Vedanta teaches that our true Self is divine, that we are essentially the Spirit, not just body and mind. Ignorant of the fact that we are Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, we identify ourselves with our mind and body and believe we are individuals, men and women, and experience want and limitedness. We seek lasting fulfillment from objects in the world; but nothing in the world can help rid us of our feeling of smallness. Only when we manifest more and more of our divine Self by practice of spiritual disciplines do we transcend limitedness and get a taste of superior happiness that does not alternate with misery. Vedanta places before us Self-realization, or God-realization, as the highest goal, a goal that only human beings can strive for. This realization alone can truly lead us to fulfillment and make our life meaningful.
The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita discusses sattva, rajas, and tamas, the three constituents (gunas) of Prakriti, or Nature. By Nature is meant everything other than the Spirit. Thus our mind, sense organs, and body are also part of Nature, or are products of sattva, rajas, and tamas. These three gunas inhere in different proportions in an individual, one predominating over the other two. Spiritual evolution involves freeing ourselves of attachment to body, mind, and senses. It is a journey from tamas to sattva. Tamas stands for inertness and dullness, and rajas for activity mixed with passion, desire, restlessness, and attachment to action and its result. Sattva signifies calmness in the midst of activity. The spiritual seeker has to get rid of tamas through activity, rajas, remaining free at the same time of the negative aspects of rajas like passion, desire, and attachment. This is called karma-yoga, or performing work as worship. Such selfless action leads the seeker gradually to sattva, which is the penultimate step to Self-realization. An important point to note is that our acts of devotion, such as japa, prayer, worship, and meditation are also activities that help in the manifestation of sattva. Self-effort is thus indispensable for spiritual evolution.
The Bhagavad Gita (6.5) teaches, "Let a man uplift himself by his own self. Let him not belittle or lower himself, for he himself is his friend, and he himself is his enemy." Sri Ramanuja explains that uplifting ourselves by ourselves means uplifting our mind that is ensnared by the sense organs with the help of buddhi, our discriminating faculty. Along with this effort, a seeker should refrain from thinking himself weak, or looking upon himself as a sinner, or a good-for-nothing. Sri Ramakrishna teaches that one who repeatedly thinks he is a sinner verily becomes a sinner. The seeker has to dwell on his higher Self by detaching himself from his mind, sense organs, and body, and remain steadfast in his spiritual practices. The Gita explains in the next verse that a disciplined mind acts as our friend and an undisciplined mind as our enemy.
According to a well-known Sanskrit verse, "The Goddess of Prosperity favors only those who are diligent and hardworking. Only cowards say that everything depends on destiny. With the help of the divine power inherent in you, assert yourself and get rid of destiny. If despite all your efforts you do not succeed, then what does it matter?" [At least, you have made your best efforts.]
According to another verse, "Only hard work helps in the attainment of goals, not dreams and mere intentions. [The way to hell is paved with good intentions.] Animals do not of themselves enter the mouth of a sleeping lion. [Even the king of the forest has to hunt his prey."]