- Gnanam - Understanding the nature of oneself / various components of oneself and the nature of the society at large.
- Dharmam - Understanding the intricate complexities of life and figuring out a way of life were there is tremendous alignment of the various components of the individual and through that one produces compassionate and meaningful response to the world.
- Aiswaryam - Control (lordship) over various parts of life and connected property.
- Vairagyam - Dispassion from events that happen to the individual and in the world
To understand all or this, first of all life's relentless existential pressures need to give way. Without this, the mind will not develop any interest in these things for it is caught up purely with survival / procreation etc. Being free of these pressures is easy for sannyasis who with great fervour hold on to tremendous vairagyam (genuine dispassion towards one's and one's families well being) and hence directly bypass all such pressures. But, sannyasa is possible for only rare individuals. For the rest, dealing with life's existential pressures skilfully becomes most important. This is the first step - 'staying ahead of the curve' to ensure ones health, close relationships and finances are in place to give one the necessary freedom from life's existential pressures. It is very difficult to find out exactly what is enough on any of these dimensions without a clear reference point. Normally most individuals do not even cross this level. Even those who claim to be trying to, do not have clear reference points.
This reference point is usually obtained by those who have the courage to enter the second step. In this, one is motivated by a deep global vision for oneself in the context of the world that one finds oneself in. Today, there are serious problems in the world in many dimensions (poverty / violence / biosphere degradation / corrupted leaders / severe cruelty towards other beings etc). If one is motivated from within to position ones life as a response to all of this, then that provides all the necessary energy for Yoga. This also assists tremendously in identifying the various thresholds in the previous step. Now, this vision is not a borrowed vision. It is ones own personal vision but in the context of producing a dharmic response to the world. Working to produce a dharmic response to the world provides a lot of energy to the individual. Working on a personal program also provides a different quality of energy to that individual. But, when these two combine, a tremendous unceasing wellspring of energy is discovered within and this will be the booster that will help the individual get over all the challenges along the way.
To accomplish that vision, one has to develop various components of oneself. This is the conquest of the characteristics of the five elements on us. The ability to take up a task and relentlessly go after this is a great asset to have and this comes from developing tremendous discipline (conquest of earth). All of this will work only when one is utterly sincere to the task (conquest of water). The vision that provides the energy for all of this is conquest of fire. Life is not always a straight easy path. There are lots of random challenges from life. One has to find creative solutions to these things. Developing this is conquest of air. Finally all things do not happen as per plan and hence maintenance of equanimity is a tremendous challenge. Developing this is conquest of space.
Very few individuals come up to this second level. Most are stuck in the first level purely due to ignorance. They are caught up with ideas such as wealth / fame / career etc. If one does not understand the subtler aspects of evolution and flow with it, then one is necessarily flowing against it. This will cause resistance and will lead to suffering. That suffering is the indicator that things are not moving in the right direction. But, those who can see this, will try to skilfully deal with local concerns (health / finances etc) and try to quickly move on to the following steps.
Individuals who accomplish step 2, start experiencing life in subtler terms. Subtler realities combine to produce grosser manifestations. These subtler realities are referred to as the three gunas - the three basic characteristics of all of matter which combine in various ratios to produce the various forms. These gunas are rajas (action), tamas (stability) and sattva (clarity). As one develops on the path of Yoga, one starts to see all of form in terms of these three characteristics. For example, one does not experience anger but experiences rajas. This is not just a change in terminology. Since this is a subtler reality, the individual now gains tremendous control on grosser realities as there are subtler intervention points. Normally, when there is anger, the flight or fight syndrome is the only method to deal with it. But, when this has resolved into rajas for the individual, pranayama can be used to deal with it.
Finally, the characteristics developed in stage 2 are applied on the three gunas in stage 3. As one applies discipline and sincerity to tamas, one develops tremendous control on the various facets of life one is involved in. This leads to lordship or Aiswaryam. When vision and creativity are applied to the rajas component in us, all of aggression is converted to action. Energy that is scattered all over the place is directed into specific direction and with the specific purpose of producing a compassionate response to the world. Naturally this cleansed energy will lead to the development of Dharmam.
When this develops, tremendous understanding of oneself and the world develops leading to Gnanam. Increased equanimity now leads to dispassion from all events around leading to development of Vairagyam. This is not a linear development but all four characteristics develop simultaneously.
At the highest level, one develops all these characteristics to such tremendous levels that all these appear perfectly spontaneous to the rest of humanity. This ultimate state is called Kaivalyam.
This is the evolution of the function of form. Developing in this way appears to be the ultimate goal of human life as this is the subtlest process behind all other processes. Since these functions are seen in all life forms and only humans appear to be able to manifest all four to very high levels, the human form evolved via Yoga seems to be the highest manifestation (so far) of all of form.
When a society encourages such an evolution in most of its citizens, the society is destined for tremendous health and greatness!!