Sooner or later every spiritual seeker encounters some theory which explains the different levels of consciousness. The spiritual evolution of man, so these theories uphold, builds up in different phases towards a climax of wisdom and perfection. In other words: there are different steps on the ladder that leads to enlightenment. The first step, it mostly goes, is the realisation that there is ‘more’ in this world and the last step is total unification with the divine that hides behind that ‘more’. Sadly enough one of the most necessary in-between steps on this path to God is often forgotten: to understand that there actually aren’t any levels at all.
The contradiction is of course obvious: the different phases supposedly build up to spiritual unity but a distinction in phases in fact disrupts that apparent unity. The one who places himself on levels, phases or steps, shows himself from his most unspiritual side: he distinguishes himself as more or less ‘advanced’ than others. Instead of disentangling the ego – which is what true spirituality does – such a level-theory thus only makes it bigger.
Nevertheless many mystics describe the different phases of spiritual development. In a lot of Sufi literature, for example, one can find various descriptions of the different steps the true Sufi goes on the spiritual path. Do I therefore claim those Sufis were wrong? Of course not. Who would I be to deny the wisdom of great masters like Rumi or Junayd? I do not doubt for a moment that they were able to break the ego and can teach us many things on how to do so as well. I only wonder whether they are comprehended correctly when it comes to the present topic for the fact that few Sufi masters describe exactly the same type of inner evolution shows there is no single set of spiritual levels. These sages therefore do not offer us defined spiritual phases upon which one can place oneself to boast about one’s spiritual level or to brag about the depth of one’s wisdom. They do offer us their personal example and they tell about the different ways in which their soul wandered the earth one moment and stayed in heaven the next.
It goes without saying that a spiritual seeker passes different phases. Just like a child becomes an adult and an adult an elderly, a spiritual seeker goes from realisation to understanding and from understanding to enlightenment. But how exactly, at which moment and through what kind of experiences is always different.
There simply isn’t any level higher or lower than the other. Different spiritual experiences or insights come to different seekers on different moments. Wisdom seeps into the soul at the necessary and or at a God-given moment.
Hence, one person cannot be ‘further’ than another. On his own a person can be more bound or free – and it is up to every person to seek what exactly binds or frees him – but that has nothing to do with the supposed level that he’s ‘beyond’ or ‘behind’ others. It does, on the other hand, have to do with the way in which one has allowed God into one’s heart. The depth of one’s heart is not measured to man but is mirrored to God.
Towards God one can have more or less devotion but within God there is only unity. Just like one can love others more or less at certain times, but within love, there is no degree.