What are the stages of a disciple’s spiritual progress?



1. What does spiritual progress depend upon?

1.1 Before and after acquisition of a Guru

The following table illustrates the main factors upon which spiritual progress depends before and after the acquisition of a Guru.

The importance
before acquiring
a Guru %
The importance
after acquiring
a Guru %
1. One’s own efforts 40 10
2. Destiny 60 30
3. The Guru’s grace 60
Total 100 100

1.2 The progress in a seeker and a disciple

A seeker without a Guru can on an average make progress upto 0.25% per year and that too only upto a spiritual level of 50-55%. Contrary to this, the one doing spiritual practice under the guidance of a Guru, can make progress of 2-3% per year and one bestowed with the Guru’s grace of upto 5-8% per year and the progress can occur upto 80-100%.

1.3 If no progress occurs then the disciple is at fault

‘Saints always bestow one with the best. If They do not, then one must realise that one is lacking in something.’(1)

1.4 The grace of the Guru (Gurukrupa)

Refer ‘point The Guru’s grace (Gurukrupa)’.

1.5 The type of disciple, the spiritual level, maximum spiritual progress, the duration required for it and the Guru’s contribution

Types Spiritual
level %
progress %
required for the
progress (years)
The Guru’s
1. Inferior 40 48 13 25
2. Medium 50 65 9 30
3. Superior 60 85 5 35

A seeker of an inferior level can acquire a Guru only if he has intense motivation for Liberation (mumukshutva).

2. Changing the Guru

In this context, one should take a decision considering the following points. However doing what another spiritually evolved person recommends would be even better in this regard.

2.1 Changing the Guru by oneself

A. If one feels distressed with the spiritual practice advised by a Guru, one should ask the reason for the distress. If one’s doubts are not cleared or the distress is severe, then it should be stopped and the Guru should be changed. A Guru had advised one of His lady disciples to worship Lord Shri Datta. After commencing that spiritual practice, she experienced discomfort. Another saint asked her to worship a female deity (devi). After commencing this spiritual practice, not only did she not experience any discomfort; but on the contrary, was benefitted by it. The point to be noted here is that if someone is afflicted by distressing energy, then initially one may be troubled by the spiritual practice advised by the Guru. At such times, continuing the same spiritual practice eventually overcomes the distressing energy.

B. After being in the Guru’s company if one realises that ‘the Guru’s spiritual knowledge and spiritual experiences are inadequate’, etc. or due to some reason if doubts about the Guru’s potential are generated in one’s mind, then one should change the Guru.

C. ‘Do what the Guru says, not what the Guru does.’ If a Guru were to go to a prostitute a disciple would follow suit but when the Guru swallows pieces of glass, the disciple loses courage. Some feel that changing the Guru due to the above mentioned reasons like the Guru’s external behaviour implies that ‘one’s spiritual level is low and hence one is blaming the Guru’ or that ‘one is lacking in faith’. At such times instead of wasting time in analysing whether one’s spiritual level is low or that of the Guru is low, changing the Guru is the best solution because once a doubt is generated in the mind, spiritual practice does not occur smoothly.

D. ‘अनभिज्ञं गुरुं प्राप्‍य संशयच्‍छेदकारकम्‌ ।
गुरुरन्‍यतरंगत्‍वा नैतदोषेण लिप्‍यते ।।
मधुलब्‍धो यथा भृंग: पुष्‍पात्‌ पुष्‍पांतरं व्रजेत्‌ ।
ज्ञानलुब्‍धस्‍तथा शिष्‍यो गुरोर्गुर्वन्‍तरं व्रजेत्‌ ।।

Meaning: If a disciple’s doubts are not vanquished by an ignorant Guru and the disciple goes to another Guru capable of eliminating his doubts, then he does not incur any sin. Just as a honeybee flits from one flower to another in search of honey, so also a disciple desirous of acquiring spiritual knowledge goes from one Guru to another till he acquires it.’(2) In this context, the Gurus so acquired by the disciple desirous of spiritual knowledge are only teachers and not real Gurus. Lord Dattatreya chose twenty-four Gurus (Shrimadbhagvat, skandha 11). They were not Gurus but only teachers or assistant teachers.

‘Datta: O King Yadu, you will wonder what the need is to have so many Gurus when only one is capable of endowing one with Self-realisation. Will it not make one the target of criticism like an adulterous woman? The answer to this is that, to attain Self-realisation only one Guru is sufficient. If one develops doubt about His preaching, one should get rid of it. To be able to perceive the soul principle which is common to all creation, visible and invisible I accepted the qualities of these objects as my Gurus. Thus the spiritual knowledge (dnyan) that my Guru endowed me with has been strengthened by accepting these attributes as the Gurus.

E. यत्रानंद: प्रबोधो वा नाल्‍पमप्‍युपलभ्‍यते ।
संवत्‍सरादपि शिष्‍येन सोऽन्‍यं गुरुमुपानयेत्‌ ।। – शिव पुराण

Meaning: If after practising Spirituality as advised by a Guru one does not acquire even a small quantity of Bliss and spiritual knowledge, then one should certainly take guidance from another Guru. – Shiva Puran

F. The Guru who cannot endow spiritual practice after acquiring spiritual knowledge, should be rejected. Samarth Ramdas swami describes this as,

Gurus who neither instruct the disciple to do spiritual practice,
Nor train him to gain mastery over his senses,
Are worthy of rejection; even though they are available by the dozen.
– Shri Dasbodh 5.2.21

G. Akin to Shri Ramakrushna Paramhansa who wished to acquire the experience of Self-realisation through various paths of Spirituality, after attaining Self-realisation one may accept a Guru with authority in the respective path. Generally a majority of the Gurus have knowledge only about the particular path through which They have performed spiritual practice. However, one should remember the example of the great Saint Gulabrao Maharaj of Vidarbha who says, ‘Once one acquires the genuine experience of Self-realisation, one does not even think of acquiring it through various paths.’

2.2 Harbouring the fear that the Guru will be enraged, if one is changing to another Guru

One should not fear that the Guru will be enraged by changing the Guru; because genuine Gurus never get angry and there is no need to fear the wrath of a fake one.

2.3 Changing the Guru according to the directives of one’s Guru

A. If one feels like changing the Guru then, only after seeking the permission of the Guru should the Guru be changed.

B. If the Guru so commands, “Now for further guidance He is your Guru” then considering it as the directive of the Guru, one should go to the Guru indicated by Him.

2.4 One should not change the Guru

A. Some change their Guru as their desires remain unfulfilled. They fail to comprehend that the Guru’s real mission is to destroy desires.

B. If spiritual progress is occurring smoothly, then one should not change several Gurus. This is just like one continuing a medicine to which one is responding, without changing it.

C. Thinking that ‘my Guru is not appropriate, I must change the Guru’ is considering oneself to be more knowledgeable than the Guru.

D. Losing faith in the Guru: Inspite of following his Guru’s advice a disciple suffered each time.

  • He got his daughter married but she had intense suffering at the in-laws place for two to three years after marriage.
  • One son refused a job abroad and stayed back in India. The company in which he was employed had to be closed down.
  • The second son was not settled in his business even after five years.
  • He himself suffered a loss; as he was not given a commission by his employer.

On asking the Guru about this on several occasions the Guru gave replies such as ‘you did not do spiritual practice appropriately’, ‘you did not undertake spiritual practice with faith’ and ‘as a disciple, I am responsible for you, not for your children’. The disciple felt all these were just excuses.

If this happens, one should consider this to be one’s ‘test’ and should continue one’s spiritual practice without losing faith. The Pandavas underwent so many tests, yet their faith in Lord Krushna did not waver. If this is not possible then one should return the knowledge endowed by the Guru like Yadnyavalkya, without making use of it and should begin learning everything afresh, from another Guru.

E. What should one do if one gets doubts about the Sadguru?: Getting doubts is a natural phenomenon. Once King Dashrath doubted whether Sage Vasishtha was possessed by a spirit. So, he augmented his spiritual practice and overcame the doubt.

F. “Since the disciple’s intellect is impure, the Guru’s intellect is necessary; but how can one say that the Guru’s intellect is not impure?” Even if the Guru’s intellect is impure whether ‘it can overcome the disciple’s impure intellect’ is the only thing that a disciple should take into account. This query is similar to the million dollar question whether the river Ganga which cleanses the sins of so many is a sinner herself.”(3)

G. ‘If one observes defects in the Guru, then how should one face it?: One should ignore such feelings thinking “there are more defects in objects than in the Guru”.’ – Shri Gulabrao Maharaj

H. One should remember that if one does not make spiritual progress, it is due to one’s past impressions or one’s inadequate efforts and should not attribute it to the Guru. Such a realisation can occur only due to devotion and faith.

I. ‘An incident: Dr. Jayant Athavale was accompanying Baba to Nashik.

Baba              : There is a great saint here. Go and pay respects (darshan)
to Him. He will also answer all your queries.
Dr. Athavale   : Now I do not feel like paying respects (darshan) to
anyone else. I am convinced that I will find all the
answers at Your feet.
Dr. Athavale   :
(after a while)
Should I have gone to pay respects to
that saint obeying the Guru’s directives?
Baba              : No. What you did was right.’(4)

J. When one is doing spiritual practice as advised by one’s Guru, if some other saint recommends some spiritual practice, one should not do it. (If one’s spiritual practice is going on appropriately then often real saints do not advise anything.) However, if one gets the spiritual experience that one’s Guru is speaking through that saint then one should certainly do the spiritual practice advised by that saint.

K. Since the basic tenet in Spirituality is going from ‘many to one’ thinking about going from one Guru to several, is wrong. When the disciple falls at his Guru’s feet tears* flow just as a chaste woman finds ultimate happiness at her master’s feet.
– Saint Bhaktaraj

* Tears: one of the manifestations of the eight sattvik emotions (ashtasattvik bhav).

L. Until one attains a spiritual level of 70%, one is bound to get doubts regarding the path of Spirituality and the Guru’s potential off and on, as the mind is active and getting doubts is a function of the mind. Later however, as there is dissolution of the mind, this does not occur.

M. Pleasing one Guru is so difficult, then how will one please so many Gurus?

नि:संगाशी संग आणि प्राणाशी गाठ! means being in the company of a saint is dangerous, as it dissolves all desires which one wants to fulfill for the sake of pleasure! Hence initially one should not accept a Guru. If one has already accepted one, one should not leave Him. Later even if one wishes to do so, He does not leave one!

3. Causes of deterioration

A. Not doing spiritual practice: By not chanting the Gurumantra imparted by the Guru both, that mantra and the Guru are offended.

B. Joking about the Guru: Just as one does not joke about one’s parents, one should not do so about the Guru.

C. Misuse of the Guru’s name

  • The Guru of H.H. Joshibaba of Mumbai, H.H. Bapu Maharaj would dictate the contents of a letter to a disciple who would then write it. If Bapu asked another disciple for a particular item, for instance if He dictated ‘Send me a fan’ in the letter, then this disciple would write ‘Send me two fans’. He would then give one fan to Bapu and keep the other for himself.
  • Bapu’s house had become dilapidated. One of His disciples collected a lot of funds from several other disciples conveying the false message that money was required to build a new house for Bapu.

However, later this disciple suffered immensely.

D. Criticising and detesting the Guru

How will he, who enthusiastically speaks of the attributes
and defects of his Guru, acquire knowledge,
And when will he become steady? 16:28 – Shri Gurucharitra

The one who hates the Guru has no place either in this
world or the next,
How will he, who is unable to perceive light, acquire true
knowledge? 16:30 -Shri Gurucharitra

Realising that the Guru principle is one, one should not criticise even one’s previous Guru.

E. Rejection by the Guru: The one who is rejected by the Guru is akin to the one who is rejected by all the three worlds (trilokas).

4. Spiritual experiences and signs of progress

4.1 Reduction in suffering

One disciple had a problem of stammering. He felt like conducting a spiritual discourse like his other gurubrethren. He told the Guru his difficulty and asked, “What is the solution to this?” The Guru responded, “If you speak thinking that you are speaking, you will falter because of your stammering. However if you foster the spiritual emotion that ‘the Guru is speaking through you’, you will not stammer; because the Guru does not.” Later, when delivering the discourse, the disciple who otherwise stammered at every sentence, stammered only once or twice in that one and a half hour.

4.2 Recovery from or cure of an illness

A. Communication with the Guru reduces an illness: If one’s illness is spiritual in origin, then how it can be overcome merely by reading the Guru’s letter is illustrated by the following: ‘H.H. …. Shirsashtang namaskar. I received both Your letters. When I received Your second letter I was tossing and turning in bed with pain in the abdomen. No sooner did I read Your letter than my pain reduced markedly. …. (A lady disciple) 6/2/1993’.

B. Getting cured by obeying the Guru’s directives: Once Ramjidada was sleeping as He was running high fever. When His Guru Anantanand Saish came to know of this He said to Ramjidada, “Take a bath, your fever will subside.” Though Ramjidada was burning with fever He went to the well and as usual poured two to three buckets of cold water on Himself. Not only did His fever subside; but His exhaustion too disappeared and once again He felt refreshed.

4.3 Not experiencing fatigue in the Guru’s presence

‘An individual normally tired with four to five hours of hard work can work for fifteen to sixteen hours a day, at a stretch continuously for six to seven days in Baba’s presence and still not feel exhausted. Several devotees have experienced the acquisition of divine consciousness (chaitanya) and energy (shakti) in Baba’s company.’(5)

4.4 The spiritual experiences obtained when the Guru is speaking

A. Feeling like listening to Him constantly: Those listening to Baba’s conversation feel that it should go on and that they should continue listening to it. One realises that in it there is something beyond lucid speech. Even though He does not crack jokes or impart knowledge and just speaks on the usual worldly topics like travelling, food, etc. yet one feels like listening. Naturally, the reason for this is the divine consciousness (chaitanya) in His speech. Hence, even if one has heard Baba relating an incident several times one still feels like listening to it again. But if one has to listen to the same incident repeatedly from someone else then one is bored. In short, one gets the real spiritual experience of satsang (holy company) when listening to Baba’s conversation.

B. Absence of awareness regarding time.

C. Absence of awareness regarding meals, bathing, etc.

D. Often, later one is unable to relate exactly what Baba spoke.

E. Some enter a state of meditation.

F. One can decipher whether what the Guru speaks is just in humour or casual or whether He is trying to teach something through it, only when one is at a very high spiritual level.’(6)

4.5 Inability to do anything without the Guru’s wish

‘Once when Baba visited Dr. Athavale as soon as He arrived He said, “Serve me food.” Dr. Athavale said to Him, “Baba food is ready. Only the lentil (Dal) for the curry is in the cooker. The curry will be ready within ten minutes. Then, I will serve You.” In response, Baba said, “Then serve Me yesterday’s curry.” Dr. Athavale thought to himself, “How can I serve stale curry to Baba?” Thus half an hour elapsed saying “I will serve You now”. Still the pressure cooker did not sound its whistles. Then realising his mistake Dr. Athavale served Him the stale curry according to His wish. Later he found that the lentil in the cooker had remained uncooked !’(7)

In the 13th adhyay (chapter) of the Gurucharitra the Guru tells the disciple chanting The Lord’s Name, ‘You have acquired the Guru’s speech’. This means that from that moment onwards, all his actions – physical, psychological and verbal will be as approved by the Guru.

4.6 Inability to do anything without the Guru’s knowledge

‘Jiji (wife of H.H. Bhaktaraj Maharaj) has financial difficulties since Baba does not give her money. Knowing this if someone gives Jiji a sari or any other gift without His knowledge, then Baba immediately tells Jiji, “Give me the sari and money that has been presented to you.” If Jiji makes a fuss, then He shouts and abuses to such an extent that finally she is compelled to give them to Him. Nowadays knowing this well she surrenders it the very first time that He asks for it. Through this, Baba teaches His devotees that they cannot do anything behind His back, without His consent.

4.7 Getting rid of a disciple’s ego

In 1992, Gurupournima was celebrated in Mumbai. When preparations for it were on, off and on Baba used to ask whether any help was needed. At that time, Dr. Athavale used to tell Baba, “We will take care of everything. Please do not worry.” The feeling behind it was that they would collect money and celebrate Gurupournima in a grand way. Later when Baba informed that “money was required for the construction of the Indore ashram” Dr. Athavale gave away all the funds collected for Gurupournima. After funds were collected again, Baba said, “Give me a part of the money that you will offer me as a gift (Gurudakshina) for Gurupournima, to dig a well at the Kandli ashram.” So Dr. Athavale gave it to Him. Now that they had given away all the collected funds, he was worried as to how they would celebrate Gurupournima. However, he immediately realised that Baba had done all this just to get rid of the ego, “We will celebrate Gurupournima”. From then on both, the tension disappeared and the rest of the jobs were completed smoothly.’ (8)

4.8 Falling in spiritual love with the Guru

A. Feeling like looking at the Guru all the time.

B. Feeling like staring at the Guru’s photograph.

C. Feeling like living with the Guru.

On account of this love when returning after meeting the Guru, the disciple’s state is akin to that of a daughter who looks back as she leaves for her in-laws’ home.

4.9 The stages of going to pay respects (darshan) to the Guru

A. A yearning to meet the Guru.

B. An increase in the yearning and visiting the Guru repeatedly.

C. Visiting the Guru less often or not going at all due to a decrease in the attachment to the Guru’s body. ‘One disciple (Dr. Athavale) used to often visit Baba so as to be in His company. Later, that attachment disappeared. So he felt that there was a lapse in his spiritual practice. When he asked Baba about this, He replied, “This happens as one progresses towards non-duality (advait)”.’(9)

D. Visiting the Guru to express one’s gratitude to Him.

E. After becoming one with the Guru’s mission visiting Him only when it is essential for the mission or when the Guru so wishes.

4.10 How does a disciple who has surrendered everything write his name?

‘Shri Bhaktaraj, Guru Anantanand Saish (the Guru’s Name is written instead of one’s father’s name. The surname is omitted.) [The method of writing names in North India is: Mr. (Shri.) Kanhaiyalal, son of Shivkumar, Yadav).]’(10)

4.11 Whether good or bad everything belongs to the Guru

Sadguru, my Lord, You are the guilty one,
forgive Your Own mistakes.

The implied meaning: Once a disciple surrenders everything to the Guru, nothing belongs to him, anymore. Hence, if a disciple commits mistakes physically or mentally they are in a way made by the Guru Himself! So the Guru Himself is held guilty!

4.12 The real disciple

The one who obtained it, hid it.
He is the great one, he himself is the Guru’s child.

The implied meaning: Here “obtained it” refers to the experience of Self-realisation (Atmanubhuti). “Hid it” means hid the fact that he had attained Self-realisation, from others. (In fact it cannot be narrated in words.) “Guru’s child” refers to the Guru’s real disciple. One does not tell everyone that one possesses a precious diamond. Similarly, one who has acquired the invaluable spiritual experience of Self-realisation, does not proclaim it to the world. He has experienced it because he has no ego and it is for the same reason that he does not tell everyone about it.’(11)

4.13 How does attachment to the Guru persist after transcending from the Guru’s physical body to The Lord’s Name?

With the constant awareness that it is the Guru who has imparted The Lord’s Name.

4.14 Stages of progress

‘In reality one’s soul, the Guru’s soul, God and Brahman are all one and the same. Hence one has to say that Godliness is the nature of the soul. When that nature of the devotee’s soul manifests itself it is referred to as The Lord’s or the Guru’s grace. Saint Eknath has said, “I (The Lord) at once uplift the one on whom the Guru bestows His grace”.

  • Initially the average person considers that “The Lord is the Master-doer of all actions”.
  • When his spiritual practice becomes balanced, The Lord grants him with a Sadguru for his upliftment. Then he begins to feel that “The Sadguru does everything”.
  • On acquisition of the Guru’s grace, that is after attaining Self-realisation he realises that “I am doing everything” and that earlier too “I was doing everything without realising the same”.’
    – H.H. Kane Maharaj, Narayangaon

Information on how a disciple makes spiritual progress step by step is given in ‘Science of Spirituality: Chapter 41 – Spiritual Progress’.

4.15 Blending of the Guru and the disciple

A. ‘Baba: I could read My Guru’s thoughts automatically. He had caught My pulse, so I could catch His.

B. An incident: Once one of Baba’s disciples felt that he should offer obeisance to another disciple. When the first disciple went to Baba, Baba told him to do exactly that.

Dr. Athavale: In this case in whose mind did the thought appear first, Yours or the disciple’s? Which was the image and which the reflection?

Baba: Here there was no image and reflection, there was no duality. The same thought appeared in my mind and that of my disciple simultaneously.’(12)

C. ‘A call of the mendicant and the mendicant of the call.

The implied meaning: “A call of the mendicant” refers to the call of the disciple. Later, the same disciple gets transformed into a Guru. Hence he is referred to as “the mendicant of the call”. Just as there is non-duality between a call and a mendicant later it develops between a Guru and a disciple.’(13)

D. In the final stage of progress the disciple merges into the Guru completely. Only their physical bodies are different. Merging of the disciple with the Guru means the disciple’s desire, mental, causal and supracausal bodies are almost completely destroyed, just like the Guru’s.

E. A Guru’s service unto the disciple: After the blending of the Guru and disciple occurs if the Guru serves the disciple during his illness or even otherwise the disciple does not feel anything about it. When the disciple is eating, the Guru feels ‘He is feeding Me’, when bathing that ‘He is bathing Me’ and while washing his clothes ‘He is washing My clothes’ and both experience the love of the manifest (sagun).

F. Forgetting the Guru: When experiencing objects, one gets engrossed in them. In the same way, forgetting the Guru when performing devotion unto Him means non-duality (advait).

G. The disciple in the company of the Guru changes,
He changes so drastically that he himself becomes the

You too must change just as I,
I have changed because of Lord Janardan and have become

H. Maximum merging of the various bodies of the disciple and those of the Guru

The body Maximum merging %
1. Physical 1
2. Subtle 40
3. Causal 100
4. Supracausal 100

4.16 Ascending the Sadguru’s seat after His renunciation of the body

The disciple hesitates to take the Guru’s seat even after the Guru tells him to do so as he is worried whether he will be able to shoulder such a great responsibility. However, this is wrong; as, actually the Guru Himself fulfills that responsibility.


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