Here, in an excerpt from the wonderful text Yoga Vasistha, the legendary sage Vasistha teaches Lord Rama the seven steps to Liberation:
Vasistha: Equipped with wisdom, he who gradually ascends the seven steps to perfection in yoga attains liberation from these.
Rama: Holy sir, what are the seven steps you have referred to?
Vasistha: O Rama, there are seven descending steps of ignorance, and there are seven ascending steps of wisdom. I shall now describe them to you. To remain established in self-knowledge is liberation; when this is disturbed, there arise egotism and bondage. The state of self-knowledge is that in which there is no mental agitation, neither distraction nor dullness of mind, neither egotism nor perception of diversity.
The delusion that veils this self-knowledge is seven-fold: seed state of wakefulness, wakefulness, great wakefulness, wakeful dream, dream, dream wakefulness and sleep. In pure consciousness, when mind and jiva exist only in name, it is the seed state of wakefulness. When notions of ‘I’ and ‘this’ arise, it is known as wakefulness. When these notions get strengthened by the memory of previous incarnations, it is great wakefulness. When the mind is fully awake to its own fancies and is filled with them, it is wakeful dream. The false notions of experiences during sleep, which yet appear to be real, are dreams. In the dream wakeful state one recalls past experiences as if they are real now. When these are abandoned in favour of total inert dullness, it is sleep. These seven have their own innumerable subdivisions.
I shall now describe to you, O Rama, the seven states or planes of wisdom. Knowing them you will not be caught in delusion. Pure wish or intention is the first, inquiry is the second, the third is when the mind becomes subtle, establishment in truth is the fourth, total freedom from attachment or bondage is the fifth, the sixth is cessation of objectivity, and the seventh is beyond all these.
Why do I continue to be a fool? I shall seek holy men and scriptures, having cultivated dispassion’ – such a wish is the first state. Thereupon one engages in the practice of inquiry (direct observation). With all these, there arises non-attachment, and the mind becomes subtle and transparent: this is the third state. When these three are practised, there arises in the seeker a natural turning away from sense-pleasures and there is natural dwelling in truth: this is the fourth state.
When all these are well practised, there is total non-attachment and at the same time a conviction in the nature of truth: this is the fifth state. Then one rejoices in one’s own self, the perception of duality and diversity both within oneself and outside oneself ceases, and the efforts that one made at the inspiration of others bear fruition in direct spiritual experience.
After this there is no other support, no division, no diversity, and self-knowledge is spontaneous, natural and therefore unbroken: this is the seventh, transcendental state. This is the state of one who is liberated while living here. Beyond this is the state of one who has transcended even the body (turiyatita).
Rama, all these great ones who ascend these seven planes of wisdom are holy men. They are liberated and they do not fall into the mire of happiness and unhappiness. They mayor may not work or be active. They rejoice in the self and do not stand in need of others to make them happy.
The highest state of consciousness can be attained by all, even by animals and by primitive men, by those who have a body and even by disembodied beings, for it involves only the rise of wisdom.
They who have reached the highest planes of consciousness are indeed great men. They are adorable; even an emperor is like a worthless blade of grass compared to them, for they are liberated here and now.