Stages of Spiritual Evolution

badriThe ancient Siddha tradition, which has been revealed to Amma and Swamiji, has its origin in India. The seers in the Siddha tradition, were able to transcend the limitations of the human mind and body and attain liberation. They reached supreme states of consciousness in which they became one with the primordial, Supreme Self, while still in the physical body. And in those states of consciousness, they realized that it is possible for any person to reach the same state, if only a person has the desire and is willing to walk the path. They devised methods and practices which, when followed, allow a person to become increasingly closer to God. Said another way, these ancient Siddha masters devised ways where anyone can become a saint, anyone can attain Union with the Divine. Innumerable times it has been shown that while saints are born, they can also be self-made by pursuing a path of self evolution.

In general, for a person to reach the Supreme, they need to go through increasingly progressive stages. The Siddha masters have defined and devised a 4-stage path for self-realization. This is a broad framework which describes the stages of spiritual evolution in an individual. Each stage is described in detail with respect to the activities that need to be performed, the type of changes one experiences in different levels of consciousness. The four stages are Sariyai, Kriyai, Yogam and Gnanam. These four stages are a continuum, and there is often an overlap between them. As a spiritual seeker goes through these stages, he becomes increasingly closer to God, and eventually becomes One with God.

The human mind is constantly engaged in thought process, jumping from one realm to another, worrying about things. It constantly deludes a person in thinking that the five sensory organs define the complete reality of the person. Consequently a person is caught up in everyday life, and there is little time or inclination to think about the real reason for their existence. The four-fold path of Sariyai, Kriyai, Yogam and Gnanam encourages a person to increasingly detach themselves from the sensory inputs and to go inwards.

stagesSariyai

Sariyai is the first step, where the spiritual seeker worships a deity. This can be anyone – Lord Krishna, Jesus, Kali Ma – whatever form if Divinity that connects with the devotee. The deity is considered to be a full representation of the Supreme Divine, and in fact is considered to be God in the full form. The devotee worships and serves the deity. This worship can take many different forms, such as cleaning the altar and premises, bathing the idols, decorating them with flowers, lighting a lamp and incense, helping other devotees in worshipping the deity, etc. The person is constantly engaged in serving God in the form of a deity. All thoughts and actions are directed towards this activity, which helps focus the mind of the devotee. A deep love for God develops in the mind of the devotee.

The spiritual seeker should adhere to the principles laid out for Yama (moral principles) and Niyama (discipline and responsibility) in the 8-fold path. By paying attention to moral principles, developing discipline and accepting responsibility, purification at the external level starts to manifest.

Kriyai

Kriyai is the second stage in the spiritual evolution. As one matures in Sariyai, like a fruit which ripens on the tree but is not yet ready to fall off, the soul seeks a greater longing to be one with the Supreme consciousness, and Sariyai falls short on this. Kriyai is characterized by a combination of external worship to a deity and worship to the Divinity within. In this stage, the devotee is advancing from worshipping a concrete form to realizing that form within and consequently reduces the amount of time spent for the external worship of the deity, making way for internal worship. This internal worship is in the form of "mantra japa" which means chanting of the mantras, often silently. This helps calm the constant chatter of the mind and to go more silently inwards. Often, a spiritual master, a Guru, is needed in this stage to guide the devotee towards the correct mantras to use.  In this stage the devotee feels increasingly closer to the Divine, as it starts to blossom within.

In this stage, the spiritual seeker needs to go deeper, to begin the inner purification. Asanas (perfection and mastery of the body through yoga) as described in the 8-fold path are recommended to help with the purification both at the external and internal levels. Developing a deeper inner discipline happens naturally in this stage.

yogamYogam

Yogam is the third stage and is the maturation of Kriyai.  It is a pivotal point for the realization of the self. Yogam is not to be confused with Yoga, although Yoga can be one of the practices. In Yogam, there is a full maturity of the intuitive mind and the spiritual seeker is able to bring the mind to a standstill, and is able to catch glimpses of the Supreme Divine God and starts merging and becoming one with God. There is a detachment from all things worldly.

The emphasis in Yogam is on the withdrawal from the external sensory stimuli in order to perform internal purification. The internal purification is done at several different levels: physical, mental, emotional and etheral. This is done using a combination of methods described in the 8-fold path, such as 'pranayama' (harnessing and perfection of breath), 'pratyahara' (withdrawal of senses) and 'dharana' (single-minded focus).

At this stage, the branch is ready to release the fruit which has ripened, and the spiritual seeker is ready to enter the final stage, Gnanam.

butterflyGnanam

Gnanam is the fourth and final stage in the spiritual evolution. This stage is one of pure knowledge and knowing. One does not need to do rigorous practices such as prayers or japa in this stage in order to go towards moksha, liberation. They happen by themselves. One needs to just be still, sitting in one place. Everything is empty, the person goes into the Void, which is the source of creation and manifestation. True knowledge is experienced as it shows itself.

In this stage, the spiritual seeker effortlessly goes into 'Dhyana' (uninterrupted meditation) and 'Samadhi' as laid in the 8-fold path. This stage is absolute bliss, Sat-Chit-Ananda. The spiritual seeker and the supreme Self and the Universal Spirit, become One, there is no difference. This is similar to melting of an earthen pot which separates a handful of the water in the ocean.

Ekatvam is about unveiling the truth of the totality of spirituality. It is about striving for everybody to reach the stage of Gnanam, to lead everyone to moksha, or liberation.