Science Of Spiritual Study
by Sri Mrinalini Mata (Excerpts)
How To Effectively Assimilate What We Study
To get the full benefit of any scripture or spiritual text, it is not enough merely to read it; the truth we read must be assimilated to be of use to us. It must become a part of us; we must have the realization of it. And the best way to do this, Master said, is to use the following procedure.
First, during your period of study, take whatever text you are focusing on for that day — whether it is one of the SRF Lessons, or a chapter from Autobiography of a Yogi, or some-thing else from Master's writings — and read that text entirely through to get its general meaning and import and significance.
[Second] Then go back and start reading a second time through. As you go through the second time, highlight or underscore the key points if you wish. And make written notes: write in a study notebook a list of the important points you come across as you read. Additionally, write out separately any questions that might arise during your reading.
After you have completed the second reading, then read through a third time. But this time, instead of just reading straight through, take just a few lines or a paragraph — one complete thought — at a time. Read those lines, and then stop and close your eyes and meditate on them. For at least a briel time, think about the essential point and go over it again and again in your mind. Do this long enough to discover what that thought really means. In other words, really assimilate it. And as you meditate upon those words, you will find that deeper meanings in the form of connected, associated thoughts will come to you as a result of this process of contemplation. Then, again, make written notes — brief notations of any perceptions or insights you receive in your meditation on that passage. And then go on to the next passage, continuing in this way to the end.
The reason I am stressing this act of writing is because you will find that the process of writing helps to impress these thoughts of truth upon your memory. Just sight alone, or hearing a truth, is usually not sufficient to do this. But the act of writing, of reproducing the thought, will help to take that truth deep within the subconscious mind, which is the memory mind. You will find that when you do this, you are going to take a longer time to study one thing — possibly concentrating on a certain Lesson or article by Master over several days — but when you are through studying it in this way, you will have really assimilated it. (This is why he arranged the SRF Lessons to be studied one at a time — to allow the devotee to fully absorb the truths in each Lesson before starting the next one.)
The Method Of Applying The Truths You Read
Then the next step in absorbing spiritual truth is to take each of the important points that you have written down and pondered, and deeply ask yourself, "Now, how can I apply this? What does this mean to me personally — to my personal development, to my everyday activity, to my spiritual unfoldment?" And make a notation of how you can apply these different truths that you are learning — how you can create opportunities in your life to manifest these sacred truths.
Lastly, each day before you begin your duties, take one thought from what you have studied and say, "Now, today I will concentrate upon this." Take those words of Master and commit them to memory. Let it be just one line, two lines — something short and pithy— and memorize it. You have already gone through the process of thinking about how you can apply and manifest that particular point in your life.
So now you make the effort to carry that thought with you throughout your day's activities. Every now and then, stop and reflect upon the particular guidance of Guru that you have determined to apply, and repeat it to yourself. Then analyze your actions and think, "Am I manifesting this? Am I following through on my determination to make this a part of my life, to make this a special point of guidance in my life this day?"...
He said to us,
"When I am gone, the teachings will be the guru. Through the SRF teachings you will be in tune with me and the great Gurus who sent me."
As it says in the Gita, the wisdom of the guru is like a raft that takes the devotee across the sea of delusion to God. By the right way of spiritual study, you put yourself in attunement with that wisdom of Gurudeva.
Remember, we are not speaking of merely intellectual understanding. So many devotees who have that bent of consciousness want to just read and read and read. Perhaps they can recite quotations from Master's writings with great ease. But unless what you have read really influences your life and behavior, unless you meditate upon it, unless you assimilate it and apply it, it means nothing. How often Master said to us: "It isn't what you read or hear that will save you, but what you do with what you hear and read. That will be your salvation." "Even if thou art the chief sinner among all sinners, yet by the sole raft of wisdom thou shalt safely cross the sea of sin" (God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita IV: 36). Commenting on this verse, Paramahansa Yogananda wrote: "Even if one is the greediest of the greedy, the most sexual of the licentious, the most violent-tempered among the wrathful, the most wealth-loving among the materialists — still, by lovingly following the prescriptions of a real spiritual doctor, a God-knowing guru, that "sinner" will be able to banish even the memory of evil habits. Undiscouraged by the vast extent of one's evil habits, the aspirant should go on little by little tasting the joys of good habits. Ultimately he will free himself not only from the grip of all sensual habits but from attachment to any habit, even a good one." …