Stages of the Spiritual Path
(Comments on the Patanjali’s Scheme)
In ancient times, the Indian rishi Patanjali highlighted the principal stages of the ascent to spiritual heights, to the Primordial Consciousness.
He distinguished eight major steps of this ascent: yama — niyama — asana — pranayama — pratyahara — dharana — dhyana — samadhi.
However, since the first two of the above-mentioned steps are very similar and are supposed to be practiced simultaneously, it makes sense to regard them as one and view this system as a seven-step “octave”.
Let us look at these steps.
Yama and Niyama
These terms are translated as “effort and relaxation” or “exertion and rest”. This stage consists in mastering fundamental ethical and psycho-hygienic rules of spiritual seeker’s life.
The first rule is called ahimsa — non-harming. It means trying not to injure, as far as possible, any living being in deeds, words, thoughts or emotions.
This also includes the principles of ethically correct nutrition
that we have discussed above and, what is no less important, getting rid of coarse emotions, which are the result of ill thoughts and often lead to rude words and actions.
We can make ethical mistakes, including crimes, as a result of either our ignorance, lack of understanding of the universal order and of our place and role in it, or as a result of our indulging in emotions of spite, condemnation, jealousy, resentment, anxiety, despair, fear, etc, which are manifestations of our “sticking out” lower self.
Destroying the lower self by merging it into the universal Highest Self of the Creator is one of the important tasks on the spiritual Path. This kind of work begins with the inner fight against all vicious manifestations of the lower self — first of all, those that exist in the field of emotional reactions.
Repentance is an important tool in accomplishing this task — the sincere repentance for ethical mistakes that one has committed, accompanied by the mental analysis of those problem situations and finding the best ways of resolving them.
Many people do not grasp the essence of the principle of non-condemnation. Condemnation is an emotion, a form of anger. Identification and discussion of other people’s mistakes, as well as an intellectual analysis of them are not at all condemnation. Analysis is necessary since this is what helps us not to repeat someone else’s mistakes. But while performing this type of analysis, one should be free from any kind of the emotions of anger.
Emotions are states of the energy of the consciousness. They emanate beyond the body, thus creating energy environment for people and other beings around us. People who live in coarse emotional states produce a destructive and pathogenic environment for those around them. Communicating with such people can cause severe energy lesions and diseases, especially in children.
But people who live in subtle states of love make everything around their bodies healthy, spiritualized, and elevated; they heal with their mere presence. And the stronger their love and more powerful the consciousness is — the larger space they spiritualize — up to a planetary scale.
A spiritual seeker can achieve a full control over the emotional sphere only through working with the chakras and other energy structures and then through merging (as a consciousness) with the Divine Consciousness. But he or she should start making efforts starting from the beginning of the Path.
The second rule of yama is sathya — truthfulness, purity, honesty.
However, there are cases, where we cannot tell the truth, because this will harm someone. In such instances it is better to evade answering the question…
But if we lie, we become sinners before God and captives to our lies before people, since we will have to apprehend a disclosure and to live in anxiety, instead of the state of steadfast pure peace.
The third rule is asteya — non-covetousness, renunciation of the desire to possess something that belongs to someone else. We have to be totally concentrated on the cognition of God! Craving for material objects, especially those belonging to others, is an utter perversion of the true orientation of the consciousness, which at the same time leads to harming other people.
The fourth rule is aparigraha — limiting possessions to necessary things. Unnecessary things only distract our attention from the essential: from being focused on attaining the state of Mergence with the Creator.
Brahmacharya — the fifth rule — literally means “acting in Brahman (Holy Spirit)”. This implies renunciation of worldly desires (except for attending to elementary needs of the body) and redirection of the attention toward God, searching for Him first with the mind and then — with the developed consciousness.
This rule implies sincere renunciation of seeking worldly fame and honors, accumulating the things that are unnecessary in the world of Brahman, and embellishment of the body.
Some people interpret Brahmacharya rule only as celibacy (sexual abstinence). But this is too narrow of an interpretation. Besides this, sexual continence is even unnecessary provided that one regards sex as a spiritual act. On the contrary, celibacy can lead to prostatitis in men, energetic “fading” of women, and result in the consciousness growing “callous” — in both. It really does not contribute to progress on the spiritual Path. What is important is not abstaining from sex, but freeing oneself from being obsessed with it and from sexual contacts with inadequate partners.
The sixth rule is saucha — maintaining purity of the body. The main thing here is washing the whole body with warm or hot water and with soap — daily, if possible. This cleans the skin from deposits of perspiration salts, which upset normal functioning of the whole organism. Let us remember what we feel after taking a good bath, especially if we have not washed the body before that for a long time! This is the state of comfort that we can and should create for ourselves every day by washing the body in the morning.
Saucha also implies brushing the teeth and so on.
There are also special therapeutic saucha techniques, such as abstersion of the nose and of the nasopharynx by drawing in salted water. There is no reason for using them regularly, but they can be effective for treating chronic rhinitis.
The seventh rule is mitahara — pure nutrition. This has already been discussed in detail above. Here let me mention only that it is best to take food in an emotionally favorable environment. In no circumstances should one eat on the background of conflict conversations or bitter arguments, as well as in presence of malicious or irritated people.
One may perform a meditation before taking a meal in order to harmonize the inner state.
For example, the Orthodox prayer-meditation Heavenly Father suits this purpose very well.
The eight rule — santosha — consists in the constant maintaining of a positive emotional attitude. If we feel presence of the Lord and devote our lives to Him totally, if we do not act out of self-interest, if we know that He is constantly watching us, leading us, teaching us, that He creates difficulties for us so that we could learn and then Himself helps us to find solutions to the problems — why would we not live in a permanent joy?
The ninth rule is svadhyana — philosophical discussions, conversations, and readings that make for a thorough comprehension of the meaning of life and of the Path to Perfection.
“Fix your mind on Me…” — this is how Krishna defined the first steps that man has to take on the Path to God.
The tenth rule — tapas — implies any kinds of self-restraint and self-constraint for the sake of overcoming our vices. Among other things, tapas teaches us a spiritual discipline as well as to follow the principle “it must be done!” as opposed to “I do only what I want!”.
The eleventh rule is Ishvarapranidhana. This implies feeling that everything that exists is pervaded with the Consciousness of the Creator (Ishvara), feeling of His constant presence inside and outside the body, bodies of other people and material objects, seeing Him as the Teacher and a Witness of everything that one does and that happens to one.
There are also four very important rules:
— kshama — tolerance to those who think differently;
— daya — mercy, kindness;
— arjava — simplicity, lack of arrogance;
— hri — lowliness of mind, also a lack of: self-admiration, self-pride because of one’s actual achievements, and conceit — self-praise on account of one’s imaginary virtues.
In this context, the word asana means a posture, a steady position of the body. There are special methods of working with the body in order to prepare it for further stages of spiritual work. Systems of asanas and other exercises of this stage of work are collectively called hatha yoga. They also help one acquire the initial skills of concentration and provide the entry-level development of the energy structures of the organism.
One should start doing asanas only after studying and accepting the principles of the previous stage. Practicing hatha yoga without switching to the killing-free diet leads to coarsening of one’s energy and to accumulation of coarse power, and this in turn leads one astray from the true Path.
The best time for doing asanas is early morning — approximately 4-5 a.m.
Each hatha yoga session must be followed by a relaxation exercise called shavasana.
Shavasana is relaxation of the body and the mind in the position of lying on the back.
We on the back and make sure that we feel comfortable. Nothing should distract us. Then we begin to relax the body starting with the toes. One may imagine a plane perpendicular to the axis of the body — like a glass wall — and move it through the body from the toes to the head; behind this surface no tension remains. Let us feel that we lose any sensation of those parts of the body behind this plane. We alienate them, saying mentally: “This is not mine! This is not mine!…” If we regain sensation of any part of the body, we move the plane through this section once again. After the plane has passed through the head, we may experience the following states:
The first state: the self-awareness vanishes. We fall into something resembling a deep sleep, but this is not a sleep. The self-awareness is regained in about 18-20 minutes. We feel thoroughly rested, as if after a long deep sleep. This is quite a blissful state. One does not have to stand up abruptly, but just enjoy it.
The second state: the self-awareness is retained, but absolute peace comes to us. We may scan the entire body with the inner sight. We may enter the inner space of the body from below and see light and dark regions. Gray or black colors mean disorders on one of the energy planes, which correspond to the manifest or still latent stages of diseases. We have to try to gather all dark stuff in heaps as if with a rake and throw it away from the body.
When doing shavasana, we may also experience involuntary full exits from the material body: we may suddenly become aware of ourselves being in usual form but in an unusual position — for example, soaring above the floor or standing on the head and so on. There is nothing to worry about, though: once we feel like getting back into the body — we will find ourselves there right away. But under no circumstances one is encouraged to perform such exits: these are exits into a coarse space dimension — into the so-called astral plane. One has to learn to exit immediately into the highest spatial dimensions, but the methods for doing this are different.
Children under the age of 12 must not be taught shavasana: having realized that they are out of the body, they do not always want to return into it.
Working with energies within the body and within the cocoon,
which surrounds it, is the task of raja yoga. One of the methods here is pranayama, which is translated as “working with energy”.
Sometimes this term is incorrectly interpreted as “breathing exercises”. This is an atheistic error. In reality it is the energy of the consciousness that gets moving during pranayamas, but one may perform this — for convenience — keeping time with the breath.
The part of the consciousness which is working during pranayamas has to transform into white flowing light. With this light, we wash away all areas of bio-energetic contamination located within our bodies. It results in general improvement of
the health and elimination of various diseases. Also the consciousness itself turns into a mobile and active power.
Below, a few general purifying exercises of the pranayama type
Stand up. Bend slightly to your right so that your right arm is hanging freely without touching the body. Try to feel your
arm thoroughly from the shoulder joint to the wrist. Imagine that a pump chamber, to which “air”-light is being fed through the
arm like through a hose, expands and contracts in the chest with every inhaling and exhaling. Special attention should be paid to the exhaling. Try to achieve the clarity of feelings. The “hose” should be as thick as the
arm and nothing should prevent “air”-light from moving freely inside it.
Perform the same exercise with the left arm, and then with each leg. The “hose” to each leg should come down from the chest through the corresponding side of the body.
Place images of two vessels, for example, barrels, under your feet. One of them is empty; the other is full of white liquid
light. Touch this light with your leg-hose and pump it through the body-pump into the other barrel. With each inhaling the pump chamber inside the body and the head is expanding, drawing the
light from the full vessel through the leg. With each exhaling the chamber is contracting, the
light pouring out through the other leg into the empty barrel. The light cleanses the whole body from inside.
When the barrel with the light gets empty — fill it up again and overturn the content of the other barrel into an image of fire so that all dirt that has streamed out burns. Turn the body around over the barrels and repeat the exercise.
After that repeat the same, placing the barrels under your hands.
In this way you should attain the feeling that your whole body is filled with bright white
The room in which pranayamas are performed should be lit by either natural sunlight or by filament lamps. Fluorescent lighting does not fit for this purpose: it has a very unfavorable energetic impact on the human organism.
The word pratyahara means “removing the indriyas from material objects”. Pratyahara is the stage at which aspirants learn to control the “tentacles” of the consciousness which are called indriyas in Sanskrit. This allows one to achieve the ability to see in subtle and the subtlest layers of multidimensional space, as well as to exit from the material body into them and settle in them, accustoming oneself to their subtlety, tenderness, and purity.
The concept of indriyas exists only in Indian spiritual culture. Europeans with their simplified, complicated, and degraded religious ideas usually are not capable of grasping this kind of knowledge. Even in translations from Indian languages they substitute the word indriyas with the word senses that has lost its original meaning; by doing this they completely reject the immense methodological significance of pratyahara concept and of principles of work at this stage.
Europeans translate the term pratyahara as “control over the senses”. But senses are not everything that is denoted by the term
indriyas, since the indriyas include the mind as well. It is also essential that the image of “tentacles” evoked by the word indriyas provides profound understanding of the principles of functioning of the mind and consciousness, as well as of methods of controlling them.
Krishna presented fundamental knowledge about working with the indriyas in the
Bhagavad Gita. He was talking about the indriyas of vision, audition, smell, touch, proprioreception, and about those of the mind. And indeed: concentration on an object through any sense organ or with the mind is very similar to extending a tentacle to it from the body. When we switch concentration to another object, we detach and move our indriyas to it.
In the same manner the mind creates its own indriyas, when we think about something or someone.
People with developed sensitivity can perceive other people’s indriyas touching them. In some cases they can even see those indriyas and therefore they can influence them.
Krishna said that one of the things that man has learn is the ability to draw all the indriyas from the material world inwards, just as a tortoise retracts its paws and head into its shell. Then one has to extend the indriyas into the Divine eons in order to embrace God with them, to draw oneself to Him, and to merge with Him.
Now Sathya Sai Baba — our contemporary Messiah — also teaches about control over the indriyas. Many of His books have been translated into Russian but in all of them the information about working with the indriyas was lost due to inadequate translations.
One cannot attain control over the indriyas without mastering the ability to shift the concentration of the consciousness between the chakras and main meridians, i.e. the meridians that make up microcosmic orbit
plus the middle meridian.
Dharana means “maintaining proper concentration”. Proper
concentration means keeping the indriyas on God. In other words, this is a real
manifestation of our aspiration toward God, toward Mergence with Him.
But God in the aspect of Creator or Holy Spirit is inaccessible
for direct perception at this stage of apprenticeship.
Our loving thirst for God can be partially quenched by working
with an Image of a specific Divine Teacher, for example, Jesus Christ, Babaji,
or Sathya Sai Baba — the One, Whose form in His past Incarnation is familiar to
If we hold the face of a Divine Teacher in anahata on the
background of the emotion of the most intense love that we are capable of, we
gradually enter a state when it is not I who look at the world from anahata but
He. This denotes the Yidam (this is what this Image is called) becoming alive;
we are partially merged with Him. After that we may live in Unity with Him in
anahata, or having moved the concentration of the consciousness to the chakras
located in the head; we can address Him in anahata as an Advisor and a Teacher.
This is not an illusion but the real Divine Teacher entering
into His Image created by us. He may also become an Instructor in our meditative
trainings. He will lead His devoted and loving disciples through His
Consciousness — into the Abode of the Universal Consciousness of the Creator.
“If you can visualize the Image of the Teacher in your
consciousness with the most complete clarity, you can transfer your
consciousness into His, and thus act through His Power, as it were. But for
this, you must visualize the Image of the Teacher with utmost precision, to the
minutest detail, so that the Image does not flicker, suffer distortion or change
Its outlines, as frequently happens. But if following the exercise of
concentration one succeeds in invoking the steady Image of the Teacher, through
this one may gain the greatest benefit for oneself, for those around one, and
for the work.” (Hierarchy: 90).
“You may be asked how the entrance upon the path of Service is
defined. Certainly, the first sign will be renunciation of the past and total
aspiring toward the future. The second sign will be realization of the Teacher
within the heart not because it is one’s “duty”, but because it is impossible
otherwise. The third sign will be rejection of fear, for he who is armed by the
Lord is invulnerable. The fourth will be non-condemnation, because he who
strives into the future has no time to occupy himself with the refuse of
yesterday. The fifth will be filling of the entire time with labor for the
future. The sixth will be the joy of Service and completely offering oneself for
the good of the world. The seventh will be spiritual aspiration toward the
far-off worlds as a predestined path. According to these signs you will discern
a spirit that is ready and manifested for Service. He will understand where to
raise the sword for the Lord, and his word will be from his heart.” (Hierarchy:
If work with Yidam does not bring immediate results, one may
benefit from practicing visualization. They may practice creating images that
help develop the chakras or visualize blissful pictures of communicating with
living nature, etc. But only those images, which are filled with exultation of
happiness, harmony, joy, subtlety, and bliss will make for one’s correct
spiritual development. Corresponding types of paintings, musical compositions
and art photography, etc. may also serve as an aid.
Dhyana is the stage of meditative trainings that leads to Samadhi.
Meditation is work of the consciousness aimed at the consciousness’ development along the path to Perfection and to the Mergence with the Creator. Meditation is practiced at three stages of the Patanjali’s scheme.
At the dharana stage, students, among other things, learn how to expand consciousness in the subtlest and the most beautiful that exists in the world of matter. By means of such attunement they establish themselves in sattva guna.
And through working with Yidam they may immediately come in contact with the Fiery Manifestation of Divine Consciousness and experience Samadhi.
At the dhyana stage, students work on increasing the “mass” of the consciousness and obtaining power in subtlety.
At the next stage, their efforts are focused on interaction of the individual consciousness with the Consciousness of Universal God and on merging with Him in His Infinity.
At the dhyana stage, meditative work is especially effective if it is performed at special places of power — areas on the Earth’s surface that have a special energy impact on human beings. Among the variety of them only those should be chosen that make for expanding of the consciousness in the subtlest eons. A correctly selected subsequence of such places ensures that the most complex tasks of correct crystallization (i.e. quantitative growth) of the consciousness will be solved easily and with little effort.
For the same purpose, one can meditate during athletic exercises, as well as practice winter swimming and meditative running.
The structure of the human organism responsible for meditation is the lower bubble of perception (this term was introduced by
Juan Matus) the principal part of which is the anahata chakra, supplied with energy by the lower dantyan (a complex of the three lower chakras).
From the very beginning of meditative training until the absolute victory of Merging with the Primordial Consciousness, one must always remember that man’s main merit is measured by the level of the development of the spiritual heart. This is by what man can merge initially with God. This is why it is the spiritual heart that man should develop and keep pure in every possible way. Everything said above allows us to take it not as a nice figure of speech or a metaphor, but as a quite practical knowledge and instruction.
The steps of the ladder of the spiritual ascent that we are discussing now are meant for teaching one how to position the consciousness, first, in cleansed anahata, then to ensure the growth of anahata within the body and then beyond it — within the cocoon, then within the Earth and beyond the planet in the highest eons.
In this way we can grow ourselves as Love. God is Love; this is why one can merge with Him only after becoming Great Love, a Great Soul consisting of Love (Mahatma)!
And there are no other ways of developing Divinity, except for those fundamental steps that we are describing here.
This stage includes a range of highest spiritual achievements — from the first Samadhi — up to Mergence with the Primordial Consciousness.
The consciousness of the spiritual seeker prepared at the previous stages becomes capable of getting in contact with the Consciousness of God in the highest eons. These first contacts give one a vivid novelty of bliss, which is what the term Samadhi denotes.
In contrast to Samadhi, Nirvana is a stable Mergence with the Consciousness of God in which the feeling of localized “I” disappears. The term Nirvana means “complete burning away”, i.e. losing the individuality through Mergence with God in the aspects of the Holy Spirit or the Creator. And this is what happens in reality.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks about Samadhi and about two principal stages of Nirvana: Nirvana in Brahman (the Holy Spirit) and Nirvana in Ishvara (the Creator).
But in India, the term Nirvana became widely used by Buddhists at some point in time, and later on, this term along with Buddhism, was “forced out” from India by Hindus. Instead of using the term Nirvana, Hindu schools started to expand the meaning of the term Samadhi by adding to it various prefixes. Various schools used these composite words and because of this the term Samadhi became “diffused” and lost its unambiguity. This is why it makes sense to get back to accurate terminology that God introduced into spiritual culture through Krishna.
So, in order to get from Samadhi (Bliss of Contact) to Nirvana (Mergence) one has to have a large and strong consciousness, developed by preceding trainings. In addition to this, it has to be firmly established in Divine subtlety.
If these conditions are fulfilled, then all one needs to do is to just find an entrance into the required eon, enter it, and dissolve oneself in its Consciousness using the method of total reciprocity, which one has to master in advance.
This task requires not only meditative skills but ethical preparation as well: destroying the lower self in every possible way and replacing it with the collective self first, and then with the universal Self, i.e. the Paramatman.
This is the only way man can connect to the unlimited Divine Power.
“… We have an inexhaustible reservoir of psychic energy!” (Hierarchy:394), says God.
But “if one were to expound the conditions and the aims of Yoga,
the number of applicants would not be great. Terrifying for them would be the
renunciation of selfhood…”
In connection to the above said, I want to cite the Carlos Castaneda’s book The Power of Silence:
“… War, for a (spiritual) warrior, is the total struggle against that individual
self that has deprived man of his power.” (see
… One explores the highest eons of the Absolute one after another. Before starting exploring the next eon, one has to accumulate the power of the consciousness for a long time, sometimes for years, in order to be able to enter it and remain in it. The only exception is people who approached these stages in their previous incarnations and maintained the necessary amount of personal power and the level of the subtlety of the consciousness.