Just like stages in consciousness, there are stages in knowing the Divine.
The first stage is the most common, a stage of belief or disbelief. God as an idea we believe in or don’t, often from what we’ve read or been told. A mental concept.
Every faith has their own image of the Divine. What does God look like? What is God called? How many names do we give That?
Many Westerners carry an odd picture of an old man in a throne in the sky, probably derived from Sunday-school children’s books. That is so limited, it’s good to toss it out.
Sometimes, our beliefs are based on a more sophisticated consideration. Many famous scientists, for example, came to believe in innate intelligence in the universe based on their observations of the profound order and structure in nature around them.
But this all revolves around someones ideas, not actual Divinity.
The second stage develops through refined perception when the hand of the Divine is more directly recognized in the world around us. Not based on belief but direct experience, gnosis.
Refined perception develops from good practices and lifestyle, and prior life development of the same. Such practices culture soma, which refines the mechanism and upgrades the laws of nature of our physiology.
One hazard in this arena is over-estimating what we’ve experienced; how complete the picture is. When we have a clear sense of the Divine or have experienced the Divine in form, it can feel very complete. Yet there is so much more.
Also, in seeing things from a distance, there is a tendency to mush things together, like thinking the Self is the Divine. In the sense that all is only the Divine, that’s true. But to think the Self and the Divine are equal is to be mislead.
At some point, refinement leads to the direct recognition of either:
a) the Divine in form. This may be a high form or it may be our highest ideal, the personal God. (Not to be confused with subtle beings putting on a good show.) While it is an appearance, the underlying qualities give the Divine a sense of reality beyond the form.
b) the Divine in the laws of nature, the impersonal God. We experience the hand of the Divine in the world around us.
However, until we realize the Self, we cannot properly embody this. Before that, it comes as experiences rather than a state of being. We have to realize the Self so we have the unchanging platform for God Consciousness.
An important detail to understand is what I call personalization. When the Divine takes a form, it is basically mind-stuff. Not in the sense of a belief concept, but in the sense of an appearance. Like dreams, any form can be taken, and they may offer any name.
Thus the described appearance and names of the Divine vary the world over. Older faiths often describe multiple forms. And yet if you study the underlying qualities like power and love, these are common the world over.
So often, it’s less about humans being in God’s image than God being in our image. Many images come from one persons experience that they share and pass on. Or artists interpretations of someones description.
We derive most images of Jesus, for example, from a much later painting. Most men of the time and region were clean shaven, olive-skinned, and married. This is not to cast aspersions on some beautiful images. Only to note their origin.
Another layer can develop when we recognize the flows of Shakti’s through life. That all of life is driven by these powers flowing through consciousness and expressing as forms and experiences. Everything is aliveness.
The third stage develops in late Unity consciousness (or later), when we merge even with our personal God. We become God in form or step into a much closer connection. This I call God Realization.
God Realization is a profound experience and recognition. And it may be the most advanced recognition to date. However, I’d suggest it’s arrogant to consider ourselves the totality of the Divine, that we literally are God. We’re still doing all this with a human physiology. God has no such limitations, except in experiencing through us. I’m not sure it’s in our capacity to know the totality of it. We don’t become avatars through recognition alone.
For example, in Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita, Prince Arjuna asks Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) to show him his true form. The prince is overwhelmed, and this is just in seeing it.
I would further note that forms of the Divine are embodiments of aspects of the totality of Divinity. A form is inherently limited and a narrow aspect, even if totality flows through it. Just as consciousness can flow through us but the physiology doesn’t hold all of it.
The fourth stage develops after a mature Brahman stage when ParaBrahman or pure Divinity begins to be revealed. We come to the source of the source and the true nature of Divinity. This can unfold in several layers.
In Unity stage, we’re discovering the Divine in the Self. In ParaBrahman, we’re recognizing the Self is in the Divine. Big difference.
By understanding the range, we can less easily get caught in ideas of being done or being God’s fullness, whatever our subjective experience is.