Sādhanā (Sanskrit; Tibetan: སྒྲུབ་ཐབས་, THL: druptap; Chinese: 修行), literally "a means of accomplishing something", is a generic term coming from the yogic tradition and it refers to any spiritual exercise that is aimed at progressing the sadhaka towards the very ultimate expression of his or her life in this reality. It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives.
Sādhanā can also refer to a tantric liturgy or liturgical manual, that is, the instructions to carry out a certain practice.
A contemporary spiritual teacher and yogi Sadhguru defines sādhanā thusly:
Everything can be sadhana. The way you eat, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you conduct your body, mind and your energies and emotions – this is sadhana. Sadhana does not mean any specific kind of activity, sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your wellbeing.
The historian N. Bhattacharyya provides a working definition of the benefits of sādhanā as follows:
[R]eligious sādhanā, which both prevents an excess of worldliness and molds the mind and disposition (bhāva) into a form which develops the knowledge of dispassion and non-attachment. Sādhanā is a means whereby bondage becomes liberation.
Sādhanā is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. Abhyāsa is repeated practice performed with observation and reflection. Kriyā, or action, also implies perfect execution with study and investigation. Therefore, sādhanā, abhyāsa, and kriyā all mean one and the same thing. A sādhaka, or practitioner, is one who skillfully applies...mind and intelligence in practice towards a spiritual goal.
The term sādhanā means spiritual exertion towards an intended goal. A person undertaking such a practice is known in Sanskrit as a sādhu (female sādhvi), sādhaka (female sādhakā) or yogi (Tibetan pawo; feminine yogini or dakini, Tibetan khandroma). The goal of sādhanā is to attain some level of spiritual realization, which can be either enlightenment, pure love of God (prema), liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (saṃsāra), or a particular goal such as the blessings of a deity as in the Bhakti traditions.
Sādhanā can involve meditation, chanting of mantra sometimes with the help of prayer beads, puja to a deity, yajna, and in very rare cases mortification of the flesh or tantric practices such as performing one's particular sādhanā within a cremation ground.
Traditionally in some Hindu and Buddhist traditions in order to embark on a specific path of sādhanā, a guru may be required to give the necessary instructions. This approach is typified by some Tantric traditions, in which initiation by a guru is sometimes identified as a specific stage of sādhanā. On the other hand, individual renunciates may develop their own spiritual practice without participating in organized groups.
The tantric rituals are called "sādhanā". Some of the well known sādhanās are:
- śāva sādhanā (sādhanā done while visualizing sitting on a corpse).
- śmaśāna sādhanā (sādhanā done while visualizing being in a crematorium or cremation ground).
- pañca-muṇḍa sādhanā (sādhanā done while visualizing sitting on a seat of five skulls).
All of these are available in Tibetan form, many are available in Chinese and some are still extant in ancient Sanskrit manuscripts.
[E]xternal ritual and internal sādhanā form an indistinguishable whole, and this unity finds its most pregnant expression in the form of the mandala, the sacred enclosure consisting of concentric squares and circles drawn on the ground and representing that adamantine plane of being on which the aspirant to Buddhahood wishes to establish himself. The unfolding of the tantric ritual depends on the mandala; and where a material mandala is not employed, the adept proceeds to construct one mentally in the course of his meditation.
- V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 979.
- Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996. pp. 92, 156, 160, 167. ISBN 0-521-43878-0.
- NK Brahma, Philosophy of Hindu Sādhanā, ISBN 978-8120333062, pages ix-x
- C.C. Shah, Cultural and Religious Heritage of India: Jainism, Mittal, ISBN 81-7099-9553, page 301
- Bhattacharyya, N. N. History of the Tantric Religion. Second Revised Edition. (Manohar: New Delhi, 1999) p. 174. ISBN 81-7304-025-7
- Iyengar, B.K.S. (1993, 2002). Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Hammersmith, London, UK: Thorsons. ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4 p.22
- Bhattacharyya, op. cit., p. 317.
- Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996. p. 92. ISBN 0-521-43878-0.
- Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon - University of the West Archives of Ancient Sanskrit Manuscripts
- Kvaerne, Per (1975). "On the Concept of Sahaja in Indian Buddhist Tantric Literature". (NB: article first published in Temenos XI (1975): pp.88-135). Cited in: Williams, Jane (2005). Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume 6. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-33226-5, ISBN 978-0-415-33226-2. Source:  (accessed; Friday April 16, 2010)