How to measure spiritual advancement

The reason why I’ve been thinking about the Kardashev scale was actually its applicability to spiritual evolution of the individual, but explaining the entire process of my thinking might be long and involved.

Let’s just start with the statement that religions, in general, talk about a being that is level 6 on the extended Kardashev scale – having total power over the “multiverse”, essentially being able to define and spawn new universe-types and universes of a given type, at will. Basically, if we assume that a civilization or a being can conceivably reach that level of power, who is to say that it hadn’t happened already, and religion is, basically, a way to conceptualize such a thing from the perspective of bronze age peoples? From my perspective, this way of looking at things is fundamentally flawed, because it implies existence of some “real” universe where all this evolution essentially happens ex nihilo, eventually producing a God, which is not at all how I perceive those things, but it’s useful as a way of getting a certain materialistically conditioned type of a person out of their conceited stupor. As I see those things, God is not at some place; God is the super-mind, super-reality from which all lower realities derive substance. If you want, God is the hardware, and universes are software.

But let’s ignore God for a moment and think about an individual soul and its spiritual evolution. In order to define progress, we need some sort of a frame of reference, a coordinate system that would define things such as “better” and “worse”, or more and less evolved. Vedanta gives one answer – the world is a virtual reality system, “maya”. Brahman is the hardware, the actual reality. Atman, or individual soul, is how brahman is perceived when seen through the limiting filter of a body. In realization that atman, the “self” of a being, is actually The Self, the sole “I” of brahman, that gives reality to all things by virtue of being the true, absolute reality from which all lesser realities are derived, one attains the state of liberation in the knowledge that I Am.

Buddhism has a similar answer. This world is a complex trap that is powered by our investment of energy into the various mirages it keeps spawning; something like an electromagnet that keeps our cage locked, and we provide the electromagnet with power by incessantly pedaling the dynamo that powers it. Buddha’s answer is to stop powering it, suffer all the blows passively as to expend the momenta of past actions and investments of energy, wait for the energetic whirlpools to power down, and simply levitate away into the freedom of nirvana, where all the illusions we’ve been powering with our desires, fears and actions have been depleted of energy, ceased to exist and exposed the blissful nature of nirvana beneath all that mess. Buddha refused to speak about the nature of that state, finding it self-defeating: you can’t even imagine it in your present state, and it’s best not to try, because any way you try to imagine it will just add a layer of illusion to a mind that already has too many. You need to remove stuff, not add more. When the actual thing reveals itself, only then will you be able to experience it.

As theories go, these are fine, but the devil is in the practical details. You see, there are saints, the spiritual achievers, who had certain experiences, who have certain powers, and who are very much all different, and it would be helpful to have some idea about their respective spiritual stature. This is not merely a dick-measuring contest: if there are two people who both obviously had powerful spiritual experiences, and they teach different, often completely incompatible things, it would be highly useful to know whose teaching is higher, or, more accurately, whose teaching is merely a phase that will at some point be transcended.

Since both Vedanta and Buddhism seem to teach something along the lines of a discrete point in spiritual progress where complete and unconditional liberation is attained, the idea about quantifying progress of people who claim enlightenment sounds incredibly misguided, at first, but if you tried making sense of something like Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”, where various enlightened masters are mentioned, it is quite obvious that some are “more enlightened” than others. Vedanta, and, indeed, Yogananda, would attempt to explain this by claiming that all but the highest Masters are not enlightened enough, that some degree of separation exists between them and the Absolute, and if you’ve been following my writing with any degree of attentiveness, you will know that I find this explanation to be fundamentally flawed. They will let you believe that “enlightenment” is the goal, and spiritual magnitude is the way there. I, however, am more inclined to claim the opposite: “enlightenment” is merely an experience, an insight in how things look from a certain standpoint, which is truly more valuable than a normal human deluded state, but which by itself doesn’t really solve any problems. It merely shows you the point of reference by which one is to measure spiritual worth. It shows you sat-cit-ananda, the absolute reference-point of virtue, from the First Person perspective. But when you try to embody virtue – you can call it wisdom, love, understanding of reality, the ability to confer reality upon others – there are suddenly very real quantitative and qualitative differences that become quite apparent when you compare a beginner yogi who had an experience of samadhi, and someone like Krishna, or Shiva. In Buddhist terminology, it’s a difference between a monk who attained enlightenment, and Tara, whose teardrop of compassion can cast a tulku who can outshine the said monk in every possible way one can conceptualize enlightenment. It’s not a subtle difference in taste, it’s a difference between a flashlight and a Supernova explosion. Something more is going on here, and neither Vedanta nor Buddhism provide us with a satisfactory answer with their illusion/enlightenment dichotomy.

My modified version of the Kardashev scale quantifies civilizations by their degree of mastery of various aspects of the material universe – ability to produce food on their own, ability to understand physical laws and apply them to their own uses, ability to eventually create synthetic life and synthetic mind. The essential implication is that depth of understanding of reality results in increasing levels of power. The reason why I’ve been contemplating this in the recent days is that, apparently, the same principle applies to spirituality.

I don’t mean something as silly as the siddhi, as they are known in the scriptures. No, I don’t really define siddhi as being able to levitate or teleport or materialize another body, or some other, similarly material manifestation. In fact, I am wary of the material manifestations, because of who made this world and who controls such things. No, I define siddhi in the most radically different way, so radical it’s a direct translation of the sanskrit word. I define them as “achievements”. To achieve results of practice is to be a siddha: the one who achieved. To me, it means being established in a certain state of consciousness and being able to wield spiritual power the way ordinary humans can wield thoughts and emotions, or use their hands. It means being able to dress unspeakable states of consciousness into words, and accompany those words with the darshan of the actual thing you are talking about, being able to wield its living presence. Being able to influence physical matter is conspicuously absent from my definitions because, for all intents and purposes, it’s not a spiritual power, it’s something that can be blocked or granted by anyone with authority over the physical plane. Spiritual power, or spiritual achievement, means literally being able to wield spiritual substance. So, let’s create some quantitative frame of reference.

Let’s say that a person who practices some form of spirituality, but has no actual achievement, doesn’t really exist on this scale – that person is below level 1. Level 1 is the state in which a yogi has a degree of spiritual enlightenment, or participation in the Divine through darshan or samadhi, where he learns to exist in that state while he or she acts in the world. The point where the yogi in question manages to maintain the meditative/enlightened state while acting in the world in any way or form, is the point where the yogi is established as a level 1 siddha, albeit a beginner at this level.

This means that if you had an experience, and this experience shuts down when you speak, and you are locked out of it because you spoke egotistical bullshit, trying to claim it for your own selfish limited uses, you failed to achieve, and your experience is not in fact yours. The way you make it yours is by living in ways that are of God. By living in ways that are of God you claim God as your true nature, which is the true meaning of the level 1 siddhi.

If you live God as a level 1 siddha consistently, and you extend your awareness in ways that awake God in other beings and things, you achieve the level 2 siddhi. A level 2 siddha leaves a trail of blessings, objects of power, spiritual experiences in other people, and holy scriptures and artifacts.

Level 3 is somewhat difficult to describe. Total loss of identity-separation between limited-self and Divine-self, loss of the need to “fight ego”, assumption of the Divine role, loss of trying, and of spiritual practice, where one is no longer a yogi because there no longer is a yogic practice, just a name-and-form thin layer that wraps the reality of God-identity and God-power into a presence, that is level 3 siddhi.

Level 4 closes the ring of Creation as the total manifestation of Absolute in the Relative, the crown of all Creation, the goal of the existence of the Relative, master of The Jewel that maintains all worlds in his mind, whose is the ultimate, supreme victory.