Stages of Knowledge
Divine Life Society Publication: Chapter 11 The Philosophy of Religion by Sri Swami Krishnananda
It is said in the Yoga-Vasishtha that in the earliest stage of knowledge there is an inward inclination for search after truth. Self-consciousness, as it is available in the human level, is not supposed to be manifest in the lower kingdoms, the animal, the plant and the mineral. It is only at the human stage that discrimination is supposed to dawn, because self-consciousness is at the same time a capacity to discriminate and distinguish between what is proper and what is improper, and what is real and what is unreal. But it does not mean that every human being is in search of truth. While all can be regarded as men, some are, in fact, animal-men. They think like animals with an intensity of selfishness gone to the extreme, with a desire to grab and destroy and consume and with no consideration for others absolutely. This is the lowest state in which man can be evaluated. But there are superior individuals who have risen above the animal level, yet are intensely selfish nevertheless, who may be good to anyone only if the other is good to them, but bad if the other is bad to them. But man has to rise to the still higher level where he metes out only good to the other and cognises not the bad element. The good man is one who does good always, under every condition, and is not conditionally good. Beyond the good man is the saintly man, and still above, the Godman, whatever be our description of such a state of illumination.
It is only in the later stages of evolution that the spirit of search rises and fructifies in experience, firstly as a wish to be good. This is regarded as the first stage in knowledge. When man is not satisfied with the things of the world, when he begins to feel that there is something missing here, and that there ought to be a state of living superior to the earthly forms of life, and is eager to know what is behind this world, then he is in the first stage of knowledge (Subhechha).
When the enquiring spirit dawns, one does not merely rest with this spirit, he tries to work for its manifestation in practical life. One would run about here and there and try to find out how he can materialise this longing and make it a part of his living routine. Man, then, becomes a philosopher. A philosopher is in the second stage of knowledge (Vicharana). He employs his reasoning capacity and works through his logical acumen, trying to make sense out of this inward spirit of search for truth, and he utilises his whole life in study and analysis of the nature of things.
In the third stage, man becomes a truly spiritual seeker. He does not remain a professor of philosophy or an academic seeker in the metaphysical sense, but a seeker in the practical field. He begins to practise knowledge and does not remain merely in a state of searching for it. The mind is gradually thinned out of all its jarring elements and it recognises no value in life except a unitive insight into truth. Practice is the motto of the seeker. He does things, and is not content to imagine them. This is the third stage of knowledge where one starts actually doing things, because he has already risen above the state of conceptualisation, rational study and philosophising. The mind is thinned out of desires for the external (Tanumanasi).
The fourth stage of knowledge is supposed to be that state when there are flashes of the divine light appearing before the meditative consciousness like streaks of lightning (Sattvapatti). It is not a continued vision, but a passing state of exaltation. A flash does not continue for a long time. It manifests itself suddenly for a second and then vanishes as an intense beam of light. This is the fourth state of consciousness, regarded as the first stage of realisation.
The fourth stage of knowledge mentioned is considered to be the initial indication of God coming. The earlier three are only stages of search and practice. The fourth is the first encounter with the supramundane. The condition of this first stage of realisation or the fourth stage of knowledge is designated as the condition of the Brahmavit, or knower of reality, where one begins to see, actually, what is there, rather than merely think intellectually or imagine in the mind.
Then the fifth stage is described as a higher realm still, where on account of the immense joy one experiences beyond description, one is automatically detached from all objective contacts of sense (Asamsakti). One does not 'practise' renunciation here. One is spontaneously relieved of all longings in the same way as when one wakes up from dream there is no longing for the wealth of the dream world. There are no more realities outside, even as the objects of dream are no more realities to one who is awake.
In the sixth stage, the seeking soul becomes a Godman, a veritable divinity moving on earth, where the world is no more before him but the blaze of the all-enveloping creative spirit spread out in its splendour and glory. He sees the substance of the world and not merely the form and the name. He beholds the forms but as constituting a single interconnected whole. The veil of space and time is lifted. The conditioning factors, earlier known as space, time and cause, and the internal empirical relationships, get transcended. One enters into the heart of all things, the selfhood of every being. Light commingles with light. As a candle flame may join a candle flame, the self gets attuned to the Universal Self. Here it is not a beholding through the senses or even a thinking by the mind, but being, as such. The materiality of the world vanishes (Padarthabhavana). The world then shines as a radiance and as delight. Earlier it was iron; now it is gold. The world does not really vanish, but it has become now a different thing. It has no form; it is a mass of brilliance. The objectness of the objects has gone; the externality of things is no more; space and time do not exist; one does not 'see' things, for one has 'become' things. And, still, there is a higher communion.
The seventh stage is not a stage of beholding anything at all. There is no beholder any more. The seer is not dissociated from the seen. There is nothing to act as a bar or a distinguishing line between the subject and the object. The universe no more stands there as an object of experience, it is the Subject of All-Experience. Here, the Universal Spirit is what it is; none is there to know it, or experience it. It is experience pure. It is experience itself, not an experience of something. Nothing can be said about it, for there is none to say anything. This is the final attainment (Turiya).
The seventh stage is also called, sometimes, 'liberation while living' (Jivanmukti). The body may be there, but it is no more a body for the knower. What a liberated soul feels, no one else can understand. There is no standard by which one can judge that person. The state is beyond imagination. What happens to the soul in liberation, one has no means to measure or convey. The Goal of life is reached.
Stages of Knowledge - The Philosophy of Religion by Sri Swami Krishnananda
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