Your Questions Answered
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 69: The Seven Stages of Enlightenment

SWAMIJI: I was thinking about enlightenment, just before you came here. Enlightenment is like sunrise, I felt within myself that in the morning, the sun rises, but the sun suddenly does not jump up to the top.

Andrew: It rises slowly.

SWAMIJI: It is pitch dark in the night, as if there is no hope of any light. That is the state of ignorance.

Andrew: Yes.

SWAMIJI: Nobody can imagine that there can be any such thing as light when it is pitch dark, like coal. Later on what happens, slightly, the sky assumes a grey colour.

Andrew: The dawn.

SWAMIJI: Slowly it becomes grey color. After that, it becomes a little pinkish, then slightly whitish, and then you will see the great Man rising slowly in the east.

Like that, is enlightenment. I was just now thinking about it in my mind. In the beginning, it is all like idiocy, all darkness. There are people who are working on the roads carrying bricks, and cutting wood in the forest, and living their livelihood. What do they think in their mind?

Andrew: Survival.

SWAMIJI: Survival – that is all. It is complete darkness, as far as enlightenment is concerned.

Andrew: That is right.

SWAMIJI: Then, a day comes in the life of a person when one wishes to do a good thing and not a bad thing. In the animal condition of human life, the idea of doing the proper thing, and avoiding the improper thing, does not arise. The day comes when, "After all, I must do some good thing."

Many people come here to the Ashram, leaving their homes, leaving their jobs, and giving resignation to their occupations. "Why have you come?" "I just want to do some good service." This is the first stage of enlightenment, says the Yoga Vasishtha, a great scripture of India. That first stage is called subheccha in Sanskrit. Subha means good; subheccha means desire to do good.

The next stage is, how to do good. The desire to do good is there, but what is good? You go on cogitating and thinking what exactly good is. This is the state next to the mere desire to do good, which is called the state of investigating. It is cogitation, thinking oneself, "What is actually the good thing? What am I searching for? What do I want?" This stage is called vicharana.

The third stage is called tanumanasi, the thinning out of the mind. The mind is fat with egoism, with desires of every kind. In the Yoga Vasishtha there is a verse in Sanskrit: By accumulation of wealth, by greed for pleasures and attachment to this body, the ego becomes fat. They say the body can be fat; but the ego, also, can be fat.

There are people with stout egos. When the mind starts thinking, "What is the proper thing for me to do?" it begins concentrating on one thing only, wanting the proper thing. Because it is concentrating on one thing only, the distractions caused by the earlier movements of thought in various other directions gradually cease.

Andrew: Subsides.

SWAMIJI: It subsides. It becomes thin, thread-like, as it were. The mind is like a film that covers the consciousness of the Self. When it is very thick and dark, the reflection of Self-consciousness is prevented completely. When it is thin, it becomes perspicacious, as a light can properly reflect itself through a clean glass, but it will not be reflected in a thick brick. So, in this condition of thinness of the mind, called tanumanasi state, it is about to detach itself from all earlier occupations concerned with sense objects. Up to these three stages, the enlightenment has not started yet. It is only a preparatory stage – a stage of kindergarten.

It is in the fourth stage that one feels a flash, as if there is a lightning. The sattva guna, the sattva quality of the mind, manifests itself in the fourth state. In that condition, when one beholds flashes of lightning, not from the sky but from within, one is designated as brahmavid – one who knows Brahman. But, he is still on the portals, only at the gateway to the palace of Brahman. He has not entered it. This stage is called Sattvapatti, attainment of high purity.

Then, in the fifth state, the consciousness of externality melts down into the consciousness of universality. Now I see the world. I see people, I see space-time, sun, moon and stars. I see them because they are apparently outside me. Suppose the sun, moon and stars and all people are studded within my own body; I will see nothing outside me. The consciousness of the external existence of things, including space and time, ceases. It is the stage called asamsakti – total detachment from particularity, externality, causality, etc.

Then, comes the next higher stage, which is the sixth one – padarthabhavana, or non-material apprehension. Quantum physicists tell us that matter is light. It is not a dull, stone-like substance that this earth is. It is inherently light itself. In this sixth stage, matter sheds its materiality, solidity, hardness, externality, weight, and dimension, and there is a flood of radiance everywhere, as if the whole universe is one sun.

When one single sun rises in the east, we can see how much light is there. Here, in this enlightenment, the entire space becomes sun. What would be the radiance? What would be the light? This is sometimes identified with what Patanjali calls, in his sutras, savikalpa samadhi – a penultimate state of union with the Absolute.

In the last state, which is called turiya, there is none to behold this radiance. The beholder becomes the radiance itself. The radiance beholds the radiance; the sun sees the sun, and there is only the sun. The entire space-time complex that you call as existent, as the causative factor of the universe, becomes one mass of indescribable radiance, not of physical light, electrical light, nor even sunlight, but consciousness-light. In that last stage, which is the seventh, nobody is there to behold it, because the beholder has become the very thing which is to be beheld. This is the Absolute-Experience.

Andrew: It is dissolution.

SWAMIJI: Here is the pinnacle of enlightenment, and you will not know what happens to you at that time. People ask questions, "What happens after enlightenment?" Nobody will be there to ask a question like that. No person will be existing at that time. Yet, it is said in the scriptures that the body of such a person may continue to exist for some time. It does not mean that he will die immediately.

The belief is that in this state of total absorption in consciousness-light, a person physically cannot live for more than two weeks, sometimes three weeks. The body will be shed then.

There was one person in Maharashtra who attained this kind of state. Nobody knew his name. He was living in a place called Akalkot, so people used to call him Akalkot Swami. He would not speak, but people around him knew that he was a great master. He would not utter one word; he would not ask for anything. Day and night he was like that, alone to himself.

One poor man, knowing that this is a great person, wanted some blessing. Generally, no blessing is given; he would not speak at all. The poor man had to have his daughter married, but he had no funds. He went and prostrated himself before the great master of the seventh stage that I am describing, and asked for his blessing.

The Swami pointed to something, the skull of a dead man. A marriage is supposed to be a holy act, and such an inauspicious thing he is trying to give? The man felt disgusted, but because of his faith in the great master, he tied the skull in a rag, and went to his house, and threw it in the rear veranda. He borrowed money and had the marriage performed. After a month or so, when the wife was sweeping the veranda, she hit this bundle and it burst into little shining pieces.

There was no skull there. They were all little, shining stones – so much! He took one to the shop in the market and asked, "Is this stone of any value?"

"From where did you get it?" the shopkeeper asked. "This costs a hundred thousand rupees."

The man's heart broke. He went back to the old saint and prostrated himself. "The skull has become a reservoir of gems!" he said, but this great master would not speak one word.

This is some of the ways in which great masters of the seventh stage behave. Their attitude nobody can understand. There was one Swami like that, living on the other side of the Ganga many years back, in the time of Swami Sivananda, looking like a crazy person. He would not wear any cloth, also. He would go to the market. If he sees baskets of sweets, he would lift them and throw them in the road, and go away. Again, he would go to another shop, and throw the whole thing to the ground. Afterwards, they say, the business of those shops multiplied a hundredfold. Then, people used to run to him: "Please throw, please throw!" He would not listen. He would go away unconcerned.

Great masters, like Shirdi Sai Baba, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, this Akalkot Swami, and many others are there of that kind, who were not human beings. As I mentioned, they say that the body will not last very long because the prarabdha, which keeps the body intact for some time, gets exhausted by the work that it has completed, and then it has no work to perform. Consciousness is shrouded in this body, and when consciousness bursts forth, the body cannot stand.

It is also mentioned in the Yoga Vasishtha that people of this type can be counted on the fingers. They will not be a multitude of people. You will not find them everywhere moving on the road. Very humorously it says that the weight of these people, the earth cannot bear. The earth cannot suffer the weight of these people. It is a humorous way of putting it. Very few will be there of this kind.

Suka Maharishi, Vyasa's great son, a little boy of sixteen years old, was one with all the trees, mountains, and everything. He was just going naked, without consciousness of the body. When Vyasa, his father, called, "Suka, my son! Where are you?" the trees in the forest everywhere started vibrating, "I am here."

There is another story about this great Suka. There was a king called Yudhisthira known in the Mahabharata – a very virtuous man, who did a lot of charity. He won the Mahabharata battle. Do you know the story of Mahabharata?

Andrew: A little bit.

SWAMIJI: Oh, it is worth reading. Indian culture cannot be known unless you read the Mahabharata.

Andrew: This is the second time you have told me that.

SWAMIJI: And, after he was crowned king, he had a desire to feed millions of people, as a gesture of his greatness as emperor, and he also wanted to know how many people had eaten. He asked great Vyasa, "Can you have some method contrived so that I might know how many have eaten?" Vyasa hung a bell with his mantra. He said, "When one thousand people eat, it will ring once. You can count the number of times it rings, and imagine that so many thousands have eaten."

After all the people had eaten and gone away, the bell started ringing continuously; non-stop it rang. "What is this? Is something wrong with the bell?" Yudhisthira said.

Vyasa said, "My bell cannot do wrong. Some tremendous mystery is there behind it. Once only it will ring when a thousand people eat. You find out if anybody else is eating."

He went looking around and found this little boy Suka, looking unkempt, sitting with a dog, which was licking the leaves, the remains of the people who had eaten, and he was eating one grain. When he ate one grain, the bell started ringing.

The king ran to Vyasa, "Some poor boy is standing there, and he is eating one grain, and immediately it rings as if one thousand people have eaten. Who is that boy?"

Vyasa said, "He is my son. He is the whole universe himself. If one grain goes into his stomach, millions have been fed."

Yudhisthira wept. "I feel ashamed. I never knew that such a person exists, and I am boasting that I have fed millions of people." He fell prostrate before that boy, but Suka was unaware.

These are stories of the enlightened people who have pierced through the cosmos and made it their own – not merely made it their own, they themselves are the cosmos. The Upanishad says the universe is his – nay, he himself is the universe. What more can we say about enlightenment? It is worth thinking deeply.

Andrew: Thank you.

SWAMIJI: It is worth thinking on this matter, and one day we all shall have it. And let the bell ring.