12. How to Spiritually Progress

If you want to take someone somewhere, first you have to meet them where they are. It’s a simple but often overlooked point. This principle stands universal – in education, in parenting, in leadership, in marketing, and even in the development of spirituality. One reason why the Vedic tradition is considered the most advanced theology in existence is because of its multi-level ingenuity. Though it clearly establishes the ultimate goal, the apex of spiritual consciousness, it simultaneously offers multiple options of spiritual practice for those unable to immediately grasp the most elevated level of purity. Although the goal is one, the steps of progress toward it are numerous.
In Chapter Twelve, which constitutes the final of the Bhakti chapters, Krishna gives a flavour of His magnanimity and flexibility. Having established unalloyed devotion (bhakti-yoga) as the most evolved path of spirituality, He goes on to offer other options, recognising that this heartfelt connection may not be within everyone’s immediate grasp. Progressive steps towards such a pure devotional spirit include the practice of regulated spirituality, worship through one’s daily work, offering of charity, and the cultivation of knowledge. The spiritual path is not all or nothing and one can begin their journey according to what is appealing and achievable.
Elsewhere in the Gita, Krishna talks about worship of demigods, impersonalism and the even the practice of pantheism. When we look at the world we see that the majority of people may not be searching for pure, unalloyed love, but rather have many other ‘not-so-spiritual’ desires in mind. Thus, different types of worship allow one to fulfill their material aspirations and simultaneously step onto the ‘spiritual ladder.’ For example, worship of various ‘demigods’ to attain wealth, health and prosperity is sometimes prescribed. Such worship and practice, over a period of time, will bring the practitioner to a more refined and elevated sense of spirituality, where they completely divorce themselves from worldly pursuits. In maturity, they arrive at the point of desiring an unmotivated relationship and reciprocation with the one Supreme God.
The best teachers deeply understand the needs, interests and concerns of the audience they teach. They expertly address those aspirations in a way that simultaneously elevates their spiritual status. One size never fits all, and teaching has to be tailor-made and personalised. This gives great hope to students who may see the ultimate goal as way beyond their reach. The teachers will remind them about what perfection looks like, but consistently focus on progression forward from the point they are currently at.
This insight is invaluable for our own spiritual journey. Often there is a gap between the ideal and the real – where we are, and what the ultimate goal actually is. These gaps can sometimes feel uncomfortable. The practical and incremental steps forward that Krishna offers bolster our hope and optimism that reaching the ideal is not a utopian aspiration. We have to start where we are, use what we have and do what we can. Progress brings perfection.

My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me." (Bhagavad-Gita 12.9)


12.8-12 – Multiple stages and options that Krishna offers for spiritual progression.