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Spiritual Initiation – Milestones to Enlightenment

Spiritual Initiation

~ Milestones to Enlightenment ~

The journey to enlightenment is one governed by initiation. This is a fact often overlooked by those who yearn for spiritual growth. In the Esoteric Tradition, the study of spiritual initiation is a cornerstone of inquiry. To understand it is to grasp the requirements for walking the Path with greater comprehension and assurance. Often people hold the view that enlightenment is a state of consciousness suggesting spiritual perfection, and freedom from further incarnational life. From one perspective this is true. Enlightenment can be viewed as a final consummation. Unfortunately, when strictly holding to this definition, there is the tendency to forget that spiritual evolution is gradual. As such, it is valid to view enlightenment as an incremental process as well. Over countless lives, the soul is progressively learning how to express itself in the outer world. Each incarnation sees the soul gain a measure of added effectiveness in this regard. And, with each step forward, the soul is able to radiate more of its inherent light into the outer world. Herein is given another understanding of enlightenment. For when consciousness expands, so too does the individual’s capacity to radiate the soul’s light. The soul’s radiation “enlightens”, or brings light to life. It is therefore true to say that enlightenment is incremental as well as terminal. In this article we will examine the nature of spiritual initiation as a function of enlightenment. Discussion will be offered regarding each of the five initiations, their challenges and implications. Though this presentation is an overview only, it will nonetheless provide the reader with a deeper appreciation of the spiritual path, and the milestones of achievement that point the way.

To understand initiation, we must first consider the nature of the soul’s incarnational predicament. When incarnate, it is enwrapped in three layers of substance loosely referred to as the mental, emotional and physical bodies. These bodies are really vehicles that the soul seeks to utilize in order to interact with the outer world. In their sumtotal, they represent the personality (lower self). Yet, for most of the soul’s long incarnational history, the personality has had the upper hand in defining one’s behavior. All spiritually inclined people know this oh too well. Though we sense the soul within, the demands of the lower self will often take precedence over its agenda. The reason for this is that the three vehicles of the personality have not yet been mastered by the soul. From one perspective it can be said that the soul’s evolution is based upon its gradual ability to master these vehicles. Eventually the soul will demonstrate its control over the unbridled appetites of the physical body. This then is followed by its demonstration of authority over the ungoverned passions of the emotional nature. Finally, the soul must eventually gain the upper hand over the independent tendencies of the mind itself. These three steps represent the major milestones of development for the soul, and are the markers related to the first three initiations. They are the transitions most relevant to disciples today, particularly the first and second initiations.

When speaking of initiation, the reader would do well to avoid thinking of it as a physical event. Initiation is not something experienced by the outer personality. Rather, it is the soul, on its own level, that is initiated. Each initiation indicates that the soul has gained dominion over some aspect of the lower nature. The process of gaining such mastery is really the basis for all spiritual disciplines. Inherent within our lower nature is found a variety of distortions and impurities. This is true whether considering the mental, emotional or physical bodies. Such contamination is due to the misuse of these vehicles over countless incarnations. Yet, when one is spiritually disciplining his/her life, purification of the personality is the gradual byproduct of this effort. Slowly the soul inspires the personality to work toward cleansing itself. Only when these instruments are stainless will the soul have full mastery over the personality. And, it is the spiritual disciplines implemented in one’s life that make it possible for progress toward this end. Even so, the process of mastery is exceedingly slow, requiring many incarnations of effort. This is an important idea to keep in mind. There are many who claim that most (if not all) of the initiations can be taken in a single life. Though emotionally appealing, this notion is extremely misleading. Each of the initiations represents a major achievement in the long history of the soul’s journey through many incarnations. When an individual goes through an initiation, such an event is rare indeed. It has been said that there are no spiritual shortcuts in cosmos. This idea is very true, for soul evolution requires much inner labor, and many incarnations for full mastery to be achieved. Below is a brief discussion of each of the five major initiations.

First Initiation –    The Birth of the Christ within the Heart   

The first initiation occurs when the light of the soul becomes robustly expressed through the heart chakra. The nature of selfless love (Christ Principle) is then the pivotal force guiding one’s life, as well as a desire to uplift humanity. In addition, this initiation indicates that the soul has gained relative mastery over the appetites of the physical body. As such, the cravings of the body no longer hold control over consciousness. A new and higher understanding of sexuality also begins to govern life. This realization is based on an understanding that human sexuality is an outer symbol of the vertical intimacy existing between the soul and personality.  At this stage of spiritual development, the soul is a recognized fact within, and can be accessed with relative ease. This initiation marks initial entrance into the fifth kingdom in nature, the Kingdom of Souls.

Second Initiation  – The Baptism  

The second initiation is said to be one of the most difficult and painful. Fundamentally, it represents the triumph of the soul over the emotional nature of the personality. When this initiation is taken, the individual has demonstrated that the Self is no longer victimized by the tides of emotion and feeling states. Mastery over emotion is not here to be interpreted as repression. Rather, it represents one’s ability to rise above emotion, while still honoring it. This is accomplished through the use of the illumined mind. It is the mind, in its capacity to observe emotion, which makes it possible for this initiation to take place. When the mind is operating this way, the individual can free him/herself from the “slavery of ideas” and from fanatical reactions to truth. As such, a balanced perspective, and the expression of emotional temperance, are both prerequisites for taking this initiation. It is therefore not surprising that these disciples provide truly uplifting and powerful service in the betterment of humanity. Though speculation only, an example of a disciple of this status was Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium. In the Esoteric Teaching we are given to understand that it takes between five and seven incarnations to travel from the first initiation to the second. Not surprising, the bulk of today’s spiritual community are 1st degree initiates who are slowly working their way toward the second initiation.

Third Initiation –  The Transfiguration 

At the third initiation, the personality is fully transfigured by the light of the soul. By this is meant that the entire personality (lower self) is bathed in the radiance of the spirit, and is now a complete and willing servant on its behalf. Most important is the fact that the mind is now governed by the indwelling soul. No longer does the mind wander, or unintentionally shift from one thing to another. Instead, the soul is the directing agent of thought. As such, mental illusion gives way as the soul guides and dominates the mental body. At this stage, the Law of Sacrifice dominates the life. This represents a willingness to sacrifice all personality desires in support of divine Will as sensed though the soul. Because this initiation indicates the complete fusion of soul and personality, the soul has mastery over every aspect of the lower self. In today’s world there are relatively few third degree initiates, though their uplifting influence is profound. The third degree initiate is said to be a “world disciple”. Implicit in this title is the notion that his/her influence in the world will have global ramifications. A likely example of a third degree initiate is Abraham Lincoln or Ludwig van Beethoven.

Fourth Initiation – The Renunciation  

This initiation is by far the most difficult. Yet, it also indicates a transition into realms of indescribable joy when the challenges have been surmounted. This difficulty stems from the fact that it is the soul itself that must be transcended. When this occurs, the disciple is able to fully see an aspect of him/herself lying beyond the soul. It is the highest self that is visioned, the monad. This is a most difficult task, for it demands that s/he renounce everything that was thought to be the eternal Self within. In short, it is a renunciation of the soul itself that is here required. In the Esoteric Tradition, the soul is understood as an intermediary between the monad (pure spirit) and the personality. The fourth initiation is the stage when this intermediary is no longer necessary, and must be forfeited in order to make possible continued ascent. Such a relinquishment is deeply painful, for the soul has been the guiding light for many incarnations, and was believed to be the eternal Self. Yet, at this initiation the disciple is faced with the stark realization that soul consciousness is not the end, but only a means to the end. It should also be noted that a fourth degree initiate is one who has been liberated from all previously generated karma, and that the need for further incarnation is no longer mandated. This initiation is best revealed in the life of Jesus, and is sometimes called the Crucifixion Initiation.

Fifth Initiation –  The Revelation

In many ways, this is considered the consummating initiation, relatively speaking. When taken, the initiate becomes a Master of Wisdom or Lord of Compassion. This stage represents perfection and liberation. In truth, it is a refinement of the transformation that occurred at the fourth initiation. Here, the Master becomes a masterpiece, so to speak. In addition, at the moment of initiation, s/he is afforded a profound revelation. This revelation relates to the various spiritual paths that are now open before him/her. They define the directions possible for continued spiritual development. In the ancient literature there are said to be seven of these paths, sometimes called the Higher Way of Evolution. Only one of them involves continued service upon our globe, the Path of Earth Service. Admittedly, the choice of which path to follow is not yet granted the Master, for that does not occur until the Sixth Initiation. Nonetheless, this understanding, coupled with one’s sense of inner destiny, insures that the correct path will eventually be chosen.  Speculatively speaking, an example of such a person is Sri Krishna.

From these brief descriptions it can be seen that initiation is an important aspect of spiritual evolution. Each initiation marks a moment of triumph, in that it indicates that the soul has achieved greater control over an aspect of the personality through which it is trying to express itself.  This is particularly true when considering the first three initiations, for they more directly related to the interactions of soul and personality. Initiation is truly a point of achievement, but it is also indicative of a new beginning. With the expansion of wisdom that it confers, initiation also broadens one’s capacity to serve. By this is meant that the Rite of Initiation is ever accompanied by a new and heightened sense of responsibility. Verily, initiation opens one up to an expansion within, and the reflection of this heightened state of consciousness is expanded outer service to others. Such is the nature of initiation as a force of upliftment in the world.

© 2000  William Meader

Biographical Information: William Meader is an author, teacher and counselor. Much of his work is focused on the subjects of Spiritual Creativity, the Evolution of Consciousness and the Art of Meditation. At present he is teaching in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He resides in Oregon, and can be contacted through his website at