There are no shortcuts to enlightenment, but there are detours. Impatience with the natural process is one of them. I am saying that impatient striving, the kind of striving that puts aside all common sense and says “I am going to get realization no matter what” is itself an obstacle to that realization which is not a something to get. We must work to perfect an inner serenity that can accept spending a lifetime or several lifetimes in search of Truth, that can accept that some of us are by our nature and unfoldment better suited to service and devotion, and others to yoga and the various sâdhanas. This is a far more enlightened perspective than the Western notion which subtly maintains that there is but a single life in which all the final goals must be reached. The eternal spiritual path, the way of God, is broad. It accepts all and rejects none. No matter where a seeker is in his inner development, the eternal path embraces and encourages him.
According to the Ågamic tradition, four categories of charyâ, kriyâ, yoga and jñâna are the natural sequence of the soul’s evolutionary process, much like the development of a butterfly from egg to larva, from larva to caterpillar, from caterpillar to pupa, and then the final metamorphosis from pupa to butterfly. Every butterfly, without exception, will follow this pattern of development, and every soul will mature through charyâ to kriyâ, through kriyâ to yoga and into jñâna. Charyâ, or karma yoga, may be simply defined as service. Kriyâ, or bhakti yoga, is devotion. Yoga, or râja yoga, is meditation, and jñâna is the state of wisdom reached toward the end of the path as the result of God Realization and the subsequent enlivened kundalinî and unfoldment of the chakras through the practices of yoga. The soul does not move quickly from one stage to another. It is a deliberate process, and within each stage there exist vast libraries of knowledge containing the sum of thousands of years of teachings unraveling that particular experiential vista.
The evolution of the soul through the stage of charyâ, or service, may itself take many, many lives. We see people every day who are working to be of service, to be more efficient, to be more useful to others. Charyâ is the state of overcoming basic instinctive patterns and learning to work for the sake of work rather than the fruits of our labor. It is the simple fulfillment of right action and the first step on the spiritual path. The instinctive mind at this stage of evolution is so strong that it must be governed firmly by external laws, external forces. Tendencies toward selfishness lose their hold on the devotee as he strives to become the perfect servant to God and mankind.
Worship during the charyâ stage is entirely external. As the devotee unfolds into the next stage, of kriyâ or bhakti yoga, he will want to worship and serve in the temple in more internalized ways. Singing the sacred hymns, chanting the names of the Lord and performing japa will become an important part of his devotion, which is partly internal and partly external. Kriyâ blossoms into its fullness when there arises in his heart a desire, a strong desire, to know and experience God.
It is through the devotees in the kriyâ, or bhakti yoga, stage of the unfoldment of the soul that we have all over the world today magnificent Hindu temples, built by people who have performed well, who have controlled their thoughts and actions, who have understood the laws of karma and the penalties of wrong action. They have avoided wrong action not out of fear, but because they have evolved into performing right action. As he matures in kriyâ, the devotee unfolds a more and more intense love of God, to the point that he may well shed joyful tears during intense moments of worship. When that love is constant from day to day, when it is strong enough that he is capable of surrendering his individual will to God’s Cosmic Will, then kriyâ or bhakti yoga has reached its zenith.
At this stage of kriyâ the devotee learns patience. He learns to wait for the proper timing of things in his life. He is in no hurry. He is willing to wait for another life, or for many more lives. There is no urgency. He trusts God and trusts the path he is on. He settles down, and his life comes into a balance.
In the stages of charyâ and kriyâ, the deep-seated impurities of the mind are cleansed as past karmas are resolved and a foundation laid for the third stage on the divine path, that of yoga. Yoga is a very advanced science. It cannot be sustained except by the soul that has unfolded into the fullness of charyâ and kriyâ and maintains the qualities of service and devotion as meditation is pursued. The devotee who has served God well now embarks upon finding union with God in his sanctum within.
In yoga, the devotee worships the transcendent aspect of God. He strengthens his body and nerve system. He disciplines the energies of mind and body. He learns to regulate his breath and to control the prânas that flow as life’s force through his nerve system. In this process, the kundalinî Sakti is lifted and the multi-petaled chakras unfold in all their splendor. Lord Siva now brings the earnest devotee to meet his sat guru, who will guide him through the traditional disciplines of yoga on his inward journey. It is his spiritual preceptor, his guru, who takes care that he avoids the abysses and psychic pitfalls along the path. In this stage of yoga, the devotee looks upon God as a friend, a companion. Finally, one day, in his first samâdhi, he penetrates to the essence of being. In this ultimate experience, which remains forever beyond description, he has reached the union which is yoga.
Returning from this state of ineffable fulfillment, the devotee brings back into his life a new understanding, a new perspective. He is never the same after that experience. He can never again look at life in the same way. Each time he enters into that God Realization, that samâdhi, he returns to consciousness more and more the knower. His knowing matures through the years as his yoga sâdhana is regulated, and as it matures he enters ever so imperceptibly into the fourth and final stage of unfoldment, into jñâna.
One does not become a jñânî simply by reading philosophy. Understanding another person’s wisdom does not make us wise. Each has to experience the fullness of the path to enlightenment himself. The jñânî becomes one who postulates that what he has himself realized are the final conclusions for all mankind. His postulations are filled with assuredness, for he has experienced what the Vedas, the Ågamas and the Upanishads speak of. He has awakened the power and force of his own realization. He knows. He becomes the embodiment of that knowing, of the Truth he once sought as something other than himself. He finds within the scriptures confirmation of his realization echoed in the verses of rishis written at the dawn of human history. This matured soul sees reflected in their writings that same state of complete merging with the Divine that he himself has come to know as the timeless, formless, spaceless Absolute which he once worshiped symbolically as a stone image in previous life wanderings within the instinctive mind. He has removed the veils of ignorance, removed the obstacles to understanding. He has come into his true being, union with God, union with Siva, and in this serene state he sees God as his beloved, as that which is dearer to him than life itself, as he is consumed by that all-encompassing love. He has become the source of light and darshan which radiate out through the nâdîs and prânas of his being.
The final conclusions are that mankind is on a spiritual path as old as time itself, that this journey progresses from birth to birth as the soul evolves through the perfection of charyâ into the perfection of kriyâ, and from there into the perfection of yoga, emerging as a jñânî. This is the path followed by all souls. Whatever religion they espouse, whatsoever they may believe or deny, all of mankind is on the one path to Truth. It begins with the dvaita of charyâ and ends in the advaita of jñâna.
Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami