Atheism is when you do not believe either in values or in the abstract. When an atheist comes to the guru, what happens? You start experiencing your own form and discover that you are indeed formless, hollow and empty. And this abstract non-form in you becomes more and more concrete. The guru makes the abstract more real and what you thought was solid appears to be more unreal. Sensitivity and subtlety dawn. Perception of love, not as an emotion, but as the substratum of existence, becomes evident. The formless spirit shines through every form in creation and the mystery of life deepens, shattering atheism.
Then the journey begins and it has four stages.
The first stage is Saarupya — to see the formless in the form, seeing God in all the forms. Often, one feels more comfortable seeing God as formless rather than with a form, because with a form, one feels a distance, a duality, a fear of rejection and other limitations. In life all of our interactions are with a form, other than in deep sleep and in samadhi. And, if you do not see God in the form, then the waking part of life remains devoid of the Divine. All those who accept God to be formless use symbols, and perhaps love the symbols more than God himself. If God comes and tells a Christian to leave the cross or a Muslim to drop the crescent, perhaps he may not do it. To begin with, loving the formless is possible only through forms.
The second stage is Saamipya (closeness) — feeling absolutely close to the form you have chosen and reaching out to the formless. This leads to a sense of intimacy with the whole creation. In this stage, one overcomes the fear of rejection and other fears. But this is bound by time and space.
The third stage is Saanidhya — feeling the presence of the Divine by which you transcend the limitations of time and space.
Then the final stage is Saayujya — When you are firmly entrenched in the Divine. It is then you realize you are one with the Divine. There is a total merging with the Beloved and all duality disappears. This is that and that is this. Whether an atheist or believer, he goes through these four stages.
~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar