Every spiritual path is connected to a need that someone is seeking to fulfill. Not everyone turns to spirituality to fulfill their needs, but millions do, and over the centuries the seven paths have had a profound influence on every culture. It would be much easier to understand human nature if our desires were as overt and obvious as hunger and thirst. But inner needs can be very ambiguous. A person may not be able to recognize their existence or speak about them very clearly. This is why it's helpful to talk in terms of different paths, even though there is such a confusing entanglement of impulses, drives, and motivations inside each of us.
So far, the first three paths have been linked to needs we would all recognize in ourselves:
Path #1 -- Seeking Safety, Security, Protection
Path #2 -- Seeking Law, Order, and Accomplishment
Path #3 -- Seeking Community, Togetherness, Inner Peace
No one is immune from these primal needs, which must be fulfilled in some way or other, whether one uses a term like God or not. With the next path, however, personal choice becomes more private and at the same time less mandatory. The necessity to keep seeking deeper and deeper into one's own nature isn't felt by everyone; indeed it might be felt by very few.
Path #4 -- Seeking Wisdom, Intuitive Understanding, Divine Presence
By now the seeker has passed beyond any image of God as a supernatural person abiding above the clouds. Inner silence has become a real experience, and in the desire to deepen that experience, something new happens. The separation between inner and outer reality begins to soften and blur. One senses that a presence exists everywhere that is divine. This perception may be like the sensation that God is always watching and listening, or it may be an intimation that the entire material world is just a mask or veil waiting to be penetrated.
On Path #4 the seeker also begins to find answers wholly derived from inside. This is the stage which Buddhism describes as "the question questions itself and the answer answers itself." Intuition becomes a viable way of knowing. On Path #4 someone may develop various kinds of subtle perception, such as psychic ability, healing, clairvoyance, etc. Traditionally, these powers, or Siddhis as they are known in India, have been viewed as distractions on the path to enlightenment, but to someone who has relied for a lifetime on the five senses and external experience, the arrival of subtle perception causes an inner revolution.
Although few people may consciously see themselves on Path #4, subtle perception is common to everyone and occurs in occasional flashes all the time (e.g., up to 50% of Americans tell pollsters that they have seen a faint light or aura around someone's body, and more describe a feeling of God being present or sensing that a dead family member is trying to contact them). The God of Path #4 is a universal presence, Oversoul, or Noumen. Such a God is without gender and makes no demands; complete acceptance now supercedes even the offer of redemption on Path #3.
Each path has its built-in contradictions, and so does Path #4, but they are not as harsh or glaring as on earlier paths. The decision to stay on this path or leave it comes gently, without any demand from inside or outside. The possible contradictions include the following:
--If God is present everywhere, there may be no need to define a separate deity at all.
--Wisdom creates healing, but at a certain point there is no more healing to do because mental and physical dis-ease is over.
--The voice of God is often heard on this path, but it may go silent, giving rise to a need to move beyond any form of divine authority.
You may or may not have ever met someone on Path #4, because there is no longer any need for such people to become part of a spiritual community, to speak about their experiences, or to ask for validation from anyone else. By definition, there are no external signs that a person feels the presence of God. Path #4 may thus appear quite esoteric to outsiders, even though the people who are on it often do great but unacknowledged good for humanity. (To be continued)