The Path of Spiritual Unfoldment

by Seetha Neelakantan


THERE is a great deal of interest evinced in recent times in matters concerning the deeper aspects of life, matters other than merely the physical. Methods by which man’s consciousness can be focussed to higher levels of though are of great interest - methods such as telepathy, psychical experiments, meditation, Yoga, etc. In tune with the nature of the times - a technologically oriented civilization - the approaches to this way of life, that is, the spiritual life or treading the path, are very similar to the method associated with technology, namely mechanization seeking from without.

Present-day man seems to have no patience, and wants immediate and instant results. The man of the world is subjected to tantalizing advertisements, through television, newspapers and various media concerning instant cooking, instant Yoga, instant everything. Drugs are used very widely by young people today more because of the mistaken conception that these lead to an instant so-called experience - the “trip”. It will be interesting to try to understand the working of a drug on the human mind. What does it stir in the person? The drug loosens all inhibitions even as alcohol does, raking up all that is buried in one’s subconscious - the repressions, frustrations and complexes. All the accumulations in the mind are turned inside out but not in full wakefulness. Everything gets exaggerated, and dreams, yearnings and realities get mixed up. The taking of the drug results in a loosening in oneself, without any control, and does not take one beyond the purely psychic levels. The drug-taker can always delude himself with the thought of experiencing heaven on earth, or even the “cosmic consciousness”. The paths of meditation and Yoga, as practised in present times are tinged with this feeling of wanting an instant result. So is there any wonder that there is so much frustration in the world, that there are so many dropouts, so many running from one guru to another or moving from one ashrama to another? Is there any wonder, too, that gurus proliferate, offering varieties of “spiritual experiences”?

Man in essence is divine. Potential in him is the Christ-Principle or the Buddha nature.

What is meant by spiritual life or unfoldment, and what is a path. The path is sometimes described as “man’s oriented becoming” (vide Guenther, in Treasures on the Tibetan Middle Way). The question next arises, oriented to what? To man from the stage of a new-born baby opening its eyes to the light or perhaps even when in the womb of the mother, it has always been a “becoming into something”. This becoming is generally called the growth of the individual. The baby learns to speak, walks, grows into a boy or a girl, thence to adolescence and finally reaches manhood or womanhood. The growing continues and comes about through experiencing, by receiving impacts from without. It has always been a becoming something, outwardly in terms of position, rank, power or wealth. The orientation has ever been changing with newer peaks to climb, but mostly in terms of the material aspects of life. This is in direct contrast to what is described as the path of spiritual unfoldment. The orientation has naturally to be in terms of the Spirit or Atman in man. It is an unfoldment in the sense that it is a movement from within outwards. It does not connote getting something from outside, but is a revealing, and unrolling from within oneself. Spiritual means “that pertaining to the Spirit”. Man in essence is divine. Potential in him is the Christ-Principle or the Buddha nature. It is a growth in terms of that which relates to one’s basic nature. It implies an understanding not from the point of view of the external world, where diplomacy takes the place of sincerity and rights predominate over duties and consideration for others. It is an evolution or growth, and as stated by H.P. Blavatsky, one can get an insight into all the processes of Nature while proceeding along that path. It is a process of “self-culture” by means of which one can get a breakthrough into realms beyond the physical and know oneself. According to all occult teachings, man is a reflection of the One Principle, the “below” of the “Above”. The essence in him is a spark of the primordial flame, the One Principle behind all manifestation. In Hinduism it is said that this One Principle, described as being beyond all name and form, desired to know Its own innate powers and potentialities. Using Its own intrinsic energy or maya, It breathed out from within to without and unrolled Itself. So came into being this universe, with all its contents. A seed of the One, the Monad, the unit of life in man, is pure, unsullied with all its powers in a stage of latency, unknown even to itself. Moved by a similar desire, the Monad sojourned from its lofty home and embedded itself in denser and denser matter, thrilling to every new experience.

But as a result of every experience it involved itself more and more in matter, became more and more constrained and limited, until it could proceed no farther than the mineral kingdom. This is described as the Path of Forthgoing, or Pravritti marga. Deeply embedded in matter, the consciousness within stirs but faintly. Every impact from without stirs it, though lightly. From a state of sleeping it moves on to dreaming, stirs to awakening, becoming feebly conscious. Finally, endued with self-consciousness, it arises to the stature of man, when it begins to know that it is an individual, that it is distinct and different from all other individuals. Life now enters the human kingdom. This is self-consciousness in human form. But though man is endowed with a human form, he is not yet human, being still submerged in animalistic tendencies. From a path of greater and greater differentiation, which is characteristic of the Path of Forthgoing, the Monad is now switched on to the path where simplicity, synthesis and harmony will have to be the keynotes.

Living in the world, man is influenced all the time by external agencies, the impacts from his education, the religion in which he is brought up and the society in which he functions - all in one sense help in unfolding the lower faculties, developing his mind and building his character. At the same time these agencies also condition his mind, resulting in set patterns of behavior. This development has enabled man to stand on solid ground, built by himself, and to map out his own pattern of behavior. He is very structured and yet he feels that has his own individuality. He is very little aware of the extent to which the outer impacts have conditioned him. The impacts from without impinge to such an extent upon his mind that he lives in a false world, thinking somebody else’s thoughts, picking up things all the time from others and deluding himself that they are his own thoughts.

The passing joys no longer stir his heart and mind... this is a marked stage in the Path of Return...

But there comes a turning point in his life when all the physical, emotional and mental influences do not satisfy him and inwardly he yearns for something of lasting value. The passing joys no longer stir his heart and mind. This is a marked stage in the Path of Return, or Nivritti marga. While man had been on the Path of Forthgoing, there had ever been a movement away from the central core in himself. The attention had been on varieties of experiences without. But these no longer interest him, however thrilling they may be, because he has begun to be dimly aware in depths within of That of which he is an intimate part, and from which he has moved away owing to the pull and excitement of outer thrills. Up until now the unfoldment was more or less mechanical, guided by his own instincts, his likes and dislikes. But from now on, it is an unfoldment guided by his own inner impulses, or what we may call the inherent powers in man.

Up to the stage of man, from mineral to plant and to animal, it has been an evolution of life, consciousness and form. Now begins an evolution, an unfoldment of the consciousness within trying to express more and more a greater measure of Self-consciousness. Hence it is a path of Self-unfoldment. Though this path is called an oriented becoming, it is really a movement from a stage of becoming to a stage of being, of what one truly is. It is, as St Paul says,”To come to the measure of the stature of the perfect man, even as our Father in heaven is perfect”. It is the path of unfoldment when the outer man becomes a full expression of the inner Spirit or Being which is a fragment of the One Being. It is a self-unfoldment because it is an unfoldment or a destructuring of the Self within oneself as the guru. It is a “self-directed, self-inspired and self-willed effort”. It is what the Eastern philosopher, Sri Sankaracharya, called Atmabodha, or Self-Realization. When Plato said, “Know thyself,” he referred to this path of Self-unfoldment leading to Self-Realization. It is an “evolution of all that is enfolded in the pure subject” (N. Sri Ram). It is not an unfoldment resulting from external pressure; hence taking a drug - an influence from without - cannot lead to this unfoldment in depth. When every structure that has been built up is demolished, when every influence hiding the light of the spirit is dissolved, when all that prevents the flow of the life of the pure Spirit is removed, then there wells up from within the pure life energy, letting its beautiful influences be felt in all that one does. It is a spiritual, alchemical process when each one, using the fires of his own inner being, burns away the dross that shuts out the pure light of wisdom. It is an unfoldment when the cobwebs in the mansion of one’s mind are dusted away. Every stored memory is such a cobweb, likewise every pattern of behavior which obliges one to move repeatedly in the same groove. The latter are to be looked at and examined dispassionately, and eventually demolished in order to help oneself to unfurl, to unfold. So it is a Self-realization which cannot come about as a result of a miracle, neither can it come about by taking pills or drugs. It is a revolution within oneself and each one has to work upon himself. It is “the only revolution that matters”. All philosophies and religions describe the many ways to approach and tread this path of Self-unfoldment, through various techniques such as Yoga, Zen enlightenment with the experience of satori, meditation, the mystical approach through prayer, etc.”The paths are many and yet there is only one Path.” The approaches “are means to an end which is the beginning of the One Path” (Christmas Humphreys).

So it is very clear that not only is every step to be taken by oneself, but all the steps are in oneself.

In the Anguttara Nikaya, a Buddhist text, it is said: “Within this very body are the world and the origin of the world and the ceasing of the world are likewise the Path that leadeth to the cessation thereof.” The Voice of the Silence says, “Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.” So it is very clear that not only is every step to be taken by oneself, but all the steps are in oneself. It is a path “of which the beginning and the end are within the mind of man”. In short, treading the path is a reorientation in oneself, a turning within which begins with what the Buddha describes as the “uncompounding of the mind”. The mind, simple and clear to begin with, gets compounded with every impact from without. These are as the knots in a smooth silken scarf. The unknotting process is easier if one understands how the knots were tied. The way to release oneself is to uncompound oneself. And for the effort to be fruitful, it is to be made by the whole man. Wholeness implies a full-hearted attempt with one’s total attention, a moving away from all thoughts of the past or future.

In the Sayings of the Ancient One are these beautiful words:

“You can travel on an endless road, O Learner, when you walk according to the way of men; for you look back and see that it has no beginning and forward and see that it has no end. Therefore look neither backward nor forward, but fix your eyes on each Step as you take it: then you will see that the length of the Road is only the length of the Step. Men walk the Way of Time, O Child, and they mourn the Past and fear the Future: blot out all thought of Past and Future, and Suffering exits no more for you.” (P.24 f. -Miniature Quest ed.)

The Buddha also says,”Meditation is nowness’ Treading the Path is this “nowness,” and requires extraordinary concentration of the mind in order not to let oneself be pulled back into the past or distracted by speculation on the future

Every step requires an unloading of that which colors one’s vision - the limitations and prejudices...

In other words, the path of spiritual unfoldment is a ceaseless walking on, giving one’s total attention to every step. Every step requires an unloading of that which colors one’s vision - the limitations and prejudices, all that shuts out the light of the Spirit. Thus in walking on, at every step we shed something of the load. In the Taoist philosophy it is said, “Close the doors of the senses and the whole of life will be without care.” Can we do that? It does not mean not seeing with the eyes or hearing with the ears. We must use these sense organs as “windows to let in the light”. The Christ enunciated the same idea in different words; “Except ye be as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” One needs to recover once again the state of purity, of innocence, so that one can ever look at the world with wonder, delight and joy, unstained by thoughts of the past or the future. To quote H.P.Blavatsky:

“He must give up personal pride and all selfish purposes... He must part, once for all, with every remembrance of his earlier ideas, on all and on everything. Existing religions, knowledge, science must rebecome a blank book for him, as in the days of his babyhood, for if he wants to succeed he must learn a new alphabet on the lap of Mother Nature, every letter of which will afford a new insight to him, every syllable and word an unexpected revelation.” (Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p.128)

A reconditioning of oneself is needed. “Except a man be born again, he can in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” said St. John. The inner birth is a reorientation within oneself. It is a death to all self-created illusions before one can be spiritually reborn. The Kingdom of Heaven is within oneself. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of the living God?” asked St. Paul.

To be in the world and yet not of it is to dispossess the mind of all its likes and dislikes so that it is not swayed by what it holds.

In one of the Tantras, this process of spiritual unfoldment is likened to a worm (larva) becoming a wasp. Confined to the sealed, tiny mud hole, shut out from all light and air, the little green worm by sheer force of brooding attains wasphood. Working its way out, it emerges as a fully-grown wasp. Man, also by brooding, by conscious inward contemplation, can unfold his Selfhood, or Brahmanhood. Such a brooding in order to discover oneself is only possible if one can withdraw the senses inwardly. Renunciation and austerity, freedom from thirsting desires, are qualifications for treading this path. To be a Sannyasi is not to escape from life, running away from one’s duties and responsibilities. It does not come by any outward observances. It is a state of being, withdrawing the mind from the outward gaze. It is a renunciation exemplified by the Sage-King Janaka, who could watch his palace, symbolizing all his worldly possessions, burn and, unperturbed, say: “Nothing of mine is burning.” To be in the world and yet not of it is to dispossess the mind of all its likes and dislikes so that it is not swayed by what it holds. It is a renunciation of the “bundle of separative tendencies”. And what is austerity? It is not breaking one’s body but breaking the influence of the senses on one’s body. One comes to this state not by repression but by watchfulness. It is the world of consciousness, of life, and awareness which unfolds before one’s inward eye. The Self or Brahman is hidden deep in all beings. Only the pure in heart can see it. Who are the pure in heart? Those who are not swayed by the thirsting senses. When the Buddha spoke of the Eightfold Path by treading which all sorrow would cease, he was referring to this Self-culture of purifying oneself in mind and heart, a way leading from purity of conduct to mindfulness and from mindfulness to wisdom.

The Christ said, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The opening is not achieved by a single act. Before anyone can knock, there is the long process of reaching the door, the will to knock and then the self-purification, the removal of all that blind’s one’s vision, so that when the door opens one can see without being blinded by the light. There is an incident in the Bhagavad-Gita where Arjuna asks Sri Krishna, the teacher, to reveal himself in all his glory. The teacher revealed himself in full splendor as if ten thousand suns were blazing in the sky. It was an awe-inspiring vision but the disciple could not see. He was blinded by the light because he was not ready to see the Lord. Sri Krishna then endowed him with the divine sight, which is the all-seeing eye of the Atman. So one may knock and the door may open but one must have the capacity to see. A person with an infirm heart, with many stains still of selfishness which have not been washed away, cannot even raise his eyes to perceive. Even the thought, “I wish to see, to experience” becomes a barrier. Only the person who has an attitude of mind and heart freed from all self-centredness, whose only motive is to become a conscious co-operator for the greater good of all, can really knock and feel the door open. The climax of Self or spiritual unfoldment comes when one feels the pulsation of the One Life in all, when one discovers one’s completeness in the other. It is a mysterious event, an experience that happens in the silence within, when all thoughts at silenced, when Manas is restored to its primal state of pure being and “the light from without streams in even as the Light from within streams out” It is the moment when deep within a voice speaks: “The Great Self is the lord of Self.”

It is a regeneration in oneself, when one dies in order to live.

In one of the classic texts on Yoga it is said: “The original, natural state in which the mind, being free from all modifications, exists is called the Parabrahman.” In other words, it is Manas restored to its original purity and functioning as an aspect of Mahat. This is the purpose of meditation. The real goal of Yoga is to come to that state of mind, to that original pure state in which one can see things as they are. In it are seen all virtues as “virtue is a spontaneous expression of the Tao within oneself”. (Lao Tze)

Spiritual unfoldment is therefore the opening of the bud of the spirit into a full blossom in the silence of the mind. It is a regeneration in oneself, when one dies in order to live. It is a self-sculpturing chipping off of all that hides the true man, the microcosmic edition of the Macrocosm. It is a creation from within outwards, “an evolution of that which is enfolded in the pure depths of one’s being”. (N.Sri Ram) It is an unfoldment that takes place naturally and has nothing to do with the exhibition of psychical powers. The Song of Life resounds from within enfolding all in one Great Harmony. The wanderer who of his own volition “turned into earth,” return home, retracing his path from without to within, “enriched by all his experiences while clothed in varieties of forms,” with all petals of the flower of his consciousness fully opened. The battle of Life and with Life has ended and the Man-Plant has flowered, deeply rooted in spiritual realms but with branches reaching to the lower worlds, caring with concern for another, sharing, lighting the way as he walks on. Man ascends perfect in stature, discovering that pure light of Consciousness, “forever Unborn and Undying,” in his own heart.

The Theosophist 1973


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