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Importance Of Regularity Of Spiritual Discipline In Hinduism

In Hinduism, abhyasa is the regularity of spiritual discipline or repeated practice or exercise. Abhyasa allows any action, knowledge or attitude to become strong and stable and the one who practices it becomes more skillful and effective. In his Yogasutra (I.13-14), Patanjali mentions abhyasa as one of the two means of making the wandering and unstable mind peaceful and steady. The other means is vairagya (being unattached). These two means are also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita (VI.35) for bringing the mind under control.

Patanjali defined abhyasa as the effort to achieve steadiness of mind. He called it sthiti, that is, a state in which there are no fluctuations and the mind has an undisturbed, continuous, smooth flow. Such a state does not come about easily, as the mind is by nature unsteady. To allow the state of steadiness to continue unhindered, a special effort is needed. That effort is called abhyasa. It is a process of training the mind to overcome the intrinsic tendencies and urges (kleshas) that are responsible for making the mind uneasy and unsteady. This training, Patanjali emphasizes, has to continue throughout one’s life with great devotion and interest. Only then does it become firmly established and effective.

In Yoga, the mind is likened to a river flowing in two streams. One of them, the sinful stream, flows in the direction of the enjoyments of daily life. The other is stream of virtue and merit, which ultimately leads to liberation or emancipation. Vairagya helps liberation of the self by weakening the desire to run after sensory enjoyment. That strengthens the virtuous stream and promotes abhyasa. Thus, it is necessary to employ both, vairagya and abhyasa, simultaneously.

Abhyasa includes all that one does or practices by way of spiritual discipline and all that pertains to the training of the body and its functions, of behavior and attitudes, and of every aspect of human life. Thus, we may include under abhyasa the practices and techniques of all varieties of Yoga: prayer, devotional songs, worship, postures, breathing, development of mental attitudes, and the techniques of contemplation and meditation especially. In a sense, vairagya and abhyasa go together in spiritual discipline.