It takes six weeks of keen application to yoga to make a significant change, three months before the change is apparent to the man himself.
In three years there can be a complete and lasting change of the whole roots of the personality.
Thus each stage is first practised deliberately and systematically; as it becomes more and more powerfully represented in the seed-bed, it becomes natural and spontaneous. In the Gita commentary Shankara gives samadhi the highest place in karma yoga, but it has to spread out from the time of meditation to form a background to the whole life. Let a man have a vision of the Lord all the time, he explains, but in so far as he fails to do this, let him practise samadhi on the Lord at fixed times; in so far as he does not attain samadhi even at these favourable times, let him do all his actions for the sake of the Lord, without performing any for his own personal needs; if he cannot do this for all his actions, then he may also perform actions for personal motives, but he must give up attachment to the fruits of them; whether they succeed or fail, he must be independent and self- controlled.
These are the four stages. Shankara remarks that it is not a question of ruling out the higher stages because one is not yet ‘ready’.
They have to be attempted every day. The continuous vision of the Lord has to be attempted each day, and if it is not continuous (as it cannot be at the beginning) then it must be revived at fixed times of meditation, and if samadhi is not attained, by which all his actions will naturally be for the Lord, then he has to imitate that effect by deliberately making them, doing them in dedication; and in so far as he cannot do this with all of them, let him do some personal actions but holding himself independent and self-controlled. Each lower stage is a purposeful and conscious imitation of the effect which will naturally come about in the higher stage. This is a general principle of yoga training, and of other trainings too – a student of a foreign language learns carefully rules of grammar which later will be used naturally without thinking about them.
Each stage is practised by an effort of will, supported by emotional concentration in the form of devotion, and intellectual concentration in the form of rational conviction. As the stage becomes natural, it springs spontaneously from the sanskaras, and is experienced as will-less joy. There is no will in the consciousness of truth; the will is concerned with removing the obstacles to it.
So for a man at the beginning there is a fourfold exercise of the will, which gradually comes down to a single exercise of it, and then a flooding of the instruments by the divine will, with no individual concerns at all. In the end, no individual will is left.
(i) He must try every day to keep up awareness of the Lord in the universal form, as described for example in the eleventh chapter of the Gita, or the verses of the Chapter of the Self:
It is great, a mass of splendour, all-pervading, the Lord.
He who is in all the beings, wise, immortal, firm, without limbs, without sound, without body, without touch, great, pure –
He is all, the highest goal, he is in the centre, he divides, he is the city.
This awareness, or faith, will frequently lapse.
(ii) At fixed times he sits in samadhi practice on it.
(iii) Until he attains samadhi experience, he must also deliberately set himself to direct all his actions to cosmic purposes,
which he knows of at second-hand from traditions like ‘love the neighbour as the Self’. This practice purifies and calms the mind and brings samadhi experience closer in his set meditation periods.
(iv) At the beginning he finds he cannot give up all his personally motivated actions, so he must make some of his actions for the good of others as an offering to the Lord. He will know whether he has done this by his reactions when they are met with ingratitude, or when they fail completely, or are misused. He may keep his struggle for personal status and comforts and personal attachments, but when he acts for these, he must practise independence and worship. He must not be upset when success produces resentment, when failure produces contempt or accusations. He has to try to control the rush of thoughts and feelings, to be able to forget both success and failure, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, not anticipating them eagerly or fearfully before they come, nor looking back after they go.
When he has gained some independence, he is no longer dominated by the pulls of personal wishes, like a marionette on strings.
He now needs to practise only the three steps. All his actions he tries to make meaningful in the spiritual sense, and he is able to shake himself free from reacting to their immediate success or failure. The lowest stage is now natural to him.
He practises samadhi at the fixed times, and also tries to protect what experience he has by returning to it and reviving it during the day.
The actions are now naturally for the good of all, and he no longer has to think about them. His practice is samadhi at fixed times, and trying to preserve it during the day.
When samadhi experience comes at the fixed times, he seeks to keep ‘yukta’ or steady in samadhi, even when perceiving and acting in the world. The consciousness of Self, which at first comes in flashes longer or shorter, he seeks to make continuous. Finally there is a conflagration, whereas the Gita says the Lord reveals himself as the Self. Shankara calls this the rise of Knowledge.