Sādhana means spiritual practice, where one has to use his or her antaḥkaraṇa (inner faculty), comprising of mind, intellect, consciousness and ego (according to Trika philosophy consciousness in not included, as it is only the Consciousness that is sought in realization). Sādhana has different meanings such as bringing about, carrying out, accomplishment, fulfilment, completion, perfection, establishment of a truth, proof, argument, demonstration, etc. Therefore sādhana is the means to realize the Self within by working through antaḥkaraṇa and not through rituals. External rituals are not called sādhana. They are known as pūjā, a method of adoration using extraneous materials such as flowers, etc.
Sādhana is a process, by which mind is cleansed. The fundamental principles of sādhana are two; faith in one’s Guru and faith in the Self. Perfection in sādhana depends on various factors such as food, way of life, company we keep and above all our Guru. Vivekacūḍāmaṇī says, “A human birth, the longing for liberation and the company of illuminated teachers (Guru) is extremely difficult to get except through Divine Grace.” Chāndogya Upaniṣad (VII.xxvi.2) says, “If one eats pure food, one’s mind becomes pure. If the mind is pure, his thoughts and memory become pure and this man is freed from bondages.”
The main impediment in sādhana is the slow process, as we work with subtleties such as mind, intellect and ego. It is not like offering flowers and food to idols. cleansing the mind is a continuous process and it should never be stopped as the impressions of material world constantly afflict our minds. It is a fight between antaḥkaraṇa and bāhyakaraṇa. The winner should always be antaḥkaraṇa. During this conflict, afflictions from bāhyakaraṇa should be gradually dispensed with. Slow and steady always wins the race.
Mantra japa-s will help in attaining perfection in sādhana. Ramakrishna Paramahaṁsa said, “Japa means repeating God’s name silently in solitude. When you recite with single minded devotion, you can realize the form of God which you are visualizing (whose japa is done).” Japa is not something that is to be recited during a particular time of a day. Śāradā Devi (a great disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahaṁsa) said that one needs to recite about100,000 japa mantras a day. This clearly goes to prove that only purity of the mind is all that is needed and this is nothing to do with purity of the body. One needs to recite japa mantras all the 365 days of a year. When the mind is purified, consciousness becomes focussed.
To attain highest perfection in sādhana, it is necessary that one should know about the Grandeur of the Self, which is often given a name and form. For example, Śiva, Śakti, Viṣṇu, etc are the forms given to the Grandeur of the Self. Their Grandeur is expressed through various verses and hymns such as Sahasranāma-s, etc. Sādhana should begin from understanding the Grandeur of one particular form of God say Śiva or Śakti, etc. Contemplating multiple forms of Gods will not yield any result. One has to stick on to one form, know and understand the Grander of the form and should finally proceed to sādhana to attain perfection. Attainment of perfection can be known by the level of Bliss one experiences. Frequent and powerful Bliss leads to showering of Divine Grace. The transition between understanding the Grandeur to the commencement of sādhana is known as transition point. Generally understanding the Grandeur to the transition point should not take more than six months to one year. Duration of journey from transition point to realization purely depends upon one’s dedication, will power, knowledge and guidance from Guru. Divine visions, experiencing Bliss, realization and liberation are possible only through sādhana.