The creator of The Basket of Tolerance offers a seven-stage model to help make sense of the contradictions between traditional spiritual teachings which might otherwise seem inherently opposed to one another. What follows is my own understanding of that model — please consult Adi Da’s words elsewhere for greater accuracy.
1st stage of life – individuation / physical development
The 1st stage of life involves adapting to human life as distinct from the mother; adapting to food-taking; an ordeal of weaning, or individuation; physical growth and adaptation are emphasized. Roughly corresponds to the first seven years of life (0-7).
This stage is usually not fully completed, resulting in complications and feelings that “individuation” means being cut-off from love and sustenance.
2nd stage of life – socialization / emotional development
The 2nd stage of life involves becoming more aware of the emotional dimension of life; social adaptation; learning how we feel and how others feel about us; gender awareness; a natural awareness of the etheric (life-energy) dimension of experience. Roughly corresponds to the second seven years of life (8-14).
This stage is usually not fully completed, resulting in lingering complications and feelings of being rejected by others and wanting to punish others.
3rd stage of life – integration / mental development
The 3rd stage of life involves mental development; capacity for abstract thought & speech; ability to use discrimination and exercise the will. Integration of physical, emotional, and mental dimensions of human life, so the body-mind functions as a single unit. Roughly corresponds to the third seven years of life (15-21).
Most often, this stage is not built on a successful adaptation to the first two stages, resulting in complications and failed adulthood — a person alternates between wanting to be childishly dependent and wanting to be independent but without responsibility. A successful adaptation would show signs of equanimity, discriminative intelligence, heart-feeling, and a continual desire to grow beyond one’s egoic habits.
The first three stages constitute basic human growth from birth to adulthood, and would ideally be completed by one’s early 20’s. The subsequent four are uncommon stages achieved by rare saints, yogis, sages and so on.
4th stage of life – spiritualization
The 4th stage of life involves serious devotion to God or to an other-serving disposition. Full awakening of the heart center (anahata chakra). Profound love, compassion, and self-sacrifice. Using the body to serve, 24/7. Possibly a descent of Divine spirit-current from above, into the body, which may then ascend up the spinal line to rest at the ajna door or third eye — this illumination is symbolized by halos in some classical art. This Divine descent is sometimes called spirit baptism.
This stage might be described as the highest realization of certain saints or bodhisattvas in a wide range of traditions. Adi Da suggests that the error in this stage of life is presuming that the human personality is inherently separate from God & everything else.
5th stage of life — higher spiritual evolution
The 5th stage of life involves full awakening to subtle levels of existence beyond the physical dimension. Possible visions, sounds, and spontaneous psychic powers. Movement of the spirit-current into the higher regions of the brain, above the ajna door (or third eye), possibly to the crown of the head (sahasrar), triggering a yogic meditative stage traditionally called nirvakalpa samadhi (formless ecstasy), in which all awareness of body and mind are temporarily dissolved in bliss.
This is regarded as the highest realization in certain Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist schools, and some types of shamanism, among other traditions. Adi Da suggests that the error in this stage of life is the recurring feeling of separation and dilemma, and the continual effort to escape the body by directing one’s attention upward into infinite Light.
Note: I don’t think the phenomena associated with the 5th stage of life are necessary for happiness, well-being, or ultimate realization. However my sense is that the phenomena associated with the so-called 4th stage of life are pretty handy – such as the awakening of the heart (called by some “the middle station of the heart” or “the anahata chakra.”). I haven’t met anyone yet who is greatly realized who has a shut-down heart.
6th stage of life – awakening to the transcendental self
The 6th stage of life involves relaxation of identification with body and mind; realizing that one is merely the witness of all phenomena that arise, while life continues. In its genuine form (rather than just “talking school” ideas in the mind), this is considered the pinnacle realization in certain schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism.
Attention may be felt to arise in the right side of the heart where the sino-atrial node, or natural pacemaker, is. Adi Da suggests that the error of the sixth stage is a lingering stress, or dilemma, and a desire to withdraw from conditional objects and experiences.
7th stage of life – complete Divine Enlightenment
The seventh stage of life demonstrates perfect understanding; no dilemma; no separative identification with body, mind, or attention. Recognition of all arising phenomena as Divine, as temporary and non-binding modifications of Consciousness Itself. No need to seek for a different state of body or mind, but a spontanous disposition of love and service.
In the body, the Divine spirit-current is regenerated in the right side of the heart and flows up to the crown of the head, and then circulates down the front of the body and up the spinal line of the body. The body-mind is radiant with no sense of problem, under any conditions.
[These descriptions are condensed and paraphrased from pp. 392-398 in Drifted in The Deeper Land: Talks on Relinquishing the Superficiality of Mortal Existence and Falling by Grace into the Divine Depth That Is Reality Itself, by Adi Da Samraj. (Middletown, California: The Dawn Horse Press, 1997.) And then I added some of my own comments. Quite possibly my own misunderstandings have crept into the descriptions here.]
For more information, please see The Seven Stages of Life, a book by Adi Da.
P.S. When I first heard about this seven-stage model, I wanted to use it to pigeon-hole people and cultures so I could feel I had “control” over them. But that’s probably not a proper use of it.