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How Enlightenment is Reached in Seven Stages

Swami Vivekananda on the seven stages of enlightenmentSutras 27 and 28 of Book Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga Sutra 2: 27. In his case the highest stage of enlightenment [prajna] is reached by seven stages.

Swami Vivekananda’s explanation of this is extremely valuable, so here it is:

“When this knowledge comes; it will come, as it were, in seven grades, one after the other; and when one of these begins, we know that we are getting knowledge:

  1. “The first to appear will be that we have known what is to be known. The mind will cease to be dissatisfied. While we are aware of thirsting after knowledge, we begin to seek here and there, wherever we think we can get some truth, and failing to find it we become dissatisfied and seek in a fresh direction. All search is vain, until we begin to perceive that knowledge is within ourselves, that no one can help us, that we must help ourselves. When we begin to practice the power of discrimination, the first sign that we are getting near truth will be that that dissatisfied state will vanish. We shall feel quite sure that we have found the truth, and that it cannot be anything else but the truth. Then we may know that the sun is rising, that the morning is breaking for us, and taking courage, we must persevere until the goal is reached.
  2. “The second grade will be the absence of all pains. It will be impossible for anything in the universe, external or internal, to give us pain.
  3. “The third will be the attainment of full knowledge. Omniscience will be ours.
  4. “The fourth will be the attainment of the end of all duty through discrimination.
  5. “Next will come what is called freedom of the Chitta. We shall realize that all difficulties and struggles, all vacillations of the mind, have fallen down, just as a stone rolls from the mountain top into the valley and never comes up again.
  6. “The next will be that the Chitta itself will realize that it melts away into its causes whenever we so desire.
  7. “Lastly we shall find that we are established in our Self, that we have been alone throughout the universe, neither body nor mind was ever related, much less joined, to us. They were working their own way, and we, through ignorance, joined ourselves to them. But we have been alone, omnipotent, omnipresent, ever blessed; our own Self was so pure and perfect that we required none else. We required none else to make us happy, for we are happiness itself. We shall find that this knowledge does not depend on anything else; throughout the universe there can be nothing that will not become effulgent before our knowledge. This will be the last state, and the Yogi will become peaceful and calm, never to feel any more pain, never to be again deluded, never to be touched by misery. He will know he is ever blessed, ever perfect, almighty.”

Yoga Sutra 2: 28. From the practice of the component exercises of yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination [jnana] which develops into awareness of Reality [viveka].

Jnaneshwar: “Through the practice of the different limbs, or steps to Yoga, whereby impurities are eliminated, there arises an illumination that culminates in discriminative wisdom, or enlightenment.”

It is necessary for us to understand that mere practice of the mechanics of yoga will not lead to enlightenment, that the prerequisites of yama and niyama, the “ten commandments of yoga” as well as the adoption of all aspects of dharma must also be there. It is like growing plants. The plants grow from seeds, but if the soil is not of the right character and if there is no moisture or sunlight, even the best of seeds will not germinate and grow into the desired plant. Vyasa and Shankara insist on this, pointing out that both yoga practice and dharma together are what produces enlightenment.

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