Five Phases – Tozan & Underhill

This is another post on the five phases as described (in very similar ways) by the Zen master Tozan and by Everlyn Underhill in Mysticism, her exploration of the paths and experiences of Christian mystics.

  1. Glimpse
    First, there is an initial glimpse to wet our appetite and embark on the path. The glimpse often includes a sense of tremendous freedom, of the veils falling, and of profound joy and bliss. This is similar to a conception.

  2. Purification/Submission
    A phase of purification and submission to God/Christ/Teacher etc. It is a period of detachment from exclusive identification as a human being and a dualistic view. This is also called the dark night of the senses (St. John of the Cross). This is the gestation period.

  3. Illumination/Enlightenment
    Here, we awaken as Big Mind or as one with God. This is often a phase of tremendous insights, clarity, bliss, energy, effectiveness and so on. In an almost literal way, it is a superhuman phase where we are identified as Big Mind (beyond and including all polarities) and far less as a human being. We are so fascinated by our new discovery that we, quite naturally, leave our human self aside for a while. There is often a trace of accomplishment here, that “I” accomplished something. In this phase, it seems that this can never go away. It will always be here. In Zen, they refer to this as the Bright Sun of Enlightenment. It is the phase of an newborn and infant Buddha.

  4. Fall from grace
    A phase of detachment from our identification as Big Mind, as one with God. This is experienced as a terrible fall from grace. Everything that gave us comfort and support in the past is taken away, and everything (seemingly) that can torture us does. Here, we are completely human again. We are a helpless victim of circumstances. Our passion, clarity, insights and so on are all – apparently – gone, to never return. Our life falls apart in all areas, from the spiritual to the mundane and daily. There is a sense of being completely ground to dust, until nothing is left. This is also called the dark night of the soul. It is vaguely similar to the distress, confusion and pain a child may experience in becoming an adult – letting go of the child identity and not knowing what will come.

  5. Integration/Unity
    The last phase is one of integration of our human self and Big Mind/God, of the relative and the absolute. Here, the absolute returns in a way that seems completely natural and ordinary. There is no sense of accomplishment. There is no particular identity, neither as the relative or the absolute, so there is a deepening freedom and fluidity. We are thoroughly human and also the “ground” of it all. In Zen, they call this the Hazy Moon of Enlightenment. In the Big Mind process is called the Free Functioning Integrated Human Being. This is a phase of deepening maturity as a Buddha.

It seems that we may go through these phases in a major way once in a human life, although elements of each may come up at different times as well. There is a gradual deepening of the lessons from each phase throughout our life. It also seems that not all phases are experienced (in a major way) in each case.

The process is obviously far too fluid, rich and individual to fit neatly into any particular outline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.