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There are seven main ways of spiritual realization. In general, they correspond to the seven types of energy Rays, but some reservations must be made. The ways are not clearly divided and, in fact, often overlap partially.
By Roberto Assagioli, date unknown, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence. Translated by Gordon Symons. Original title: Le Sette Vie Per La Realizzazione Spirituale. (www.psicoenergetica.it)
(Editors note: this might be an essay to the Group for Creative Meditation, an esoteric group Assagioli instigated and was engaged with, due to the mentioning of the two spiritual principles in the last paragraph of this text: the principle of Unanimity and Essential Divinity, which are central for this group. If so, this text is from the late sixties or early seventies. There is also a lot of identical text in this essay compared to another text published in 1976, The Seven Ways of Self-Realisation, so this could be an older version of the 1976 article.)
The word spirit lends itself to misunderstanding, confusion and misunderstanding. This is certainly not strange, if one thinks that misunderstandings and errors arise regarding other words too, which designate more defined and generally accessible facts and concepts. They can arise all the more, and indeed have arisen, with respect to a word that indicates a reality so high, so difficult to grasp and to experience, and almost impossible to formulate rationally. Therefore, it is all the more necessary to try to clarify it and to specify it.
Let us first see what the spirit is not.
There is often confusion between spirit and intelligence, confusion favoured by the ambiguity of the words “esprit” in French and “Geist” in German, which are used to designate these two different realities. At other times the spirit is used in the sense of psyche, of a psychological nature: for example, in the expression “the spirit of the times”, even when speaking of times that are not in fact spiritual.
In trying to designate what “spirit” means, we must clearly distinguish what it is in its essence and in its ultimate reality, from its manifestations; that is, from the characteristics with which it is revealed to us, the ways in which we perceive it and recognize it in our soul, in others, in nature and in history. Spirit itself is the Supreme Reality in its transcendent aspect, that is, absolute, devoid of any limitation and concrete determination. Spirit therefore transcends every limit of time and space, every bond of matter. Spirit is in its essence, eternal, infinite, free and universal. This supreme absolute Reality cannot be known intellectually, but can be rationally postulated, grasped intuitively, and experimented – in some measure – mystically.
Given this, we come to consider the manifestations of the Spirit that are accessible to us and that concern us more directly. Spirit is the element of transcendence and superiority; of permanence, power, freedom, interiority, creativity, harmony and synthesis, in every manifestation, both individual and social.
Thus, to some extent, everything in man that induces him to overcome his egoistic exclusivism, his fear, his inertia, his hedonism, is spiritual; all that leads him to discipline, to master and to direct the instinctive and emotional unrestrained forces that stir in him; all that induces him to recognize a wider and higher reality – social or ideal – and to insert himself in it, going beyond the limits of his own personality.
In this sense, they are or can be – to some extent – spiritual manifestations:
- courage, as the overcoming of the instinct of physical survival;
- love and dedication to another being, to the family, to the homeland, to humanity, as the overcoming of selfishness;
- the sense of responsibility;
- the sense of cooperation, sociality and solidarity, which can reach friendship and brotherhood;
unselfishness, and even more so, sacrifice;
- the will in its true sense, as a principle and power of self-control, choice, discipline and synthesis;
- understanding, which is the enlargement of our sphere of consciousness, identification and sympathy with other beings, with other manifestations of universal life; the recognition of its meaning and purpose, of a Will and an intelligent, wise and loving Power, from which the universe originates, which directs its evolution and guides it towards a glorious goal.
Not all of these manifestations of the Spirit have this value; that is, they are only relative to the individuals or social group in which they are revealed. So that those that represent a transcendence, an overcoming or a liberation for one individual or a human group, can instead constitute a limitation, a barrier for another, and therefore represent something not spiritual, or even anti-spiritual for the others. Here you can’t put labels or give absolute and static judgments. We are in the field of concrete differentiated life, inserted in time and space, in matter, and therefore in a field of relationships, perspectives, scales of values, hierarchies and developments.
Thus, for example, the physical courage that serenely confronts dangers can be a genuine expression of spirituality, but more primitive and elementary than moral courage. The love of the family, which brings us out of the selfishness of the isolated man, which makes us accept duties and responsibilities, is a form of appreciable spirituality, but it is inferior compared to a love, to a solidarity and a dedication towards a whole people with its millions of individuals, or to a related community, or even to the whole of humanity.
It should be noted, however, that these increasingly wider circles of spiritual life do not nullify or exclude the previous ones, but rather postulate them. Only by degrees can man recognize and realize ever wider and higher aspects of spirituality.
The different spiritual ways of approaching Reality have long been recognized in the East, particularly in India: in the poem the Bhagavad Gita it is clearly stated: “Whatever way men come to Me, in that way I accept them. On all paths men follow My path.”
The chapters of this poem admirably expose the various ways, each of which is followed by a particular type of person, according to the different degree or level of inner development.
There are seven main ways of spiritual realization. In general, they correspond to the seven types of energy Rays, but some reservations must be made. The ways are not clearly divided and, in fact, often overlap partially. Some individuals may follow two or three ways simultaneously, this is because there are no pure types of representative of a type, and also because each of us has different Rays or qualities that manifest themselves in the different aspects or levels of our being. There is a ray for the physical body, one for the emotional, one for the mental, one for the whole personality and one for the soul. Advanced individuals, as well as aspirants and disciples, who have an integrated personality, strongly show the characteristics of the personality Ray, but they also feel the growing influence of the Ray of the Soul, and this often leads to a conflict between two. But all paths tend and lead to the same great goal, therefore the higher the level reached by individuals, the greater is the overlap of the influences of the Rays and of their mixing and fusion.
Now let’s quickly examine each of these ways.
1. The Heroic Way
It is spiritual because it leads to the overcoming of the most deeply rooted personal instincts, those of self-preservation, of attachment to one’s personality. It implies the renunciation of the personal “I”, and can be called the path of self-sacrifice, of immolation. This is the general attitude that manifests itself in various degrees and at various levels. The heroic way involves first of all sacrificing oneself to one’s family, or one’s loved ones, or one’s country. Especially in the past, it was common to face dangers and even give one’s life for one’s country. Others dedicate themselves to a cause or an ideal, others to all of humanity. In the various fields there have been heroes, including saints in the religious field and great humanitarians in the social field.
2. The Way of Enlightenment and Inner realization
The heroic way can be considered extrovert, while this is clearly introverted, in the best sense of the term, or we could say superseded, directed upwards. In a general sense it can be called the way of Raja Yoga; it begins with concentration, the control of the restless mind, which is used in meditation by transferring the consciousness upwards, through various stages up to the pure contemplation of the realities seen with the eyes of the Soul, to use symbolic language. The result of having successfully traveled this route upwards is the illuminating, that is a sense of light that is often dazzling and almost blinding in its intensity. The experience of light sometimes comes without preparation, suddenly and unexpectedly. Paul’s enlightenment on the road to Damascus is the most prominent and well-known example.
Saul became Paul of Tarsus by virtue of a sudden and unexpected illumination. Others have had similar experiences to a lesser degree. But more often the illumination is presented gradually or in a succession of increasing illuminations. Not only do these illuminations bring light internally, but they give the revelation of divinity, or reality, in others and in the whole manifested world. The greatest known examples of those who have trodden this path are the Buddha and the Christ; Buddha means the Enlightened One, and Christ said: “I am the Light of the World”.
3. The Way of Action (Karma yoga)
This way of action is in a sense an extrovert way, similar to the first, but it also has an introverted or upside-down aspect; that is, the consecration of actions to God, to the higher Reality. It implies the consecration of every activity to a higher Reality or goal. Therefore, consecration is a way to make life sacred. This is also expressed very well in the various chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, which speaks of the Yoga of Renunciation of Action. This does not mean renunciation in the sense of not acting, but renounces the fruits of one’s action. And so, in a certain sense, it is also indicated in the Voice of Silence: “Action and inaction can find a place in you”. It is action performed, but inaction in the sense that it is not accomplished with any personal purpose.
4. The Aesthetic Way
This can be defined as the realization of divine immanence through beauty. It has been said that beauty is God’s signature. The wonder of beauty in nature and in living creatures is an indication of something infused in form, of something superior of which the forms are the indices. This was best said by Plato, when he speaks of the scale of beauty: first we admire the beauty of physical forms, then we rise to the realization and admiration of inner beauty, of higher and inner qualities, or virtues. From here we lean towards the idea of beauty, the source of all beauty in its essence, towards what we could call the archetype of beauty, which in itself is independent of all forms, but incorporates itself into all beautiful forms.
This type of realization is spontaneous in all those who have a more or less developed aesthetic sense. Artists ardently try, sometimes desperately, to reproduce it in their creations: paintings, sculptures and music. But its essential and spiritual nature does not appear clearly and is not easily recognized, and often only distortions result from many efforts. These are therefore more or less happy attempts to grasp something that is not material, which is not form, but which gives the sense of beauty to the form, and therefore this is a way that leads to spiritual realization. For some it is the only way to reach transpersonal reality.
5. The Scientific Way
This is not new, but recently it has attracted more and more attention because the progress of science and its great discoveries have revealed to everyone the wonder of the universe and its immensity. The great steps on this path have been: the expansion from the Ptolemaic view – according to which the Earth is the center of the universe – to the Copernican vision, according to which the Earth is only a planet that revolves around the Sun. Science has gone further, and the Sun is considered today as a star among many others in a galaxy. In recent years it has been ascertained that even this galaxy, our Milky Way, which previously appeared – and is – so huge, is only one of the millions of galaxies scattered in the immensity of the universe. At this point has astronomy arrived, but new discoveries are made almost every day. One of these is that there are probably celestial bodies invisible to our eyes, which corresponds to the esoteric teachings about the etheric manifestation of certain planets and the existence of higher beings. All this produces a sense of wonder and reverence, and leads to the recognition of the superhuman.
But it is even more important that the scientific study of the universe has demonstrated the existence of a cosmic order in which the movements of celestial bodies obey precise laws. Let us realize how wonderful it is that these movements can be calculated and predicted thousands of years in advance. For example, we know the exact moment when the eclipse and the full moon will occur. This wonderful order in the universe obeys laws that can be expressed in mathematical formulas. Pythagoras said: “God geometrizes”, and recently scientists, particularly Einstein, have discovered mathematical formulas that indicate both the great astronomical facts and, in the field of physics, infinitesimal life. Einstein and other scientists – astronomers and physicists – have come to a spiritual conception of reality through this scientific approach.
It is a way to which young people respond, and for those of us who are interested in esoteric and spiritual matters in general, it would be good to know it better, first of all to know ourselves more deeply, then as a means of arousing interest in young people, so that they can better appreciate the higher realities. Physics has contributed as much as astronomy to the demonstration of the fact that everything is energy. It has been said that the revelation of God as energy should be considered even greater than that of God as Love: they are two aspects of the same, ultimate reality.
6. The realization that God is love leads to the Devotional-Mystic way
Almost all religions exalt it, and mystical experience has been experienced by countless individuals throughout all ages. It is the law of devotion, but not so much of devotion through action, as devotion through feeling, through love. In the East it is called Bhakti Yoga, and the Christian mystics have all followed this path. They tried to express their experiences – which in reality transcend the verbal expression – through the symbolism of love; which has often been misunderstood and interpreted in purely human terms. Love as an attraction between opposite poles exists on all levels, from the physical to the divine, and there is a quality common to all these types of attraction. The big difference between human and mystical love is that physical and emotional love is an attraction on the same level, a horizontal attraction that goes well in its own place and for its own function. Mystical love on the other hand is vertical: it is the attraction from above and the aspiration from below, which produce a gradual approach and the final unification.
It could be said that there is also an intermediate direction of devotion between the horizontal and the vertical, namely the diagonal direction. This is devotion to something higher, devotion to a Great Being, an ideal or an idea or a cause that is not the ultimate reality, but is above the average human level. There is therefore an essential quality common to all species and levels of love, but there are also great differences in them depending on their direction. More attention should be paid to this, and a real scientific study dedicated.
But going back to the mystical experience in general, it transcends words, it is as ineffable as, in a sense, all superior experiences. It can only be symbolized by words, but these cannot transmit it directly. The same applies to the aesthetic sense: we possess it, or we do not. No one can convey, through words, the meaning and reality of an aesthetic experience to someone who is not open to it; just as it is not possible to explain in words what red and green are to someone who is born blind. There is a psychological blindness that does not allow us to understand, to realize the experience of others. Words can only evoke something already existing in the other and take it from the unconscious to the conscious; they cannot, however, create it if it does not exist.
7. The Ritualistic or Ceremonial Way
This Way is based on the powerful influence of sound, color, perfume, symbolic action, rhythmic movement and the use of words, formulas and mantras. All official religions have made and make great use of ritual to reawaken religious emotions and create a channel of communication that can make real communion with Beings and higher realities possible. The supreme use of this ritualistic way was made in the Ancient Mysteries. We do not know exactly what these were, but we know that they led to the spiritual awakening of those who participated. They were recognized as rites of initiation, and through the combined use of the elements just mentioned, i.e. sound, color, perfumes and especially symbolic acts, they could awaken, sometimes suddenly and dramatically, the spiritual consciousness of those who took part in them. These Mysteries and these ceremonies have existed in all civilizations. Only now in our present civilization are they neglected, minimized and ignored, except by some religious people. But we can assume that in the future, in the Civilization of the New Age, the Mysteries will be reinstated. This will be the most important step in creating a new religiosity, whose perception is one of the ways in which we participate in the great transcendent realities. We can begin to awaken it in ourselves and also in those with whom we come into contact, thus contributing to the manifestation of the new religiosity.
A certain degree of knowledge of these different ways of spiritual realization obviously has value, because it helps us to understand and appreciate the various types of people and the ways of approach that they choose, and this produces the tolerance so necessary in the spiritual field. So many conflicts and even wars have occurred in the religious field over the centuries, and this broader understanding can help create the necessary religious peace. Furthermore, it constitutes an important component of loving understanding, which is one of the primary requirements of spiritual life.
But we cannot advance by simply understanding and appreciating these seven ways for others. We all have latent possibilities in ourselves, and often there are opportunities offered to travel these different paths, or occasions that evoke one or another of these approaches in us. This happens very often with beauty. If we look at beautiful things not only from a purely objective and aesthetic point of view, they can in fact remind us of the Supreme Source of all beauty. By contemplating the beautiful things that we are surrounded by, a flower, glorious scenery or other aspects of beauty, we can remember and even be brought into contact with Its Source, its origin, its essence in the one Reality.
So too is it for action. Whenever we do something, we should remember that there is a Great Supreme Agent of Action, a great Creator. Each of us in our humble and limited way fulfills, in essence, the same functions as the Great Creators, the Supreme Creator. Whenever we create something in the external world, and even more, whenever we recreate ourselves, we essentially – and to a very small extent – do what the Great Creators do. This can be summarized in the fact that the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm. And in this sense we can really consider ourselves as collaborators and co-creators of the Great Manifestation of God. This gives a new meaning and a new dignity to all our actions.
In this way we can proceed with understanding and camaraderie alongside all the other pilgrims, whatever path they follow. We can realize our unanimity of aspiration, and understand that we all have the same goal, despite the differences in method. Method, etymologically understood, means a way. Through this unity in diversity, through this unanimity, we can, united, make the spiritual approach to the essential Divinity, in each, in everyone and in the immense Whole.
 See also Assagioli’s article about the seven rays here: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/individual-psychology-and-spiritual-development-part-5/