most effective growth, base all practice (in the earlier stages of life)
And so, simply “letting nature take its course” via evolution – which my Spiritual Master refers to as “the great path of return”  – is not at all the wisest choice, if there is a more direct route.
The seventh stage Awakening – Awakening as the Divine Being – is the Complete Awakening from all limited identification: one Awakens to discover that the entire cosmos – material and spiritual – is arising in Oneself. In contrast, in the first three stages of life we are still identified with (and thus, bound by) the physical body and all its limitations; in the fourth and fifth stage of life, we are still identified with (and thus, bound by) the astral body and all its limitations; and in the sixth stage of life, we are still identified with (and thus, bound by) the causal body and all its limitations. Only in the seventh stage of life are we free of identification with any limited form whatsoever. Thus only the seventh stage Awakening is associated with complete Happiness, since it is the only Realization that is associated with no limitation whatsoever.
What causes the delay is the distraction and digression that identification with each lesser dimension, in itself, represents. Consider the material dimension alone. To be identified with the physical body, without the wisdom and help that can be provided from a greater dimension, naturally leads to a life that is completely centered around the physical body: the survival of that body, the mastery and development of that faculties associated with that body; the fulfillment of that body and its biological program, through the creation of comfortable, even pleasurable circumstances and relations, through good health and long life, through the creation of offspring, etc. Such a view is considered both normal (per the dictates of society) and natural (per the dictates of biology).
And yet from the viewpoint of Divine Awakening, the physical body has no more ultimate significance than one’s shirt. This is why the Hindu traditions refer to the physical body and the higher bodies as “sheaths”. What is truly of importance is what is covered over by the sheaths, which are themselves only the superficial layers of the Divine Reality.
The consequence of physically-identified beings like ourselves using their lifetime solely for the purpose of playing out that physical identification is fulfilling the body. In addition to its deadly consequences in the period between lives (see Books 5 and 6 for a consideration of the matter of reincarnation), such an expenditure of lifetime leads only to more of the same: reinforcement of the identification with the physical body, and, hence, reincarnation as a physical body once more.
To be free of the identification with the limited physical body requires a very different and very unconventional (greater-than-normal and greater-than-natural) use of one’s lifetime: purposing it toward transcendence of that identification, rather than reinforcement through giving oneself over to merely fulfilling the body.
This same scenario holds true with all the higher-than-physical dimensions of the Greater Reality as well, short of Complete Awakening.
To awaken the faculties of a greater-than-physical body is simply to become conscious as that body, and enjoy and suffer the limits associated with existence in that dimension of the Greater Reality. For instance, being a “spirit” floating about in the purely psychic dimensions of reality is not all fun. It is still a limited existence. Existence as that higher but limited form naturally tends toward emphasizing survival in that form, and trying to fulfill ourselves through that form. Whatever turns a spirit (or astral body) on – whether it’s development of psychic powers, engaging in cosmic sex, avoiding more powerful and ill-intentioned spirits (yes: glamorized versions of all the things with which we’re already preoccupied here), or whatever – that’s what we’ll be looking to do in the astral dimension!
The expected lifetime may be much longer than in this dimension, and the games for fulfilling oneself may be more exotic; but the basic picture is the same: one of limitation, and, therefore, a Realization that is less than perfect Happiness. Transcendence of identification with that body is what is required to break free of the limitations associated with that higher dimension of the Greater Reality.
The evolutionary times involved in the natural progression stem from the fact that we tend not to learn very quickly. At the end of a difficult day in this realm of physical limitation, we may drop into our beds utterly exhausted. But, after a good night’s sleep, we tend to be ready to jump out of bed and do the same thing all over again; or, if, after several decades, our spring out of our morning bed is not quite as chipper, at least we are willing to put up with doing the same thing all over again, primarily for lack of knowing a better alternative. Just so, at the end of a difficult life, we may be utterly exhausted by, and sick of, the limitations of the material world and existence as limited by identification with a mortal physical body, and we may even look forward to an end to physical suffering when physical death comes. But after the “rest” that comes between lives, we jump out of the womb, and are eager to start the whole thing all over again, with the naiveté we naturally associate with, and even find delightful in, the child. Only a few, rare children (e.g., Gautama the Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, my Spiritual Master) rather quickly “remembered” the inherent futility of this place, and set their lives on a different course relatively early on.
Complete Awakening to the seventh stage Realization is a fundamentally different kind of affair than awakening as any of the higher esoteric bodies or sheaths. It is completely different from the “fulfill oneself as a limited form” game. It stems from the impulse to complete self-transcendence – the impulse to be free of all limitations whatsoever. The only real fulfillment of that impulse involves coming into contact with the seventh-stage Realization Itself, the Divine Reality Itself:
If the profound feeling-awareness of the limited, unhappy nature of this physical life, and, indeed, of all forms of existence based on identification with a limited body (be it physical, spiritual, or causal), awakens the impulse to be free of it all, to somehow “get off” the wheel of births and deaths (as the Buddhists put it), what can we do to come into contact with the seventh stage Realization Itself? What can wake us up from this otherwise endless dream?
As we will see, the Perfect Vehicle for those of us ready to wake up, and waste as little lifetime as possible doing so is the physically incarnate Spiritual Master who is Fully Awakened (i.e., whose Realization is the seventh stage), who appears in human form, but who is actually a “doorway” through which the Divine Reality pours through into this lesser dimension. Our impulse to wake up completely is what brings us to the Spiritual Master, and helps us recognize Who and What He or She is. The Spiritual Master’s Divine Transmission is what then wakes us up.
And so, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, no matter what dimension of the Greater Reality we happen to be currently appearing in, the fastest “way out” of the whole affair, the fastest way to realize Perfect Freedom and Perfect Happiness is to locate the Fully Awakened Spiritual Master, and thus directly base all of our practice on the Awakened State Itself, which is accessible to us through that Master.
There – I’ve already given you the punchline of this book and the next two! But the reason I’ve already given the ending away is so that our consideration can proceed on a different basis. As we explore each of the different dimensions of the Greater Reality, we will indeed look at all the things beings “in” that dimension do – including all the ways they seek to fulfill themselves, extend their powers, etc. But we’ll already know that all of that is besides the point. All of that is exactly what not to do if we are impulsed to fully waking from the dream of limitation. All of that is a mere sidetrack, but a sidetrack by which we cannot help be seduced (either negatively motivated by the need to survive in that dimension, or positively motivated by the desire to feel better in that dimension), without the help of ultimate wisdom and ultimate Realization.
Even as we are progressively Awakened by the Awakening Power of the Divine Reality Itself, we will naturally tend to become conscious of some or even all of our various “sheaths” along the way. Even as the energy and attention we currently give to the physical dimension must be freed up and turned to the Divine Reality in order to awaken, just so, in any other dimension or “sheath” where our energy and attention is bound (even unconsciously), we must consciously free up that energy and attention, and this will generally involve becoming aware of and consciously animating those “sheaths” in a different way.
If, for example, I tend to be an angry character, then, even though I am in the midst of contemplating the Divine, if someone steps on my toe, or says something that “pushes my button”, by tendency, I will forget the Divine Being, and allow myself to be possessed by my reactivity. If my practice of Divine contemplation is to bear fruit (in Divine Realization), then I must master that reactive pattern to the degree that it minimally interferes with my contemplation of the Divine. Or if I tend to eat junk food, it can throw my body into a state of imbalance – physical, mental, and emotional – where I am tending to feel the results of that imbalance (crankiness, lethargy, moodiness, etc.) more strongly than I am feeling the Divine, and where much of my energy is going toward coping with (and seeking to escape from) the symptoms constantly being produced by my dietary habits. In such a circumstance, I can discipline my diet so as to bring the body into a more balanced state that is less demanding on my attention and energy, so as to free up that attention and energy for Divine Contemplation.
Just so – if I have reactive patterns or patterns of dysfunction associated with more subtle aspects (or higher bodies) of my total body-mind, then I must become conscious of these patterns, so that I can effectively discipline these patterns, to ensure that they do not interfere with (or only minimally interfere with) my contemplation of the Fully Awakened State. If, say, the flow of energy my frontal line or my spinal line is blocked, and that obstruction is producing all kinds of disturbing and distracting symptoms in the body-mind, then I can engage in practices that help free up the conductivity of energy. Or if I tend to get enamored with visions of an astral realm, or visions of any kind, I can practice turning my attention back to the Divine in the midst of such visionary appearances.
Such disciplines need not achieve perfection. That is not their point. Their sole purpose is to keep energy and attention turned to and concentrated in the Awakened State, rather than letting it fall back into and get enmeshed with any of the lesser dimensions (whether material or subtle), the dimensions of the “dream”.
Even though we can contemplate the Divine Being – the seventh stage Realization – right here and now, as physically incarnated beings, via the great means of a physically incarnate Spiritual Master who is Fully Awakened, nonetheless our contemplation of the Divine will progress (and deepen) through various stages. The form of the Divine will evolve (though all depend on the physical form of the Spiritual Master, which is the “gateway” for the Divine): from the Divine Transmission that pours through the physical form of the Master; to the Spiritual form of the Divine; to the Transcendental form of the Divine; and finally, to complete Awakening as the Divine Being. Those shifts correspond to our own growth -- which starts with our “center of gravity” being located in the material, etheric, and lower astral dimensions (signified esoterically by our being “centered” in the left side of our heart); through practice, having that “center” shift to the Spiritual dimension (signed by the awakening of the “middle” heart); through further practice, having that center shift to the Transcendental dimension (signed by the awakening of the right side of the heart); and at last, fully Awakening.
These shifts will often correspond to progressive awakening of the higher bodies as well, to one degree or another. Thus it is very likely that we will come into contact with some of the various experiences that are possible in any of the higher stages of life. Part of the wisdom of the seventh stage of life is to lay out, right from the beginning – even in all their seductive detail – the various possible sidetracks that we may encounter when the higher bodies awaken, so that, when we encounter them in our own experience and spiritual practice, we are in a position to recognize them for what they are, and only engage them as minimally as is required to serve our high priority of self-transcendence (rather than engaging them for the lesser purpose of self-fulfillment).
Whatever is required for the proper functioning and optimal balance of the “sheaths” is accomplished, but no more. While we may very well need to take up a job to earn income, we need not glamorize it by adding on all the trappings of a “career”, in an attempt to fulfill ourselves through a job in a way that only Awakening from the dream can do. While we may need to rest and relax the body on a regular basis, we need not indulge in vacations to exotic places, again misprojecting onto things and locales what can only be fulfilled through Awakening. Just so, the motive to self-indulgence and self-fulfillment can be understood and transcended in all the more exotic forms that are possible in the higher dimensions of the Greater Reality. This is not to say that occasional celebratory occasions do not themselves serve the higher purpose – they can. But they fail to do so when they are turned into an imbalancing way of life. Judgement is based on functional effectiveness – what works – rather than the righteousness and rigidity of puritanical idealism.
What makes all such self-transcending gestures possible is the Love-Bliss of the seventh stage Realization Itself. We would never be able to avoid falling into the miasma of endless rounds of attempted self-fulfillment, otherwise. Only the joy of God-Communion makes self-transcendence – the frustration of all our lesser-stage impulses – possible.