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The Anguish of Separation from God
Detachment does not mean leaving behind everything to go to the forest and adopt the life of a renunciate. Penance does not refer to certain postures or bodily deprivations. Penance refers to the intense anguish you experience when you feel yourself separated from God. Whenever that anguish of separation is with you, wherever you may be, then you are engaged in penance. All worldly experiences are governed by combinations of the three attributes, inertia or chaos, action or reaction, and rhythm or calm. The anguish of penance with its intense aspiration for reaching God, takes you into a state of being which transcends these three worldly qualities. At that time, you will experience a deep inner serenity and unity of thought, word and deed.
Thought, word and deed are the causes of karma. They are called the instruments of action. It is the union of these three instruments of action which may be described as penance. When that union is complete there follows an ineffable joy, which is the very bliss of the atma. So true penance is the point at which the three instruments of action merge together into one and you experience the eternal delight of your immortal self.
Consider the following example. Every day you enjoy the benefits of electricity. In your room you may have an electric fan. There are three blades attached to the motor of the fan. If they were to rotate in three different directions you would not get much of a breeze. But when they rotate in unison, as if there were a single blade going around, then you can enjoy a very good flow of air from the fan. So, enjoyment of the cool breeze comes only when all the three blades are working together and rotate as one. In the very same way, when the three instruments of action, thought, word and deed, merge together and work as one, you can enjoy real bliss.
In this illustration your heart may be compared to the room containing the fan. The three instruments of action may be compared to the three blades of the fan. Your intellect may be thought of as the electric switch. Your spiritual power, the energy emanating from the supreme self, may be thought of as the electricity that energizes the fan. Your spiritual practice is the process of clarifying your intellect, and thereby turning on the switch. When the three instruments of action work together in harmony, just as the three blades of the fan go around together, then all your anguish becomes transformed into bliss. In this way, you can convert your life-force and your entire spiritual power into bliss.