Three Stages of Spiritual Life

India discerns three stages in the expression of man’s spiritual life.

In the first stage, man’s religious impulse seeks to find expression in outward acts of worship and adoration; his God is outside.

He resorts to temples and churches, images and symbols, hymns and songs, fasting and pilgrimages. This is the first stage of every religion, the effort to capture an intimation of the Eternal through the concrete and the gross.

The discipline of this stage must lead the devotee on to the second stage – that of onward contemplation.

He has now learnt to feel the presence of God within, close.

In this, there is very little of the external expression, there is very little of the noise and the show associated with the first phase. In fact, true religion begins only at this stage; the first one is treated as just the kindergarten of religion.

When the heart becomes purer and purer, it is able to experience the pull of the Divine within; and religion then becomes a joyous communion of the soul with God. The practice of meditation becomes a delight.

Continued practice of this stage draws down the grace of the Divine and the soul enters the third stage, in which it achieves the fullness of realization.

The seeker sees God within, in contemplation, and also without, in the field of action.

India considers this as the aim of all spiritual striving; every devotee in India places this as his or her final spiritual objective; but he or she knows that it is difficult to achieve in a single life, but it will surely be achieved some say.

Sri Krishna says in the Gitā (Viii.3):

“Out of thousands of people, only a few strive for perfection; and out of thousands that so strive, only a few realize the truth of My true being.”

Again, (ibid., VII.19):

“Striving through several births, the wise one realizes Me as existing in every being; such a mahātman (great soul) is rare to come across.”

Swami Ranganathananda in ETERNAL VALUES OF A CHANGING SOCIETY Vol.1 – PHILOSOPHY AND SPIRITUALITY

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