Today as I finished reading an interesting book I was provoked by a thought. I wondered why I had such a deeper understanding of the book as I was reading it for the second time almost 15 years later. I had read it the first time with some reservation about content because the ideas mentioned for self-improvement seemed too unrealistic and fantasized. Although I had read with an open mind I did not seem to grasp the author’s point of view to its maximum potential. As I began to wonder I made a profound connection to reading development. Educators agree that children learn to read up to about grade 3 after which they start reading to learn. Children with most reading experience in the first few years seem to do better. My ability to understand the depth of spirituality in the book 15 years later seemed akin to ‘reading to learn’. As I continued to mull on this topic I was amazed at the similarity between spiritual and human development stages.
In Piaget’s stages of child development there are 4 stages.
- Sensori-motor stage: The first stage of development occurs from birth to approximately two years.
The sub-stages are:
Reflexes: From birth to one month, the child understands the world through inborn reflexes such as looking and sucking.
In spiritual development too our first stage of knowing God is reflexive. We mention God’s name reflexively when we are in dire straits (“oh my God”!) or when we are pleased (“thank God”.)
Primary Circular Reactions: From one to four months, the child will coordinate sensations.
In spiritual development we start coordinating our thoughts to remember God on a regular basis
Secondary Circular Reactions : From four to eight months, the child becomes more focused and intentionally repeats actions to trigger responses.
In spiritual development we seek to read and know more about God through books or from others
Coordination of reactions: From eight to twelve months, the child will begin exploring the environment around him and imitate the observed behaviors of others.
In spiritual development we start exploring various avenues and practices to continue to know God
Tertiary circular reactions: From twelve to eighteen months, the child will start trial and error experimentation, trying out different sounds and actions to get attention.
In spiritual development we start becoming curious about other ways and practices to know God and either accept or deny its authenticity at a very primitive level of understanding based on rituals, practices, and tales, myths, folk lore, etc.
Early representational thoughts: From eighteen months to two years, the child will start to understand the world through mental cognition as opposed to purely actions.
In spiritual development we start justifying different practices present in our faith and may even mentally oppose other practices because it does not fit within our horizon of knowledge and experience. Familiarity and unfamiliarity play a significant role.
- Preoperational Stage: Between two and six years, the development of language skills is predominant. It also becomes evident during this stage that a child is capable of implementing symbolism; she can use objects to symbolize others, such as using objects in play to represent other things, a broom for a horse or a box for a car.
In spiritual development we start connecting symbols or traditions or rituals to different faiths. We are aware that a cross symbolizes Christianity, an idol with multiple arms symbolizes Hinduism, etc.
- Concrete Operational Stage: From age seven to around eleven, a child starts to develop skills in logical thinking, although deductive logic takes longer to develop. The child also begins to understand the reversibility of actions. For example, if he upsets someone, he realizes he can undo his action with an apology or action. He also starts to understand the relationships between categories; he understands that a ball is circular and that a circle is a shape. He understands that there are other shapes and the connection between them.
In spiritual development we start making strong judgments about other faiths. Our own faith becomes so deep rooted and etched in our mind that we are unable to see the truth in any other faith. At this stage each person’s religion or faith becomes their identity and the ultimate truth in seeking God. Other practices, traditions, and rituals are not readily accepted. Most faiths like to keep their members at this level because it promotes allegiance, strengthens the numbers both financially and socially. Majority of the population of the world are in this stage where they are very attached to their religion at a concrete level. At this stage logic and reasoning is applied at a very concrete cause-effect phenomenon. Religious tenets and doctrines of dos and don’ts are followed ardently.
At this stage people understand God at a concrete level through their senses. They are learning to look and see; learning to touch and feel; learning to hear and listen; learning to taste; learning to smell. If their senses do not allow them to perceive God they may even deny the presence of a higher power or divinity. They are constantly questioning the authenticity of various religious scriptures including one’s own, because of the controversial nature that may or may not fit into present times.
- Formal Operational Stage: This stage starts at age 12 and continues until adulthood. During this time, a child develops his ability to think about abstract concepts. Logical thought, deductive logical reasoning and the ability to plan emerge during this stage. He can do mathematical calculations, think creatively and imagine the outcome of particular actions.
True saints and highly evolved souls around the world are able to elevate themselves to this stage. Here there is a deep understanding of cosmic intelligence. Religious practices and texts are believed to be just the means to an end of seeking God. There is a deeper understanding of Cosmic Intelligence where divinity and the Spirit of God is perceived in everything and everyone.
Here God is conceptualized by looking to learn by self control; listening to learn through deep meditation; tasting to learn by self-surrender; smelling to learn by breathing control; feeling to learn by self-awareness. This true knowledge or wisdom of understanding God is then integrated into life which is the ultimate essence of true devotion.