Realization can be thought of as the progressive removal of the layers of ignorance, in order to realize what is the ever present truth. I present 4 stages in which this occurs:
Stage 1: Confusion
This is the normal point of view of most people today. It is the materialistic scientific view that has no place for soul or anything that cannot be weighed or measured. Reality according to this view is basically physics, human beings are evolved animals that have managed to become conscious through the complexity of the brain. It is a view characterized by a complete inability to explain what Life is, and a remarkable ability to ignore this obvious failing. At the most life is explained as something that “just happens”, you are born, you die, make the most of it. It has come about by the failure to analyse consciousness itself and instead to concentrate only on the contents of consciousness such as thought, experience and emotion. The confusion which results is that the true nature of the human being passes unseen.
From confusion we can obtain some clarity. Through spiritual practice, or insight or self inquiry, we realize that what we are is consciousness, a kind of observer of the world. We understand why we say “I have a thought” and not “I am a thought”. We begin to understand that behind all experience is an experiencer. We begin to realize what it means to be able to say “I am”. This may be likened to the discovery of the Soul, or transcendent aspect of identity, and is an understanding shared by most religions. One realizes that time and space are experiences, and that which experiences them is to a certain extent beyond them, in the same way that in order to experience a show, the spectator has to be somewhat removed from the stage. It is a state characterized by a feeling of essential freedom and security.
The third stage occurs when one realizes that even though one is essentially a transcendent being, as it where materialized on earth, the true nature of everything is that it is also part of what one is. The duality of Transcendent Self and World is revealed as false. The world is the self and vice versa, there is no subject-object duality, everything is consciousness and consciousness is Self. There is no separation. This third state is actually similar to the confusion of the first state, except Reality is not matter and time and space, but consciousness, physics is mind. This is true because there is no aspect of life that is not also present to consciousness, and its complete existence is only as it occurs as consciousness.
The final stage or realization is when the self further realizes that it is itself only an aspect of a greater and unknowable reality. That whatever a person can know is still limited due to the inherent limitation of being a knower, of having any identity at all. This is the stage of saying “I am not”. At this point one is freed from all concern for personal salvation or happiness and lapses back into a kind of divine ignorance. This is the mystical stage of union with the absolute and represents the realization of only truth that has always been the case.
These stages are not some kind of transformation of the human being into something else. Each and every one of us is in this same state of union with the absolute, if we would only know it.