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Signposts of Progress in Meditation
Part IX: Stages of Realization

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.








Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York

As an aspirant makes progress in meditation, he passes through various levels of realization. The Yoga system mentions that the supreme goal of meditation is attained by seven successive stages. The first level is reached when it dawns upon the aspirant that the Truth he is seeking is not outside himself but within. In the words of Swami Vivekananda:

After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, on earth and in heaven, at last you come back to your own soul, completing the circle from where you started, and find that He whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and in temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in the clouds, is the nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul.

The second level is that at which the aspirant experiences cessation of pain arising out of attachment and aversion: an all-abiding calmness pervades his entire mind. At the third level, he attains total absorption in the Self. The objective universe disappears completely. By reaching the fourth level, he gains absolute freedom and dwells on the borderland between the absolute and the relative. When he attains the fifth level, he realizes that for him the world and his body and mind have completed their services. When he reaches the sixth level, all his stored-up impressions fall away forever, never to come back again. Finally, at the seventh level, the aspirant reaches the final stage of union with the Self, from which he no longer returns to partial consciousness.

The devotional scriptures of Hinduism mention experiences of certain specific spiritual emotions as indicators of progress in dualistic meditation. Following the path of devotion, an aspirant meditates on a particular aspect of the Personal God as his Chosen Ideal, and he reaches the state of absorption by his intensified love for his Chosen Ideal. The steps leading to the state of absorption are considered practices of preparatory love, while the different depths of meditative absorption are known as different degrees of spontaneous love.

Love begins with one-pointed loyalty (nishtha) to the Chosen Ideal. An aspirant with this one-pointed loyalty begins to develop a special love and liking for his own object of worship, although he shows love and adoration for other forms of God as well. His love at this stage is formal and ceremonial, and therefore his meditation, too, is mostly a practice of discipline, motivated not so much by the commitment of his heart as by practical considerations of his intellect.

One-pointed loyalty brings in its wake a feeling of loving attachment to the Chosen Ideal, and loving attachment gradually culminates in loving devotion. The sense of practicing discipline with effort is slowly replaced by the feeling of loving service and self-surrender. Devotion makes the object of meditation alive and responsive, and therefore meditation becomes spontaneous. Spontaneity in anything results from the commitment of the heart. The cooperation of the heart represents the support of the unconscious part of our mind for our conscious endeavors. There is always a difference between what we think we want and what we really want. So long as an aspirant's conscious spiritual efforts and practices do not get the support and cooperation of his heart, such practices are never spontaneous.

Loving devotion leads to the stage of bhava. Reaching this stage, an aspirant feels the inebriation of the meditative mood. This naturally generates continual bubbles of thought within the aspirant reminiscent of his Chosen Ideal. The stage of bhava reaches its consummation in the attainment of mahabhava, which is divine intoxication, and then in prema, or pure love.

To be continued

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]

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