Factually, the mystic path is uniform and one. It is something like a series of stepping-stones to the highest goal. By accepting this path of mysticism, one becomes a pilgrim toward spiritual perfection. Work with transcendental results is the first stepping-stone on this transcendental path. When empiric philosophical deductions and a desire for renunciation are added, progress is made to the second stepping-stone. When one adds a definite conception of the supreme ruling principle, the Supreme Lord, one progresses to the third stepping-stone. And finally, when a process of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality is added, progress is made perfectly to the ultimate goal. The mystic path is therefore a transcendental evolution in which all the above stages are part of the gradual process of spiritual development. It is necessary to mention all the above stages to understand the final stage. Therefore, one who desires to attain to the supreme goal may adopt the systematic mystic path.
But one should not stop simply upon stepping on the first, second, or third stone, but must make his progress complete by going all the way to the final step, the perfect stage of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who reaches an intermediate stage but does not make any substantial progress beyond it, merely remaining satisfied with that particular stage of his development, may be called by that particular name, as, for instance, "karma-yogī," "jñāna-yogī," "haṭha-yogī," and so on. For this reason alone are the mystics of different stages named differently. So the conclusion is that although the path of mystic yoga is one, the transcendental devotee is the greatest of all mystics, because he alone follows the path to its ultimate goal.
At this point, it should be noted that progressive development along the transcendental mystic path is not totally identical with ordinary material progress. In the material world one has to pass through a certain stage of development before one can be admitted to the next stage, and there is no alternative to this process of progress. It may be cited, for example, that if somebody wants to pass the M.A. examination, he has to pass through the preliminary examinations, and there is no alternative to this. No one can expect to be admitted into the M.A. level without having passed the other, preliminary examinations. Yet in the transcendental world—although there are approved regulations to bring one from the lower stages to the highest goal by a gradual process of development—one can, by the mercy of Godhead, pass the transcendental M.A. examination without even having passed the preliminary examinations. But this extraordinary mercy of Godhead is possible only by a confidential relationship with the Personality of Godhead. And this confidential relationship with the Personality of Godhead is possible only by the transcendental association of the devotees of the Personality of Godhead.
Each and every soul has a potent, confidential, eternal relationship with the Personality of Godhead. But due to long association with the illusory material energy, every one of us has forgotten that relationship from time immemorial. We are as if roaming in the street like street beggars, although we are all the transcendental sons of the richest personality, the Personality of Godhead. With a cool head, we could very well understand this fact. But unmindful of our supremely rich father and our relationship with Him, we go on endeavoring in many ways to solve our street-beggar problems of poverty and hunger, but with practically no appreciable results. On the streets we meet many friends who are similarly poverty-stricken. Sometimes those who are a little better off than we are direct us toward some progressive stage of life, but actually we do not derive any happiness from such directions. These people show us the paths of work, knowledge, meditation, mysticism, and various other ways also, but unfortunately none of them is able to give us that happiness for which we are ever hankering. For this very reason, Lord Caitanya advised Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī at Daśāśvamedha-ghāṭa, on the bank of the Ganges at Prayāga, that only the most fortunate souls can obtain the seed of devotional service, by the mercy of the Personality of Godhead and His bona fide representative.
Thus, we can get this seed of transcendental devotional service from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead Himself, in His transcendental message of Bhagavad-gītā. If we are at all able to grasp this genuine message of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the teacher of Bhagavad-gītā, then and only then can we perfectly appreciate the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā. Otherwise, we can go on reading Bhagavad-gītā life after life, and we may write a thousand and one commentaries on it, but all such attempts will prove futile.
What the Personality of Godhead is, He Himself has explained in Bhagavad-gītā. How many common men have written their autobiographies, and how enthusiastically we have read and accepted them. But when the Personality of Godhead Himself tells about Himself, we cannot take it as it is. This is nothing but our misfortune. On the other hand, we try to drag concocted meanings out of the simple passages of Bhagavad-gītā to establish some man-made idea which is never supported by Bhagavad-gītā. By such artificial dragging, one cannot ultimately establish his rubbish theory, but at the end, one confirms the whole thesis by putting a monkey in place of God. In Bhagavad-gītā it is definitively established that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is established, also, that our only duty is to render transcendental loving service unto Him. Thus, once we really understand these two facts from the pages of Bhagavad-gītā, then we can enter into the primary classes of spiritual education.