What Is the Final Stage Before Enlightenment?


Namaskaram. I have read books and watched videos of many yogis and what they had to say about enlightenment. From what I have understood, to reach enlightenment or absolute emptiness within oneself, One has to either "jump or fall into a bottomless pit,which is called “falling upward." I want to know what the last step towards enlightenment is like. Does one have to remain in a state of silence for a period of time to completely dissolve, and what kind of preparation is needed to "fall upwards"?

—Krishna Vasudeva, Canada


Dear Krishna,

Enlightenment is achieved not by self-effort alone; nor by mental willingness, nor by any mere technique or method. The very position the soul finds itself in — wrapped in the cocoon of ego and bound by the cords of countless past actions motivated by the ego’s self-protective, self-affirming likes and dislikes — means that even when the intellect, spurred by intuitive memory (smriti) seeks moksha (freedom from the self-made prison of ego), it will need a “prison guard” to unlock the door.

No one has judged us and condemned us to the prison of separateness other than ourselves. Yet, having done so, we are locked in and have given away some of the power we once had which might have allowed us to escape.

The reason for this is partly that the soul, once freed, is released into the Infinite Spirit. It is that divine power that is needed, in addition to our wholehearted effort, to bring us back into the soul’s natural state of Infinite Bliss.

So having pointed this out, what I have heard time and again from various sources — such as you have referred to in your studies — is that the last stage of the soul’s long journey through time and space and into enlightenment takes the form of what many call “the dark night of the soul.” There are probably as many ways to describe this as there are souls who have experienced it, so we mustn’t be too sure of ourselves.

Nonetheless, the soul, having struggled mightily to throw off the shackles of the demands of ego, and having done so with the additional power of divine grace from God in the form of the guru, now must confront the possibility of its own extinguishment: nirvana (no vanas, no thing, no existence).

This equates symbolically in the Mahabharata with Bhishma on the battlefield, his body upheld by arrows, giving a final sermon before using the boon that he would die only when he was willing to do so. The ego is the last frontier because it was the first act (of rebellion) of the soul to affirm its own power and existence. So in the end it must surrender. And no amount of intellectual posturing or books can rationalize away the reality of the seeming possibility of self-annihilation. The fact that nothing in God is ever lost is a point learned, but it must be earned the hard way with faith and tremendous courage.

Thus symbolically some speak as if the Light of Truth and of God is snuffed out in what is said to be the very last test. The ego is centered at the base of the brain, the yogis tell us. It is the sixth chakra. The door to enlightenment is the positive pole of the sixth chakra: the kutastha chaitanya, the point between the eyebrows. Enlightenment can be described in yogic terms as the permanent movement of our center of “gravity” (sense of selfhood) from the medulla to the spiritual eye. The ego, then, is the last to fall; the last illusion or delusion to be overcome. The ego helps us to overcome all lesser delusions on our journey northward to enlightenment. But in the end the ego too must surrender its separate existence.

But those who teach that this is the last step are wrong, so Paramhansa Yogananda, Adi Shankycharya, and many others have taught. After we pass the test of nirvana — emptiness, the void of self — the Light returns like a mighty wind or tsunami to welcome us into cosmic consciousness: the realm of Bliss beyond Creation. The details are more specific, but the general idea will have to suffice for our purposes.

Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book on raja yoga meditation, Awaken to Superconsciousness, put it similarly as you have stated but in these words: “Meditation is upward relaxation into superconsciousness.”

But we cannot do this alone because we are not alone; we are not separate. We must draw upon the power from which we have come. This is the only power in the universe: the divine light. Being also in human form, the transmission of grace comes most readily through the living, human form of the sat (true) guru who, once having descended, is forever accessible by devotion, service, and attunement. Our human body has the potential for cosmic consciousness in the way it is divinely made (nervous system, chakras, etc.) and intended. The proof of this is the living example of Self-realized souls through whom the power and grace flow to sincere devotees.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add this postscript: upon achieving enlightenment (which includes nirbiklapa samadhi by definition), the soul becomes a jivan mukta. But past karma still exists. The soul can work earnestly or slowly on unraveling the sense of Doer-ship in relation to past actions, for it has nothing to fear or lose. Much more could be said about this stage, but for now let me simply say that final liberation, or moksha, occurs at last when the soul is freed from all karma and becomes a parammukta.

May the Divine Light shine upon you,
Nayaswami Hriman