There are four stages in the Path of Mysticism, the path of love towards God. These stages are not well defined and overlap each other. The stages are: 1. Purgatory, 2. Illumination, 3. Dark night of the Soul and 4. Unity.
All the great mystics have experienced these stages in their lives, although the durations of the stages have differed from mystic to mystic. Time is of no consequence in this journey to God and so is space of no consideration. It can, therefore, be said that the experience of all the mystics, the votaries of love towards God is the same.
In the first stage, the world is purged out of the mystic. It is therefore termed purgatory. The process is painful as ties of many births get rent asunder. But even in this stage there are flashes of illumination and these keep the traveller of the Path of Love moving in the right direction. This shows the Grace of God on those who face towards him.
The second stage is of illumination where the mysteries of the world unfold themselves. The heart is illumined by light of knowledge and that light is like a myriad sun. This light is both immanent and transcendental. It can be said that in this stage nothing in the world remains mysterious to the mystic. But this acquisition has its own allurement and it is this allurement that necessitates the third stage.
The third stage is the dark night of the soul. On illumination and unfolding of the mysteries of the Universe, the soul gets intoxicated and believes that he is someone apart, specially favoured by the Almighty. He forgets that all that he gets is not as a result of his own efforts but on account of the Grace of God. Hence follows the dark night. The grace is withdrawn and the soul finds that he is foundering in the dark night. Here too it is wrong to say that grace is withdrawn. Rather the withdrawal of the grace is by itself the Grace of the Almighty. The Soul realises that apart from this Grace he is a nonentity. This realisation results in complete de-selfing of the Soul and this brings forth the unitive stage.
In this last stage of unity, the Soul has no existence from God. He is a mere instrument in the hands of the Almighty and drinks deep the everlasting bliss which only the Soul completely de-selfed can enjoy.
The purpose of this short article is to show that in short span of few minutes in which Lord Shri Krishna preached Bhagawat Gita to Arjun, the latter went through all the four stages, albeit very quickly.
The first stage of purgatory started when he saw arrayed against him the hoard of his relatives ready to kill or be killed. The dire sorrow of Arjun is indicative of this stage where world gets purged out of the system of the Soul. He exclaims, 'I shall take a begging bowl and beg my livelihood'. He even considers life as of no consequence and is ready to lay it down.
Then starts the period of illumination where the Lord in His Grace imparts to him the true knowledge of the world. The questions put by Arjun indicate how he gets illuminated. His query as to the control over mind is most significant in this stage as it shows that he is still under the delusion that the soul can, by himself, achieve anything. Yet the Lord is patient with him and fulfils all his aspirations for illumination. Mysteries of the universe unfold before Arjun, culminating in the 'Virat Darshan'. But the dark night of the Soul has set in with the question as to the control over mind with the 'Virat Darshan' it is at its darkest and Arjuna trembling with terror forgetting all illumination asks, 'Who are you?' The insignificance of his own self dawns on Arjun then. The Lord then gives him solace by stating that you are an exception to the rule of law. The reason evidently is that Arjun is on way to completely de-selfing himself. Yet the questions are asked and the Lord gives answers to these questions in His Grace.
Culmination comes in the last chapter. The Lord asks Arjun: "Are all your doubts resolved? Do you understand completely what I have said?" Then the unitive stage starts.
Here in the unitive stage, Arjun simply says "Yes, My Lord, my delusion is gone, I am fully awakened in you. I shall do as you bid me." There is no separate Arjun as such then. He becomes a mere instrument in the hands of God. Sanjaya, the seer, then states that now the victory is assured and all that is to be acquired and enjoyed will certainly follow. What else can it be but the bliss for all time to come?