I have this question time and again. Not only me but a lot of others too.
“There are so many spiritual practices. Some you have to do – pranayamas, breathing, kriya. Some you do not have to do anything – meditate, concentration. And some where the experience just comes to you. Are they all different?”
I came across this knowledge talk sheet given by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar which talks exactly about this. The different levels of spiritual practices. He clearly says how we start with one level and it takes us to the other levels. Really good read!
There are three levels of spiritual practices.
The first one is called Anva Upaya. The second is Shakta Upaya, . and the third one is Shambava Upaya. Shiva, Shakti and Anva. All practices in the world can be categorized into these three categories. So, Anva is the lowest; means the very beginning. All the japa, mantras, poojas, yogasanas, breath control, everything comes under Anva Upaya. They are called Upayas, which means remedies. Above this is Shakta. Shakta is only mental, i.e., inside. There is no outer thing, no mantras in it. It is the effect of the meditative state, that is Shakta Upaya.
When you sing, meditate, do pranayam and Sudarshan Kriya (Kriya begins with Anva Upaya but then), it leads to Shakta Upaya, when you are just energy. Here there is no effort, there is no doing. Just a little bit effortless effort is there.
Then the Shambava or Shiv Upaya is just pure awareness. Just a state of awareness. Shambava Upaya means that there is no means (way) to do it, it is just a happening, it will just happen. Even then it is still called an Upaya.
So the purpose of Anva and Shakta Upaya is to go to Shambava Upaya wherein you become one with Shiva (the fourth state of consciousness). There is no two, there is no doer, you are Shiva, and that is Shambava Upaya.
Usually people who have experienced some degree of Shambava Upaya, they simply discard the other levels. If you read, some people have said that there is no point in doing pranayama, or, there is no point in chanting mantras, or there is no point in doing Pooja. They are all talking from the level of Shambava Upaya, but all these practices have their own place too. See, for example, if you go to the Prime Minister of a country, the Mayor doesn’t matter much. But suppose the Mayor has a say as well, then even if you go to the Prime Minister the mayor of this town can put some hurdles, isn’t it? The beaurocrats can put some hurdles.
So the ancient system is attending to everybody and giving everyone their rightful place. And that is how all this, Anva Upaya, Shakta Upaya, everything is maintained because they have some purpose.