The Seven Stages of Wisdom • Yoga Basics

A map is incredibly helpful when navigating unfamiliar terrain. Just as it is in physical exploration, having a spiritual map can greatly expedite the journey of spiritual awakening from ignorance to enlightenment. The jnana bhumikas, or the seven stages of wisdom, provide a framework for understanding the different stages of spiritual development and offer guidance on how to progress through them. Even if you are not actively seeing enlightenment, understanding these stages can gain a deeper appreciation for the value of wisdom, insight, and self-knowledge, and the importance of cultivating it in our personal and spiritual lives.

Definition and history

The Sanskrit word jnana means “knowledge or wisdom” and bhumikas translates as “stages or levels.” Jnana bhumikas, therefore translates to “the stages of wisdom or knowledge.” These are like floors of a building, each representing a higher level of consciousness and development in the practice of yoga. As you ascend these stages, you deepen your understanding and move closer to attaining enlightenment or liberation. The ultimate goal of jnana bhumikas is to attain self-realization and liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

These seven bhumikas, also referred to as saptha bhoomikas and jnana bhoomikas, hold great significance in the yoga tradition. Jnana bhumikas have a rich history stemming from ancient Vedic texts and the teachings of the Upanishads. They are mentioned in chapter 4 of the Varaha Upanishad and explored in depth in the Yoga Vasistha, a dialogue on jnana yoga between the wise teacher Vasishta and his eager pupil, Rama. Over time, these teachings have been further developed and refined by various spiritual traditions in India, including Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.

Benefits of jnana bhumikas

The gradual refinement of your mind, spirit, and consciousness through the seven stages of wisdom can bring about many benefits. As you progress through these stages, you will shed the illusions and misconceptions that cloud your perception, allowing for a more accurate view of reality. This newfound clarity of perception has the potential to lead to greater peace, contentment, and fulfillment in your life.

Not only will this journey improve your relationship with yourself, but it will also have a positive impact on your relationships with others. By reducing the influence of ego and selfishness, you will foster healthier connections with those around you. This process can also help you overcome and integrate negative emotions and tendencies such as anger, greed, and attachment—factors that often lead to suffering and create hindrances on your spiritual path.

As your intellect becomes more refined, you will find yourself grasping the subtle nuances and deeper meanings of spiritual concepts. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of spiritual texts and teachings—an invaluable asset on your quest for enlightenment and inner peace.

How to practice the jnana bhumikas

Practicing the jnana bhumikas requires discipline, patience, and commitment. It is a lifelong journey, so there’s no need to rush or force yourself into reaching the next stage. Instead, focus on nurturing the qualities and embracing the practices associated with each stage. As you progress through the stages of wisdom, keep in mind that each holds its own unique teachings and revelations. Absorb their wisdom fully before moving forward. This way, you’ll build a solid foundation upon which to explore the next phase with clarity and grace.

Embrace discipline as your faithful companion throughout this journey. Let it guide you in establishing a regular routine that incorporates all aspects of yoga. Patience will be your trusted ally as you navigate each stage at your own pace. Your path may not progress in a linear fashion, and there may be times when you feel like you are regressing instead of advancing. During these times, remember that growth is not always a steady or predictable process, and that temporary setbacks are an opportunity to learn and deepen your understanding.

Cultivate unwavering commitment to this path of self-discovery. Dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to the practices that resonate with you most deeply. Allow them to weave their magic into your life, expanding your consciousness and bringing about profound transformation.

Remember that this is not just a physical journey, but also an inner exploration of the self. Allow yourself to be fully present in each moment on this beautiful path of self-realization. With dedication and perseverance, may you uncover the limitless potential within you and experience the true essence of jnana bhumikas.

The seven stages of wisdom

1. Subheccha (good desire)

In this stage, one begins with a deep longing for spiritual growth, a desire to live a virtuous life, and a passion to attain true knowledge. One should explore and study the Sanskrit texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita to deepen their understanding of spiritual wisdom. These scriptures illuminate yogic philosophy and teach the foundational spiritual practices that help one cultivate a pure and compassionate heart. It is important to have a clear intention and a strong desire to deepen one’s spiritual practice during this stage.

Use your passion for discovering the truth to practice vairagya or the detachment to worldly pleasures and materialistic desires. Work to see beyond superficial cravings and develop a more profound understanding of your true nature. This will help to create discernment and a clear and focused mind, which is essential for progressing towards higher stages of wisdom.

You should be motivated by a genuine desire to do good, not for personal gain or recognition, but for the betterment of themselves and others. This stage develops a strong foundation of moral and ethical values which are necessary for the journey towards spiritual enlightenment.

2. Vicharana (self-inquiry)

In this stage, the seeker engages in deep reflection and contemplation of the teachings of the scriptures and the guidance of a guru or teacher. One begins to question the nature of reality and seeks to deepen their understanding of the true nature of existence. This involves questioning beliefs and assumptions, seeking out knowledge from various sources, and analyzing the validity and consistency of different philosophical perspectives.

This stage is characterized by a deep curiosity and openness to new experiences and ideas, as one seeks to expand their understanding of the world around them. One should engage in contemplative practices, such as meditation, self-reflection, and introspection, to gain insight into the workings of the mind and the nature of consciousness. The seeker begins to question their own assumptions and beliefs and gains clarity on what is true and what is false. You will learn to examine your own thoughts, feelings, and actions with a critical eye. This will help in identifying the root cause of negative thoughts and emotions and work towards eliminating them. Through this process of inquiry, the seeker starts to unravel the layers of conditioning and ignorance that cloud their perception and gains a more profound insight into the nature of existence.

3. Tanumanasi (subtle mind)

Tanu means thread, and in this stage, the mind “becomes thin like a thread” as you focus all of your attention inwards to develop a greater capacity for introspection and self-awareness. The aspirant begins to develop a subtle mind, which is capable of experiencing the higher states of consciousness. To attain this stage, one must cultivate a deep sense of focus, concentration, and inner stillness, as well as a sense of detachment from the distractions and illusions of the world. This is achieved through the practice of meditation, pranayama, tapas (austerity), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), bhakti (devotion), and other yogic practices.

The practice of meditation is essential in developing the subtle mind. Through meditation, the mind becomes calm and focused, allowing the aspirant to experience deeper levels of consciousness. Pranayama, or breath control, helps to purify the body and mind, preparing the aspirant for deeper meditation. Tapas, or austerities, help to discipline the mind and develop willpower. Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, is also an important practice at this stage. By withdrawing the senses from external stimuli, the aspirant is able to turn inward and focus on the subtle aspects of the mind.

4. Sattvapatti (attainment of light)

In this stage, the experience of spiritual light or inner illumination causes the world to appear like a dream. The seeker begins to sense the interconnectedness of all beings and the underlying unity of the universe. The veil of illusion of the material world begins to dissolve and one starts to experience glimpses of the true nature of existence.

The seeker begins to discern the difference between the self and the ego, and is able to detach from the ego-driven desires and attachments. One’s suffering is reduced, karma begins to dissolve and deep states of peace, tranquility, and contentment are regularly experienced. This stage is considered a major milestone in the spiritual journey, as it marks the beginning of a more profound level of spiritual awareness and understanding.

5. Asamsakti (inner detachment)

In this stage, the seeker is no longer swayed by material possessions, emotions, or worldly desires. The ego mind has been subdued, and the seeker has gained a deeper understanding of the impermanence of things. The seeker in this stage is able to let go of all worldly desires and focus on the pursuit of spiritual liberation.

One begins to feel little difference between waking and dream states. They are no longer driven by external factors, but instead, they act from a place of inner wisdom and intuition. This doesn’t mean that the seeker becomes indifferent or apathetic towards the world. Instead, they learn to engage with the world in a detached manner, realizing that everything is impermanent and subject to change.

6. Padartha bhavana (spiritual vision)

In the sixth stage, the aspirant realizes the ultimate reality or the true nature of existence. This realization is not intellectual, but experiential. The aspirant transcends the limitations of the mind and experiences a state of pure consciousness. This state is beyond all dualities and limitations, and the aspirant realizes that everything is interconnected and part of the same universal consciousness.

The realization of ultimate reality leads to a profound sense of peace and contentment. The aspirant understands that the true nature of existence is beyond all concepts and descriptions and can only be experienced directly. These spiritual experiences are not limited to any particular religion or philosophy, but are universal and accessible to all.

7. Turiya (supreme freedom)

In the final stage of jnana bhumikas, the seeker reaches turiya, the ultimate state of consciousness. In turiya, the mind is completely still and free from all thoughts and desires. A state of pure awareness, where one realizes the true nature of the self and the universe, is attained. It is considered the highest form of human consciousness, known as moksha or liberation, where the individual self (jivatman) realizes its identity with the universal self (brahman).

The concept of turiya is derived from the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which emphasizes the non-dual nature of reality. According to this philosophy, the ultimate reality is brahman, which is pure consciousness and the source of all existence. The attainment of turiya marks the culmination of the seeker’s journey towards wisdom and enlightenment. It represents the highest state of consciousness that can be achieved through the practice of self-inquiry and contemplation.

Turiya is not a state that can be achieved through effort or practice, but is rather a natural state of being that is always present, obscured only by the veil of ignorance. The journey towards turiya is one of the most profound experiences that a seeker can undertake, as it involves transcending the limitations of the ego and the mind and awakening to the true nature of reality. It is said that in the state of turiya, one experiences a state of pure bliss and peace, free from all suffering and duality.

Closing thoughts

The seven stages of wisdom provide a framework for the spiritual journey towards self-realization and enlightenment. Each stage represents a unique phase of growth and development, and it is through the practice of self-reflection, meditation, and introspection that one can progress through these stages. By cultivating wisdom, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and ultimately, lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

By immersing yourself in spiritual practices with dedication and discipline, you will gradually enhance your overall well-being while unraveling the layers that obstruct your true essence. Allow yourself to embrace this beautiful path towards self-discovery–one that leads to ultimate knowledge and liberation.

To embark on this transformative journey, it is essential to cultivate not only physical strength through yoga asanas but also mastery over pranayama techniques for breath control, meditation for inner stillness, and an exploration of yogic philosophy to gain profound insights into the nature of existence.

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