The Stages of Devotion

The Stages of Devotion

Devotion by Bert Kaufmann @ Christoffel Cathedral - Roermond
Devotion by Bert Kaufmann

I’ve begun reading Kavitha Chinnaiyan’s book Fractals of Reality. This is an exploration of the Sri Chakra, an advanced practice within Tantra.

While Vedic and Tantra traditions are distinct, they’ve cross-influenced extensively. For example, the science of mantra comes out of Tantra. The Shankaracharya, within my tradition, practiced Sri Chakra.

On the flip side, Kashmir Shaivism has strongly influenced modern Tantra. Shaivism leans on Shiva, the detached observer and masculine side. Tantra leans more on the Divine Feminine, the Shakti.

In chapter 1, Kavitha discusses the stages of devotion. I’m not a bhakti but have gone through devotional phases.

In the first stage, we approach the Divine based on our desires. We pray, expecting a benefit, like safety, an easy death, or increased income. This is called petitionary prayer and is still dominated by the me. As Kavitha observes, we expect the Divine to accommodate our beliefs and ideas.

In the next stage, we begin to recognize the presence of God, but only in certain forms. For example, we may recognize the divine in certain images and feel the heart stirring. Or with certain names. Ditto with holy places, especially those associated with our chosen form.

We can feel a reliance on that certain form. For example, feeling open with an image of Jesus, but perhaps not so much for Ganesha. Or vice versa. Yet when we leave the temple, we’re soon back to our old habits.

In devotional practices, we usually lean on personal forms of God, forms we most relate to. Others will come to this more through the impersonal, formless God.

Through practices such as mantra and opening the heart, we gradually settle beyond forms into the more subtle aspects of the God. Old ways of thinking are gradually washed away by the direct experience of our universal nature and then the felt presence of the Divine.

Gradually, the boundaries between the sacred and the mundane dissolve. Our perception of the world and ourselves is transformed.

At first, tamas guna is usually prominent and the world seems solid. Then we can enter a phase of rajas guna being dominant. This roasts the inertia of form, transforming the qualities of what we experience the world through. This can create a sense of the world being illusory. Finally, we shift to sattva and the world comes to be seen as the Divine play, Lila.

And further, we settle into the para or transcendent, formless presence. With enough refinement, that presence will include a sense of the ever-present Divine.

Our attachment to a specific form dissolves (even though it may remain a favourite) and we enjoy the range from form, to idea, to formless.

We come to see the Divine in everything and everything in the Divine. Moving through the world is like walking through Divinity. Objects around us can become lit up with inner light. We can come to see Divine beings and nature devas in around us (this can also come earlier).

Taking it further from what Kavitha described is the Unity process. At the height of the Unity stage, if the above has been developing, there is a climax with a union with God, God Realization. Thou and I are one.

As consciousness is now known fully, this can set the stage for transcending consciousness. (That’s what happened here.) This is the doorway to the Brahman stage. A loss of the relationship with the personal God (the form of the Divine we most relate to) can characterize this shift.

As we deepen into Brahman, the two sides of our spiritual development, the Shiva and the Shakti, come together in one totality. This is true nonduality. This sets the stage for ParaBrahman aka pure Divinity. That unfolds in stages.

This is far beyond any conception. Brahman and ParaBrahman are not “experienced” in their true nature as they’re beyond the mechanism of experience, consciousness. We can only know it by being it.

I’ve also discussed these stages from another angle.

The potential for our relationship with the Divine is immeasurable and can continue to unfold for centuries.

Really, the above is depth of experience. We can also see levels of devotion as degrees of surrender, of getting out of the way, of allowing us to be a vehicle of the Divine.

At first, our devotion may be conditional, as described above. As we surrender the ego, we become the witness and nature is allowed full reign in managing our life.

When we burst through the crust on the heart, the higher octave heart can open, leading to universal love and compassion. And that to a very direct relationship with God (hence “God Consciousness”).

Then here is the roasting of the core identity in the gut and a letting go of more subtle shoulds and musts. This leads to even deeper surrender and a progressive uniting with all values of experience.

I mention above the surrender of God Realization that follows at the climax of Unity.

And then the surrender of our relationship with the personal God and of our intimacy with everything sets the stage for Brahman. And so on, as described above.

It’s a deep and profound process. It will come in waves, with more fallow periods followed by more active times of deepening. There will be periods where our trust is tested or life circumstances will push the limits of what we’ll allow. Yet with a bit of patience, it will have the intended result and we’ll open still deeper.

It is so much more than I ever imagined.


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  1. I came on here to ask you why one of my relatives visited me as a cat (seemingly) after she died, but then I saw you had just published this blog.

    I feel like I’m going through all of the stages at the same time, and I haven’t completed any of them. I always love your perspective.

    Back to my friend Cathy. The day after she died, I believe she visited me at around 5 AM in the morning. At first I heard a strange sound, that I can only describe as a portal opening up, and when I was trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, I felt a finger tapping on my pillow.

    I lived alone, and I was too afraid to open my eyes. Then it felt like a cat hopped up on my pillow. I was still too afraid to open my eyes, but eventually I did, and nothing was in the room.

    I threw my clothes on, went to work, and didn’t return to my house for 3 weeks. This was 15 years ago.

    I know everything is a dream from the nondual perspective, so nothing is more important than anything else (I’m not enlightened). But I’m just curious if you have an answer for my ego that you wouldn’t mind offering up.

    My guess is feline alien. Lol

    Many thanks ♥️

    1. Big topic, Jewellene
      From what I’ve seen, people generally hang around for a couple of days or weeks after passing to adjust and say their goodbyes. They often just visit and usually don’t have the skill to make things happen we can notice physically. But it happens occasionally. A friend of mine had a bald eagle swoop at us the next day, right by where she used to play her piano.

      Coming in a dream form is easier. Usually, they’d be like they were in life, though sometimes they come as a younger version or as a symbolic version, like a cat. I’m assuming a cat was an obvious symbol for her. Or was that your interpretation? Or was there a more obvious sense of “cat”.

      It can be a bit freaky to have such an experience, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. The vast majority just want to say hi and bye and they move on shortly.

      There is far more life around us on various levels that most are aware of. Just consider the bacteria floating around in the air and in our gut biome. 🙂

      1. Jewellene Hawkins

        It felt like a literal cat. I didn’t open my eyes until well after the motion had stopped, but it would be like if a cat hopped up on your pillow, you’d recognize it’s size and weight and swagger without opening your eyes.

        But it was like a cat hopped out of a portal and returned back through it.

        I also felt like she was telling me to stop grieving – I was cramping her style, lol. Something like that.

        I wasn’t afraid intellectually, but my nervous system couldn’t quite deal, lol.

        One time I read a person talk about how their loved one visited them as an invisible cat after they died, but then they made a joke (I believe) to dial down any criticism. They said, “to be fair, I lived right next to an animal testing facility, so I can’t be certain they didn’t invent an invisible cat.”

        I know that sounds silly, but it happened to me too, so I was like (to myself), are you joking about both parts, or just the second part? Lol

        Thank you for answering. ♥️

        1. Right, Jewellene, that’s usually what they want to communicate. I’m OK and so you shouldn’t grieve. Yet still, it’s natural to grieve change.

          Many are not confident about talking about such things, so they couch it in a joke. But as you say, that diminishes it.

          I remember the first time I saw someone talk openly and directly about their experience of angels – I was surprised. Very real here, but i didn’t talk about it. And now I talk about them regularly. Just not with my family. (laughs)

  2. Abhisek

    Really informative blog and I would like to thank you for putting all these together. All these information is priceless for me as someone at the earlier stages of the journey(went through an energetic awakening 3 years back and currently at makara with intense purification going on) who had quite a difficult past with addictions and depression.

  3. Lew

    Just read a very nice book about devotion and bhakti, Whisper In the Heart by Parvati Marcus about Neem Karoli Baba and those who discovered he was their guru through various experiences and openings of the heart. He is, as you probably know, the guru of Ram Das, Krishna Das etc. If you get a chance to read it, let us know what you thing of these experiences of opening, love, and devotion. Thanks.

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