one practises Spirituality with expectation then desires are fulfilled. Even if done without expectation, in addition to spiritual evolution the desires of a seeker may also be fulfilled because The Lord has promised, ‘I will fulfill the desires of that devotee of Mine who is selflessly devoted unto Me’.

3. Qualities essential for practising Spirituality

3.1 Belief, faith, spiritual practice, spiritual emotion (bhav) and Self-realisation (Atmanubhuti)

It is the embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and the God realised soul (Shivatma) that get the spiritual experiences and not the five senses, mind and intellect. When this is so, one may question the necessity of organising discourses or satsangs in which the five senses, mind and intellect are being used. The answer to this is simple – to realise the importance of Spirituality and to begin its practice first one needs to have belief and that is created through verbal information. When one starts practising Spirituality with belief one gets spiritual experiences. It is only after one gets spiritual experiences that faith develops. To make spiritual progress ‘faith’ is the only currency. To put it metaphorically the currency in the U.S. is a dollar, while in India it is a rupee. If one wants to buy something in the U.S. then one can use only dollars. Similarly, if one wishes to make spiritual progress faith alone is essential and this currency should certainly be powerful and worthy. Normally one believes in one’s bank balance because one can withdraw money from the account according to one’s need. One should repose even greater faith in God and Spirituality.

During the entire ritualistic worship (puja) it is faith which is the most important. God loves most the one who has the most faith in Him. – Shri Eknathi Bhagvat 27:287

Now let us see the differences between belief and faith.

Belief Faith
1. What does one get? Information Spiritual knowledge (Dnyan)
2. Nature a. Verbal
b. Intellectual
a. Beyond words
b. Beyond intellect
3. How is the information/
knowledge acquired?
Through the five
senses, mind and
The embodied soul(jiva)
acquires the knowledge from
the soul, without the use of
five senses, mind and
4. What is the information
/ knowledge referred
to as?
Experience Spiritual experience
5. Who acquires the
information / spiritual
Embodied soul
Embodied soul doing
spiritual practice (jivatma)
or God realised soul
6. Significance from the
point of view of
spiritual progress
2% 98%

Let us see how belief, developed through verbal information, leads to spiritual practice which in turn leads to spiritual experiences and finally how faith increases and culminates in Self-realisation (Atmanubhuti). As evident from the figure below as faith, spiritual practice and spiritual experiences go on increasing, spiritual emotion (bhav) develops. This results in Self-realisation, that is a state of Bliss.


From this it will be clear that the tool to develop spiritual emotion and attain the Blissful state is none other than spiritual practice. To embark on this journey one first requires belief which is generated through words. Hence the need to organize discourses or satsangs! An example of an inferior spiritual experience is fragrance in the absence of an external stimulus which is related to the pruthvi (absolute earth) element. A moderate spiritual experience is seeing a vision related to the tej (absolute fire) element or hearing a sound associated with the akash (absolute ether) element. A superior spiritual experience is the experience of Bliss.

Faith (shraddha) and spiritual emotion (bhav): ‘Neither do our merits save us nor sins destroy us, only spiritual emotion can save us. This is because both merits and sins being part of the Great Illusion (Maya) are imaginary and have no real existence. (Only Brahman is the Absolute Truth, everything else is the Great Illusion). Spiritual emotion (bhav) however is not imaginary; it is reality. Reality means Brahman and spiritual emotion is an experience of That Brahman itself. Some equate spiritual emotion with faith. That is incorrect as faith is said to be three fold (sattvik, rajasik or tamasik) depending on the three components (trigunas), while spiritual emotion is beyond these components (trigunatit). A real disciple has only spiritual emotion. The spiritual emotion in him gradually expands and he attains the status of the one beyond spiritual emotion (bhavatit). One achieves a state of being beyond spiritual emotion, because of great yearning for God. At first, since God is viewed as separate from oneself, one is in a state of duality (dvait). Later, once the goal of Self-realisation is reached one also goes beyond spiritual emotion as one is now in a non-dual (advait) state. The Guru is said to be beyond spiritual emotion. A quote says, ‘भावातीतं त्रिगुणरहितं सद्‌गुरुं तं नमामि ।’ – I salute You O Sadguru, You who are beyond spiritual emotion and devoid of the three components (trigunatit). – H.H. Kane Maharaj, Narayangaon, Pune district, Maharashtra

By now, one must have realised the importance of generation of spiritual emotion for attaining Self-realisation (Atmanubhuti).

3.2 Listen to the spiritually evolved

First, let us discuss what spiritual practice should be undertaken by those who have not been practising any. This will also help those who are already practising Spirituality to decide whether the practice they are following is appropriate or not. If one’s spiritual practice is inappropriate then a conscious attempt should be made to change today itself. If one has been undertaking some spiritual practice for quite sometime, then it becomes difficult to change it all of a sudden. A person who had been chanting the Name of Lord Pandurang for some years using his own intellect was advised by two saints not to chant the same but to chant the Name of his family deity instead. Initially, for five to six months, he found it difficult. His feelings were first of attachment. ‘How can I leave Lord Pandurang ?’ But later it was possible to give it up. If he were to continue chanting the Name of Lord Pandurang influenced by his emotions instead of listening to saints then he would never have met his Guru so early.

3.3 Overcome the obstacle of the intellect

The point to be noted above is that Dr. Athavale was able to make spiritual progress because he listened to saints instead of practising Spirituality by chanting the Name of Pandurang using his own intellect. The intellect, being more gross than the soul principle (atmatattva), is also an obstacle. This is a difficult concept for an average person to understand since in worldly life one is told ‘make use of the intellect’. One feels that the intellect is the only medium of comprehension and that without it one cannot understand anything. However, one cannot understand the subtle dimension with the intellect. On the contrary, the intellect takes wrong decisions in the field of Spirituality and misleads one from one’s target. Hence, it is called an obstacle. Clarification of doubts helps the intellect to take correct decisions for enhancement of spiritual growth. Therefore at the satsangs (spiritual meetings) emphasise is given to clarification of doubts. Since the intellect is ignorance from the Great Illusion, it is the causal body (karan deha). Then how can one attain God with that intellect? Thus, despite being convinced of the importance of Spirituality even after listening to a few lectures, read holy texts repeatedly, then that is nurturing ignorance too, Sacrifice of the intellect itself means devotion. What is the use of the intellect then? It is meant for converting itself to pure (sattvik) intellect by listening to discourses (shravan), contemplation (manan) and intense yearning (nijadhyas). This intellect does not prove to be of any use in achieving Self-realisation unless one surrenders oneself to the Sadguru. To comprehend even this, one requires intellect. This perhaps is its only use!

3.4 Perseverance

Doing anything with ceaseless perseverance goes against the natural tendency of ‘resolve and doubt’ of the human mind. Hence, a lot of beginners but only a few finalists are noticed in Spirituality. The following table illustrates the percentage of people giving up various activities midway due to sheer lack of perseverance.

Discontinuing midway
the following activity
Duration and proportion %
1. Medical treatment for diseases like
tuberculosis, diabetes and hypertension
inspite of undergoing suffering
30 50 70 80
2. Postures, exercise, etc., done to
prevent physical suffering
30 50 70 80
3. Learning arts like music, dance, etc.
which endow happiness
10 30 50 70
4. Acquiring knowledge which is useful
and essential for living
10 30 50 70
5. Attending satsang (spiritual meeting)
30 50 70 80
6. Stepwise and regular spiritual practice
of the next stage
50 70 80 100
(Note 1)

Note 1 – Out of a thousand practising Spirituality approximately one seeker continues after a period of two years and out of ten thousand approximately one continues even after ten years.

3.5 Do not go in search of a Guru

If one’s radio or television set breaks down then one gets it repaired from a mechanic from that field. Similarly, to make spiritual progress one requires a Guru or a person with authority in that field. As one practises Spirituality one begins to understand the subtle dimension which is beyond the five senses, mind and intellect. Without the ability to sense subtle vibrations one can never decipher whether a saint or Guru is genuine. Hence one need not go in search of a Guru. A Guru too seeks a disciple, because guiding the disciple is His mission. If a teacher feels that an intelligent student is capable of achieving excellence and bringing glory to his school then the teacher goes out of his way to help that student. In the same way, if one continues to practise Spirituality then the Guru Himself comes forward to help the disciple. Thus rather than a person choosing his Guru himself, the Guru’s acceptance of one as the disciple is of greater significance.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: