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 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.