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Seven Steps to Freedom and Fulfillment

Our Spiritual Evolution from Unconscious to Conscious Unity

by Br. John Martin (aka, Swami Sahajananda)

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Introduction

I feel it could be really helpful and productive for us to see our spiritual development and evolution as a journey -- a journey, I'm suggesting, from unconscious unity to conscious unity.

I believe that Jesus alluded to this inner journey in a simple parable when he said: "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It's the smallest of all seeds but when it grows, it becomes so big that the birds of the air will come and make their nests in it."

The seed mentioned in this parable, I suggest, is a symbol of unconscious unity and the tree a symbol of conscious unity. The tree is in the seed, but it is, we could say, unconscious. For the seed's immense potential to be realized, what is unconscious has to become conscious.

Most theists believe, that as individual forms, we all come from 'God' (the Source of all) and finally (as spirit) we return to God when our body is no longer capable of functioning. Spiritual luminaries, down through the ages, have taught that each of us is one with the divine ... or 'God' from the very beginning, but that in the early stages of our development, we aren't aware of it. That awareness only comes later -- while still in the body if we're fortunate, or on the dissolution of the body if we are not.

When spiritually awakened people realize their unity with 'God', they usually report realizing also that this 'state of unity' had really been theirs from the first. They often say it's like returning home after seeming to have been away.

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Seven Levels or Steps

Br. John Martin There are, I suggest, seven levels of 'mind' or consciousness that we as humans go through in our evolutionary process to become conscious of our original and eternal unity with God.

The first level can be described as Unconscious Unity. It's our unity with God before we were created, manifested or took on a unique form.

The second level of mind could be described as the Unconscious Universal Mind. It's the consciousness, one has as a fetus in the womb -- a fetus living by the life of another. There's no real separation between the fetus and the woman carrying it. They aren't two and, at same time, not one, as there's a new life in the womb.

This stage, I suggest, can extend to immediately after the child is born. After the birth there's a physical separation yet mother and child are still intimately connected and bound together emotionally. The newborn has an unconditioned mind. It has no sense of having a name -- it has no language, no culture, and no religion. It isn't ashamed when naked and doesn't know right from wrong or good from evil etc.

The third level of mind could be described as the Socially Conditioned Mind. As a child grows, society conditions it with a name, a language, a culture and, in many places still, a religion. The child is taught what is 'good' and what is 'bad, and also, what it should and what it shouldn't do.

The fourth level of mind could be called Assertive Individual Mind. It's the stage when individual consciousness is strongest and most assertive. Often this begins in adolescence when we start rebelling against the 'socially conditioned mind', which is represented by parents, teachers and other authority figures. Religions, as belief structures, also belong to the 'socially conditioned mind'.

The fifth level of mind I've designated as Mature Individual Mind. At this level of consciousness, an individual behaves more from reason and understanding than purely selfish motives. It's realized that we aren't an isolated individual -- an 'island unto ourselves' -- but an integral part of society and that we can't just do what we like regardless of others. At this stage, we begin to feel some responsibility to society and sense our interconnectedness with humanity and nature as a whole.

The sixth level, I call the Conscious Universal Mind. This is where the 'individual mind' begins to have some understanding and experience (consciousness) of 'Spirit' at the core of one's being -- a sense that there's 'something of God' deep in one's own, and indeed, in every human heart.

When this 'universal mind' is sufficiently developed in us, we can say, as the great spiritual sages have said: "I am in God and God in me," and, "It is no longer I that live, but God that lives in me," and, "the works which I do are not my own, but God, who dwells in me, he does the works." etc.

This 'universal mind' ultimately arrives (often by reflecting on its own Source) at the seventh level which I shall call the Awakened Unitary Mind. It's like awakening out of a dream and realizing (with joy and relief) that you're the dreamer, rather than just a character in the dream. This is when the 'universal mind' recognizes its (long forgotten) unity with the Absolute or Divine Consciousness.

At this level, there's the realization that one has returned 'home' -- back to the original stage. One was there in (and even before) the beginning, but there was no awareness of it. Back then there was unity, but it was unconscious unity. In this 'awakened unitary mind', there's the same unity, but now it's conscious -- conscious of ItSelf.

The seventh level of mind could also be called 'conscious unity' or 'unitary consciousness'. In Hinduism, it's sometimes referred to as 'non-dual consciousness'. The Buddhists call it, dharmakaya -- the Buddha nature. Full of this realization, the sages of ancient India exclaimed: "I am Brahman." (aham brahma asmi) Jesus declared: "God and I are one" and Muslim mystics affirmed: "God alone is."

So, just to recap, here again are the seven levels or steps to spiritual freedom and fulfillment that I'm proposing to discuss in this paper.

  1. Unconscious Unity
  2. Unconscious Universal Mind
  3. Socially Conditioned Mind
  4. Assertive Individual Mind
  5. Mature Individual Mind
  6. Conscious Universal Mind
  7. Awakened Unitary Mind

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Inter-Level Dynamics

Cosmic Cross Shantivanam The above list suggests the stages and direction of our spiritual evolution. We begin with unconscious unity and progress to awakened or conscious unity. In this process, we go through different levels of 'mind' or consciousness -- each level either descends or arises from the level that preceded it. Freedom and fulfillment is assured if we move right through the stages to level seven. Frustration and spiritual stultification occurs only when one stops somewhere on the way.

One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up ...

So, our spiritual journey, I'm suggesting, is like descending a mountain. It's a journey that takes us all the way down the slopes to the bottom of the mountain and then finally brings us back to our starting point, the summit. You could also think of it as a (39km) journey Jesus might have undertaken from Jerusalem down (1.5km) to the barren shores of the Dead Sea and then back up again to Jerusalem.

How truly the Buddha spoke when he said, "You won’t, by going, reach that place where there is the end of suffering. You’ll get there, by coming!" But implied in that insightful saying is the fact that we must go out some distance before we can experience the delight of returning home at last. The first four stages in the progression, I'm suggesting, represent the journey out to the valley floor, so to speak, the last three represent the journey up and back to higher ground and home forever.

But if we stop on the way and, figuratively speaking, build a hut on the side of the mountain, or outside the Holy City, and settle down there, then our spiritual journey is halted and we live the remainder of our days out of a mere fragment of truth. This, more than anything else has been, and still is, the cause of all religious divisions, conflict and violence in our world.

Please note, the first level -- 'unconscious unity' -- is the same as the final level -- 'awakened unitary mind', they are essentially one and the same. The only difference is that the first level is unconscious while the last one is conscious.

The second level -- 'unconscious universal mind' -- and the sixth level -- 'conscious universal mind' -- are again essentially one and the same. The only difference is that the second level is unconscious and the sixth level is conscious. On both these levels, one lives by the 'Life of God' in a very intimate sense.

The third level -- 'socially conditioned mind' -- and the fifth level, 'mature individual mind', are in principle very much the same. On the socially conditioned level, society has coerced us, one way or another, into accepting its standards and values, but on level five, the mature individual, though still somewhat conditioned, interacts with society out of a sense of responsibility and understanding without any outside coercion.

Between the first three levels and the last three levels is the fourth level -- 'assertive individual mind' -- the stage where individuality becomes full blown. The emergence of 'assertive individual mind' is necessary for the evolution of human consciousness. Normally, in order to progress through the first three levels into the last three levels, one has to develop a strong sense of separate individualness.

The fourth level is rather a narrow path for the spiritual pilgrim. Jesus reportedly spoke of a narrow gate and a narrow way leading to the kingdom of God. This narrow gate is the process of becoming an individual. It's like coming out of the womb of 'socially conditioned mind'.

If, by grace, our socially conditioned mind becomes aware of its limitations and opens itself toward higher levels of consciousness, then the transition will be easy from our 'conditioned mind' to our 'assertive individual mind'. But, if the 'conditioned mind' thinks that its ideas and beliefs are absolute and immutable, then the transition to higher levels will be very difficult ... if not impossible.

When in the grip of the 'conditioned mind', we may imagine a personal 'God' of authority and power, who demands the submission of our will and intellect. Once we progress to 'conscious universal mind', however, we seem to encounter a different deity -- the impersonal 'God' of infinite love -- who transforms our will and intellect and who proceeds to make us free in the most important sense.

Jesus is reputed to have said, "Just as the Father has life in himself, he has granted the Son to have life in himself. I have come to give life and give it abundantly." To have the conscious awareness of divine life within is to have love and true freedom ... because love is freedom and freedom is the life of God consciously experienced within. God gave all this to Jesus and Jesus made it his mission to impart that abundant freedom and fulfillment to every seeking, yearning soul ready to receive it.

So, by graduating from one level of awareness to the next highest, we grow and evolve from heavily conditioned thinking and bowing to a 'God' of stern authority into freely and joyfully serving the God of unconditional love. And this glorious progression need not stop there. For, as it's written, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him."

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The Garden of Eden

Ashram Gates The Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, in a beautiful way, explains this evolution of the human consciousness ... though not completely. Before the world and humanity came into being, it could be said they were in the 'womb of God' and, therefore, one with God. The potential 'all' dwelt in unconscious unity.

It was as if the formless One was pregnant with all the forms of the universe. In this sense, they would have had a very intimate relationship with God, as if these about-to-be-birthed forms were living by the life of God, just as a fetus lives by the life of the woman who is carrying it. For the human forms about to be manifested, it was, we could imagine, an experience of unconscious mutual indwelling -- God lived in them and they lived in God.

In this famous story, Adam and Eve, like newborns, were 'naked' and not ashamed. They were entirely without social conditioning and therefore had no sense of: modest and immodest, right and wrong etc. Then, God told them that they could eat all the fruits in the garden except the fruit of the 'Tree of Good and Evil'. By instructing Adam and Eve about what they should and shouldn't do, God gave them a kind of social conditioning.

God became, for Adam and Eve, an authority figure who demanded the obedience of their will and intellect. He laid down for them what was right and what was wrong. As soon as God told the pair what behavior was acceptable to him and what was not etc, the 'conditioned mind' came into being. Through this conditioning, they lost their original innocence, and worse, their consciousness of unity with God.

In this highly symbolic story, we can see a progression from unconscious mutual indwelling ... or unity, to the socially conditioned mind. In neither of these stages, however, are there any truly free individuals. By eating the 'forbidden fruit', a robust and rebellious sense of self, or ego, seemed to arise within Adam and Eve and unwittingly they took their first steps on the level of the 'assertive individual mind'.

The Garden of Eden was like an extension of the previously mentioned, 'womb of God'. It gave some security and protection to Adam and Eve as long as they obeyed the commands they'd been given ... but this security was not to last, as we know.

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The Serpent

Ashram Tea Circle Some have suggested that the spiritual seeker's desire to become enlightened or, let us say, Christ-like, is nothing but the unrecognized desire to become conscious again of our innate unity with God. If this is so, the quest for holiness or godliness need not be seen as presumption, but rather as an outward projection of what is already and always within.

Sadly, such seeking inevitably reinforces separateness and dualism because there's always the seeker and a something to be sought. While 'God' is thought of as an object, the seeker will always seem to be bound by concepts of: I and Thou, good and evil, spiritual and unspiritual, and all the other dualistic opposites.

In the Garden of Eden story, the 'Serpent' seduces Eve, and then Adam, to eat from the 'Tree of Good and Evil' -- supposedly to make them like God. But they're cheated by the 'Serpent' and what really happens is that they lose their innocence, are evicted from the garden into a realm where all the opposites are recognized and experienced -- the dualism and consequent suffering of a world that has lost touch with its Source.

At their deepest level, Adam and Eve were already 'like God', as the Biblical account says, they were 'created in the image and likeness of God'. So there was no need for them to become What they already were, but at that stage, their oneness with God was quite unconscious -- Adam and Eve, and the humankind they represented, needed that consciousness to be restored.

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden can be viewed, I suggest, in two different ways. One is that it represents a fall from innocence, and the other, that it's a step up on the path to conscious unity with God. It was a 'fall' because their disobedience plummeted them, so to speak, from the 'socially conditioned mind' to the 'assertive individual mind'.

Here, paradoxically, 'falling' and 'growing' coincide. It's always a great loss if we stall and come to a standstill in our spiritual evolution, but if we go on through the final stages of the journey, then breaking out of our conditioning becomes an important step toward conscious awareness, freedom and fulfillment

Unless one becomes an individual, spiritual evolution cannot progress. Hence the 'Serpent' in the story, in a way, is helping us to make the transition from original innocence, through social conditioning, and on to the dawning of conscious unity. In this sense, we can say that what the 'Serpent' represents plays an important role in our evolution toward the final recognition of our true identity.

Adam and Eve, by rebelling against the instructions (social conditioning) they received, sent humankind off on a journey, away from the concept of divine authority to the consciousness of the true Self and infinite Source of all -- from the God of history, one could say, to the God of eternity. It was a very important step in the evolution of human consciousness. It was a happy fault, or felix culpa as they say in Latin.

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The Gate with an Angel

Ashram Diningroom After Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, the story goes that God posted an angel with a fiery sword at the gate of the garden so the pair couldn't get back in. This too is symbolic and is relevant to our spiritual evolution. As we progress from one level of consciousness to a higher one, there's always a temptation -- especially when we're going through a period of suffering, to lapse into a lower level of consciousness -- to become less awake.

The angel with the sword at the gate of Eden indicates God's part in seeing that, so far as we are able to, we keep moving forward. There can be no going back through the garden to our comfortable but completely unconscious life in the 'womb of God' any more than we can physically go back to the womb once we've been born. But, as Jesus indicated to Nicodemus, a spiritual rebirth is possible for us that brings blessing beyond our wildest imagining.

Early in the evolution of consciousness, there's a tendency for us to oscillate between the 'socially conditioned mind' and the 'assertive individual mind.' Society demands that a non-conforming individual should do this or should not do that, and the assertive individual often rebels against these shoulds and shouldn'ts.

When we read the Old Testament, we realize how often Jehovah called his people 'rebellious and stiff-necked'. He calls them to return to him -- it's actually a call go back to a life under the Mosaic Law -- the 'social mind' of this tribal 'god-conception'. The Law represents the 'socially conditioned mind.' This tension continues in the Jewish tradition until the time of Jesus ... and in one sense, is still with us today.

The Old Testament prophets realized that there was no solution to anti-social or anti-establishment behavior at the level of the socially conditioned mind. They foresaw a new 'relationship' with God in which the Law would be written in the heart of every person. The prophet, Jeremiah, says, "Behold the days are coming, when I (God) will make a new covenant.... I will write the law in every heart." This new covenant foreshadows the 'new birth' of 'universal mind', which in turn, opens to the 'conscious unitary mind.'

The angel at the gate tells us, that for the mature individual on the spiritual path, there can be no going back, no regression, into the confines of law, doctrine and tradition nor even to rampant individualism. He or she 'presses on toward the goal ... for the prize of the high calling of God' (Christ-consciousness, or, what I'm calling here, the 'awakened unitary mind').

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The Spiritual Evolution of Jesus

Ashram Library Going on the gospel accounts of his life, I believe that this evolution of consciousness reached its climax in Jesus just before he started out on his teaching and healing work.

We could say that Jesus began with unconscious unity with 'the Father'. Referring to that infinite 'Life' that appeared as Jesus, St. John says, "In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word was God.... The word became flesh". In the womb of his mother, that life-form was, I'm suggesting, at the level of 'unconscious universal mind'. Then, at the moment of his circumcision, the infant Jesus was embraced by the 'socially conditioned mind' of Judaism.

As the limitations of his religious tradition became apparent to Jesus, his consciousness evolved into the 'assertive', or even 'rebellious individual mind' -- he certainly came to be considered a rebel by the Jewish religious authorities. But while Jesus did rebel against the oppressive law-ridden social system of his day, he obviously went on to develop 'mature individual mind'.

Even at the age of twelve, Jesus showed great maturity and, judging by his exchanges with the learned men at the temple in Jerusalem, he had probably already advanced in consciousness to 'universal individual mind'; and later, at his baptism in the river Jordan, this 'universal consciousness' opened him to make a total surrender to the divine will and become aware of a vast, still, silent spaciousness or presence within.

By this time, Jesus had broken free of his social and religious conditioning. He was no longer governed by Mosaic Law ... he had fulfilled its divine intention. He saw that the new covenant, spoken of by the prophets of old, was about to be enacted. He knew this because he was experiencing 'God' as an inner presence ... not as an external and separate entity.

Because of this new awareness, we hear Jesus saying: "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." and, "The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." But he didn't remain even at this unusually high level of consciousness ... he went one step further and found he was experiencing reality as Consciousness ItSelf.

At last, Jesus realized Who or What he really was ... he saw that his essential nature was infinite, eternal and like light -- not "a" light, but that Light by which all other lights are seen ... and known to be seen. He knew immediately that this Light was the real light or life of the universe, and, that it could be known and experienced by any earnest seeker after truth.

Now we notice Jesus declaring: "I and the Father are one." "I am the way, the truth and Life (ItSelf)" "I am the Light ..." etc. Such statements signal the completion of the evolutionary process in Jesus -- as he wasn't speaking from ego, but from an undeniable 'God-consciousness." In him, it seems, the original 'unconscious unity' became totally awake and he arrived at, what I'm calling, 'awakened unitary mind'.

It wasn't a matter of believing but rather of intuitive knowing that he had been one with God from the beginning, that he'd come from 'the Father', and that eventually he'd go back to 'the Father'. This was said in more 'concrete' terms for the sake of his less conscious listeners, but was completely consistent with the Old Testament teaching: "... the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God (Spirit) who gave it."

It's important to note here, that this level of self-realization or Christ-consciousness isn't restricted to Jesus alone. This process, so evident in him, can be a blueprint for every human being. We all begin, as it were, in unconscious unity with God and, like Jesus, each of us can grow or develop in consciousness, till at last we come to conscious unity and know for the first time (the awesome truth of) Who or What we really are.

This evolution of consciousness could also be seen as an evolution of love. It's an evolution, I'm suggesting, from self-centered love (I'll love you if I feel you love me) to a love that is non-discriminating and that embraces all. It progresses from conditional love to a vast, but limited universal love and from this lofty height to the very highest level -- limitless, unconditional divine love -- the love that shines through all the compassionate acts of Jesus.

The evolution of love in us, I believe, will inevitably lead to the establishing of greater peace and harmony between peoples. Division and violence in the name of 'right doctrine' can only occur when we live from a socially or religiously conditioned mind set, or on the level of  'assertive individual mind.' Only on the level of 'awakened unitary mind', where we see all as one, do all divisions disappear.

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Spiritual Evolution and Free Will

Ashram Temple The prophetic religions commonly state that God 'created' human beings with free will. However, it's my contention, in view of the evolutionary process we're examining here, that God did not create human beings with 'free will', but that free will comes and goes within our evolution toward higher consciousness.

Free will isn't there at the beginning of the process and it won't be there at the end -- in between, it arises and then disappears. When we look at the different levels of consciousness outlined above, we can see this quite clearly.

In the first stage of 'unconscious unity', there's no free will, nor, for that matter, any mental activity whatever. It's the realm of the Absolute ... the, as yet, unmanifested universe, in all its potentiality, is at rest in and as God.

In the second stage for humans of 'unconscious unity', that is. after birth and before our 'socially conditioned mind' is established, there's also no free will ... all our 'choices' are instinctual. The infant lives by a kind of mutual, though unconscious, indwelling in the life of God.

In the third stage, the 'socially conditioned mind', our intellect develops and free will emerges, but we're by no means free because we're required to conform to our parent's/teacher's will and our society's way of thinking. In order for us to make a 'wise' choice, we need free will so we can choose from various options. But when we live from the 'socially conditioned mind', we're subtly ruled by that conditioning. We may possess a will, but it's rarely ever free and usually heavily conditioned by our society's beliefs, values and standards.

In the Garden of Eden story referred to above, 'God' is represented as an authority figure separate and distinctly different from Adam and Eve. When God told the pair: 'do this and don't do that', Adam and Eve weren't expected to exercise free will. They were expected to obey the voice of God because there was only one voice and one (totalitarian) authority. The only choice open to them was to obey or disobey this external authority.

Crude as this concept of God is, this ancient story can teach us much if we will let it. For instance, it shows how Adam and Eve's options changed from whether to obey, to, whom to obey! The story doesn't explain how the Serpent became what it was, but when it slithered into view, it presented the pair with quite a different choice than they'd ever had up to that moment.

Now Adam and Eve had to decide between not only the voice of God, but the voice of the Serpent. To them, it may have seemed at the time that these two options had equal weight, but of course they didn't -- one was the voice of the creator and the other the voice of a creature. To make the choice seem to be between equals, they had to either elevate the Serpent to the level of God, or, bring God down to the level of the Serpent.

So we can see that this multi-faceted story is obliquely telling us about humanity's 'fall' from non-dual consciousness into dualism -- a fall from the awareness of one absolute reality into the awareness many relative realities, within ourselves and throughout the world.

While going through the fourth stage of our evolutionary progression, our individualism and free will tend to become assertive. Breaking free from the preceding 'socially conditioned mind', we imagine we have complete freedom to do whatever we wish, though there's always a certain amount of conditioning 'pulling the strings'.

Then, as we develop a more mature individual mind', we go through the fifth stage where we aren't controlled so much from outside, but from inner principle and a sense of social responsibility. We exercise a limited amount of free will, but we are very conscious of what other people think and how they view us.

In the sixth stage, which I've designated as 'conscious universal mind', we've finally surrendered 'our will' and we discover for the first time a certain inner freedom and knowing not experienced before. Although our will, intellect and personality still retain functional value, we find they are now very much a vehicle of or for the universal mind and will.

At this stage, we recognize, or become conscious, that we're being 'lived' and that we really have no personal free will at all. Everything just unfolds. Our individual will and thought processes have somehow become concentric with the universal mind and will. This universal mind and will is a reflection, one could say, of the divine will.

This 'conscious universal mind' is the experience of the 'new covenant', promised by God in the Old Testament. It's the (spirit of the) law written in the heart. This stage finally awakens into complete nondual awareness, which I'm calling, 'awakened unitary consciousness'.

This final stage in the evolution of human consciousness can and is experienced, but it can never be described in mere words. Language fails totally to capture the simple wonder and joy of coming home to one's true Self at last. Here, and only here, God's will and Self will are as one.

So, looking back over the process as it's been suggested above, we can see that our sense of having an independent self-will arises in the 'socially conditioned mind', grows through the 'assertive' and 'mature individual minds' and then comes to an end with the dawning of the 'conscious universal mind' and the 'awakened unitary mind'.

Early in the evolutionary process, being in charge of our own mind and free will would seem to be essential, but in the latter stages of our spiritual journey, they have only functional value. The intermediate stages where ego-oriented mental determination and free will are seen to be vitally important are the very stages where we experience the most inner conflict and suffering. Only by surrendering 'our' will and intellect (which in fact are being outgrown) do we find true love, peace and joy at last.

We progress, as it were, from ego-centrically insisting on 'my will' and 'my way' to a more theo-centric life where we might pray: 'Thy will be done.' But finally, through grace and perseverance, we awaken to our oneness with Consciousness ItSelf and realize that it's all God ... everything is exactly as it's meant to be ... all the time! At last 'free will' is set free from any willing whatever.

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The Appearance of Evil

Ashram Temple I'd now like to briefly turn our attention to the question of 'good versus evil' in the context of our evolution toward spiritual awakening. When I speak about evil here, please note that I'm speaking of relative evil and not absolute evil which, I maintain, in company with many other thinkers, theologians and ethicists, does not exist.

Just as we have seen above that the thinking mind and will arise from, and are part of, the evolution of our consciousness, so also we can say that the appearance of what may be called, moral evil, is tied to the same process.

At the first level of 'unconscious unity' there's no evil of course. There's neither a duality of good versus evil nor a duality of anything. There's only the absolute oneness of God. It's difficult even to say that 'God is good', at this level because how can 'good' be known without introducing the idea of 'evil', and to do so, would immediately establish dualism.

At the second level -- 'unconscious mutual indwelling' (unconscious universal mind), there's still no good versus evil ... only the reflection of God's absolute and eternal nature which we now conceptualize as being wholly benign and good.

At the third level -- 'socially conditioned mind', there's relative good and relative evil. The 'good' here is everything that conforms to the socially conditioned mind and 'evil' is considered that which is contrary to the socially conditioned mind.

At the 'assertive individual mind' level, good and evil are also relative ... based on what one personally thinks is good or evil. Shakespeare's character, Hamlet, says it well, "... there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

There's also relative good and relative evil in 'mature individual mind', since it's also tied to limited human thinking, but here, these notions of good and evil are connected less to rampant individualism and more to social responsibility.

At the level of the universal mind, consciousness is reclaimed and conditioned ideas of good and evil largely dissolve. For many at this stage, there's an overwhelming sense that the words God, Life and Love are essentially synonymous.

At the level of 'conscious unitary mind', the illusion of dualistic good versus evil, and all the other 'opposites', is seen through. Ultimate reality is understood and experienced to be without any qualities whatever ... and That is recognised (again) to be our true, unborn, undying Self. Yes, we continue to live for a time as a form in the realm of duality where good and evil appear, but our true home now is in that other realm where there's only One without any second.

So to briefly review, there's relative good and evil in the 'socially conditioned mind', in the 'assertive individual mind' and in the 'mature individual mind'. These ideas or beliefs begin in the 'conditioned mind' and come to an end when conscious is reclaimed in the 'universal mind', as was the case with the egoic will.

Actually, egocentric will and the idea of evil are very much connected. It's the separate individualistic mind and will which is the source of relative good and relative evil. But, as has been pointed out above, we need to drop our social and religious conditioning and go through the ego-dominated individualistic stages in order to arrive at awakened consciousness.

When we go beyond concepts of good and evil -- beyond dualism into non-duality, sin is seen simply as living out of ignorance, as being unconscious or 'dead' in the spiritual sense, and consequently, missing the mark -- 'the mark of God's high calling'.

And when we 'awaken' spiritually, it's a little like re-entering the Garden of Eden before the fall, but this time we're fully conscious of where we came from and What we now are. The need for a 'relationship' with ourselves, or even with God mysteriously disappears, giving new meaning to practices such as prayer, meditation and worship.

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The Prodigal Son

Ashram Temple Rear ViewThe parable of 'The Prodigal Son', reportedly told by Jesus, is another beautiful archetype of our spiritual journey from unconscious to conscious unity. This parable fulfills the 'Garden of Eden' story and certainly isn't only about one young man -- in an important way, it's the story of us all.

As an infant, the prodigal son had an unconscious mutual indwelling with his parents. What belonged to his parents belonged to him. As a young man, his social conditioning is represented by his father's reasonable requirement that he work, with his brother, on the family farm for the family good. Then his developing individualism asserted itself and he rebelled against his father by demanding his 'share' of the family property.

The young man left home and exercised his 'free will' to the max in attempting to gratify his personal desires. But he didn't find fulfillment, all his inheritance money was lost and he ended up suffering greatly. The prodigal then realized his mistake, 'repented' and arrived at a more mature state of mind.

He went back home to his parents and was content to remain there without any demands whatever -- you could call this a kind of 'universal mind'. Now, home meant more to him than ever and he valued the loving, heart-felt acceptance of his Father above anything he'd experienced in 'the far country'.

It's worth noting that the prodigal's elder brother seems to have remained at the level of the conditioned mind and when his wastrel brother eventually returned home, could only think resentfully of 'his' rights and in no way could identify with a universal or divine love that unhesitatingly ... and even joyfully ... forgives all.

The parable of The Prodigal Son is basically about the same evolution of consciousness as the Garden of Eden story, but goes further. The Garden of Eden story stops with the rebellious individual mind. The Parable of the Prodigal son brings the spiritual aspirant who has lost his or her way back to original oneness with God, but this time with wide-awake awareness.

These stories aren't about past mythological events, but about our lives today. Whenever a child is born, or whenever the 'still small voice' is heard within, there's another possibility that someone will evolve in their own lifetime from unconsciousness and heavy conditioning, through full blown individualism to the secret and sacred bliss of 'awakened unitary mind'.

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The Two Trees

We haven't yet exhausted the Garden of Eden story of all its rich meaning. Let us then, in concluding, turn our attention very briefly on the two symbolic trees in that mythic garden.

The Tree of Life symbolizes a unity made up of many parts. Obviously, though a tree is made up of roots, a trunk, branches and lots of leaves, it is still one .,. one life. The leaves are aware of their connectedness to the branches, the branches of their connectedness to the trunk and the trunk of its dependence on the roots. There's only one tree, one life, one truth and one way -- the way of the tree. The same life is flowing in every part of the tree.

The Tree of Good and Evil is a tree of a lower order -- a tree that even so produces enticing fruit, that if eaten, shatters innocence and plunges the eater into dualism with all its incumbent mind-made suffering. It seems that all of us have plucked and eaten that fruit at some point in our life-experience. We can all attest to the bitter taste it leaves behind.

Interestingly, any tree in any garden could be another useful metaphor when it comes to understanding the different levels of human consciousness.

Imagine that leaves were capable of collective consciousness and were conditioned to think that their particular branch was superior to any other branch -- that their branch represented the highest truth. They wouldn't recognize the possibility of truth existing in the other branches. They would see only evil in the branches other than the one they're attached to. They may even have a distorted idea that somehow their branch alone connects directly to the roots.

If leaves were capable of individual consciousness, they might refuse to recognize their dependency on the branches and set out to live entirely for themselves. Each leaf might want to relate with the roots directly, without a branch and the trunk, or alternatively may deny the existence of the roots altogether!

Imagine then, that these same leaves evolved to a higher level of awareness. The leaves would then recognize both collectively and individually the existence of the branches and their dependence on them. They would also realize that the branches are dependent on the trunk and that the trunk holds all the branches and the leaves together nourishing them with the nutrition received form the roots.

And what if awareness in the tree graduated from mere 'leaf and branch consciousness' to 'trunk-centered consciousness? There would be a deep sense of connecting the leaves and branches with the roots. This would be something akin to the 'conscious universal mind'.

Then, what if tree-consciousness went all the way down into its roots? Identifying with its constituent parts would disappear and the tree would know itself as one and in no way separate from the ground of its being. This would suggest 'awakened unitary mind'

In the Hindu tradition, the levels of consciousness (roughly corresponding to the leaves, branch, trunk and roots of a tree) are represented by different ages called Yugas.

In the Kali Yuga (leaves) and the Dwapar Yuga (branches), religionists have a dualistic relationship with God. They think of themselves as being separate creatures of God. These ages are characterised by violence, strife and suffering caused by heavy mental conditioning.

In the Treta Yuga (trunk), devotees still view themselves as being different from the Divine, but also as being inwardly connected as sons or daughters of God. This the age of 'universal consciousness.

In the Sathya Yuga (roots), the non-dual nature of reality is finally revealed. Awakened people recognize their oneness with the Infinite and all Its manifest forms. Such a person could attest with joy and deep humility, 'God and I are one.' or ‘God alone is.' etc. There's an intuitive knowing without an individual 'self' to grasp anything in particular -- this is the age of 'awakened unitary mind'.

So, our journey and homecoming are reflected in the whole tree. At last, we identify with the entire tree and every part of it at the same time. We see God manifested as the roots, as the trunk, as the branches and as every leaf. The Divine is everything ... and yet, ultimately, not a thing at all!

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Conclusion

In closing, let us remind ourselves once more of this evolutionary outline I've suggested ...

  1. Unconscious Unity
  2. Unconscious Universal Mind
  3. Socially Conditioned Mind
  4. Assertive Individual Mind
  5. Mature Individual Mind
  6. Conscious Universal Mind
  7. Awakened Unitary Mind

Don't get carried away with my terminology, the words are only meant as guideposts. They point us beyond 'concepts' to the Truth that can never be contained by any language ... not even sacred or scriptural language. You may be able to think of clearer terms to describe these stages ... if so, do let me know your suggestions.

My whole purpose in outlining and illustrating these various levels of consciousness is not to leave the reader with mere "knowledge by description," but rather to bring any who are interested to "knowledge by acquaintance." What good is it if we are "ever learning but never coming to a knowledge (actual realization) of the truth"?

My aim here is simply to help the earnest pilgrim progress through "intellectual understanding" ... to "experiencial understanding" ... and finally, into That which is beyond our ability to apprehend in the ordinary way.

Our experience of something is not the thing itself. True love, for instance, goes far beyond our thoughts about and experience of it. In a similar way, the Reality or Truth of the life in God always transcends not only our theorizing or theologizing about it, but even our experience of it.

The mind can get quite afraid of this going beyond because it cannot imagine anything beyond thinking and experience, However. as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"

Obviously, if you've read through the above, it would be natural to ask: "What stage am I presently at in this spiritual journey?" and, "Which of the levels of consciousness suggested above would best describe where I am right now?"

I feel there are two things that could confidently be said in relation to such questions. Firstly, that we are still subject to a lot more conditioning than we think, and secondly, that we are far further forward in the 'awakening' process than we realize ... otherwise you certainly wouldn't be reading a page like this.

The good news is that we don't have to spend years of our life in each stage of the journey before advancing to the next. Once we begin to see through the fiction of the egoic self (or 'little' me), evolution to 'conscious universal mind' and then into 'awakened unitary mind' can be fairly rapid ... but not in every case.

From the moment we fully realize that we not only have awareness, but actually are infinite, eternal, Awareness or Consciousness Itself, then we enter immediately into 'joy unspeakable and full of glory' -- it takes no time at all! It's just a matter of seeing for ourselves that 'unitive vision' that all the awakened saints and sages have recognized in every age and tradition.

Then, it's quite possible to be conscious of our unborn, undying, essential nature throughout the rest of our days. We feel it as a deep sense of peace somewhere in the background, a stillness that never leaves us, no matter what happens in our life-experience.

We become a bridge between the Unmanifested and the manifested, between God and the world. This is the state of connectedness with the Source that I'm calling 'awakened unitary mind' ... or, enlightenment.

From records we have of the Master's life and sayings, we can surmise, that after 'awakening', Jesus continued in this liberating, awake, non-dual consciousness, while at the same time fully accepting his limited humanhood and the dualistic appearance of the world in which he lived.

In the wider 'Enlightenment' tradition, as well as in the Christian context, Jesus is seen as the blueprint of, or pattern for, spiritual evolution and conscious awareness, which we are invited to take up and: "follow in his steps". So, let us not "conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind."

St. Paul also encouraged us to live from the same level of mind as "Christ Jesus:" And indeed when, by grace, that seventh step, so to speak, is finally taken, we'll cease to think of ourselves simply as 'Sarah', Michael, Ravi or whatever, but mysteriously and secretly, we'll know ourselves to be Christ Sarah, Christ Michael or Christ Ravi etc.

We'll have the same 'mind' that Jesus finally had and know ourselves to be truly free and fulfilled at last.

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BTW: In the paper above, references for the Bible texts quoted were not given for easier readability, but references can easily be found by googling the quotes in question or by consulting the Biblos Online Parallel Bible.

To see a menu of other insightful articles on this site by Br. John Martin, >>>Click Here.

If you're keen to explore further the evolutionary development of consciousness or spiritual awareness, you might like: The Five Stages of the Face Game by Douglas Harding.

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