Chapter 126 — The Seven Stages of Yoga; Each Leads to the Next through Incarnations

Rama said, “Sage, tell me about the practices of the seven stages of yoga and the characteristics of yogis in every stage.”

Vasishta related:—

Rama, know that mankind is divided into two classes, the zealous and the resigned. One expects heavenly reward and the other is inclined to supreme joy. Know their different characters as follows.

Those who are addicted to enjoyments think the quietude of nirvana as nothing to their purpose. They prefer worldliness above final bliss. He who acts his part in this sense is called an active and energetic man. Such a man of the world is like a tortoise which, though it has its neck well hidden in its shell, still stretches it out to drink the salt water of the sea that it inhabits until after many births, he gets a better life for his salvation.

5 But he who reflects on the nothingness of the world and the uselessness of his situation in it, such a man does not allow himself to be carried on by the current of his old and recurring course of duties here in day after day. He who, after being released from the burden of his business, reflects on the delight of his rest after labor, is the man who is said to repose in his quiescence. When a man comes to investigate in himself how he shall become dispassionate and get over the loud noisy ocean of the world, such a man is said to have come to his good and right sense and to stand on the way to his tolerance. He who has an insensitivity in his heart to the very many thoughts that daily rise in his mind, and who manages his gravest and greatest concerns without being much concerned about them in his mind, such a man is said to taste the delight of his steadiness day by day.

He who condemns the rustic amusements and mean employments of men, and instead of taking up the faults and failings of others for his merry talk, employs himself to meritorious acts, 10 whose mind is engaged in agreeable tasks and painless acts, who is afraid of sin and rejects all pleasures and bodily enjoyments, 11 whose conversation is full of love and tenderness, appropriate without any harshness, and whose speeches are suitable to the time and place in which they are delivered, 12 such a man is said to stand on the first step of yoga when he makes it his duty to attend the society of the good and great, whom he learns to imitate in his thoughts, words, and actions.

13 He also collects books on spiritual learning from everywhere and reads with attention and diligence. He then considers their contexts and lays hold on the tenets which serve to save him from this sinful world. 14 Such a man is said to have come upon the (first) stage of yoga, or else he is a hypocrite who assumes the disguise of a yogi for his own interest only.

The yogi then comes to the next step of yoga, which is called the stage of investigation. 15 From the mouths of the best scholars, he hears explanations of the scriptures and the Puranas, the rules of good conduct, and the manner of meditation and conduct of yoga practice. 16 Then he learns the divisions of categories and distinction of things, together with the difference between actions that are to be done or avoided. All this heard from the mouth of an adept in yoga will facilitate his course through the other stages. It is like the master of a house who easily enters every apartment of his house. 17 He takes off his outer habit of pride and vanity, his jealousy and greed, and the other passions which formed, as it were, an outer garment of his body just like a snake casting off his old skin. 18 Having thus purified his mind, he attends to the service of his spiritual teachers and holy persons and acquaints himself with the mysteries of religion.

19 Then he enters the third stage which is to avoid all company, which he finds as agreeable as a bed of flowers. 20 He learns to steady his mind according to the dictates of scriptures. He passes his time talking on spiritual subjects in the society of hermits and devotees. 21 He sits with dispassionate renunciants and religious recluses who are disgusted with the world. Relying upon the firm rock of his faith, he wears out his long life with ease. 22 He passes his mortal life with cheerful delight of his loneliness and the pleasing tranquility of his mind in his woodland retreat and wanderings. 23 By study of holy books and performance of religious acts, he gets a clear view of things, as it generally attends upon the virtuous lives of men.

24 The conscious man who has arrived at the third stage of yoga practice perceives in himself two kinds of disconnection with the world, as you will now hear from me. 25 This disconnection of a person with all others is of two sorts, one which is his ordinary disassociation with all persons and things, and the other is his absolute disconnection with everything, including himself.

26 Ordinary disconnection is the sense of one being neither the subject or object of his action, nor being the slayer of or slain by anybody, but that all accidents are incidental to his prior acts and all are dependent on the orderings dispensed of Providence. 27 It is the conviction that I have no control over my happiness, misery, pain or pleasure, and that all prosperity and adversity, employment, privation, health and disease happen to me of their own accord. 28 All union is for its separation and all gain is for its loss. So health, disease, pain and pleasure come by turns, and there is nothing which is not succeeded by its reverse, because time with its open jaws is ever ready to devour all things.

29 The negative idea of nonexistence, which is produced in the mind from our lack of reliance on the reality of things, is the sense conveyed by the expression, our ordinary disconnection with all things. 30 With this sort of the disunion of everything in the mind, and our union with the society of high minded men and disassociation with the vile and unrighteous, and association with spiritual knowledge, 31 these joined with continuous exertion of manliness in habitual practice of these virtues, one assuredly arrives at the certain knowledge of what he seeks as clearly as he sees a globe set in his hands.

32 Knowing that the supreme author of creation sits beyond the ocean of the universe and watches over its concerns impresses us with the belief that it is not I but God that does everything in the world. There is nothing that is done here by me, but by the great God himself. 33 Having left aside the thought of one’s agency on any act, whoever sits quiet silent and tranquil in himself, such a one is said to be absolutely unconnected with everything in the world.

34 The Lord of all is he who does not reside within or without anything, or dwells above or beneath any object, who is not situated in the sky or in any side or part of the all surrounding air and space, who is not in anything or in nothing, and neither in gross matter nor in the conscious spirit, 35 who is present and manifest in everything without being expressed in any, who pervades all things like the clear sky, and who is without beginning or end or birth or death. Whoever seeks this Lord of all is said to be set in the best part of this third stage of yoga. 36 Contentment is a sweet fragrance in the mind, and virtuous acts are as handsome as the leaves of a flower. The heartstring is like a stalk troubled by the thorns of cares, anxieties and suffering with the gusts of dangers and difficulties. 37 The flower of inner discrimination is expanded, like the lotus-bud, by the sunbeams of reason and produces the fruit of renunciation in the garden of the third stage of yoga practice.

38 Association with holy men and doing virtuous acts, one suddenly arrives at the first stage of yoga. 39 So this first step is to be preserved with care and nurtured like a tender sprout, watering its roots with reason. 40 The yoga practitioner, like a good gardener, must foster the rising plant of spiritual knowledge by the daily application of reasoning to every part of it. 41 This stage being well managed and all its parts being properly performed, introduces the succeeding stages.

42 Now the better part of the third stage, as already described, is one of all desires removed from the mind of the yogi.

43 Rama said, “Now sage, tell me. How is salvation attained by an ignorant man, one of base birth addicted to baseness himself who has never associated with yogis or received any spiritual instruction, 44 who has never ascended any of the first, second or succeeding stages of yoga, and who is dead in the same state of ignorance in which he was born?”

45 Vasishta replied:—

An ignorant man who has never attained any of the states of yoga in his whole life is carried by the current of his reincarnation to wander in a hundred births until he happens, by some chance or other, to get some glimpse of spiritual light in any of his births. 46 Or it may be that he happens to associate with holy men and becomes dissatisfied with the world. The renunciation which springs thereby becomes the ground for one of the stages of his yoga. 47 By this means, the man is saved from this miserable world, because it is the united voice of all the scriptures that an embodied being is released from death as soon as he has passed through any one stage of yoga.

48 The performance of even a portion of some of the stages of yoga is enough for the remission of past sins and for conducting the purified person to the celestial abode in a heavenly car. 49 He enjoys the celestial gardens of Sumeru in company with his beloved when the weight of his righteous acts outweighs those of unrighteousness.

50 The yogi, released from the trap of his temporal enjoyments and having passed his allotted period, dies in due time to be reborn in the houses of yogis and rich men or in the private houses of learned, good and virtuous people. 51 Being thus born, he undertakes the habitual practice of the yoga of his former birth and has the wisdom to immediately begin at the stage he practiced which he had left unfinished before.

52 These three stages, Rama, are called the waking states because the yogi retains his perception of the differences of things, just as a waking man perceives the visible to differ from one another.

53 Men employed in yoga acquire a venerable dignity which cause the ignorant to also wish for their liberation. 54 He is reckoned venerable who is employed in all honorable deeds and refrains from what is dishonorable, and who is steadfast in the discharge of all his social duties, whether they are of the ordinary or occasional kind. 55 He who acts according to customary usage and the ordinances of scriptures, who acts conscientiously and according to his position and thus dispenses all his affairs in the world, is truly called a venerable man.

56 The venerable nature of yogis germinates in the first stage, blossoms in the second, and becomes fruitful in the third stage of yoga. 57 The venerable yogi who dies in the state of yoga enjoys the fruits of good desires for a long time, then becomes a yogi again. 58 The practice of the parts enjoyed in the three first stages of yoga first serves to destroy the ignorance of the yogi, then sheds the light of true knowledge in his mind as brightly as the beams of full moon illuminate the sky at night.

59 He who devotes his mind to yoga with undivided attention from first to last, and who sees all things in one even and same light, is said to have arrived at the fourth stage of yoga. 60 As the mistake of duality disappears from sight and the knowledge of unity shines supremely bright, the yogi in this state is said to have reached the fourth stage of yoga when he sees the world like a vision in his dream.

61 The first three stages are called the waking state of the yogi, but the fourth is said to be a state of dreaming. That which can be seen disappears from his sight, just as the dispersed clouds of autumn gradually vanish from sight, and as the scenes in a dream recede to nothingness.

62 They who have their minds lying dormant in them and who are unconscious of their bodily sensations are said to be in the fifth stage. This is called the sleeping state or the trance of yoga meditation. 63 In this state, there is an utter cessation of awareness in the mind of the yogi of the endless varieties of things and species. The yogi relies on his awareness of only an undivided unity. His sense of duality is entirely melted down and lost in the cheerfulness of his awakened mind. 64 The fifth stage is also a state of sound sleep. The yogi loses all external perceptions and sits quietly with his internal vision. 65 The continued calmness of his posture gives him the appearance of sleep. The yogi continues in this position practicing the denial of all his desires.

66 This step leads gradually to the sixth stage, which is a state of unconsciousness both to the existence and nonexistence of things, as also of one’s egoism and non-egoism. 67 The yogi remains unmindful of everything, quite unconscious of unity or duality. By being freed from every scruple and suspicion in his mind, he arrives at the dignity of living liberation. 68 The yogi of this sort, though still living, is said to be extinct or dead to his consciousness. He sits like a lamp in a picture that emits no flame. He remains with a vacant heart and mind like an empty cloud hanging in the empty air. 69 Within and without he is full of divine ecstasy, like a full pot in a sea. He is possessed of higher power, yet he appears as worthless on the outside.

70 After passing his sixth grade, the yogi is led to the seventh stage which is called a state of disembodied liberation because of its pure spiritual nature. 71 It is a state of quietude which cannot be described in words. It extends beyond the limits of this earth. It is said to resemble the state of Shiva by some, and that of Brahman by others. 72 By some it is said to be the state of the androgynous deity, or the indistinct state of male and female powers. Others have given many other names to it according to their fancies. 73 The seventh is the state of the eternal and incomprehensible God which no words can express or explain in any way.

 Thus Rama, have I described the seven stages of yoga. 74 By practice of these perfections, one evades the miseries of this world. By subjection of the unruly elephantine senses, one can arrive at these perfections.

75 Rama, hear me tell you about a furious elephant which with its protruded tusks was ever ready to attack others. 76 As this elephant was about to kill many men unless it could be killed by one of them, so are men’s senses like ferocious elephants of destruction to them. 77 Hence every man who has the valor of destroying this elephant of his sensuality as his very first step becomes victorious in all the stages of yoga.

78 Rama said, “Tell me sage, who is this victorious hero in the field of battle? What is the nature of this elephant that is his enemy? What are these grounds of combat where he encounters him, and how does he defeat and kill this great foe?”

79 Vasishta replied:—

Rama, our desire has the gigantic figure of this elephant which roams at random in the forest of our bodies and sports demonstrating all our passions and feelings. 80 It hides in the hidden place of our hearts and has our acts for its great tusks. Its fury is our ardent desire for anything, and our great ambition is its huge body. 81 All the scenes (desire objects) on earth are the fields for its battle, where men are often defeated in their pursuit of any such desire. 82 The elephant of desire kills miserly and covetous men in the state of their wish or desire, or exertions and effort, or longing and yearning after anything.

83 In this way fierce greed lurks in the sheath of human breast under different names. Only refraining from those desires serves as the great weapon of their destruction. 84 This constant desire to possess everything in the world is conquered by reflection on the omnipresence of the soul in all of them, and that the unity of my soul stretches over and grasps all things that I desire.

85 He who continues in this world like the rest of mankind is doomed to suffer under the colic pain of this venomous greed. 86 Our highest liberation is the diminution of the stinging poison of greed. Our liberation is when the calm and cooling countenance of the absence of desire appears to our sight. 87 Words of advice stick to the wise mind like drops of oil adhere to a glass mirror. Our indifference to the world is the only prevention of its thorns, and it is the best advice to the wise. 88 It is advisable to destroy a desire by the weapon of detachment as soon as it arises in the breast. It is proper to root out the sprout of a poisonous plant before it spreads itself on the ground.

89 The lustful soul is never free from its miserliness, while the mere effort of detachment makes it set quiet in itself. 90 Having no care for anything, by lying down as inactive as a dead carcass, you can kill your desire by the weapon of your detachment, just like they catch and kill fishes with hooks. 91 The wise say that desire is that attitude of “let this be mine” or “I may have it” and the lack of every desire is called renunciation.

92 Know that the memory of something is also the desire to have it again. Memory includes both what was enjoyed before and in the future. 93 O high minded Rama, you must learn to remain like a senseless block in your mind by forgetting whatever you think of or otherwise. For your detachment from the world, all must be buried in forgetfulness.

94 Who will not lift up his arms and have his hairs standing on end to hear and reflect that lack of desire is the supreme good of everyone’s desire. 95 By sitting quite silently and quietly one attains the state of supreme joy, a state before which the sovereignty of the world seems like a bit of straw. 96 As a traveler traverses on foot through many regions to reach to his destination, so the yogi passes through all his ordinary acts in order to reach his goal of final bliss.

97 What is the good of using many words when it can be expressed in a few? Our desire is our strongest bondage and its lack our complete liberation.

98 Now Rama, rest quietly in your joy knowing that all this creation is full of the uncreated, everlasting, un-decaying and tranquil spirit of God. Sit quietly delighted in yourself seeing all that is visible in its spiritual sense. 99 Know to ignore everything and the quiet posture of the yogi, which the spiritually minded call the state of yoga. Continue to discharge your duties even in your yoga state until you get rid of them by deprivation of your desires.

100 The wise also describe yoga as unconsciousness of one’s self. It consists of the entire absorption of one’s self in the supreme by wasting away the mind and all its operations. 101 Again, this self absorption is conceiving of one’s self to be the all pervasive spirit of Shiva, uncreated, self-conscious and ever benevolent to all. This conception of one’s self is equivalent to renunciation of everything besides oneself.

102 He who has the sense of egoism and selfishness is never released from the miseries of life. The negation of this sensation produces our liberation. Therefore each person may choose to do either this or that for his bondage or liberation.