Spiritual progress means a great many different things to different people -- to be of service to others, pray, meditate, acquire healing powers, read and understand philosophic and religious texts. Others want direct spiritual experience -- to expand their consciousness, feel the reality of God, commune with the universe, discover their soul or realize a higher state of knowledge and bliss.
Human Science is based on the premise that there is a spiritual dimension to reality which is the foundation and creative source of all that exists and that a progressive evolution in consciousness makes it possible for human beings to experience and give expression to this spiritual dimension in their personal lives. The varieties of spiritual experience are very great. They vary in form, direction, depth, height, intensity and permanency. They include such experiences as cosmic consciousness, a concrete sense of oneness with other beings, awareness of an infinite emptiness or void beyond the manifest universe, discovery of one’s soul or psychic being, realization of a transcendent Spirit or Conscious Being, contact with godheads from what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the Overmental plane, etc.
Spiritual progress is the ultimate goal which any individual can choose to pursue. It is also the most difficult, because it requires us to give up our normal and habitual way of functioning and acquire a higher way of functioning which is supra-normal. In the words of The Mother, those who want to seriously pursue spiritual progress should make it not just one of the aims of their life, but the only aim.
Many techniques and methods have been devised to help people concentrate and enter into conscious contact with the spiritual planes of consciousness. Often when we return to our normal life situation and daily activities, we find the higher experiences rapidly fading away. That is why many people who seek spiritual experience tend to withdraw from life activity into some peaceful solitude where they can concentrate undisturbed.
The term spiritual experience is often used or confused with any type of experience on the subtle or occult planes of existence that are not normally accessible to our external consciousness – experiences of subtle beings and forces that influence our lives, of occult powers and subtle sounds, visions, voices, etc.
Here we reserve the term spiritual only for those powers and experiences that come from the higher spiritual planes of consciousness. Experiences from these planes are universally associated with spiritual qualities such as patience, peace, silence, equality (equanimity, non-reaction), harmony, self-giving, truth, freedom, light and compassion. Spiritual experience makes us more aware of our oneness with other people. It helps us escape from the confines of our ego and see the world impersonally and see other people through their eyes and from their point of view. Broadly speaking, progress that enhances the presence and expression of any or all of these spiritual values in the personality and life of a person may be regarded as forms of spiritual progress.
There are three main dimensions in which we can progress spiritually in life:
- Individual: We can contact the inner psychic or spiritual center deep within us behind the heart and allow the spiritual qualities of peace, joy, love and harmony to express in and through our outer personalities.
- Universal: We can expand our consciousness beyond the narrow bounds of our ego to identify with other people and feel our oneness with the universe around us.
- Transcendent: We can raise our consciousness from its physical-vital base to higher planes and bring the higher consciousness back down into our physical lives.
We live in the ego, separate and cut off from the rest of the world, thinking of ourselves, struggling for our own survival, success and enjoyment. Spiritual knowledge tells us that the ego is not our true self. Our true Self is universal. It is one with all other selves. It is one with the cosmos. It is infinite. It not only embraces all other selves. It lives in them and through them. We can move along the axis from ego to universal by forgetting ourselves, taking interest in other people, identifying with them, becoming selfless, practicing self-giving, taking joy in the success and happiness of other people, overcoming the limitations of our small self to discover the greater powers and capacities that lie unexpressed within us.
It is a spiritual truth that every trait and characteristic we encounter in other people is present in our own consciousness. That is so because we are all expressions of universal human nature. We tend to see the defects in other people while turning a blind eye to our own. We become sincere and humble when we realize that every trait that is there in others is also present in us. Humility helps to free us from the limitations of ego.
We can move from the ego to the universal by
- Thinking of others and forgetting oneself
- Understanding and taking other people's point of view rather than our own viewpoint
- Becoming expansive and giving up limitations
- Becoming generous
- Giving up selfishness in favor of selflessness
- Progressing from selflessness to active self-giving
The Spirit is the ultimate conception of perfection. It is the Absolute value from which all relative values emerge. Values are ideals of perfection. Values determine how our human energies are expressed in action. As skills determine how we express our physical energy, values determine how we express our psychological energy. Values are spiritual skills. They are the standards for which we strive. The higher the values we seek to express, the higher and more refined our consciousness and energy become.
All temporal human values and life values ultimately derive from 12 eternal values of existence which constitute the characteristics or properties of pure spiritual consciousness: Infinity, Eternity, Silence, Peace, Unity, Truth, Goodness, Knowledge, Power, Beauty, Love and Bliss. Out of these 12, 1200 or 12,000 values arise. Each of these values expresses one aspect or dimension of a higher spiritual principle in life. For example, all values related to aspiration, strength, heroism and high Endeavour derive from the original spiritual value of Power. All values related to loyalty, affection, and self-giving issue from Love. All values related to cooperation, harmony, sympathy and identification issue from Unity. All values related to integrity, honesty, accuracy and objectivity issue from Truth. All values issuing from goodwill, benevolence, compassion and magnanimity issue from Goodness. All that expands and creates without limit is an expression of Infinite Being. All active, dynamic expression is founded on and supported by Peace and Silence.
The pursuit of one or more of these 12 values is the essence of all spiritual paths, regardless of their goals, forms or methods. The integration of these values with life is the highest of all human pursuits. To establish these values in one’s life is a full-time pursuit, which is yoga. To accept these values inwardly and act in outside society according to the highest values of the society – the higher side of the right values – is to convert life into yoga. It is to integrate human life with the Spirit.
While all values are ultimately spiritual, some values directly express the spiritual consciousness and have the power to invoke that higher consciousness to express powerfully in our lives. Truthfulness, harmony, self-giving and goodness are Spiritual values that can elevate and transform our entire lives.
To express a spiritual value in life means to
- Fully understand and embrace the spiritual truth which the value represents.
- Express it perfectly without compromise or exception, because values have power only when they are expressed perfectly.
- Express the values in the least important matter and with the least important person, not just in circumstances you consider very important or special.
- Expressing values genuinely gives you a feeling of elevation, expansiveness, inner richness and fulfilment.
- Even the simplest physical value such as cleanliness or punctuality acquires spiritual power when it is implemented with a spiritual motive and not merely for physical reasons.
Human consciousness can be divided into three broad levels -- Physical, Vital, Mental. Each of these three levels can be further subdivided into a physical, vital and mental part, making a total of Nine Levels. We refer to these as Levels 1 to 9. We each exist and live on all nine levels, but some levels are more developed and prominent than others and one level tends to be predominant.
Above these nine levels of human consciousness lie multiple planes of spiritual consciousness. We can rise up to these higher planes during periods of meditation. The consciousness of these higher planes can also descend into our normal mental, vital and physical personality.
Most people, even those who are very intelligent and well educated, tend to live predominately at the physical and vital level. A few people really center their lives in the mental plane.To live from a higher than mental plane is only for the exceptional. Spiritual progress means to continuously try to raise our consciousness from the physical level to the mental level and beyond. We are identified with our bodies and think of ourselves as physical beings. Our consciousness is physical. We know the world through the five senses. We are preoccupied with physical needs and pleasures. But that is not all we are. That is only the base and foundation for our life in the world.
We are not just material beings. We are also vital beings capable of interacting with other people and forging positive relationships. When we move from the physical center to the vital center, we raise our consciousness. We become more alive, energetic and dynamic. We shift the focus from survival and comfort to expansion, accomplishment, and adventure. We become interested, courageous and generous.
The mental consciousness is based on our capacity to know, think, understand, perceive. It is far more conscious than the physical and vital consciousness. It seeks knowledge. It is capable of accepting ideals and striving for perfection. When we shift to the mental consciousness, we spend less of our time and energy in doing things and more of it in trying to understand ourselves, our lives and how we can accomplish more. We become better organized and more efficient, more creative, imaginative, innovative, tolerant, individualistic and idealistic. Above the mind there is a plane of higher mental consciousness in which we receive knowledge in silence without any mental effort or activity.
To move up the scale of human consciousness:
- To outgrow physicality
- Do not seek physical comfort and convenience. Seek to make progress at every moment.
- Whatever you do physically do it carefully and perfectly.
- Try to perfect physical values such as cleanliness, orderliness, punctuality, regularity, accuracy and quality.
- To outgrow vitality
- Do not insist on doing only the things you like or are interested in. Take interest in everything you do
- Never gossip.
- Never lose your temper or self-control.
- Try to reduce the amount of talking you do and learn to speak softly.
- To outgrow mentality and become spiritual
- Think before you speak and act. Do not just repeat what you know or have heard.
- Be open to new ideas.
- Do not insist on your own ideas and beliefs.
- Learn to listen to others.
- Learn to take the viewpoint of other people.
- Learn to see the other side -- there is always truth in the opposite viewpoint.
- Learn to quiet the mind and receive knowledge in silence.
- Learn to go within, to concentrate deep within and behind one's heart in the psychic center which is full of peace, love and joy.
How do we know when we are growing spiritually? Here are some of the indications:
- Patience: We are more patient and tolerant.
- Peace: We feel more calm and peaceful, even in the midst of other people and intensity activity.
- Silence: Our minds become settled. Thoughts are no longer insistent. We may even experience periods in which the mind is completely still.
- Equality: We do not react to disturbing events. We are capable of greater equanimity. We have the capacity to remain undisturbed without being indifferent.
- Knowledge: We understand the significance of all experiences that come to us and know how to grow or outgrow the need for them.
- Goodwill: We joy in the joy of others. We no longer feel jealousy, resentment, or competition at the success of others.
- Self-giving: We identify with others and aspire for their fulfilment more than for our own.
- Joy: We feel a quiet, causeless happiness, a sense of contentment, an inner rich fullness that remains with us at all times.
For simple and powerful ways to expand and elevate your consciousness, see Strategies for spiritual progress
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