COMPARISON OF THE “STAGES” IN
YOGA-BASED AND KNOWLEDGE-BASED
(Yoga Bhumikas and Jnana Bhumikas)
[Adopted from the Book "Yogataaraavali of Adi Sankarachrya" with Commentary by Shri Kuppa Venkata Krishna Murthy, English Translation: Dr. Vemuri Ramesam, I-SERVE, Hyderabad, India, 2007, pp: 96.]
A spiritual aspirant advances on the Yoga or Knowledge path in a progressive series of steps called “Stages.” Ancient seers acknowledged that the true path to liberation lies through only Knowledge-based approach. A detailed description of the stages in the Knowledge-based practices is available in varAha Upanishad, annapUrna Upanishad, yogavAsishTha and many other scriptures.
However, Revered Shankara endorsed a synthesis of both Yoga-based and Knowledge-based approaches in yogatArAvaLi. He did not talk of seven stages of Knowledge-based path as was given in yogavAsishTha and other works. Though he began with an enumeration of Knowledge-based practices under the title Royal Path (Raja Yoga), he included only four stages of Knowledge-based approach viz. Uplifting the Mind (manonmaNi), Unaffectedness (unmaNi), Null Mind (amanaska) and Deep Sleep with Awareness (yoga nidra) in his discussion. It is, therefore, instructive to compare and contrast the classification of the stages of the Knowledge-based Path with that of yogatArAvaLi and other works.
Sage Vasishta described seven stages in the Knowledge-based Path in the third Chapter: Creation in yogavAsishTha. The seven stages are:
I. Desire for Enlightenment (subhechcha).
II. Inquiry into Truth (vichAraNa).
III. Tenuous Mind (tanumAnasa).
IV. Realization (satvApatti).
V. Non-attachment (asamsakti).
VI. Non-perception of Objects (padArdha abhAvana).
VII. Ineffability (turyaga).
I. The first stage of Desire for Enlightenment (subhechcha) involves intense desire for detachment, longing for the company of noble persons etc.
II. The second stage of Inquiry into Truth (vichAraNa) stands for an investigation of the meaning of scriptural statements after achieving detachment and other related qualities.
III. The third stage of Tenuous Mind (tanumAnasa) is a reduction in desire to getting involved in worldly affairs as an upshot of the first two stages.
Stages I to III are usually grouped together in Vedantic lingo as Listening and Reflection (shravaNa - manana).
brihadAranyaka Upanishad was the first to introduce the concepts of Listening, Reflecting and Uninterrupted Contemplation (nididhyAsana).
i. Listening does not imply mere auditioning of lectures given by a Guru. It refers to a mental endeavor of eliminating the apparent (AbhAsa) contradictions in the Upanishadic declarations and to determine with convincing reasoning that all the statements together (uniformly) affirm non-dual Brahman.
ii. Reflection is to dwell constantly on an unbroken stream of thought-waves that “I am the non-dual Brahman.”
The twin acts of listening and reflection improve clarity in thinking and consequently result in a better appreciation of the meaning of the Upanishadic statements. That in turn helps in comprehending unambiguously the essence of Brahman which is after all the final objective. However, one’s intellect does not get unwaveringly established in truth by this process. That is to say that the essence of truth does not manifest (in one’s mind) like an uninterrupted continuous stream. Negative thoughts keep emerging and become impediments in having a persistent thought on Brahman because of the erstwhile habits of the mind. nididhyAsana (uninterrupted contemplative meditation) helps to block the impediments.
Thus nididhyAsana is an umbrella term for the remaining four stages of the Seven-stage Knowledge-based path.
IV. satvApatti is the fourth stage of Knowledge-based path. satvApatti means to realize the essence of Brahman. We have already said that such thoughts come from a constant practice of shravaNa and manana.
The practitioner who reaches this stage is called “Knower of Brahman (brahmavit).” In spite of reaching this level and achieving an understanding that “I am Brahman”, the seeker needs to be on a constant vigil to retain that thought without break. Otherwise there is a danger that the feeling of identification with Brahman will be destroyed by the overwhelming effects of the impressions from past births. The 20th verse in yogatArAvaLi makes a reference to this state.
V. It is advised in the above verse that intentions should be totally hacked. It means that identification with body, senses and ego that existed so far should be completely eliminated. The ego will then dissolve and a state of null-mind will be obtained. Desire for worldly objects will vanish in that state. A longing for the Potent-Looker (Drik) gets strengthened. The 15th verse in yogatArAvaLi explains what is meant by Potent-Looker.
With the mind focused on Potent-Looker, the feeling, “I am Brahman,” steadily increases. Hence this stage is named as “Non-attachment (asamsakti).” This is the fifth stage of the Knowledge-based Path. The seeker who reaches this stage is christened as ‘Better Knower of Brahman’ (brahmavidvara). The state of such a yogi is described in yogatArAvaLi in the following manner.
A seeker may achieve the meditative state of feeling “I am Brahman” through constant contemplation on Brahman. But sometimes impressions of objective world (i.e. impressions from past births related to worldly objects) gain strength and overtake that feeling. As a result the seeker loses that meditative state. He will not, however, be tempted by the worldly objects because of the fact that he is already established in detachment. Hence he regains his former state of meditation through contemplation helped by the strength of his disinterest in worldly things.
VI. There could be many ways through which an emaciation of longing for worldly objects takes place. For example, a reduced attraction for worldly objects may apparently result from a hopeful expectation of obtaining an immense treasure called "liberation" as a reward. Such a decrease in desire linked to rewards does not serve any purpose. What is important is to develop the knowledge that all visible objects are unreal. In the light of such a knowledge and with the strength of constant contemplation on Brahman, desire for visible objects would gradually diminish. Eventually worldly objects will not even be visible to the seeker as the process progresses. It does not mean that he would grow sightless. What it means is that even if objects are around and his senses cognize them, his mind will not care for them.
With decreasing attraction for visible objects, mind gets increasingly focused on Potent-Looker. Slowly a state will come where only the Potent-Looker manifests. In other words, a non-dual experiential feeling that “I am Brahman” will unswervingly get established. It results in a very intense meditative state. It is called the stage of Non-perception of Objects (padArdha abhAvana). This is the sixth stage of Knowledge-based Path. The seeker in this state is termed “Master Knower of Brahman (brahmavid varIyan).”
The fifth and the sixth stages differ only in the degree of stability though the type of meditative state is same in both the stages. The meditative state gets easily jolted by the impressions of his own past births in the fifth stage. The meditative state in the sixth stage, in contrast, is not affected by one’s own past impressions. Still it is susceptible to be affected by unexpected disasters in the environment (e.g. earth-quakes, floods, tsunami, storms) or by some persons who are determined to disturb the seeker. No sooner, however, the sixth stage seeker will be able to come back to his meditative state of identity with Brahman without difficulty.
A good example to illustrate the condition of the seeker in the sixth stage is the state of a child in sound sleep. If the child is woken up by the mother, he may partially open his eyes and respond in some broken dialog and immediately go back to sleep. The seeker in the sixth stage acts similarly. Interruption in meditation of a seeker in the sixth stage is, therefore, usually compared to a flash of lightning. The disturbance comes and goes like a flash. A Master Knower of Brahman will fall back into his meditation the very next moment if his meditation is disturbed by others. This stage is described in yogatArAvaLi as Uninert sleep or Deep Sleep with Awareness (ajAdya nidra).
VII. When the sixth stage is firmly established, it gets transformed automatically to the next and final stage, i.e. the seventh stage of the Knowledge-based Path. Contemplation, Knowledge, Detachment, Association with noble persons, etc. lead finally to this “Ineffable (turyaga) stage.” The seeker who attains this stage is called Excellent Knower of Brahman (brahmvid variShTha).
It follows from the analysis presented above that there is no difference between the stages narrated in yogatArAvaLi and other scriptures like yogavAsishTha. If any difference exists, it is merely in semantics but not in substance.
The classification into various stages described above helps an aspirant to grade himself/herself on the path of liberation. An outsider cannot judge the stage a seeker is in. A seeker has to make an assessment by one's own self. Table :1 can facilitate such a self-assessment. Table 2 gives the name by which a seeker is known at each stage. An ardent seeker should recognize the stage (s)he is in by making an unprejudiced and balanced appraisal of the state of his mind. He should then strive to make every effort to get firmly established in that stage. The next stage will then come about by itself automatically. With the grace of the Supreme (s)he will then experience the infinite beatitude of brahman unceasingly!
Table 1: Comparison of the stages in Yoga and Knowledge
Stage in the Knowledge-based Path
Stage as per Ashtaanga Yoga (of Patanjali)
Stage as per Yogataaraavali
Desire for Enlightenment
The beginning stage of practice
Inquiry into Truth
Taking shelter under a Guru
Beginning of Control over Mind
Get acquainted with the experiential essence of Self
Expansion of the mind to the Supreme Brahman
Non-perception of Objects
Stability in Meditation
Deep Sleep with Awareness
To stay as Brahman
Table 2: Name of the Seeker at each stage: