In the course of sádhaná the sádhaka [spiritual practitioner] has to pass through four stages: yatamána, vyatireka, ekendriya and vashiikára. There is a shloka [couplet]:
Yacchedváuṋmanasi prajiṋastadyacchejjiṋána átmani;
Jiṋánamátmani mahati niyacchettadyacchecchánta átmani.
[Wise persons first merge their indriyas, sense organs, into their citta, then their citta into aham, then aham into mahat, then mahat into jiivátmá, and finally their jiivátmá into Supreme Consciousness.]
In yatamána, the first stage, the mental propensities are directed towards the citta [objective mind, mind-stuff]. It is a very difficult stage: difficulties arise from within as well as without. The internal difficulties are created by the untrained mental propensities, which misbehave like wild animals. After a moment of control, off they go again, dashing about like unbroken horses. The external troubles arise from concerned friends and relatives who resent the spiritual beginner’s efforts. They fear that he will become an ascetic and renounce worldly ties. These internal distractions and external pressures try the patience and steadfastness of the spiritual novice.
In the second stage, vyatireka, the propensities are directed from the citta to the ahaḿtattva [doer “I”]. This stage is less trying than yatamána. In fact, occasionally it is slightly pleasing. The kicking wild horses have been broken to some extent, and for brief intervals these partially-tamed mental propensities do follow the direction from the citta to the ahaḿtattva. During these intervals the sádhaka enjoys bits, shreds, and glimpses of bliss. Tears of such bliss may roll down his cheeks. In this period the external pressures are also lessened, because friends and relatives have become somewhat reconciled to the other-worldly pursuits of the sádhaka.
In the third stage, ekendriya, the upward direction is followed from the ahaḿtattva to the mahattattva. As the very name ekendriya implies,(1) the sádhaka gains control over some single propensity or organ, which brings to him a corresponding occult power.
Occult power (called vibhúti or aeshvarya in Sanskrit) is the supernatural power gained from the practice of the psychic mystic cult. The eight vibhútis are ańimá, laghimá, mahimá, prápti, iishitva, vashitva, prákámya, and antaryámitva. This stage marks a great step forward. However, this is a dangerous stage also. The danger comes more from inside than from outside. The sádhaka may get intoxicated with the feeling of the occult power and be tempted to abuse it. Moreover, there is the external threat that somebody may provoke him into such abuse. Any misuse of these powers causes a setback or even a downfall in the spiritual journey. Abuse of power is bad in any sphere. Even in the temporal sphere misuse of power leads to downfall. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – unless there is the strength to control the power.
The fourth and last stage of sádhaná is that of vashiikára, when the propensities are all completely directed from the mahattattva towards the one original and ultimate Self: that is, the sádhaka is established in his svabháva [nature] and svarúpa [own form]. As the very word vashiikára implies [vash means “control”], all the propensities are completely under control. Worldly friends and relatives have already deserted the sádhaka as they desert a dead body after cremation or burial, and he becomes merged in the permanent and lasting Self, Brahma.
The sádhaka should ask for and pray for the Lord Himself and nothing else. He should not even pray for worldly power without at the same time praying for the ability through sádhaná to restrain that power. Better still, if the Lord is so omnipotent as to be able to grant the worldly power and the spiritual strength to restrain that power, then why not pray for the Lord Himself? Boons (baradánas) may be pleasing to some, but in reality they are simply an adjustment in time, shape, or [degree of concentration or dispersion] of what the sádhaka is entitled to by virtue of his karma. If one attempts to acquire power that is beyond his due, he may find that his inability to handle it makes a menace out of a seeming boon.
There is the story of the grant of a dried hand of a monkey to an aspirant. The dried hand was powerful enough to fulfill three wishes. The grantee first of all demanded a fortune of fifty thousand rupees from the dried hand. In a few moments there came a knock at his door and a man appeared with fifty thousand rupees; but this money represented the insurance payment of his son, who had suddenly died in an accident. The grantee, who regarded himself as a clever person, demanded as the second request that the son should be brought to him alive. In a few moments there came the clattering sound of somebody approaching the house. When the father looked out, to his horror, what was coming was the skeleton of his deceased son. It was walking by itself and therefore might be said to be alive, but it was nevertheless a skeleton. The father was so terrified that he asked the dried hand of the monkey to drive the skeleton away. The dried hand did this, but it was the last of the three wishes and the dried hand was exhausted of its power. So the father got his fifty thousand rupees, but lost his son.
(1) Eka in Sanskrit and Sanskrit-derived languages means “one”. –Eds.