„Is there a way to test our level of consciousness?“ An interesting question that was raised during a workshop on personal growth that I gave this weekend. The Enneagram, a system of spiritual psychology, is a course that I used to teach, which describes different personality types and how they behave in certain patterns. Alongside the character descriptions, different levels of consciousness are given. These analysis match very well with the descriptions of the three gunas (Modes of Nature) as we find in the Bhagavad Gita.
While the higher levels of consciousness are characterized by maturity and selfless service (goodness - sattva guna), the average levels are dominated by selfish desires centered around the concept of I and mine (passion - raja guna). The lower levels of consciousness are controlled by ignorance (tama-guna) and are mentally disturbed and unbalanced states of existence which ultimately lead to destruction. These stages also show the degree of freedom and awareness a person possesses. In the healthy levels of consciousness, we have a certain freedom to make conscious decisions in life and to respond to our environment with wisdom, compassion, and love. The patterns of our false ego have less control over us. The more we get bound up by passion and ignorance, the more we come under the control of our lower natures.
Generally, we tend to possess an idealistic image of ourselves. Therefore, for any inner work or spiritual practice, it is very important to be introspective. We have to learn to admit our weaknesses and to be realistic about our spiritual progress. We would like to see ourselves as very mature and advanced, but in reality, it is often slightly different.
But how to test it? How do I know my level of consciousness? How do I know the degree of my spiritual advancement? This is a very relevant question. Would it not be great to have something like a `spiritual advancement barometer`?
The good news is that there are ways to measure our advancement! Most probably the best way to ascertain where we stand in spiritual life is to always seek the association of more advanced devotees. Certainly, the Sadhus will point out our shortcomings and will help us to see ourselves in the proper way. Also, in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, we find some hints. Throughout his writings and during his conversations, Srila Prabhupada spoke about various ways to test ourselves.
„if you feel new and new energy, then you know that you are serving spiritually. This is the test. Your enthusiasm will increase, not decrease. So the test is within our hand. If during maṅgala-ārati we feel laziness, that means I'm not yet spiritually advanced. And if one feels enthused, "Now it is time for maṅgala-ārati. Let me stand up, let me do this," then it is spiritual. Anyone can test.“ 1
Spiritual practice is supposed to be always new and fresh. Although externally we may do the same thing again and again, but internally we should feel more and more enthused. Enthusiasm is a great indicator for our advancement.
„Devotee means the first sign will be happy, brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā [Bg. 18.54]. If he's not prasannātmā, he's a rascal. He has not entered even devotional life. He's outside. That is the test. Just like Dhruva Mahārāja. When he saw Viṣṇu: "Everything is all right. I don't want anything." Svāmin kṛtārtho 'smi [Cc. Madhya 22.42]. That is Vaiṣṇava. And if he is still in want or unhappiness, that means he has no spiritual life at all. He is simply making a show.“ 2
What a powerful statement. If one is not blissful, he or she has not entered devotional life, that’s the test! Krishna Consciousness is our original state of existence, if it is reawakened in our heart we will naturally feel very satisfied and happy. Therefore we can ask ourselves, how much happiness do I feel from within? And how much do I still try to find happiness outside of devotional practice?
The answer is a good indication of how much we have already advanced on our spiritual journey. Therefore, as Srila Prabhupada used to say: „Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!“
(Next Blog will explore further signs of advancement in spiritual life) 3
1 - Srila Prabhupada Lecture on Bhagavad Gita 2.21-22, London, August 26, 1973
2 - Srila Prabhupada Morning Walk, Melbourne, April 24,1976
3 - Special Thanks to Ratna Bhusana Bhusana Prabhu who presented these Prabhupada Statements in his Workshop `Accelerating Anartha Nivritti`