First stage – lokacara śikharin or lokacārin
Although being a śikharin means that he or she treats sādhanā and the spiritual path very seriously, a śikharin on this stage is also a person who is engaged in worldly activities. It could be said that he or she has one foot here and another there. The Sanskrit word ‘lokacārin’ points to ‘one who walks in the world,’ i.e. one who lives a life in the world and is attached to worldly affairs. If a śikharin foresees the epitome of spiritual life as that of an antarin, he or she deepens the sādhanā and the Teaching, and step-by-step disconnects one worldly bond after another, to be prepared for a life without any such bonds. If for a śikharin the epitome of spiritual life is foreseen as living in ordinary society together with common people, his or her sādhanā needs to be adjusted for such an objective.
In some śaiva schools, people who were not ascetics living in seclusion, but who besides a householder’s daily life within a family also engaged in strict regular sādhanā, have been called ‘bhautika,’ i.e. ‘those who live in comfort (bhūti).’
Second stage – antara śikharin or antarin
‘Antarin’ literally means ‘one who is in the middle (antar),’ which can be understood physically as ‘one who is between (the walls of a building, i.e. a resident)’ or figuratively as ‘one who resides in the middle (of his/her being, i.e. focusing on the inner esoteric space).’ Both explanations describe the very nature of being an antarin very well.
An antarin is a śikharin living in a śikhara, with a decision that his or her life will be dedicated to mystical exploration of the microcosm, and who at the same time has already untied the bonds of daily mundane life. An antarin thus lives a life not dissimilar to that of a monk or nun, but without the necessity being celibate. An antarin is not employed and is supported by the śikhara. (As of now, this is rather a wish).
From the position of being an antarin, it comes that he or she is an antarin for life. That’s why it is important for a śikharin on the first stage, wishing to becoming an antarin, to try to live the life of an antarin in a śikhara for periods of various lengths before he or she is determined to proceed to this second stage.
Third stage – ekamuni śikharin or simply ekamuni
At this stage the antarin has chosen a life of total seclusion, which lasts at least half a year, but can last years or an undefined period of time. An ekamuni lives entirely in isolation, dedicating himself or herself to sādhanā only. In other words, he or she lives completely alone (eka), not accepting visitors, detached from human relationships, and thus is one who does not speak, who remains silent (muni). An ekamuni’s undisturbed accommodation, food, etc., are secured by the śikhara.
To become an ekamuni is possible only for an antarin who has demonstrated himself or herself to be a knowledgeable person in dedication to maṇḍalic sādhanā requiring very long cycles. From the beginning, an antarin becomes an ekamuni for a limited time only, which can gradually be prolonged as the sādhanā demands. Typically, an ekamuni comes back to the śikhara from a long period of seclusion for a short period of time to discuss sādhanā and mystical life, and to pass on his or her experiences. But in the mystical world nothing is typical, and a real esoteric life cannot be defined by declarations beforehand.