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In this article, Assagioli gives us an inspiring introduction to the seven ways to Self-Realisation. There are according to this view many ways to enlightenment, some are characterized by will, love and beauty and others are more practical. A great piece of work.
By Roberto Assagioli, Source The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust. This article by Roberto Assagioli was first published in Communiqué, May 1976. Roberto Assagioli working with Michal Eastcott and Nancy Magor co-founded the Group for Creative Meditation in 1956.
Up to recent times the words spiritual and religious were generally considered as synonymous, but the specifically religious approach to Reality, to God, is only one of the various possible approaches. The word spiritual is, in fact, often used in a loose way; at the same time it is a term which arouses suspicion or antagonism in many, and recently a group of forward thinking psychologists – among them the late Abraham Maslow , who started a scientific study of the higher aspects of the human being – have begun to use the word transpersonal.
It is a good word because it is neutral and general and yet describes the specific quality of the realms of experience and being which are “trans” – beyond – the normal, let us say, beyond the average level of personal living. There are a number of these psychologists and a Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is published which emphasizes this new study. *
The different spiritual approaches to reality have long been recognized in the East, particularly in India; and in the great poem The Bhagavad Gita this is clearly stated:
“As men approach me, so do I accept them. Men on all ways follow my path.” (1V, 11)
The chapters in this poem admirably expound the various ways which are each suited to special types of people and their different degrees or levels of inner development. I recommend the translation of The Bhagavad Gita by Radhakrishnan; it has an excellent introduction and illuminating comments.**
There are seven main ways of spiritual or Transpersonal realization. The ways are not sharply divided; in fact, they frequently overlap to some extent. Some individuals may follow two or three ways concurrently; this is because there are no pure types, and also, each of us has different Ways or qualities manifesting in the different aspects or levels of our being. But all ways are directed to and lead to the same great goal, therefore, the more balanced the individual, the greater the overlapping of the ways and their blending and fusing. With these reservations let us take a bird’s-eye view of each way.
The way of Will
The first can be called the Heroic Way or the way of the Will; it is Spiritual or Transpersonal because it leads to overcoming the most deeply rooted personal instinct, that of self-preservation, the attachment to one’s personality. It entails the giving up of the personal self and might be called the way of self-sacrifice, of immolation. That is the general attitude, but it is demonstrated in various degrees and at various levels.
The Heroic Way involves first of all sacrificing oneself to one’s family or dear ones, or to one’s country. In the past, especially, there was a readiness to incur dangers and even gives one’s life for one’s country. Others dedicate themselves to a cause, to an ideal, and yet others to the whole of humanity. There have been heroes in various fields including the saints in the religious field, and the great humanitarians in the social field. This needs little explanation; it is a very clear and direct way. But to follow it is another matter and at present it is not a very popular approach. It has never been what can be called popular, but now it is even less so.
The way of Love
The second way to spiritual realization is the way of Love or the way of inner illumination and realization. The Heroic Way can be considered extroverted, while this way is distinctly introverted, in the good sense of the word, or we might say “supra-verted”, directed upwards. In a general way it could be called the way of Raja-Yoga. It starts with concentration, the control of the unruly mind; this is then used in definite meditation, taking the consciousness upwards through various stages to pure contemplation of the realities seen, symbolically speaking, with the eyes of the Soul.
The outcome of a successful treading of this upward way is illumination, a sense of light, which is often dazzling and almost blinding in its intensity. The experience of light sometimes comes without preparation, suddenly and unexpectedly. Paul’s illumination on the road to Damascus is the most outstanding and well-known example of this; Saul became Paul of Tarsus through a sudden, unexpected illumination. Others have had similar experiences in a lesser degree. But more often the illumination comes in a gradual way or in a succession of increasing “enlightenments”.
These illuminations not only shed light inwardly, but give a revelation of the divinity, or reality in others and in the whole of manifestation. The greatest known examples of those who have travelled this path are the Buddha and the Christ; Buddha means “The Enlightened One”. And Christ said, “I am the light of the World”.
The way of Action
The third way of spiritual approach is that of Action, Karma Yoga . This way of action is in a sense an extroverted way like the first, but it has also an introverted or supra-verted aspect – the dedication of actions to God, to the higher Reality. It entails a consecration of all activity to a higher reality or aim; consecration has the same root as sacredness; therefore this is a way of rendering life sacred. This is also very well expounded in various chapters of The Bhagavad Gita. It is also called in the Gita, The Yoga of Renunciation of Action. This does not mean renunciation in the sense of not acting, but renunciation of the fruits of one’s action. And so in a sense, as it is put in The Voice of the Silence: “both action and inaction may find room in thee”. It is action performed, but inaction in the sense that it is not done with any personal aim.
The Aesthetic way
The fourth way is one of the best known – the Aesthetic Way. It can be called 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 the form, of something higher of which the forms are indications.
This way has been expounded best by Plato. He speaks of the “Ladder of Beauty”; first one admires the beauty of physical forms; the one rises to the realization and admiration of inner beauty, of the higher, inner qualities or virtues. From that one reaches towards the idea of beauty, the source of all beauty, which in itself is independent of all forms, but “informing” itself in all beautiful forms.
This kind of realization is spontaneous in all who have the aesthetic sense more or less developed. Artists try eagerly, sometimes desperately, to reproduce it in their creations, paintings, sculpture and music. But its “essential” spiritual nature is not obvious and is not easily recognized, and distortions often result from these efforts. They are attempts, however, more or less successful, to catch something which is not material, which is not the form but gives this sense of beauty to the form, and therefore this is a way to spiritual realization. For some it is the only way to reach towards a transpersonal reality. (Much more could be said about this aesthetic sense, but this is on only a very brief panoramic view).
The Scientific Way
Then there is the Scientific Way. This is not new, but it is one which has recently been attracting more and more attention because the progress of science and its great discoveries have brought to everybody the wonder of the universe and its immensity.
The great steps on this path have been: first the expansion from the Ptolemaic view that the earth was the centre of the universe, to the Copernican view that the earth is only a planet revolving around the sun. From there science has gone much further and the sun is regarded as just one star among countless others in a galaxy. But in recent years event that galaxy, our Milky Way, which previously seemed – and is – so enormous, has been recognized as only one of millions of galaxies scattered in the immensity of the universe. That is what astronomy has reach up to now, but new discoveries are being made almost every day. One such is that there are probably invisible celestial bodies, which ties in with esoteric teaching on the etheric manifestation of certain planets and the existence of higher Beings. All this gives a sense of wonder and awe, and leads towards realization of that which is superhuman.
But what is even more important is that scientific study of the universe has shown the existence of a cosmic order and that the movements of the celestial bodies obey definite laws. Let us realize the wonder of the fact that those movements can be reckoned and foreseen thousands of years ahead. For instance, we know the exact moment when there will be a full moon. This wonderful order in the universe obeys laws which can be expressed in mathematical formulae. Pythagoras said that “God geometrizes”, and recently scientists, especially Einstein, have discovered mathematical formulae to describe both the great astronomical facts and, in the field of physics, the laws governing infinitesimal life. Einstein and other scientists, astronomers and physicists, have reached a spiritual concept of reality through this scientific approach.
It is a way which appeals to the young, and it would be well for those of us who are interested in spiritual matters in general to become more acquainted with this way, firs, for one’s own deeper understanding, and then as a means of arousing the interest of young people and leading them to a greater appreciation of the higher realities. Physics has done as much as astronomy to demonstrate that all is energy. It has been said that the revelation that God is energy should be considered even greater than the revelation that God is love. They are two aspects of the same ultimate Reality.
The Devotional Way
The realization that God is love indicates the sixth way, the mystical, Devotional Way. It is the most well known because almost all religions emphasize this, and the mystical experience has been achieved by countless individuals throughout the ages. It is the way of devotion, but not so much of devotion through action as devotion through feeling, through love. It is the specifically religious way – mystical union with God through love. In the East it is called Bhakti Yoga, and the mystics of the Christian religion have all followed this way. They have tried to express their experiences, which are really beyond verbal expression, through the symbolism of love, and this has often been misunderstood, and interpreted in purely human terms.
Love as attraction between polar opposites exists on all levels from the physical to the divine, and there is a common quality in all these kinds of attraction. The great difference between human love and mystical love is that physical and emotional love is an attraction on the same level; it is a horizontal attraction which is all right in its proper place and for its proper function. Mystical love, on the other hand, is vertical; it is the attraction or pull from above and the aspiration from below (all relative terms) which bring about a gradual approach and final unification.
One might say that there is also an intermediate direction of devotion between the horizontal and the vertical – the diagonal. This is devotion to something higher, a greater being, or an ideal or idea, or cause which is not the ultimate reality but is above the average human level. So there is an essential quality common to all kinds and levels of love, but there are very great differences in them according to their direction. This should be given more attention and real scientific study.
But coming back to the general mystical experience, it is beyond words; it is ineffable, as, in a sense, are all higher experiences. It can only be symbolized by words; they cannot convey it directly. It is the same with the aesthetic sense; we either have it or not. No one can give through words or convey the meaning and reality of an aesthetic experience to someone who is closed to it. Just as one cannot explain in words what red or green is to someone who was born blind, so there is a psychological blindness which does not allow us to understand, to realize the experience that others have had. Words can only evoke something already existing in the other, and bring it from the unconscious to the conscious; they can clarify, confirm and justify something, but they cannot create it if it is not there.
The Ceremonial Way
Finally, there is a seventh way – the Ritualistic or Ceremonial Way. It is based on the powerful influence of sound, colour, perfume, symbolic action, rhythmic movement and the use of words, formulae and mantrams. All orthodox religions have made and make a great use of ritual to arouse religious emotions and create a channel of communication which can make possible real communion with higher Beings and Realities.
The highest use of this ritualistic way was made in the ancient Mysteries. We do not know exactly what was made in the ancient Mysteries. We do not know exactly what they were, but we know that they led to the spiritual awakening of those who participated in them. They were avowedly rites of initiation, and through the combined use of the elements just mentioned – sound, colour, perfumes and especially symbolic actions – they could awaken, sometimes suddenly and dramatically, the spiritual consciousness in those who were taking part.
It is said that higher Beings are present at such ritualistic ceremonies and are able to act through them. These Mysteries and ceremonies have existed in all civilizations. It is only now, in our present one, that they are neglected, belittled or ignored except by certain religious people. But we can surmise that in the future, in the civilization of the New Age, the Mysteries will be restored.
This will be a major step in creating a new sacredness. The sense of sacredness is one of the ways through which we participate in the great transcendent realities. We can begin to reawaken it in ourselves and also those with whom we come in contact, and thus contribute to the development of the new sacredness.
The Way of Transcendence
One more way should be mentioned to complete the picture – The Way of Transcendence, of pure Transcendence and Identification. In a sense this way is beyond all those that have been mentioned, but little can be said about it because there are no words to describe it. We can only say that it exists and try to understand more of it by using the Buddha’s method of negation: it is not this, not that, no thing. Some of the Eastern Schools emphasize this way to Spiritual Realization, and some of the Western Mystics, especially Meister Eckhart, have attempted to describe it and give hints about it. But it is a way which is only for a very few.
It is obviously of value to have some knowledge of these different ways towards spiritual realization. It helps us to understand and appreciate the various types of people and the approaches which they choose; this brings that tolerance which is so needed in the spiritual field. So much conflict and even war has gone on in the religious field through the centuries, but this wider understanding can help to create the necessary “religious peace”. Also, it is an important part of the loving understanding which is one of the pre-requisites of truly spiritual life.
But we can go beyond simply understanding and appreciating these seven ways for others. All of us have possibilities that are latent in us, and often there are opportunities when we can tread these different ways, or occasions which evoke in us one or other of these approaches. This happens most often with beauty. If we look at beautiful things from not only the purely objective aesthetic angle, they can remind us of the high source of all beauty. Through contemplation of the beautiful things we are surrounded by – any flower, glorious scenery, or other aspects of beauty – we can be reminded of and even put in contact with its source, its origin, its essence in the one Reality.
The same with action. Whenever we do something we could remind ourselves that there is one great, supreme Agent of action, one great Creator. Each of us in our own humble and limited way fulfils in essence the same functions as the great creators and the supreme Creator. Whenever we create something in the outer World, and even more, whenever we re-create ourselves, we are doing “essentially”, in a very small way, what the great creators do. This can be summed up in the fact that the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm. And in this sense we can really consider ourselves as co-workers, collaborators and “co-creators” in the great manifestation. This gives a new meaning and a new dignity to all our actions.
We can proceed in this way with understanding and companionship alongside all other pilgrims, whatever way they are following. We can realize our unanimity of aspiration and that we have one and the same goal, notwithstanding the differences of method. Method, etymologically “origin”, means “way”. Through this unity in diversity, through this unanimity, we can make united spiritual approach to the essential divinity in each, in all, and in the great Whole.
* Available from: P.O. Box 4437, Stanford, California, U.S.A. 94305.
** Published by Allan & Unwin, London.
Here you can find more inspiration
Here you can buy Integral Meditation – The Seven Ways to Self-Realization, By Kenneth Sørensen
Read the intro article about Integral Meditation
Read the intro article about Psychosynthesis
Read the intro article about The Seven Types
Here you will find a biography about Roberto Assagioli