Sunday, October 17, 2010

Four Stages of Awakening

When Socrates was in prison awaiting his execution, he heard his fellow prisoner singing a complex lyric by the poet Stesichorus. He begged the man to teach him the poem. ‘But to what reason?’ questioned the other. Socrates answered ‘So I may die knowing one more thing.’

This attitude is rare because we give up a lot as we near our end. Instead of expanding our intellectual and experiential horizon, we seek to limit ourselves through a false perception that as the physical capacity dwindles; it is inevitable that all intangibles that make up the richness of our life must also taper off. Attaining awakening is a process similar to life; until the very last moment we need to acquire a capacity to let go of our innermost cravings and this can be attained only through a deeper knowledge of ourselves and the false reality in which we are situated.

The dichotomy of our understanding of human life as a composite of two entities evolves from a position that is innate to our existence. We perceive the physical realm as being separate from our consciousness. But it is consciousness which gives us the capacity for a fuller life. If we realize that consciousness is the primary building block of the material world then we will take a different view of life. Every bit of knowledge and experience continues to enrich our consciousness and this in turn gives a greater meaning for our physical existence. This is not an intellectual exercise but a deeply felt mystical experience. It involves many stages.

This is the reason why Chinese Master Hsu Yun explained before he died at the age of 120, ‘There are many minor satories before a major satori and many major satories on the path of genuine awakening.’ All spiritual traditions have different way of expressing this process. St. John of the Cross equates this process to ascending Mount Carmel so that we can clearly see from the higher slopes.

Theravada tradition of Buddhism calls it the ‘Noble Understanding’. There are four steps in this process.

First is ‘Entering the stream’. When you enter the stream, the grossness of the body seems to dissolve and it is the same experience when there is a degree of freedom which one has not experienced due to our applying focused attention. In this first step a person sees through the illusion of separate self, releases identification with the body and mind and awakens to an alternate realty beyond space-time. Even though we see the truth there is further purification required to transform our character and embody this new understanding. This is done in the second stage.
Second stage is the ‘Returning Again’. This stage involves many years of practice in becoming aware of our coarse clingings and aversions so that we can release them. The only way to do this is by going through the sufferings that result from our attachments and dislikes.
Third stage is the ‘Non-returning’. In this stage we are permanently released form our attachments and desires, never to return. But this stage can be reached only by very few who have devoted their life to this path of great awakening. In this stage wisdom finds a resting place in the self and the self is guided in the path of awakening by a superior wisdom.
Final stage is the ‘Great Awakening’ in which the last traces of subtle clinging, even to joy, freedom and meditation, fall away. There is a perennial radiance of our true nature shining unhindered throughout our existence.

For most of us this requires many life cycles but this path is there for us to follow.

Love to you all

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