Four Levels of Personal Progress
For people in the West, Yoga generally refers to physical movements and exercises that bring one a greater sense of physical and vital well-being. Yoga is far beyond that. It is to consciously develop, evolve, and transform our nature. If the physical movements take us from say a level 1 to a level 2, then dedicating ourselves to a life of conscious progress can take us from 1 to a 5, to a 10, or even to 100.
When a person with substantial skills adds similar ones, or a prosperous individual becomes more prosperous through the same methods, then there is growth - i.e. progress that is more of the same. In this scheme, one rises from a 1 to a 1+ or perhaps a 2. On the other hand, improving several parts of our being is a more formidable change and progress that is called development. E.g., a person giving up a persistent grudge about his difficult station in life, or an individual overcoming a virulent tendency to dominate and oppress others would qualify as development. Another example would be a general practitioner becoming an expert pediatrician, or a lawyer becoming a district attorney or even a judge. In our scheme, that individual would move from a 1 to as far up as a 5 or 10, depending on the nature of the change.(Keep in mind that each number upward is not just an incremental increase, but something akin to an exponential one!)
If growth is more of the same (i.e. horizontal expansion), and development is to make considerable upward progress in one's character, station in life, etc. (i.e. vertical expansion), then evolution is to move to a whole new plane of existence. Evolution can occur consciously through a dedicated commitment to change over the course of one's life -- which is essentially what Yoga is -- or it can occur less decidedly and consciously as a result of conditions that arise in one's life. For example, in the film Educating Rita we see how Rita moves from a rough, street-smart woman to a semi-educated individual in an extraordinarily short period of time. She has essentially evolved a good part of her nature to a new plane of existence -- from a vital-focused individual to a more mental-centric one. Likewise, Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmalion does the same as she rises from a flower girl who speaks in vulgar tones to a more polished woman who speaks genteelly and with dignity. A degree of evolution has surely occurred in both instances. In Rita and Eliza's case, it occurred semi-consciously, whereas Yoga enables evolution to occur consciously and continuously throughout one's life. Thus, where development is a movement from a 1 to a 5 or even a 10, evolution takes one much further, to perhaps a 20. Conscious or semi-conscious, or even unconsciously enabled, it is a vast leap, ordinarily reserved for a very few in life.
Having identified these levels of progress, one wonders what is it that we actually change in our being when we develop or evolve ourselves. For one, each of us has several major wanting characteristics in our being. Each of these can be overcome through our willful decisions to change. E.g., I can change two of the most untoward parts of my character -- such as a propensity to laziness and pig-headedness -- to the point that I actually become its opposite; in this case, continually hard working and open-minded. Likewise, a disorganized, weak person could become a fully organized individual who continually demonstrates psychological strength in his behavior. In a life of conscious Yoga, one continually attempts to overcome each of our unique limitations of capacity, skill, knowledge, attitude, opinion, belief, etc. To the degree we overcome our limitations, determines whether we are developing or evolving.
Our limitations of character and capacity do not end there however. For even if we were to overcome all of our own unique limitations, there are also wanting qualities that are common to all humanity -- such as our tendency towards anger, hate, fear, desire, jealousy, and many others primal emotions. In addition to these are the limitations of our habitual nature -- including our tendency to go on repeating our old ways avoiding change, continually rejecting the new and the unfamiliar, and an attachment to fixed opinions and beliefs. Overcoming the limitations of our primal and habitual nature is another goal that can be achieved through a life-long yogic effort.
Beyond development and evolution is the ultimate form of progress -- transformation. Transformation is the changeover from a current human functioning to a higher, supra-human functioning. It is usually enabled by opening to the transformative power of the Spirit. E.g., while a vital/emotional person becoming a rational mental-oriented individual is evolution, transformation would bring about a radical change to the mind itself. Instead of knowing a thing through study, understanding, etc., one could come to know the truth of any subject through descents of intuitions of knowledge. I.e., through a newly formulated spiritualized mind, intuitions of the complete truth of a thing simply descend and appear in our mind without the hard churning of thought. Thus, the mind has been transformed from its usual functioning into its supra-human mental counterpart.
Such radical transformation can take place in the mind, in the psyche, in the emotional/vital centers, in the heart, even in the physical body itself. E.g., one of our other universal limitations concerns our physical body -- including the fact that we experience pain, illness; and that the body withers, decays, and dies. The transformation of the body would overcome this -- as we would live in constant health, and could eventually overcome death itself. That would require the transformation of the physical organs and systems of the body to a new type of functioning, enabling the emergence of a new type of human being. In our scheme of things then, such transformation would be a further exponential change that would take us beyond a 20, up to 100.
At whatever level we make our change -- development, evolution, or transformation -- we can utilize the power of the Spirit to help us along the way. We can offer up to the Divine any aspect of our nature that we wish to change, which will attract its infinite power to aid in the change. From our side we can make every effort to attain the necessary knowledge to understand this process, and make all necessary psychological and behavioral change to overcome the offending parts. It is a life-long endeavor, demanding vigilance, dedication, and sincere effort. It is Yoga in action.
Yogic life culminates when our entire being is surrendered to the Divine Will, Purpose, and Influence. We become in all aspect of our lives -- physical, vital, mental, and spiritual -- instruments of the Higher Functioning. It is the ultimate possibility of human existence, and the culmination of Yoga in life.
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