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The Five Stages in Temptation

The only external tempters of man are the objects of sensation. These, however, are powerless in themselves until they are reflected in his mind as desirable objects to possess. His only enemy, therefore, is his coveting of the objects of sensation. By ceasing to covet objects of sensation, temptation and the painful fighting against impure desires pass away. This ceasing to covet objects of sensation is called the relinquishing of desire; it is the renunciation of the inner defilement, by which a man ceases to be the slave of outward things, and becomes their master.

Temptation is a growth, a process more or less slow, the duration of which can be measured by the sage who has gained accurate knowledge of the nature of his thoughts and acts and the laws governing them, by virtue of having subjected himself to a long course of training in mental discipline and self-control. It has its five stages which can be clearly defined, and their development traced with precision. But the man who is still immersed in temptation has, as yet, little or no knowledge of the nature of his thoughts and acts and the laws governing them. He has lived so long in outward things—in the objects of sensation—and has given so little time to introspection and the cleansing of his heart, that he lives in almost total ignorance of the real nature of the thoughts and acts which he thinks and commits every day. To him, temptation seems to be instantaneous, and his powerlessness to combat the sudden and, apparently, unaccountable onslaught, causes him to regard it as a mystery, and mystery being the mother of superstition, he may—and usually does—fall hack upon some speculative belief to account for his trouble, such as the belief in an invisible evil being or power outside himself, who suddenly, and without warning, attacks and torments him. Such a superstition renders him more powerless still, for he has sufficient knowledge to understand that he cannot hope to successfully cope with a being more powerful than himself, and of whose whereabouts and tactics he is altogether unacquainted; and so he introduces other beliefs and superstitious which his dilemma seems to necessitate, until at last, in addition to all his sins and sufferings, he becomes burdened with a mass of supernatural beliefs which engross his attention, and take him further and further away from the real cause of his difficulty. Meantime he continues to be tempted and to fall, and must do so until by self-subjugation and self-purification he has acquired the ability to trace the relation between cause and effect in his spiritual nature, when, with purified and enlightened vision he will see that the moment of temptation is but the fulfillment of those impure desires which he secretly harbors in his own heart. And, later, with a still purer heart, and when he has gained sufficient control over his wandering thoughts to be able to analyze and understand them, he will see that the actual moment of temptation itself has its inception, its growth, and its fruition.

What, then, are the stages in temptation? and how is the process of temptation born in the mind, how grow and bear its bitter fruit? The stages are five, and are as follows:—1. Perception; 2. Cogitation; 3. Conception; 4. Attraction; and 5. Desire.

The first stage is that in which objects of sensation are perceived as objects. This is pure perception, and is without sin or defilement. The second stage is that in which objects of sensation are considered as objects of personal pleasure. This is a brooding of the mind upon objects, with an undefined groping for pleasurable sensation, and is the beginning of defilement and sin. In the third stage objects of sensation are conceived as objects of pleasure. In this stage the objects are associated with certain pleasurable sensations, and those sensations are conceived and called up vividly in the mind. In the fourth stage objects of sensation are perceived us objects of pleasure. At this stage the pleasure as connected with the object is distinctly defined, yet there is a confusion of pleasure and object, so that the two appear as one, and a wish to possess the object arises in the mind; there is also a going out of the mind towards the object. The fifth and last stage is an intense desire, a coveting or lusting to possess the object in order to experience the pleasure and gratification which it will afford. With every repetition, in the mind, of the first four stages, this desire is added to, as fuel is added to fire and it increases in intensity and ardor until at last the whole being is aflame with a burning passion which is blind to everything but its own immediate pleasure and gratification. And when this painful fruition of thought is reached, a man is said to be tempted. There is a still further stage of Action, which is merely the doing of the thing desired, the outworking of the sin already committed in the mind. From desire to action is but a short step.

The following table will better enable the mind of the reader to grasp the process and principle involved.

Inaction—Holiness; Rest.

  1. Perception—Objects of sensation perceived as such.
  2. Cogitation—Objects of sensation considered as a source of pleasure.
  3. Conception—Objects of sensation conceived as affording pleasure.
  4. Attraction—Objects of sensation perceived as pleasurable in possession.
  5. Desire—Objects of sensation coveted as such: i. e. desired for personal delight and pleasure.

Action—Sin; Unrest.

Every time a man is tempted, he passes, from inaction, through all the five stages in succession, and his fall is a passing on into Action. The process varies greatly in duration according to the nature of the temptation and the character of the tempted; but after much yielding and many falls, the mind becomes so familiar with the transition that it passes through all the stages with such rapidity as to make the temptation appear as an instantaneous, indivisible experience.

The sage, however, never loses sight of the duration of time occupied in the process of temptation, but watches its growth and transition; and just as the scientist can measure the time occupied in the transition of sensation from the brain to the bodily extremities, or from the extremities to the brain, which, ordinarily, appears not to occupy duration, so the sage measures (though by a different method) the passage from pure perception to inflamed desire in a sudden experience of temptation.

This knowledge of the nature of temptation destroys its power, or rather its apparent power, for power exists in holiness only. Ignorance is at the root of all sin, and it fades away when knowledge is admitted into the mind. Just as darkness and the effects of darkness disappear when light is introduced, so sin and its effects are dispersed when knowledge of one's spiritual nature is acquired and embraced.

How then does the sage avoid sin and remain in peace? Knowing the nature of sinful acts, how they are the result of temptation, knowing also the nature of temptation, how it is the end and fruition of a particular train of thought, he cuts off that train at its ommencement, not allowing his mind to go out into the world of sensation, which is the world of pain and sorrow. He stands guard over his mind, eternally vigilant, and does not allow his thoughts to pass beyond the safe gates of pure perception. To him "all things are pure" because his mind is pure. He sees all objects, whether material or mental, as they are, and not as the pleasure-seeker sees them, as objects of personal enjoyment, nor as the tempted one sees them, as sources of evil and pain. His normal sphere, however, is that of Inaction, which is perfect holiness and rest. This is a condition of entire indifference to all considerations of pleasure and pain, regarding all things from the standpoint of might, and not from that of enjoyment. Is then, the sage, the sinless one, deprived of all enjoyment? Is his life a dead monotony of inaction—inertia? Truly, he is delivered from all those sensory excitements which the world calls "pleasure," but which conceals, as a mask, the drawn features of pain; and being released from the bondage of cravings and pleasures, he lives without ceasing in the divine, abiding joy which the pleasure-seeker and the wanderer in sin can neither know nor understand; but Inaction in this particular, means inaction as regards sin, inaction in the lower animal activities which, being cut off, their energy is transferred to the higher intellectual and moral activities, releasing their power, and giving them untrammeled scope and freedom.

Thus the sage avoids sin by extracting its root within himself, not allowing it to grow into attraction, to blossom into desire, and to bear the bitter fruits of sinful actions. The unwise man, however allows the thought of pleasure to take root in his mind, where its growth evokes sensations which are pleasant to him, and on these sensations he dwells with enjoyment, thinking in his heart, "So long as I do not commit the sinful act, I am free from sin." He does not know that his thoughts are causes the effects of which are actions, and that there is no escape from sinful acts for him who dwells in sinful thoughts. And so the process develops in his mind and blossoms into desire, and in the final moment of temptation (which is but the moment of opportunity brought into prominence by that desire), with the coveted object at his unreserved command, the fall of the man into sinful action is swift and certain.

(To be continued).

Let no man think lightly of evil, saying in his heart, "It will not come nigh unto me." As by the falling of water drops a water pot is filled, so the fool becomes full of evil, though he gather it little by little. Let no man think lightly of good, saying in his heart, "It will not come nigh unto me." As by the falling of water drops a water pot is filled, so the wise man becomes full of good, though he gather it little by little.
—Buddha

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James Allen

James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.

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