The Bhagavad Gita (13.7) describes steadfastness as one of the signs of knowledge. Steadfastness is an important quality for a spiritual seeker. It implies a strong will that helps the seeker practice spiritual disciplines undaunted by obstacles. Swami Vivekananda speaks of the central idea of the Gita: “To be calm and steadfast in all circumstances, with one’s body, mind, and soul centred at His hallowed Feet!”
By nature, the mind always hankers after something new or exciting. Steadfastness consists in training the mind to bear the monotony of spiritual practice, while continuing the struggle to realize the ideal. A sincere spiritual seeker does not experiment with different techniques of meditation, but holds fast to the path shown by his teacher. He does not give up spiritual practice just because he feels he is not making any progress, but persists with it. Sri Ramakrishna illustrates this quality with the example of a hereditary farmer: “New farmers give up cultivating if their fields do not yield any crops. But hereditary farmers will continue to cultivate their fields whether they get a crop or not. Their fathers and grandfathers were farmers; they know that they too must accept farming as their means of livelihood.”
Steadfastness enables us to direct our mind to the spiritual ideal alone. Says Swami Turiyananda, “We must have steadfastness to the ideal. As soon as we decide that a certain course is right, we must resolve to give up our life for it. We must have decision in our character.”
What we are is governed by the mental impressions we have accumulated by our thoughts and actions, good or bad. When we no longer want to be under the sway of the bad impressions, we need to cultivate good habits and give up bad ones. Our past impressions, however, strongly resist our attempts to change ourselves. So not surprisingly many people give up the struggle and revert to what they were before. Steadfastness and devotion to God help us in persisting with the struggle so that good habits become deeply ingrained in us. As Holy Mother says, “Whenever the mind goes after anything other than God, consider that as transient and surrender the mind at the sacred feet of the Lord….Spiritual practices are meant to keep the mind steady at the feet of God, to keep it immersed in His thought. Repeat His Name.”
When Arjuna complained that the mind was hard to control, Sri Krishna said that it was possible to discipline it by practice and detachment. (Gita, 6.34-5) Practice involves repeatedly training the mind to follow what is helpful to spiritual life. Detachment consists in resolutely avoiding everything inimical to it. Cultivation of detachment needs constant struggle against mental resistance. Steadfastness is a noble virtue in this struggle.