The quantity of questions is never-ending:
Q: Can you describe the general stages in the spiritual path?
A: Yes. I did so already in my Svātantryasūtravṛtti I.9 (yes, Sanskrit there is intimidating, but the translation is in clear English), nonetheless I can expand my explanation. Let us analyze the three categories of aspirants again:
Beginner or rookie: They are ordinary people but looking for a way out of their suffering, i.e. bondage. They are looking for salvation even though they could be happy with their worldly life, this is the difference between beginners in spirituality and the rest of ordinary people who generally look for God only in times of distress. Now, this beginner supposes that he has the right intellect to reason about the Highest Reality. This is one of his characteristics, viz. the absence of a proper intellect to reason about the Self. Another feature of his is that he constantly puts the limited individual in the first position, e.g. if his name is John, he will always put John all in the first place, and the Self in the second place. As he is an ordinary person but with a touch of spirituality, so to speak, he still behaves in the old ignorant ways because of his complete incapacity.
When these aspirants learn that they are the Self, they start to proclaim that truth. But, merely knowing it is never enough since one should have actual realization of the Self in order for his statement to be absolutely categorical. Besides, they are also taught that since they are the Self, they should “flow” like the Self and not be “stiff” like the ego. Of course, they cannot flow like that due to their inherent incapacity and lack of Self-realization, but they say that “they are flowing”. Beginners are so funny! They are never duly responsible and faulty despite their absolutely hilarious behavior, because they are rookies in spirituality. Responsibility starts when one enters at least the category of intermediate aspirant. The more one knows and understands, the more one receives from the Highest Reality, the more responsible he held. These beginners cannot ever be punished for their behavior and childish way of thinking about spirituality. I am mostly very compassionate to beginners in spirituality and always try to guide them and tolerate their foolish reasoning and behavior. I treat them like kids, because they are kids in spirituality, really. False guru-s ruin beginners’ minds with their foolishness, after which it is very difficult to fix the mess. Hence, I am not “in love” with these foolish false guru-s.
Q: What is a kid in spirituality?
A: For example, it’s a person who, not having the right intellect to reason about the Self, very often falls into the hands of doubts such as: “If my guru is a liberated one, why is he not able to speak in English yet?” or “If he is an incarnation of the Supreme Self, why does he have to go to the dentist then? Why does he not merely cure the cavities through his supernatural powers?” or “If I am the Self, why is my roof leaking? I should have such a wonderful roof instead… am I not the Self after all?” or “My Self is not so great as the Self of my guru because I am still disciple” or “When I attain Final Liberation I will see the world and it will look totally blue to me” or “I will save a pile of money in order to meet my guru who lives exactly in the opposite corner of the planet” or “I will take every course at hand in this community, because the more courses I take the more enlightened I will become”, very funny indeed! I have heard things like those over the years, and of course, when I was a rookie I have had similar thoughts that completely puzzled me at that time. Despite this being funny from my viewpoint, I know that to a beginner all such questions are a very serious matter. Oh these kids, I love them.
Next, there is the category of intermediate aspirants.
Middle: It takes some time to become a middle level aspirant indeed. Both beginners and middle-level aspirants share a common characteristic: they are totally attached to their human guru, i.e. they pay too much attention to what the body and personality of the guru does. This attachment to the human guru decreases when the middle-level aspirant is in the last part of this stage. He naturally starts giving more importance to scriptures than to the human guru. This is so because scriptures are closer to him than the human guru. And when he moves to the category of advanced aspirant, he starts to give more importance to his Self than to the scriptures, because the Self is his innermost core.
I will describe some characteristics of an intermediate aspirant. He has begun to develop an intellect that is adequate for reasoning about the Highest Reality. He is no longer a kid in spirituality; he has evolved to a stage where he is seriously engaged in the pursuit of his spiritual goal. He is no more puzzled by the childish questions that constantly bewilder beginners. He is full of activity. For example: meditation, repetition of the mantra, chanting of mantra-s, worship, etc. He is very mechanical in his practices, e.g. he meditates mostly by schedule and not spontaneously as in the case of an advanced aspirant. Also, he repeats the mantra like a robot, with scarce understanding of its meaning despite all the theory about mantra-s he had to study. As he still hasn’t had real Self-realization for even one second, everything in his routine is full of mechanical acts, always by schedule. For example: “I will repeat the mantra one thousand times in the morning and will use this mālā (rosary) to count”.
He sincerely strives to achieve Self-realization, but he looks like a fisherman with a little rod on a little boat trying to catch a huge sperm whale. Yes, he could catch it maybe, but the problem is who is being caught by whom? As he is still very ignorant about the real nature of his Self, he insists on putting the fisherman (the limited individual) in the first place, and the Self to him is a huge sperm whale “to be caught”. Of course, he has no idea that when Self-realization comes, he will be devoured by that sperm whale. Meanwhile, he can relish his moment of triumph. Oh, this middle aspirant has no idea what will happen if he insists on trying to fish THAT prey, hehe.
When the immense baby (the sperm whale or Self) bites his bait, He pulls on the fishing line very hard and the supposed “fisherman” ends up in the water. Anyway, the whale will not devour him because he is not an appropriate food yet. The whale tastes him and spits him out saying: “This food is of very low quality. Not ripe enough”. Remember that it is not an ordinary sperm whale but a divine one. In this way, the intermediate aspirant experiences the Self but in the form of a void. The void is the consequence of primordial impurity (his lack of fullness) and the Self rejects him because he is not fit yet. As he is not “full” in the truest sense of word, he experiences the state of void during his practices. In order to experience the Self as He really is, the fisherman in the example will have to be eaten up by the big whale. This is decided by the “whale” and NOT by the “fisherman”. This is something that the middle-level aspirant still cannot get because of his constant putting the limited individual in the first position.
Q: What do you mean by “he puts the limited individual in the first place?”
A: For example, there are many guru-s around. I can see them online. They are mostly middle-level aspirants playing the role of guru-s for some strange reason. Anyway, they are everywhere now. If you observe their behavior, you will notice that they are always promoting their own person, the limited individual called John, Jane, etc. For example, by publishing an extremely detailed biography about all their achievements and certifications or by showing their face all the time or by exhibiting videos where they are always in the in the center of all. That is a very good example of putting the limited individual in the first position. They are celebrating their individuality and only showing their ignorance. This is pretty usual. Those aspirants should stop teaching and strive to move to the advanced stage instead. The blessed ones are not exposing themselves that way because they always put the Self above all.
So, in the example with the whale, the most important thing is the “sperm whale” and not the fisherman. Besides, it is the whale that will catch the fisherman and not vice versa. Even though the middle-level aspirant theoretically knows this, he fails to really apprehend it. When he finally gets it, he is promoted to the advanced category.
Q: Being devoured by a sperm whale does not sound like a lot of fun.
A: Of course, it was just an example. Nonetheless, in the real life, the situation is even worse, because when you lose your body, that is a bad thing, but you can keep your ego of limited individual and take another body in a future birth. On the contrary, when the Self is realized, your ego is scorched to ashes and there is no return to its previous condition. This process is quite hellish to the limited individual (the invention of the Power of the Self), but there is no way out if you go for Final Liberation. Fortunately, it is gradual and takes many years while the real Doer (the Power of the Self) adjusts the system accordingly.
People thinking that the spiritual path is full of laughs have no idea of how hellish the complete transformation can be. Since the limited individual must be elevated from his condition of submission and limitation to the State of the Self who is an Unlimited Mass of Freedom and Bliss, there is no surprise if one bumps into some obstacles on his way. I have no doubt that the limited individual is essentially the Self and that all these obstacles are also the Self, but from the viewpoint of the aspirant the path will be hellish to say the least, but who said that fishing sperm whales was not a risky task? Joking apart, as I always say, Final Liberation is not for timid people. It is not about telling everybody: “I am the Self” but about actual realization of that Truth. In order to do so, your individuality must die first, which involves a lot of suffering. One’s ego will be transformed into a different thing during the process. A middle-level aspirant during this stage starts to catch a glimpse of his future in spirituality and he learns that the task will be very serious. He is no longer a happy innocent beginner but is on his way to becoming an advanced aspirant. There are many moments of depression during this process, but he is somehow finally conducted to the next stage by His Grace.
All in all, beginners and middle-level aspirants are like fishermen with a little rod and a little boat, constantly striving to fish the Self who is like a huge sperm whale. Of course, they will end up being devoured by the whale and with their boat completely sunk, but they do not know it yet. Even if they know it in theory, they cannot understand it in practice till the stage of advanced aspirant finally arrives. They are mostly caught by the sense of doership and hence they are “fishing” the sperm whale with a little rod and a little boat. In this sense, they are completely naïve, no doubt.
Advanced: This stage is reached when His level of Grace bestowal is extremely high. In general, it takes a long time to get here. In my own case it took about 22 years or so, 14 of which were spent in communities with all the gossiping, dramas, ego trips, strange situations and the like. By this I am tacitly indicating that an aspirant must be very patient and persevering. Finally, I was able isolate myself from all that noise and apply all my attention to the Self alone. The “community” or “group” stage is a necessary phase in the spiritual evolution for the most part, but in the end the aspirant will have to go to seclusion somehow in order to realize his Self completely. Why? Because during the advanced stage even one’s physical body can be a distraction, so the presence of many people around can be quite a headache to that aspirant. Even if such an aspirant lives in a community, he will remain in isolation for the most part. He is not the least bit interested in being with other people.
The advanced aspirant is somebody who finally understands that he is not the fisher but the “prey”. He also understands that his little rod and boat cannot cope with the task of fishing the immeasurable divine sperm whale. It sounds funny but the process is very sad because ego is removed from its position of a superstar and replaced with the Self. This kind of aspirant loses all his interest in human guru-s because his attention is more on the scriptures and finally on the Self Himself, as I have explained before.
The advanced aspirant ends up in the water like the intermediate aspirant when the huge sperm whale bites the bait and pulls on the fishing line, but this time, the divine whale will eat the aspirant as he has become high quality food. Following this example of a fisherman and a sperm whale, I could say that the entire stage known as advanced consists of assimilation of the aspirant’s supposed individuality “within” the body of the whale. When the food is completely assimilated, that is Final Liberation because the aspirant becomes one with the Self (the whale in the example). He was always one with the Self, but he did not have actual realization of his essential nature. When he ultimately has that realization, he becomes liberated, i.e. attains Self-realization.
Intermediate and beginner aspirants perform their practices mostly in an external way, but the advanced aspirant practices everything internally. He is able to understand the Self inside and therefore he will become fit for Final Liberation sooner or later. It is just about time. His practices are no more mechanical but spontaneous, i.e. he meditates only when meditation comes to him on its own and not by schedule. Toward the end of this stage, he abandons all practices because he realizes that the bright Sun cannot be illumined by a pot. His achievement of Final Liberation occurs spontaneously too, all of a sudden. When the Self reveals Himself to him that puts an end to his transmigration from one body to another, from one thought to another, etc. Such a person has undergone a complete transformation because in him the Self (and the Self alone) remains. Even that which is called ego goes through a total transformation and despite looking like a usual ego is not so any more.
From then on, the liberated one will live like any other person or else he will become a spiritual guru. His Bliss is completely safe in the Self and consequently he is able to remain happy under all circumstances. No, he is not laughing all the time like an idiot. Bliss is not always synonymous with laughing (this misunderstanding is commonly seen). For example: if his son dies, he will not be laughing during the funeral like a fool because he will experience suffering too. Anyway, his Bliss will end up overpowering him and sadness will be gone. But he will behave normally in order not to disturb other people. The idea of a liberated person always laughing like a fool is common but completely false. In order not to reveal his state of Liberation, he must play roles like an ordinary person. Also, if he is a spiritual guru and one of his disciples comes and tells him about family loss, he will not laugh and say: “Hey, you are the Self and everybody is the Self. What is your problem then?” If the disciple is beginner or middle-level, he will not understand such behavior. Only advanced aspirants could understand him, but as these are always very few, a liberated person will generally behave in a way that is appropriate in order not to disturb other people.
Another characteristic of a liberated person is that he will not interfere with the movements of the Self inside himself. For example, if his mind is angry, he lets it be so. He does not fight it but rather he allows the Self to have His delight that way. And if his mind feels fear, he lets it feel that. He is truly “flowing” with the Self and his “flowing” is not mere statement as in the case of the beginners in spirituality. The behavior of a liberated one is beyond mental scope. As a result, it is very difficult to understand his ways. A good description of him in this world of the words would be saying that he allows His Absolute Freedom to express Itself in himself. He does not interfere with this Freedom at all. The beginners and middle aspirants are always “controllers”, but the advanced one learns to flow with the Self and His Freedom. The liberated one is simply an advanced aspirant who has finally realized his divinity replete with Bliss.
Bliss, as I’ve stated before, is not mere happiness or laughing all the time or celebrating as so many people postulate. That is not true at all. Bliss is a profound Feeling of Real Happiness beyond all description. Whether or not the face is laughing, that is of no account, and I am completely sure of it. People who believe that saints are always laughing and celebrating do not understand the real meaning of Bliss. Bliss is not ordinary happiness but “bigger”. NO. Bliss is the essence itself of His Power. It is the Supreme Nectar that keeps a liberated one ecstatic inside and outside whether or not his face reflects that State. When the face is allowed to reflect Bliss, it usually doesn’t laugh but opens the mouth because of the Amazement produced by His Revelation. I will explain these processes later.
After Final Liberation, and not before, one fully realizes that the entire process was always “automatic”: automatic ignorance, automatic limitation, automatic moving from one stage to the other, automatic evolution, automatic spiritual enlightenment and so forth. Before Final Liberation one feels that one is, somehow, doing something “on his own”. However, after Final Liberation, one realizes that everything was always carried out by His Grace and His Grace alone. In fact, in the State of the Self there is neither bondage nor Liberation but only Him. Paradoxically, this truth is understood after Final Liberation because prior to that it is just mere statement. The Self is so Great that He can become a limited individual in bondage and then, in a trice, realize His own essential nature again. Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of a limited individual, the entire process of Self-realization takes many years of great efforts. In this He exhibits His Absolute Freedom, because even when He is completely Free, He seems to be bound by Himself and then freed by Himself as well. Who could be as Free as Him? Nobody. My salutations to this Great Self who is the real author of this article!