Stages of Spiritual Journey in Vedanta

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In a previous article, we explored the four general stages in spiritual development, and you can read that article here:  https://celebrateyoga.org/10303-2/.

In this article we will explore a road map of spiritual development according to Vedantic philosophy.  According to the Vedanta Society: “Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India. It is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds.  Vedanta affirms (1) The oneness of existence, (2) The divinity of the soul, and (3) The harmony of all religions.”

Vedanta being a more philosophical, knowledge-based approach to spirituality, describes seven stages of development.  These are agyana, avarana, vikshepa, paroksha Jnana, aparoksha Jnana, dukkha nivritti, ananda prapti.

Agyana means ignorance.  In this stage, we live squarely in the gross physical realm and firmly rooted in the illusion of duality.  We are not aware of anything other than that which we experience directly through our five senses.  We do not know our true nature, nor are we even aware of our delusion.

Avarana means veil.  In this second stage, we may come to hear that there is something beyond name and form, beyond this mind and body, but we don’t see it.  We acknowledge all the multitudes of religion in the world, but we question them.  There is a veil over the eternal truth.  This is the realm of the skeptic – we ask, “where is God?” and we ask for proof, and otherwise dismiss spirituality.

Vikshepa means error and suffering.  From the first two stages comes the third.  We make erroneous assumptions about the nature of our existence.  It’s an immediate conclusion based on our limited observations of the physical world and our experience of the body/mind complex.  We assume that is all we are.  Our answer to “who am I?” is the illusory answer of labels and characteristics, memories and identifications.  From that comes everyday suffering because we only see ourselves in very limited and relative terms living in the past or the future.  This is where most of humanity resides – just trying to find meaning and purpose for ourselves, the individual, separate from everything else.

Paroksha Jnana means indirect knowledge.  In this fourth stage, the message of the spiritual masters finally reaches the receptive ear.  While there is no direct experience of the Divine, there is head-knowledge and acceptance.  No mystical experiences but we admit that there is a possibility of transcendence.  We read spiritual books, and we listen to lectures, and we try to assimilate ancient wisdom.  This is the realm of faith.

Aparoksha Jnana means direct knowledge.  In the fifth stage, through practical application of various spiritual practices and techniques, actual direct experience of the Divine begins to dawn.  A person begins to live a spiritual life from within and see their life purpose as that.  This may be through meditation, or mantras, or yoga, or sufi practices, or living prayer and worship, or direct self-inquiry, or devotion, or whatever the case may be.

Dukkha Nivritti means transcendence of suffering.  This is where the breakthrough happens.  Suddenly the realization of Oneness comes – an overwhelming clarity of the true nature of existence.  This is where enlightenment happens.  The awareness of the witness consciousness totally transcends all limitation, and all suffering of the body/mind complex.

Ananda Prapti means attainment of bliss.  In the last stage, one resides in a foundation of love and joy, eternal bliss.  In every tradition, the common characteristic of the enlightened person is blissful happiness.  These beings are untouched by Samsara.

These seven stages are a journey of discovery.  Moving from ignorance to bliss – from unconscious living to conscious being.  The fragile foundation of impermanence, momentary, and emptiness shifts to an absolute foundation of existence, consciousness, bliss.  That is why the Buddha called himself the Awakened One.

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