7 Stages of Enlightenment (Panchadasi by Swami Vidyaranya)

Following seven stages present an order every human being, including you, goes through or is going through — until one recognizes the Absolute Truth — otherwise called enlightenment.

Ignorance is Universal

Everyone born starts out completely ignorant of everything, except basic survival instincts imbued by nature. Although the capacity for intelligence and memory is there — it is empty. You don't know a single word. Not how to walk, stand nor calculate 1 + 1.

From thereon, the whole life becomes about removing ignorance pertaining to objects of the world.

For example, we remove ignorance of English. We remove ignorance of how to greet a person. We remove ignorance how to insert a spoon of food into our mouth, without biting the spoon. Or how to eat with fingers, without biting our fingers.

We Remove Ignorance of Everything, Except the Most Important

We remove ignorance of so many things, except the most important — Self, I.

One innocently lives with the assumption, “I am this body, these thoughts, this role, this position in society, this intelligent, this unworthy, this successful, etc”. 

One ends up questioning everything, everyone… but one's own Truth. 

One invests knowing world of information — mastering physics, science, geography, history, running for president — yet all of it resting on an unresolved foundation, which happens to be full, limitless, free, eternal.

In short, owning to ignorance of Self, one's entire life consists of seeking for short, temporary, limited experiences… surrounding oneself with limited objects which supply limited enjoyments… while completely missing out on discovering one's own eternal, limitless nature.

When Things Start To Shift for You…

As one continues to mature throughout lifetimes, learning humility and the impermanent nature of all things — the individual starts to inquire beyond worldly-things.

This is start of one's journey to enlightenment.

For example, the fact that you're reading this, implies you already have some basic understanding that there is more to reality then the limitations of this world, or even other worlds like heaven. Which means you already enjoy some level of readiness to pursue liberation.

While at the same time, you may know some dear loved ones who have no interest in these matters. They're not ready. The flower is yet to blossom in it's own season. Therefore everyone has their own season.

7 Stages to Liberation

In reference to one's journey to end the pointless cycle of rebirth — seven seasons or stages have been assigned by a text called Panchadasi. 

Whether we're speaking of Buddha who recognized the fruitlessness of luxury at a young age, or even your own realization, the fact is — everyone goes through the following 7 stages in various degrees.

The 7 stages are…

  1. Ignorance. 
  2. Veiling.
  3. Projection.
  4. Indirect knowledge. This is where the truth is still at head level. Meaning it's not owned or integrated.
  5. Direct knowledge. Otherwise called liberation or enlightenment. At this stage, there's no rebirth.
  6. Cessation of grief. Meaning even after enlightenment, there is still a mind loaded with psychological burdens of childhood, and old patterns of thinking. The very same mind that was there before liberation, is still there after liberation. Contrary to seekers in first 4 stages who erroneously believe enlightenment will solve all problems at ones. Frankly, this is immature thinking. Therefore, one's duty is to now continue to live scriptural values of compassion until last breath. After all, we don't need an enlightened jerk. However this explains why liberated beings in our scripture are of all types. Some obnoxious. Rude. Polite. Loving. Ackward. Etc.
  7. Perfect satisfaction. In truth, nonone ever achieves “perfect”, as anything in the world is relative. Today's “perfect” is overridden by tomorrow's “perfect”. All this means is, the one who is liberated, their mind through the years continues to settle in the knowledge, thus greater satisfaction is enjoyed.

The first three causes bondage. The last four cause liberation.

Now let's see them in detail…

Bondage: Stages 1 to 3

Ignorance is the stage characterized by, “I do not know who I am”, and is the cause of the indifference to truth sustained by lack of inquiry.

  1. Ignorance (ajnanam/avidya)

    At this stage a person thinks “I am my thoughts/emotions/skills/body/etc” and takes the world to be absolutely real. I don't know that I don't know that truth (self) does exists, much less that I am that.  Thoughts like, “The self does not exist” or “The self cannot be known”, typify veiling. This ignorance persists when inquiry is not conducted along scriptural lines.

    In short, Unconscious incompetence. “I don't know what I don't know”.

  2. Denial, veiling, concealment (avaranam) is expressed ignorance.

    He takes himself to the ego, thinks the Self is an object and says that because he can't experience it, it doesn't exist.

    Or one accepts the idea that it exists and tries to experience it by doing certain practices. If he experiences what he thinks is the self, he will think he has “got it”. When in truth, the real “getting it” is knowing that “I” didn't get it, but my mind got it, and I am not the mind that has got it.

    He does not understand that he needs to be taught and tries to read his way to liberation, interpreting the teachings according to his own will. Interpreting the teachings is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. In reality, inquiry is a rigorous practice dictated by the scripture and guided by the teacher.

    In short, Conscious competence. “I know that I don't know”.

  3. Projection, erroneous notions, are called vikshepa.

    He hears that there is a self, but has no idea what it is and develops all sorts fantasies about it. He thinks he is a doer and struggles to experience Self, but gets frustrated and suffers a sense of unworthiness on account of his incompetence at achieving it.

Liberation: Stages 4 to 7

  1. Indirect knowledge (paroska-jnanam)

    The individual hears about Vedanta, becomes curious about it and develops some faith in it. He learns that the self exists, but often believes that is an inconceivable object only attained by “great masters”, but he persists.

  2. Direct knowledge (aparoksha-jnanam or anubhuti)

    He realizes that he cannot experience the Self as an object, because he is always experiencing it as the conscious Subject, “I”.

  3. Freedom from limitation (moksha)

    The knowledge, “I am the Self,” negates the doer/enjoyer, and seeking stops because he understands that the fullness he is, obviates the need to worry.

  4. Total fulfillment (tripti)

    He/she realizes that he accomplished everything that needs to be accomplished and is completely satisfied. (Satisfied with “what-is”, including forces of Sattva, rajas, tamas).

The 4th and 5th stages (indirect and direct knowledge), respectively negate the idea that the self (atman) does not exist and that is not experienced.

Indirect knowledge negates the misconception that self does not exist. Direct knowledge destroys the idea that self is not manifest or experienced as a separate object in future time.

When ignorance of “I” is destroyed by direct knowledge, both superimposed individuality (idea that I am person), and the notion of doership, are destroyed.

When the idea of duality is destroyed by the knowledge of non-duality, a profound sense of satisfaction arises and wipes away suffering. 





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