4 Stages of the Spiritual Path

Our brains like lists and stages to give us some kind of idea of where we are and where we’re heading. In Zen Buddhism, it’s the 10 Ox-Herding pictures. According to Rick Hanson, in his book, The Buddha’s Brain, there are 4. Both can be helpful.

But first, let me back up to a universal truth. Actually it’s the first of the 4 Noble Truths (I think the Buddha liked numbers): that life is suffering. What this means is that because we have a body, there is inherent suffering with aging, illness, and death (not that there is always suffering!).

The Buddha called this the “first dart” of suffering. The “second dart” of suffering comes when the mind reacts to what’s happening – wanting it to be different than it is (ie: I don’t want to be sick right now, my wife/husband shouldn’t do that, I should have known better, I’ll end up in a cardboard box on the street, etc.)

The second dart of suffering is the cause of most of our suffering.

The really great part is that we don’t have to suffer the second darts if we choose to follow the path of “awakening” to our true essence. And the bonus? As the second darts soften and dissolve, more peace, joy, happiness, and contentment unfold, as the sun follows the night.

Not everyone feels called to this path or wants to take it, and that’s o.k. But my guess is you do because you’re reading this blog. Welcome to the path.

To walk the path takes commitment, practice, patience, and compassion (for yourself).

Here’s why. The stages Rick talks about below are not linear – you can have experiences of stage 2 and then have a moment when you’re in stage one; and then an experience in stage 3 and then a moment in stage 1 or 2.

Be conscious of the mind grasping on to the stages below (where am I and am I evolving as I “should” be?)

4 Stages of Growth on the path of awakening from The Buddha’s Brain.

1. Stage one – you’re caught in a second dart reaction and don’t even realize it: your partner forgets to bring milk home and you complain angrily without seeing that your reaction is over the top.

2. Stage two – you realize you’ve been hijacked by greed or hatred in the broadest sense (remember the Medusa moments I talked about in last week’s blog?), but cannot help yourself: internally you’re squirming, but you can’t stop grumbling bitterly about the milk.

3. Stage three – some aspect of the reaction arises, but you don’t act it out: you feel irritated but remind yourself that your partner does a lot for you already and getting cranky will just makes things worse.

4. Stage four – the reaction doesn’t even come up, and sometimes you forget you ever had the issue: you understand that there’s no milk, and you calmly figure out what to do now with your partner.

As Rick says, “The second stage is the hardest one, and often where we want to quit.”

The foundation of the spiritual path is cultivating awareness, starting with noticing a reaction or feeling in the body that wakes you up to the second dart happening.

Each time you notice, you are interrupting the old pattern and creating a new pathway in the brain. As he refers to, the law of little things. Take a deep breath. Stay committed to the path dear friends, and never give up.


Categories: Conflict & Forgiveness, Health & Happiness

About the Author: Angela Patnode

My passion, my calling, is for you to be totally you. Through private coaching, in-depth retreats, and online group coaching programs, I help you tap into your intuition and clarify your desires and vision, I guide you to take active steps toward making your desires a reality.

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