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Chapter 6:


The Three Stages on the Spiritual Path


Fill your heart with one-pointed devotion and God will reveal himself within you. Then you will see him as he truly is. In time, you will merge with him and become one with him.


Embodiments of Love,


There are three principal stages that you must follow on the spiritual path in order to reach your spiritual goal. They have been described in a number of different ways in the Gita. At the end of the 11th chapter, wherein Lord Krishna gives Arjuna the vision of his cosmic form, you will find the three stages presented as follows:


1, First, you must know that God is here.

2, Then you must have a direct vision of him.

3, Finally, you must merge with him.


These three steps will lead you to liberation.


Know That God is Here Then Experience God Directly


In the first step, you learn through the words of the scriptures or a teacher, that God really exists. But merely knowing this truth does not give you unlimited joy. You discover that God is here, but you also realize that you and God are separate. This feeling of separation can serve as the basis for subsequent steps on the path, but in itself it does not provide much lasting satisfaction.


Gradually, the anguish of separation from God moves you on to the next step. The desire develops in you to gain the direct personal experience and vision of God. You feel, "I want to see you, dear Lord. How can I experience you directly?" But, you find that it does not happen so easily just by wishing for it. You must deeply pine and yearn for this vision; you must constantly aspire to see him. Whatever form or aspect of God you have come to love in your devotion, you must now yearn for it with all your heart and wish to see it directly. If your yearning is sincere, then after some time he will make himself known to you in a most personal way, and give you this sought-for vision of himself. Here is a small story to illustrate this.


The Cowherd Boy


There was a poor cowherd boy, who had a great deal of faith and an intense yearning to see God. One day, in the village where this boy lived, a preacher came to deliver some spiritual discourses. The preacher would gather together an audience and sing the glories and exploits of the Lord. It was not possible for this cowherd boy to give up his work and come to all the meetings, because all day long he had to attend to his cows. But in the evenings he would bring the animals into a sheltered place and then go to hear the preacher give his talk. The cowherd boy would listen with great earnestness and care to all that was being said.


The preacher was a follower of Lord Vishnu, and so he related the characteristic features of God in the form of Vishnu, or Narayana, as he is also called. In the course of the discourse the preacher repeatedly described the traditional image of the Lord as one who was dark complexioned, who wore a white mark on his forehead and rode on a white eagle. The preacher also explained that Lord Vishnu was always prepared to go to the rescue of those who sought shelter in him, and that he would accept as an offering anything that was given to him with full faith and love.


As the preacher repeatedly described these characteristics of the Lord, they made an indelible impression on the heart of that boy. The preacher also said that God is a great lover of music, and that he could be won by directing one's prayers to him in song, sung most reverently from the heart.


Well, this cowherd boy used to carry some food with him for his noontime lunch. Daily he would offer this food to God with all sincerity and devotion, praying to the Lord to partake of it. He began his prayers by singing this song, "O loving Lord, You ride on a white eagle, so I have been told. Come. Please come to me and accept this food." The boy went on praying like this to the Lord for one whole week continuously. He never touched his food because it was not shared by the Lord. By the end of the week he became extremely weak.


Anguished Yearning for the Lord's Presence


Besides his weakened physical condition, he was also suffering from extreme anguish because he felt that he wasn't singing properly and therefore the Lord did not respond. He was sure that it was because of his own shortcomings in his songs that the Lord did not come to partake of his food. And so with great determination and devotion he continued to practice his singing, thinking that in the end he would surely win the grace of the Lord.


In his weakened condition he reached the forest. He was feeling extremely exhausted but he was determined not to eat unless his offering was accepted by the Lord. Now his prayerful song poured out of him in a most melodious and sacred way. The boy just kept on singing and singing all the time, imploring the Lord to come down and accept the food and drink that he was offering with so much yearning. When there was perfect harmony in the feeling, in the tune and in the content of the song, the Lord descended. How did he appear before that cowherd boy? He came as a boy of the same age, wearing the simple ochre cloth of a saddhu, a mendicant holy man.


The young cowherd asked the boy he saw standing before him, "Please, dear friend, may I know who you are? Are you a traveler passing through this forest?" The holy boy answered, "I am the Lord. I am Narayana. You prayed to see me and so I have come to give you a vision of myself." Remembering that the Lord liked the sweet sound of music, the cowherd boy continued his questioning in the form of a most melodious song, "But you don't conform to the description given of the Lord, who is dark complexioned, who wears a white mark on his forehead and who rides a white eagle. The preacher said that is how we can know the Lord. But it doesn't seem to be true. O, dear one, if you are really the blessed Lord, please resolve my doubt and let me see you in your true form."


The Vision of the Lord


The boy had heard a description of the Lord; now he wanted to see and experience him directly, exactly as he had heard him described and come to believe in him. But God doesn't have any specific name or form; he has a thousand eyes, a thousand ears, a thousand hands and a thousand feet. Yet in order to please and satisfy his devotees who are aspiring to see him, he takes on the particular form which has been earnestly prayed for. To satisfy this cowherd boy the Lord revealed himself by taking on the lustrous form of Vishnu, and accepted the food and drink so lovingly offered by the boy. This is the second stage when one yearns for the vision of the Lord. Even when that vision comes, it will still not be the true form of God but the one chosen through the prayers of the devotee. God loves sincere, heartfelt feelings, and therefore, in keeping with the feeling of his devotee, he will give his vision in the form which pleases the devotee most.


After the Lord left the boy thought to himself, "First I heard a description of him, and then I prayed for a vision of him. Now he has come down and I have seen him directly. But, how can I reach him and be ever with him?" By merely knowing that God exists, a devotee will not be satisfied. Nor does he get full satisfaction by just having a vision of the Lord. Having had the vision, he yearns to be fully merged with him. It is only then that the devotee will be in unending bliss. In the case of this boy, the Lord had given a vision of himself, and then disappeared. But from that moment on the boy kept the picture of the Lord as he had just seen him, in the form of Vishnu, continuously imprinted in his heart. With that lovely form in his mind's eye, he now began inquiring and thinking only of how he could reach him and merge with him. This is the third stage.


Beyond Dualism


In the same way, by either listening to learned people or by reading and studying the scriptures you can get some idea of what God is like. But ultimately you will not be satisfied and happy with just this. It is still only a stage of dualism, for in this stage you and God remain separate. Therefore, you will make an attempt to go beyond the stage of dualism to the next step, which is qualified non-dualism. This refers to the deep aspiration to see and experience God directly. How can you get a vision of him? By picturing in your own heart the form of God you heard described, and then continuously thinking and contemplating on that form. Whatever you do, whatever you say, whatever you see and whatever you listen to, you have to become one with that sacred form.


The specific form of God you have pictured becomes a thought form in your mind. The thought form should then become saturated with the feeling of devotion so that it becomes a feeling form in your heart. Gradually, gradually, these feelings will deepen and strengthen until one day you will have a real vision of the Lord. So, first the Lord is heard of and thought of, then he is sought through intense feelings of devotion and yearning, and finally he reveals himself in form and can be directly experienced. In other words, the thought form turns into a feeling form, which then becomes transformed into real experience. That describes the second stage on the path. Not only do you get the personal vision of the Lord, whom you have aspired to see, but you also get the chance to converse with him face-to-face.


After seeing the Lord thus and talking to him directly, you gain a little more satisfaction. But if you are a true devotee, even this golden opportunity will not give you the full joy you long for. Now you want to reach God and merge with him. You think, "I have heard... I have seen... now I must reach him and be one with him." In the first stage, when through reading and hearing you come to know that God exists, you feel that God is separate and you are separate. This is the state of dualism. But in the second stage you see the Lord and get the feeling that you are part of him. This is the state of qualified non-dualism. Finally you move on to the feeling, 'The Lord and I are one and the same'. This is the stage of complete non-dualism. Here you think, 'Either I must get merged with him or he must become one with me.' Then there is complete unity.


Becoming One with the Lord


So long as there remains a separate river distant from the ocean, which is its source and its goal, then the river will retain a separate name and have an individual identity. But once the river merges into the ocean it gets the taste of the ocean, it gets the form of the ocean, and it takes on the name of the ocean. If you want to become one with the Lord, you have to acquire the feelings of the Lord, you have to acquire the form of the Lord and you have to acquire all the sacred characteristics of the Lord. Only then will you be one with him.


You have to feel that all the attributes of the Lord must manifest themselves in you. Affirm to yourself: "The broadmindedness of the Lord is within me. All the selfless feelings of the Lord are within me. The unbounded love of the Lord is within me." When you faithfully live this conviction then you eventually attain the realization that you and he are one. Then there is perfect unity.


You must continuously strive for this feeling of unity. You must make every effort to gain it. Then you will reach that fulfillment one day. This is the ultimate goal of human life. It is only when you reach that place, the place from which you have originally come, that true fulfillment will be yours.


The Three Stages in Secular Life


Even in your secular life you can recognize these progressive stages necessary for reaching a goal. Consider the following example. Suppose some mangoes have arrived in the market place and that mangoes are fruits which you love immensely. There may be one particular type of mango which you especially favor and relish. Now a friend comes to you and informs you that they are selling these particular mangoes that you enjoy so much. The moment you hear this you get a certain amount of satisfaction; you are happy just thinking about these mangoes, even though you have not acquired them and tasted them.


The moment you get the news you rush to the bazaar to find out where those mangoes are and whether there are any still available. Yes, they are there. Now you get a good look at them. This gives you still more satisfaction. But even then you are not yet fully happy. So you put some choice mangoes in your bag and pay for them. Then, until you reach home you go on thinking about those fruits, reflecting on your good fortune to find such nice ones, and looking forward to eating them. Why do you spend so much time thinking about them? Because you have an extraordinary liking for these fruits, and your actions in going after them and getting them are proof of this strong love you have for them.


You can get a lot of joy when a feeling that you have been experiencing strongly inside you, takes on a form which you can see externally. In truth, whatever you see outside of you is always only a reflection of your inner thoughts. When you have a strong enough desire, you will manifest externally what you wish for so strongly internally. Your desire for the mangoes brought you to the market. Now you have bought them and brought them home. You wash them nicely and peel them. Then you start eating them with great relish and anticipation. As you consume them, you blissfully enjoy the nectarine juice of these lovely fruits. Soon, the juice is no longer something outside of you, but it will have become part of you. With that you get immense joy; you feel complete bliss.


Knowing, Seeing and Becoming One with the Divinity


What is the reason for such great joy? Let us recapitulate the process. First you came to know that the particular fruit you love had become available in the bazaar. That is knowing. After hearing about it, you didn't get discouraged but developed the intense desire to get them and enjoy them. You went to the bazaar with great intensity of desire, yearning to see the fruits there. Finally, you found them and got a good look at those fruits. That is the stage of seeing. After seeing the fruit, you acquired them and ate them. This is the stage of entering into and becoming one with the object of your desire.


Do you have such intense feelings for God? That is the one desire you really should develop. After listening to a number of discourses, after reading many scriptures, after knowing that God exists and after having spent much time in worshipping him, you will have to develop a strong yearning to see him; otherwise, all your efforts will be in vain. You have to fervently strive, making an all-out effort to get a direct vision of the Lord.


A student, after having entered a particular grade and spent the year studying the subjects at that level, will not get any satisfaction in remaining in that grade for the next year. He will aspire to progress to a higher grade. If a student is in the same class for two years he develops a sense of despair and despondency. Not only does he get discouraged but he is also put through a lot of ridicule by his fellow-students. In the same way, you will be poorer in the eyes of other devotees if you continuously remain in the first stages of dualistic worship, without moving on in your spiritual development. Other devotees will say, "Look at this person. He has been attending so many discourses over a long period of time and he's read all the great scriptures, but what is the use of all that? There doesn't seem to be any progress in him."


This unfortunate process of remaining stuck in the first stage, is the characteristic feature of the slothful quality of inertia and laziness. You have to remove this quality and go on from the dualistic state to the next state of internalizing the Lord. In this state, through the continuous contemplation of the Divinity inside, you try to gain a direct vision of God in the particular form you choose. With intense desire you will get that coveted chance to see the Lord, converse with him and serve him.


Reaching the Abiding Peace of the Immortal Self


But even then you should not be satisfied. You should strive to reach the final and highest state. There should be no rest, no peace of mind or contentment until you reach the state of complete mergence with God and the realization of his oneness. These days you are only aspiring to obtain rest for your body and trying to get a little peace of mind. But this is not good. You have to reach the abiding peace of the atma. This is your true self, the immortal self, the one universal self. When you become reunited with it, you become peace itself. Your individual self has to merge with the universal self. Then the long journey is complete and permanent bliss is realized.


A river is born from the ocean and ends in the ocean. But how did the river originate? Initially some of the water of the ocean turned into clouds. Once the ocean water becomes a cloud there is separation and duality. Clouds are separate; ocean is separate. The water of the ocean is saltish. After it turns into a cloud it becomes sweet. But now the water which has become a cloud comes in the form of rain. You can say it is a rain of love, because this rain water becomes a river and with great enthusiasm rushes to rejoin the ocean. This may be compared to the state wherein a great anguish and aspiration develops to get nearer and nearer to the final goal.


When you are in that state you yearn with all your heart to reach the native land from which you have become separated. In the case of the water in the form of a river, it is impelled to merge back into the ocean from whence it came. Only then will it have reached its goal. Such is the pure non-dualistic state of total mergence with the source.


You are born as a human being and you have lived part of your life as an ordinary human being. But you have chosen to take up the path of spiritual life. You find yourself seeking out the company of spiritually-minded people. You find yourself listening to the great scriptural stories describing the sacred characteristics of the Lord. But now, you find that this is not enough. You yearn to have a direct vision of the Lord. Even then, you are not satisfied with just that. Merely having had the opportunity to see and talk with the Lord you still do not find that your happiness lasts. But when you finally get fully merged and united with him, then you gain the complete fulfillment you have been seeking. Then you are one with the unending peace and bliss that is the Lord. This was the teaching that Krishna imparted to Arjuna on the battlefield.


The Sacred Names of Arjuna


In the Gita, Krishna used a number of names to address Arjuna. Even Even in worldly life, a number of titles and names may be conferred on people. In the Gita, it was the embodiment of divinity, Lord Krishna, who conferred the different names on Arjuna. Krishna told Arjuna, "O Arjuna. You are not a child of mortality. You are the divinity itself. You are the son of immortality." In his life Arjuna found himself in a number of trying circumstances in which he acquitted himself heroically. As a result, he was given various titles. To obtain his bow, which was a sacred weapon, he performed severe penance and faced a number of difficult problems. But throughout he persisted with a great deal of faith, courage and conviction.


His determination in the face of all obstacles was ultimately rewarded by gaining the grace of Lord Shiva and winning the bow directly from him. In the process of getting this celestial weapon even the elements of nature went against him, but nothing could deter him from his firm resoluteness and purpose. Because he was able to win that bow, the Lord conferred on him the title, the victor of the bow.


From a worldly point of view, Arjuna could also be thought of as the one who was victorious in gaining wealth. There is a story for this. The oldest of the Pandava brothers, Dharmaraja, who was the king, decided to undertake a great ceremonial sacrifice, performed only by reigning kings. At that time the Pandavas were opposed by the wicked Kauravas. The treasury of the Pandavas was completely empty. They had no money available at all. In the face of such obstacles it would have been nearly impossible to proceed with such a grand ceremony. Still, Dharmaraja insisted on going ahead with the ceremonial sacrifice. He said to Arjuna, "Brother, this occasion will require a very heavy expenditure of funds. We will need a great deal of wealth. How might we raise this money?" Arjuna replied, "Dharmaraja, why worry about money when we have with us the wish-fulfilling tree in the form of Krishna? Why should we be afraid? Once Krishna blesses us we will be able to get any amount of money."


Arjuna went around to the different kings ruling over the surrounding areas to inform them of Dharmaraja's wish to hold the great sacrifice. As soon as these kings heard that Dharmaraja was planning to perform the ceremony, they offered to support Dharmaraja with their own treasuries, and so Arjuna brought back wealth in such huge quantities that it took dozens of elephants to carry it. There were great heaps of gold, silver and jewels. Krishna who had prompted all this, came and acted as if he didn't know anything. He asked Dharmaraja, "Wherever did you get so much wealth? Where did it all come from?" Dharmaraja, out of ignorance and fraternal pride, replied, "It is because of my brother Arjuna that I got all this."


From that day on, Krishna addressed Arjuna as the conqueror of wealth, in this way concealing his own role and announcing to the world that it was Arjuna who was able to gather so much wealth. There were many other names given to Arjuna, such as son of the earth. These names were not intended for Arjuna alone. As you hear these various names you can start applying them to yourself; each contains a deeper meaning and shows how the Lord showers his grace on his devotees. Make them part of you; fully live them by striving to understand their deeper meaning and by putting them into practice in your daily life.


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