4 Step Program to Enlightenment

June 23, 2014    BY Linda Johnsen

Want to follow the path to enlightenment? You don’t have far to go.  According to the yoga tradition, the soul has only to take four steps and it’s there. The first three you already know well. But the last one is a doozy.

The story of the four steps is found in the Lakshmi Tantra, a voluminous text full of spiritual techniques, written somewhere between 800 and 1100 A.D.

The story of the four steps is found in the Lakshmi Tantra, a voluminous text full of spiritual techniques, written somewhere between 800 and 1100 A.D. It begins with a description of Anasuya, one of the most famous female masters in yoga history. The text tells us she was extremely intelligent and highly educated, familiar with many different spiritual traditions, and had a loving, tranquil nature that delighted even the gods. Legends about Anasuya go back more than four thousand years and are almost certainly based on a real female adept.

As the Lakshmi Tantra opens, Anasuya (like many women today) decides she wants to learn more about the Great Goddess, the feminine face of the divine spirit. So she approaches the famous sage Atri and asks to be initiated in the tradition of the goddess Lakshmi.

If you’ve ever visited India, you’ve seen Lakshmi’s picture everywhere. To the common people, she is the goddess of wealth and good fortune. You’ll find posters and statues of her in banks and businesses, grocery stores and sari shops. But to yogis, Lakshmi means something very different. In her pictures, two of her hands sprinkle golden coins downward onto her devotees. Her other two hands hold up lovely white lotuses, symbolizing the gifts of the spirit that are available to yogis who are wise enough to ask for inner treasures that time (and stock market disasters!) can never take away.

The sage Atri explains to Anasuya the difference between bhavat and bhava.Bhava is the eternal, unchanging reality, he tells her, the pure being experienced in the deepest states of meditation. Bhavat is the impermanent, continually changing world of the mind and the senses, the world of becoming. In the tradition into which Anasuya is being initiated, Lakshmi stands for bhavat, the infinite universe in continual flux, while Lakshmi’s divine husband, Vishnu, represents bhava, pure consciousness.

In vast cosmic cycles, Atri continues, Lakshmi, or the universe, emanates from Vishnu, or pure, radiant being. Lakshmi is the energy of consciousness—pure intelligence. She manifests all the dimensions of reality and all the states of awareness out of a trillionth part of her limitless majesty.

But how can we experience Vishnu and Lakshmi not just as words, but as living realities?

But how can we experience Vishnu and Lakshmi not just as words, but as living realities? The Lakshmi Tantra describes a number of spiritual practices that can expand our awareness and carry us to the supreme state where god and goddess exist in perfect union.   One of the easiest involves just four simple steps.

The Four-Step Program

The first of the four steps is called jagrat, which means the waking state. The yoga definition of jagrat is that your mind is lucid and your five senses are directed outward toward the external world.

The second step is svapna, or the dream state. In this condition your mind is only partially lucid. Your five senses shut down and the inner organs of consciousness switch on, attending to the images held in your mind itself rather than to external objects.

The third step is sushupti, or deep sleep. In this state even your inner senses shut off and lucidity is lost altogether. You become completely unconscious.

The fourth step is the tricky one. The Lakshmi Tantra says that only the wise, those people with an acute meditative focus, can master it. It’s called turiya, which literally means “the fourth state.” In the text, the goddess Lakshmi herself explains: “In this state you avoid the unconsciousness of deep sleep, yet your whole being is completely tranquil. Your mind and senses are as still as if you actually were asleep, yet you remain fully awake, serene and clear.”

How can average yoga students like most of us reach this fourth state? The secret, the goddess tells us, is mantra. “I am the mother of all mantras,” she says. “They surge up in me like waves in an ocean of consciousness. Then these beautiful sounds, resonant with consciousness and bliss, subside back into me, having released their blessing power.

“Some mantras carry you to bhavat. Others take you all the way to bhava. Those who desire the pleasures of the material world use mantras to help them acquire objects in the world of becoming, such as health, prosperity, fame, or romance. But those who aspire to the highest goal follow their mantra across the waking, dreaming, and sleep states into the last, highest state of awareness.”

Following the Sound

The Lakshmi Tantra describes several different types of sacrifices an aspirant can perform to win the goddess’ grace. There are external rituals in which flowers and incense are offered to an image of Lakshmi, and there are internal rituals in which you imagine offering precious objects to the Divine Mother. Mantra japa is still another kind of inner ritual. Here you sacrifice your attention into the fire of consciousness.

In this practice, you mentally repeat your mantra hundreds or even thousands of times a day. The sacred sound resonates continuously in your mind till you don’t even have to think it—it repeats itself in your mind. Its blessing energy fills your subconscious, purifying the furthest corners of your mind. And each moment when you’re not having to focus on some external activity, your mind returns to the charming sound of the mantra instead of to the usual internal chatter we carry on with ourselves in our heads.

When the mantra becomes a part of your daily awareness, the text tells us, an amazing thing starts to happen: you find yourself dreaming your mantra. It repeats itself even while you dream because the waves of its energy have percolated into your subconscious mind. And after some time you’ll find that even when you awaken suddenly from a deep sleep, your mantra is still sounding. It’s been echoing in the chambers of your mind even while you were unconscious!

“Mantras have a powerful purifying effect,” Lakshmi says in her Tantra. “Follow your mantra from the waking state into dreams and then into deep sleep. In the end it will guide you into the highest state, into my living presence.

“Mantras have a powerful purifying effect,” Lakshmi says in her Tantra. “Follow your mantra from the waking state into dreams and then into deep sleep. In the end it will guide you into the highest state, into my living presence.

“The mantra will transport you across the dark sea of unconsciousness into a lucid state beyond waking, dreaming, and sleep. Merge with your mantra into that fourth state, which is my blissful, illuminated essence.”

You actually experience this state for brief moments throughout the day, but may not recognize it. When you’re fully alert but your mind is completely still, you’re in the state of turiya. You’ll find it in the quiet pause between your thoughts, in brief flashes when some news or event stuns you into mental silence, and you’ll find it in silent meditation.

Listen to the sound of your mantra as you sit for your meditation practice. Then release the sound but attend to the inner feeling the mantra leaves behind. Follow this subtle feeling into the living stillness of your undisturbed inner awareness, the matrix of consciousness and energy from which the mantra first emerged. Remain as physically and mentally still as you can, but fully awake. Don’t fight with any thoughts that arise. If thoughts or images disturb your meditation, return to the sound of your mantra and gradually follow it back into perfect silence.

As the Lakshmi Tantra ends, Anasuya gratefully accepts the teachings of the goddess as conveyed to her by the sage Atri and begins to practice these techniques conscientiously.

It’s worth noting that Anasuya was not an ascetic who lived in a cave but an Indian housewife who managed a busy household. She achieved enlightenment as she went about her daily duties, setting an important example for the rest of us! Enlightenment, she shows us, is not some seemingly unreachable goal we can attain only many lifetimes in the future when we live in a cave in the Himalayas. It’s a practical goal we can reach right now. But it does demand our concentrated focus and continual attention. For those who are willing to do the inner work, it’s just four steps away.

Linda Johnsen
Linda Johnsen, MS, is the author of numerous books including Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece and Meditation Is Boring? Her most recent book is Kirtan! Chanting as a Spiritual Practice. Visit her at ThousandSuns.org.