Measuring Tool #2 - Stages of Spiritual Development

Excerpt from Chapter 2 - Measuring Spirituality

As viewed from a Hindu perspective, there are four stages of spiritual development. These are discussed in detail in The World's Religions (Smith, 1991) and are somewhat modified here by this author. Hindus often view human lives in terms of the four major "I-wants" that we pursue: I. pleasure, II. success, III. service and IV. freedom (from attachment). The last of these, freedom, can be easily misinterpreted to mean some childish actions such as throwing a rotten tomato at someone important or having public sex. Instead, think of freedom as freedom/liberation from attachment. (The tomato thrower and the public sex participant are very much attached to anti-authoritarian behavior and excitement.)

These four "I-wants" can be ranked in terms of their level of spiritual development, and they somewhat parallel the normal course of human development as we grow from childhood into adulthood. Most small children pursue pleasure while avoiding pain, but as we grow older, the glamour of excitement and pleasure begins to fade. We lose our satisfaction with things that used to give us pleasure. As ten-year-olds, the excitement of the amusement park merry-go-round has faded; now the exciting roller coaster makes our faces shine. Then, as teens and young adults, our goals usually shift away from excitement to seeking success, perhaps some combination of money, fame (popularity) and power. If these success goals start to lose their glitter, often in late middle age, then the next likely goal to arise will be service. We take satisfaction from doing good works for the world and/or the people in the world. Finally, as life draws to a close, widespread dropping of attachments starts to occur. Pleasure and success hold much less or no appeal and there may be little desire or capability for serving the world ("my time is over"). So how do these common human developments compare with the stages of spiritual growth and development?

There can be considerable overlap between these four stages. People in Stage I in their personal relationships can be in Stage II in their work, or even varying back and forth between the stages from moment to moment at work or at home. Someone who is resisting success "because it is unspiritual to have money" may display signs of both Stage I and Stage III, thus avoiding Stage II.

Attachments to Stage I will be of highest priority to your soul, because they reveal the stuck areas where growth is most needed. Your soul (higher self) will keep creating life situations (giving you what you want based upon your most childish stage) for you to work your way through the issues involved.

Any significant attachment to the benefits of one of the first three stages will prevent full participation in the benefits of higher stage(s) as well as prevent almost all participation in the fourth stage.

Three common traps that hook those in the first three spiritual stages are feeling good, being with others and doing what you want. Those who are attached and glued to these three types of experience rarely, if ever, question them. More details about these traps will appear in later chapters.

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© 2008 by Thayer White
Finding Your Soul in the Spirituality Maze


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Excerpt from Be Your Own Therapist: "Our childhood trauma knots propel us to act differently, to act for Mom and Dad in ways they want us to act, to win their approval to the maximum extent possible. We bend ourselves all out of shape in this search for approval and usually continue to do so well into adulthood."