The Five Stages of the Spiritual Path
What most people who desire to be spiritual, and who therefore follow some religion or spiritual path to that end, don’t commonly know is that every GENUINE spiritual path, if it is to be able to take you to the farthest ends possible on the spiritual scale, can typically be divided into five stages.
The first of these stages is called the Stage of Wisdom and Virtue Accumulation, namely a stage of studying religious scriptures to obtain guidance and wisdom for how to cultivate to enlightenment , including various injunctions to cut off evil ways and bad behavior and replace them with acts of charity, goodness and kindness. Going to Church, practicing ceremonies, pilgrimage, ordinary prayer, being good and shunning evil — these are all just the first foundational stage of the spiritual path.
This is where 99% of people are in the world. Why not more? No one teaches them what the true path is, and how to cultivate it. So they’re just stuck doing ordinary religious activities which do create for them blessings and merit. If they are good people, they die and go to a minor heaven and when that merit is used up, down they come again for another rebirth. Up and down beings bob through countless lives caught in the interdependent net of reincarnation. How to escape this net of birth and death? Only via enlightenment, but they’re not even taught how to get there. Rare it is to even come upon the teachings that will lead your your own self-liberation.
The next stage is the Stage of Added Effort, also called the stage of Intensified Practice, Extra Endeavor, or Preparatory Yoga. This is where you practice cultivation and meditation techniques that purify the mind and transform your physical body. This is where people develop samadhi and spiritual powers, where their chi (prana) enters into their chi channels because their kundalini awakens, where seminal energy (generative force) transforms into chi and then shen, where they cultivate co-emergent emptiness and bliss. The target of this stage is to prepare the body and mind for enlightenment to win self-realization, and liberation.
Of the religions invented over the last 200 years which people commonly call into doubt, they are all lacking this stage of cultivation practice which leads to genuine spiritual stages (samadhi attainments) and the higher spiritual heavens. From this fact alone, their worth… other than another method of moral provisioning and virtue cultivation… is adequately called into question.
If you want to climb the ranks of samadhi and reach the spiritual stages achieved by past prophets, gurus, masters, adepts, immortals, true men, initiates, enlightened ones, Arhats, sages and saints and so forth, then this is the stage where you must situate yourself. If you have no such idea that this is even how things stand, you better get worried and get started on your cultivation. Going to Church or temple alone just isn’t going to cut it — you’ve done that for millions of lives and you’re still revolving around in the wheeel of reincarnation. It’s rare to come upon true enlightenment teachings, so don’t lose your chance to cultivate before your next transition (wherein you may lose your access to this information once again, as to have access to the teachings and path that wins you ultimate realization requires great merit).
In this stage you once again practice good deeds and virtuous behavior, but the big emphasis is on spiritual practice, namely meditation practice to let go of discriminative thought. This is called stilling the mind, finding peace, cultivating emptiness, not this not this (neti neti), abandoning self-talk, detaching from the view of the body and all sorts of other titles but in essence, this is a stage of intensified meditative practice. There are so many meditation methods to choose from that you use what whatever virtuous method works. Many schools and religions have proven techniques such as mantra, pranayama, mindfulness, cessation-contemplation, imaginary cognition, yoga, visualization and so forth that can win you samadhi. If you cultivate with disciplined regularity and the right way, you will make progress. If not, you don’t. It’s as simple as that. You cannot say that the path and these higher stages do not exist because YOU haven’t attained them. By their absence, you can only say youhave failed to achieve them yet….
The next stage is the actual Stage of initial Enlightenment, self-realization or seeing the Tao. This is the "clear light "stage of Tibetan Buddhism, the stage of no-ego in Christianity, the stage where shen transform into emptiness in Taoism, the Zen stage of "10,000 miles of clear (empty) sky without a cloud (thoughts)." It’s not a stage of full enlightenment, but just partial enlightenment or initial awakening. You abandon all thoughts that you previously clung to defining you as an ego, and are now one with the Tao, one with God, one with Buddhanature, one with the original nature, one with the essence of all things. Call it God, Allah, Brahman, Buddhanature, original face, fundamental nature - different words point tot he same moon.
At his stage one becomes what Buddhism calls an Arhat or Lohan. As the first Zen master to China, Bodhidharma, said, of the many that reach this stage few actually cultivate it. In truth, few reach it at all today. In Buddha’s time, 500 Arhats even walked out of his Lotus Sutra lecture because they didn’t want to hear of a stage past this initial enlightenment and cultivate further to Complete and Perfect Enlightenment.
Cultivating further, the next step of the path is the job of purifying any errant obstructions and residual habit energies that still exist as obstructional pollutions standing in the way of perfect and complete enlightenment (the Fifth stage of the path). You’ve awakened to the emptiness of the self, or recognition that the self is non-existent and just a thought stream you can abandon. However, now that you’ve realized the emptiness of the self, you still have to prove the emptiness of phenomena. Where did all these phenomena come from?
This stage is the Fourth stage of practice, the Stage of True Cultivation Practice, that begins when you actually do decide to cultivate further upon awakening to non-ego. Of this stage Master Kuei-shan once said to his enlightened student Yang Shan, "All that’s important is that your eye is correct (that you have enlightenment). I won’t talk about your practice (you have to guide yourself)." This stage is hard to explain — I’ll leave the effort to my CDs and Measuring Meditation.
If you really continue cultivating, eventually you can reach the Fifth stage of the path, the Stage of No More Learning, Complete Enlightenment, Buddhahood. Buddhahood doesn’t mean you become a being that looks like a statue of the Buddha. It just means you achieve perfect union with the Supreme. Call it what you will; in Buddhism supreme enlightenment to the fundamental substrate of all things is called Buddhahood. Don’t get misled by names.
So does your religion have a stage of meditative practice? Does it have saints and sages who’ve achieved some stage of samadhi attainment? What is the method they teach that will help you achieve samadhi and the Tao, and what is the principle it relies on?
If these things are missing, better get worried BIG TIME because all the genuine paths have this. Just reading some scripture and falling for the words "BELIEVE" aren’t going to do anything for you, especially if you are faced with the fact that people in coutnless OTHER traditions, other than your own, are achieving these high stages and enlightenment.
If your school is lacking, it’s your job to fill things in…either openly or privately (quietly). Most people lack the merit to even come upon this knowledge which can win them freedom and liberation. That’s why most people are in the dark, clinging to their own little religion and fighting wars and arguments that are meaningless when the non-denominational path is in front of them. People just lack the merit.
The spiritual path is non-denominational. There are just different paths that have developed over time because of the differing merit stores, karma and propensities of various people, races, times and cultures. But it’s all the same path, it’s just described differently and wrapped with different doctrine and dogma to keep the path alive. Additionally, most people don’t cultivate to the end point of the path, and not cultivating far enough, thus there are also differences in the ultimate excellence of the teachings available to various groups. That’s just the way it is…if four doctors leave medical school at different times, the medical lnowledge they can provide to people will differ. That’s why I always emphasize that you understand the PRINCIPLES of cultivation science. That’s what should guide you.
All the saints and sages cultivate common methods, based on similar scientific principles, to reach the same stages of samadhi and dhyana. Whether they can achieve enlightenment rather than just samadhi is a big issue and then, whether they can go further is even a bigger issue. As to which stage of samadhi they reach, that’s an issue too with many schools becoming polluted because of the wrong teachings of low level samadhi masters. Frankly, most westerm religions are missing individuals who cultivated to the highest stages of the path. Most of them didn’t even know the principles of the path, but it’s all for you at MeditationExpert.com. No matter what your religion, go there and you’ll find the basics of cuiltivation science.
The principles of cultivation. The stages of kung-fu. The methods of practice. The habitual errors of the path.
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