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The 7 Bhumikas: 7 Steps To Enlightenment

The teachings in this article are based on the teachings of Peter Marchand of Leela Yoga and his video, "The 7 Steps To Enlightenment (Bhumikas)". You can find the link to his presentation at the bottom of this article.

First things first, please don’t take any of these words (or any words) too seriously. I don’t claim to be an enlightened being, as it is beyond my understanding to be completely without desire. The concept of enlightenment is tricky to grasp because you have to ask, “to whom this happens to?”. The Self isn’t getting enlightened because it has been there from the beginning, the body isn't getting enlightened because it’s just matter, the mind is not getting enlightened because it's just some programming, the ego is not getting enlightened because it is just some idea, so who is left? And who is left to say, “I am enlightened”? The ancient Vedic concept of life is that the whole universe is a divine play and enlightenment is the ultimate solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The words on this page are intended to describe concepts, but all are meaningless because the truth is beyond words. On that note, let’s dive in.


While the 8 Limbs of Yoga describe the actions to take to reach the goal of yoga (union), the 7 Bhumikas describe the inner development and different stages that a practitioner goes through before reaching complete liberation. The 7 Bhumikas are the ancient Vedic stages to enlightenment and are found in the Varaha Upanishad. These steps are seen as phases that overlap and give you an idea of where you are on your path and what to do to move forward. In India and in the ancient texts, going through these 7 steps are just one of four options. The desire for enlightenment (moksha) is just one desire. The other three desires are artha (wealth), kama (desire for pleasure, enjoyment), and dharma (righteousness, balance, reorganizing your life to live in harmony). When we are running after these three desires (pleasure, wealth, righteousness), now and then we run into a wall. When it happens, you think, “What’s the use of all this running? Maybe I can find whatever I am looking for by not going anywhere. Maybe I can find it within myself”. This is the path of yoga, and this leads us to the first step: Subheccha (desire for liberation).


Step 1: Subheccha- Desire For Liberation

When a person hits a wall and they have a spiritual desire for enlightenment, to grow, to become more balanced, they have arrived in stage 1. Since there is a desire to grow, yoga also has a place here. The main obstacle to move forward in this stage is addiction, which includes all kinds of things to which you are overly attached: coffee, thought patterns, social media, alcohol/cigarettes, pop music, etc. If you are attached up to the point where you are no longer the master of yourself, you will not be able to move further than this step because addiction will always be there guarding itself and stopping you from thinking correctly. Addictions take your energy, your self-confidence, and produce negative intellect, which brings doubt to the path of yoga. Because whatever is being said about yoga, dharma, and the truth, will be seen as going against your addiction. For example, people might say “there is nothing wrong with watching TV all day”. If someone is addicted to their TV, they will likely defend their addiction by attacking that truth because they want to continue their habits. We all run up and down these steps, but if you really want to move forward on this path, get rid of your addictions. One way to get rid of addictions is through vrat (fasting).


Step 2: Vichara- Self-Inquiry

You’ve had this thought that running is not such a good idea, so you sit with yourself. You ask yourself, but you still don’t have the answer. This is when you start reading lots of spiritual books, journaling, fantasizing about the truth through words, going to yoga classes, looking into yourself, and trying to find out, “what’s this story?”. Self-inquiry changes your perception of the world. You start watching yourself, your mind, your intellect, and your emotions. In this stage, you will need words for a while. Although words are a crucial part of this stage to figure out what you need to do, they are just ideas and concepts and are defined by using other ideas and concepts to point to something that is beyond words. In themselves, they don’t teach anything about the truth of your being. Going through this stage and coming out at the end, you will find that the truth cannot be found in words. This makes it possible for you to stop asking questions, to stop looking in books. Seeing the uselessness of all these answers, you find that there is nothing to understand. Silence cannot be found in words. The main obstruction in this phase is thinking that you’ve understood. To really feel the truth, the Self, who you are, is beyond words. If you think there is something to be solved by understanding it, you cannot solve anything. When the questions are gone, it’s time to move forward.


Step 3: Tanumanasi- To Thin The Mind/Ego

Each of the 8 limbs of yoga are found here in stage 3. This is where the practitioner learns how to control the body and breath, quiet the mind, focus the mind, go within, and find the Self. When we meditate, this “taste of enlightenment” usually happens as beginner’s luck, then we find ourselves wanting more. In this stage, a daily meditation practice is required to move forward so that we can master ourselves; to deeply feel the truth of the Self. Enlightenment is not about going anywhere, but the you that you think you are needs to step aside so that the real you can come forward, the never-changing Self. In this phase, you move from trying to understand the truth to feeling the truth. Slowly but surely, you will be mastering the art of Samadhi where the ego dissolves and becomes pure consciousness. It takes time and work to clear subconscious blockages in the mind, but the more experience you get of the Self, the more you want it, and the more it comes. It’s all about mastering a technique (mantra meditation, breath work). The path of Shiva is detachment, which the ego resisting detachment is the main obstacle in this phase. In time, it will become easy to reach the Self. Wherever you feel a little lost in the spiritual process, step 3 is your anchor and the place to return to.


Step 4: Sattvapatti- Ruler of Lightness/Self-Realization

Ramana Maharishi described this phase as self-realization. In step 3 you have strengthened your connection to the Self, and now you are the ruler of your own feeling, your “lightness”. Just because you’ve reached step 4 doesn’t mean you won’t ever experience any heavy emotions, but the moment you want to feel good, you can reach inside without needing any specific technique and bring this peace and happiness back to the center of whatever you are doing and move forward. You are still free to feel angry and sad, but you have become free because you can direct how you feel. When you get to this step, you realize happiness is just a matter of choice. Through this understanding, you have happiness, and you have peace. This understanding doesn’t come from reading books, but from going inside. Self-realization is not yet enlightenment, but it means you have deeply met with the Self, the truth of it, the power of it, so that you can go to this place of peace anytime. The main obstacle in this phase is the temptation to seek a solution outside of the Self whenever unhappiness comes. The main practice in this phase then is to choose happiness whenever you want. By not choosing happiness, it becomes another ego game. In this stage, desire is still there, which is why sometimes you can still be unhappy. When you pursue your desires in this stage, it should happen in dharma, meaning it should not be forceful. When we are going inside, we are trying to find pure consciousness. Once we are there, we realize what is outside is just pure energy. To play the game of energy becomes a requirement on the path of yoga. You must be willing to suffer for your desires. You can play the game and accept that sometimes you lose, knowing that you have this connection inside to the Self. We all would love to be in stage 4, but if you can’t be happy at any time you want, you aren’t there yet. While you have your own personal desires from your karma, you also have your universal karma. We all have a role to play in this universe, and once you have reached this level, the universe will expect you to play your role correctly. The only thing you can do is be your best. The need for discipline here becomes less, but it’s not absent. The relationship with the mind changes because the ego doesn’t resist the practice anymore. The mind is like a dog, and every dog needs some training. You start by putting the dog on a leash, so it learns to obey and not run off by itself. In stage 3, we teach the mind that it’s not the boss, we teach the mind to obey. In stage 4, the leash must go, and the relationship with the mind must change from something that is controlled to something that becomes your friend. You learn here that it’s in the nature of the mind to sometimes get out of control, so you do what’s needed in your practice with no ego resistance. It becomes natural like taking a shower every day, brushing your teeth, fixing breakfast. The mind must become your friend in this stage because the mind is what you are using to fulfill your karmic destiny. Eventually, you won’t need the leash. But first, make the mind your friend. This stage is attainable for everybody in this life.


Step 5: Asamshakti- Nondesire/ The Ultimate Victory

In this phase, there is no personal desire. It is important to note that non-attachment is different than detachment. Detachment is forceful. You think about eating ice cream while you are cutting back on sweets and you say to yourself, “I don’t want it”. When we are in this stage, the thought of ice cream never crosses the mind. You have no more personal desires. There is nothing to do, there is no more effort, and no more obstruction. Soon you will move to the next step because you don’t have desires and are not creating any new karma, so gradually you are clearing out the last part of your subconscious. A person in this phase is one who moves without personal desire, so whatever they do is karma yoga (service). They serve others and pay back whatever remains in their karmic debt. In stages 1-4, there is still doing and trying, and effort. In stage 5, there is not. In this phase, once you have arrived at a point where your personal desires are fulfilled and the connection to the inside is, “why go anywhere else?”, then you can move forward. It takes time to clear karma and be free of karmic debt. Once you have moved through this phase, there is nothing more remaining in your subconscious mind that makes you feel there is something outside of you that you need to do. You have no more personal desire, and you don’t feel that you owe anybody anything. So, what’s the use of staying focused outside? Then, we come to the next step.


Step 6: Padarthabhavana- “Seeing the truth beyond Maya”/ Non-perception

‘Padartha’ means the 5 elements (space, air, fire, water, earth), relating to the phenomenal world. ‘Thabhavana’ means you know this world, and so you are no longer interested in it. When you reach here, there is no conscious action, and no desire to do anything, so a person in this phase doesn't speak much. This is where you are completely inside and focused on the Self. If you are in this stage and not in any of the other stages, it won’t be long until you reach the final step, ‘Turiya’ (enlightenment), which is difficult to talk about.


Step 7: Turiya- Enlightenment

Whenever anyone gets here, please share. I’m sure it will make a great story, as it is beyond my understanding to be without desire, to be completely turned inside. I will bring it back to the beginning paragraph because the concept of enlightenment is difficult to grasp. Just ask yourself the question, “to whom this happens to?”. The Self isn’t getting enlightened because it has been there from the beginning, the body isn't getting enlightened because it’s just matter, the mind is not getting enlightened because it's just some programming, the ego is not getting enlightened because it is just some idea, so who is left? And who is left to say, “I am enlightened”? Enlightenment is not necessarily permanent because you are free (just look at OSHO for example). Enlightenment is a matter of choice. Know that in this doing, in this playing of life, the truth arises. So go on and master your own heart.


References:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trB5YfqFOqY


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