Why does it take so long, we wonder? It is common to experience a sense of frustration with our spiritual efforts. When progress seems to take forever, our very impatience can become an obstacle. We need to respect the way nature works and take things a step at a time.
A good friend, Sagar, shared this story from ancient India. But, first, a disclaimer: Warfare is a terrible solution for resolving conflicts in this world, as we are currently seeing with the tragic events in Ukraine. But as Yogananda pointed out in his explanation of the Bhagavad Gita, war can also be seen as a symbol of the inner struggle between the ego and the soul. So, let’s take this story as a spiritual analogy.
Chanakya, a great general, undertook a noble war on behalf of his king. His first move was to attack the enemy’s capital. This stronghold, however, was too well guarded. His forces were badly defeated, his army was scattered, and he had to ﬂee into the wilderness.
One day, Chanakya entered a little village in quest of food. As he passed by a hut, he heard the excited voices of children. Their mother was serving them hot rice porridge. Suddenly a young boy cried out, “Ouch! I burnt my fingers.”
“Well, what do you expect?” the woman said. “Naturally they will get burnt if you are as foolish as Chanakya.” Intrigued and curious, Chanakya barged into the room.
“Who are you?” asked the mother of the children. “What do you want?”
“I just came in to ﬁnd out the meaning of your words,” said Chanakya.
The woman was surprised. “I was merely telling the children to eat properly,” she said. “I had served them hot porridge. They should have realized that it was hottest at the center and started eating from the outer portion, which cools ﬁrst.”
“Yes, but what has Chanakya got to do with it?” asked Chanakya.
“Everything,” said the woman smiling. “Chanakya was foolish to attack his enemy’s strongest point, the well-guarded capital, at the very outset. Just like this silly child trying to eat the hot porridge from the middle! That’s why Chanakya lost and had to flee. Instead, he should have started by first conquering the small provinces on the periphery in order to weaken it.”
“Thank you so much, Mother,” said Chanakya to the woman. “You’ve taught me a wonderful lesson in war strategy. I shall not make the same mistake a second time.”
Chanakya regathered his troops for another attack. And this time the army set about conquering the smaller fiefdoms ﬁrst. Advancing slowly but surely, they eventually succeeded in taking the capital.
The lesson for us is that we need to take one step at a time, and win the small spiritual battles first before going on to the bigger ones. Take, for example, restless thoughts during meditation. We will end up frustrated if we assume we can quickly tame the mind. Let’s conquer the outer provinces first. Start with the body, by keeping it relaxed and motionless. Then go on to the breath, just watching it come in and out without trying to control it. Try to practice Hong-Sau for a minute at a time with good concentration. Once you’ve achieved that, you will find it easier to focus on subtler aspects such as the inner sounds and lights. Work with achievable goals and celebrate the little victories. Over time you will naturally extend and deepen your concentration. Gradual growth is nature’s way.
The same principle applies to other aspirations. In seeking to master your desires, for example, don’t assume you can start with strongly defended, primeval ones such as security and sexual attraction. Work on manageable habits, taking on one at a time until you can transform it. Slow down in order to speed up. In the end, little steps lead to big results.
Listen to Jyotish as he reads the blog, then expands on it, often adding special behind-the-inspiration stories and answers to common spiritual questions. Subscribe to the podcast or download the audio recording by right-clicking here. Or listen to it here (8:17):