State vs Stage on the path*. This topic has come up in a lot of private conversations lately so I thought I might write about it here. It is especially important when people are claiming to have crossed the abyss, attained enlightenment, completed the great work, found their will, Rigpa, non dual awareness, the grades of Master of the Temple or Magus, or Ipsissimus. These things all imply a certain gnosis or realization, and this is where the idea of a state and a stage become crucial.
STATE: State of mind or being. We can use dual awareness as an example.
STAGE: A stage of development is the taking of a particular state of being and making it permanent or at least your normal state of being.
A non magical example that is sometimes given for this is a case of playing music. A student may have a moment where they are able to play piano like a virtuoso, but it is only by work that he can make it his normal skill level.
Similarly people can find non-dual awareness, states of arising bliss and descending wisdom, holy euphoria, grace, clarity and so from all kinds of activities, but it is only by serious work that these states can be made into stages. Even the states that need to be realized through effortless release take work to let go of our normal patterns and clinging.
The problems arise when people who experience a state fool themselves into believing that from that point forward they are at that stage. In the higher states of awareness we get a sense of the innate perfection of everything, how there is not a hair out of place in the whole of the universe, and how in fact we have always been in this state of being – we just have not realized it. The problem comes that as we slip into our normal modes of awareness, and we have to leave our temples and deal with the world, we start to enforce this view incorrectly.
For instance if we cling to the idea of innate perfection just as things are, we can interpret this as it being OK or even pre-destined that people are poor or suffering, and neglect our duty to those around us. In fact the perfection experienced in these higher states is not reliant upon the relative level proceeding according to a grand plan, but the fact that the ultimate level of everything is so inherently perfect that its perfection cannot be stained by events on the relative.
Another way to put it: A mirror that reflects dog shit doesn’t damage the mirror, but if one is for the most part locked into dealing with the reflection as ones reality it would be nice to not have to stare at dog shit all day.
It is common to hear about Guru’s and Spiritual Teachers who get accused of all kinds of reprehensible acts. Sexual impropriety, assault and battery, extortion, theft, slavery. These kinds of stories pop up here and there in western occultism and are even more prevalent in eastern mysticism and religious circles. The strangest part is that even the people who make the accusation are quick to admit that such teachers often did display remarkable wisdom, realization, and clairvoyance, as well as traits like compassion and love. One of the reasons for this is that because they are often experiencing heightened states of awareness, they believe themselves to be fully at that stage of awareness and lose sight of just how clinging and deluded they still are. Urges to fuck that hot student even though she is happily married MUST be ok and even holy because after all, I am enlightened and have always been from the beginning right?
Being surrounded by students who look at you as a living god doesn’t help matters. This is one reason that are ready to call you out on your shit are a VALUABLE tool.
This kind of confusion between State and Stage happens at lower levels too, even at the very beginning. There is nothing like a few genuine visions of the astral, or sightings of spirits, to make one believe that you are now at a stage where you are fully clairvoyant. Suddenly every shadow, every glimmer out of the corner of the eye, its the imagination and blossoms into a full scale psychic soap opera.
The message of the post is just this: no matter where you are in your path, keep some humility. Don’t get high on your own Bullshit. It is better to appear to be at a lower stage than you really are and have amazing peak experiences of higher states than it is to appear at a higher stage than you really are and lose track of just how far you have yet to go.
*This is a phrase used by Ken Wilbur and has special meaning within his integral system of AQAL. I mean it in a much more general way that he does and do not mean to be presenting a teaching on his system of thought.