Chapter 118 — The Seven Stages of Knowledge

Vasishta continued:—

O sinless Rama, now listen about the seven stages of awareness. This knowledge will keep you from plunging into the mire of ignorance. Disputants are apt to describe many more stages of yoga meditation but in my opinion, these seven are sufficient to attain the chief good of ultimate liberation. Knowledge is understanding. It is enough for understanding to know only these seven stages. However, liberation, which is the object of knowledge, transcends knowing these seven stages. Knowledge of truth is liberation. Knowledge, truth and liberation are synonymous because the living being who has known the truth is freed from reincarnation by his liberation.

The grounds of knowledge comprise the desire of becoming good, and this good will is the first step. Then comes discretion or reasoning the second, followed by purity of mind, which is the third grade to gaining knowledge. The fourth is self reliance as the true refuge, then worldly apathy as the fifth. The sixth is the power of abstraction, and the seventh or the last stage of knowledge is generalization of all in one (turya-gati). Liberation is placed at the end of these and is attained without difficulty after them.

Attend now to the definitions of these steps as I shall explain them to you.

First of all is the desire of goodness springing from dispassion from worldly matters and consisting in the thought, “Why do I sit idle? I must know the scriptures in the company of good men.”

The second is discretion, which arises from association with wise and good men, study of the scriptures, habitual aversion to worldliness, and consists in an inclination towards good conduct and doing all sorts of good acts.

10 The third is the subduing of the mind and restraining it from sensual enjoyments. These are produced by the two former qualities of good will and discretion.

11 The fourth is self-reliance and dependence on the Divine Spirit as the true refuge of this soul. This is attainable by means of the three qualities described above.

12 The fifth is worldly apathy, as shown by one’s detachment from all earthly concerns and society of men, by means of the first four grounds of internal delight. 13 By practice of these five virtues and by the feeling of self-satisfaction and inner delight, man is freed from his thoughts and cares about all internal and external objects.

14 Then comes the powers of analytic thought into the abstract meanings of things. This is the sixth step to attain true knowledge. It is fostered either by one’s own effort or guidance of others in search of truth.

15 Continued practice of these six qualities, ignorance of differences in religion, and reducing all to the knowledge of the one true God of nature is called generalization. 16 This universal generalization is like a living liberated man who sees all things in the same light. Above this is the state of that glorious light which is arrived by the disembodied soul.

17 Those fortunate men, O Rama, who have arrived at the seventh stage of knowledge are those great minds who delight in the light of their souls and have reached their highest state of humanity. 18 The living liberated are not plunged in the waters of pleasure and sorrow, but remain sedate and unmoved in both states. They are at liberty either to do or to slight the discharge of the duties of their conditions and positions in society. 19 These men, being roused from their deep meditation by intruders, may assume their secular duties like men awakened from their slumber. 20 Being ravished by the inner delight of their souls, they feel no pleasure in the delights of the world, just as men immersed in sound sleep can feel no delight at the dalliance of beauties about them.

21 These seven stages of knowledge are known only to wise and thinking men and not to beasts, brutes or inert things all around us. They are unknown to barbarians and those who are barbarous in their minds and dispositions. 22 But anyone who has attained these states of knowledge, whether it be a beast or barbarian, an embodied being or disembodied spirit, has undoubtedly obtained its liberation.

23 Knowledge severs the bonds of ignorance and, by loosening them, produces the liberation of our souls. Knowledge is the sole cause of removing the fallacy of the appearance of water in the mirage and similar errors. 24 Those who are freed from ignorance, but not yet arrived at their ultimate perfection of disembodied liberation, have secured the salvation of their souls by being placed in these stages of knowledge in their embodied state during their lifetime.

25 Some have passed all these stages and others two or three of them. Some have passed six grades, while a few have attained the seventh state all at once. 26 Some have gone over three stages, and others have attained the last. Some have passed four stages, and some no more than one or two of them. 27 There are some who have advanced only a quarter or half or three-quarters of a stage. Some have passed over four quarters and a half, and some six and a half.

28 Common people walking upon this earth know nothing regarding these passengers in the paths of knowledge. They remain as blind as if their eyes were dazzled by some planetary light or eclipsed by its shadow. 29 Wise men who stand victorious on these seven grounds of knowledge are comparable to victorious kings. Celestial elephants are nothing before them, and mighty warriors must bend their heads before them. 30 Those great minds who are victors on these grounds of knowledge are worthy of veneration as conquerors of the enemies of their hearts and senses. They are entitled to a station above that of an emperor and an autocrat (samrat and virat) both in this world and in the next in their embodied and disembodied liberations.