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- Explaining the Root Problem
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Monday, December 31, 2007
-added by danny-
The Root Problem of All Problems
Tilopa’s song continues:
“If one sees naught when staring into space; if with the mind one then observes the mind, one destroys distinctions and reaches buddhahood.
The clouds that wander through the sky have no roots, no home; nor do the distinctive thoughts floating through the mind. Once the self-mind is seen, discrimination stops. In space shapes and colors form, but neither by black nor white is space tinged. From the self-mind all things emerge, the mind by virtues and by vices is not stained.”
The root problem of all problems is mind itself. The first thing to be understood is what this mind is, of what stuff it is made; whether it is an entity or just a process; whether it is substantial, or just dreamlike. And unless you know the nature of the mind, you will not be able to solve any problems of your life.
You may try hard, but if you try to solve single, individual problems, you are bound to be a failure -- that is absolutely certain -- because in fact no individual problem exists: mind is the problem. If you solve this problem or that, it won't help because the root remains untouched.
It is just like cutting branches of a tree, pruning the leaves, and not uprooting it. New leaves will come, new branches will sprout -- even more than before; pruning helps a tree to become thicker. Unless you know how to uproot it, your fight is baseless, it is foolish. You will destroy yourself, not the tree.
In fighting you will waste your energy, time, life, and the tree will go on becoming more and more strong, far thicker and dense. And you will be surprised what is happening: you are doing so much hard work, trying to solve this problem and that, and they go on growing, increasing. Even if one problem is solved, suddenly ten problems take its place.
Don't try to solve individual, single problems -- there are none: mind itself is the problem. But mind is hidden underground; that's why I call it the root, it is not apparent. Whenever you come across a problem the problem is above ground, you can see it -- that's why you are deceived by it.
Always remember, the visible is never the root; the root always remains invisible, the root is always hidden. Never fight with the visible; otherwise you will fight with shadows. You may waste yourself, but there cannot be any transformation in your life, the same problems will crop up again and again and again. You can observe your own life and you will see what I mean. I am not talking about any theory about the mind, just the "facticity" of it. This is the fact: mind has to be solved.
People come to me and they ask: "How to attain a peaceful mind?" I say to them: "There exists nothing like that: a peaceful mind. Never heard of it."
Mind is never peaceful -- no-mind is peace. Mind itself can never be peaceful, silent. The very nature of the mind is to be tense, to be in confusion. Mind can never be clear, it cannot have clarity, because mind is by nature confusion, cloudiness. Clarity is possible without mind, peace is possible without mind, silence is possible without mind -- so never try to attain a silent mind. If you do, from the very beginning you are moving in an impossible dimension.
So the first thing is to understand the nature of the mind, only then can something be done.
If you watch, you will never come across any entity like mind. It is not a thing, it is just a process; it is not a thing, it is like a crowd. Individual thoughts exist, but they move so fast that you cannot see the gaps in between. The intervals cannot be seen because you are not very aware and alert, you need a deeper insight. When your eyes can look deep, you will suddenly see one thought, another thought, another thought -- but no mind.
Thoughts together, millions of thoughts, give you the illusion as if mind exists. It is just like a crowd, millions of people standing in a crowd: is there anything like a crowd? Can you find the crowd other than the individuals standing there? But they are standing together, their togetherness gives you the feeling as if something like a crowd exists -- only individuals exist.
This is the first insight into the mind. Watch, and you will find thoughts; you will never come across the mind. And if it becomes your own experience -- not because I say it, not because Tilopa sings about it, no, that won't be of much help -- if it becomes your experience, if it becomes a fact of your own knowing, then suddenly many things start changing. Because you have understood such a deep thing about mind, then many things can follow.
Watch the mind and see where it is, what it is. You will feel thoughts floating and there will be intervals. And if you watch long, you will see that intervals are more than the thoughts, because each thought has to be separate from another thought; in fact, each word has to be separate from another word. The deeper you go, you will find more and more gaps, bigger and bigger gaps. A thought floats, then comes a gap where no thought exists; then another thought comes, another gap follows.
If you are unconscious you cannot see the gaps; you jump from one thought to another, you never see the gap. If you become aware you will see more and more gaps.
If you become perfectly aware, then miles of gaps will be revealed to you.
And in those gaps, satoris happen. In those gaps the truth knocks at your door. In those gaps, the guest comes. In those gaps God is realized, or whatsoever way you like to express it. And when awareness is absolute, then there is only a vast gap of nothingness.
It is just like clouds: clouds move. They can be so thick that you cannot see the sky hidden behind them. The vast blueness of the sky is lost, you are covered with clouds. Then you go on watching: one cloud moves and another has not come into the vision yet -- and suddenly a peek into the blueness of the vast sky.
The same happens inside: you are the vast blueness of the sky, and thoughts are just like clouds hovering around you, filling you. But the gaps exist, the sky exists. To have a glimpse of the sky is satori, and to become the sky is samadhi. From satori to samadhi, the whole process is a deep insight into the mind, nothing else. Mind doesn't exist as an entity -- the is the first thing. Only thoughts exist.
The second thing: the thoughts exist separate from you, they are not one with your nature, they come and go -- you remain, you persist. You are like the sky: it never comes, it never goes, it is always there. Clouds come and go, they are momentary phenomena, they are not eternal. Even if you try to cling to a thought, you cannot retain it for long; it has to go, it has its own birth and death. Thoughts are not yours, they don't belong to you. They come as visitors, guests, but they are not the host.
Watch deeply, then you will become the host and thoughts will be the guests. And as guests they are beautiful, but if you forget completely that you are the host and they become the hosts, then you are in a mess. This is what hell is. You are the master of the house, the house belongs to you, and guests have become the masters. Receive them, take care of them, but don't get identified with them; otherwise, they will become the masters.
The mind becomes the problem because you have taken thoughts so deeply inside you that you have forgotten completely the distance; that they are visitors, they come and go. Always remember that which abides: that is your nature, your tao. Always be attentive to that which never comes and never goes, just like the sky. Change the gestalt: don't be focused on the visitors, remain rooted in the host; the visitors will come and go.
Of course, there are bad visitors and good visitors, but you need not be worried about them. A good host treats all the guests in the same way, without making any distinctions. A good host is just a good host: a bad thought comes and he treats the bad thought also in the same way as he treats a good thought. It is not his concern that the thought is good or bad.
Because once you make the distinction that this thought is good and that thought is bad, what are you doing? You are bringing the good thought nearer to yourself and pushing the bad thought further away. Sooner or later, with the good thought you will get identified; the good thought will become the host. And any thought when it becomes the host creates misery -- because this is not the truth. The thought is a pretender and you get identified with it. Identification is the disease.
Gurdjieff used to say that only one thing is needed: not to be identified with that which comes and goes. The morning comes, the noon comes, the evening comes, and they go; the night comes and again the morning. You abide: not as you, because that too is a thought -- as pure consciousness; not your name, because that too is a thought; not your form, because that too is a thought; not your body, because one day you will realize that too is a thought. Just pure consciousness, with no name, no form; just the purity, just the formlessness and namelessness, just the very phenomenon of being aware -- only that abides.
If you get identified, you become the mind. If you get identified, you become the body. If you get identified, you become the name and the form -- what Hindus call nama, rupa, name and form -- then the host is lost. Then you forget the eternal and the momentary becomes significant. The momentary is the world; the eternal is divine.
This is the second insight to be attained, that you are the host and thoughts are guests.
The third thing, if you go on watching, will be realized soon. The third thing is that thoughts are foreign, intruders, outsiders. No thought is yours. They always come from without, you are just a passage. A bird comes into the house from one door, and flies out from another: just like that a thought comes into you and goes out of you.
You go on thinking that thoughts are yours. Not only that, you fight for your thoughts, you say: "This is my thought, this is true." You discuss, you debate, you argue about it, you try to prove that: "This is my thought." No thought is yours, no thought is original -- all thoughts are borrowed. And not secondhand, because millions of people have claimed those same thoughts before you. Thought is just as outside as a thing.
Somewhere, the great physicist, Eddington, has said that the deeper science goes into matter, the more it becomes a realization that things are thoughts. That may be so, I am not a physicist, but from the other end I would like to tell you that Eddington may be true that things look more and more like thoughts if you go deeper; if you go deeper into yourself, thoughts will look more and more like things.
In fact, these are two aspects of the same phenomenon: a thing is a thought, a thought is a thing.
When I say a thought is a thing, what do I mean? I mean that you can throw your thought just like a thing. You can hit somebody's head with a thought just like a thing. You can kill a person through a thought just as you can throw a dagger. You can give your thought as a gift, or as an infection. Thoughts are things, they are forces, but they don't belong to you. They come to you; they abide for a while in you and then they leave you. The whole universe is filled with thoughts and things. Things are just the physical part of thoughts, and thoughts are the mental part of things.
Because of this fact, many miracles happen -- because thoughts are things. If a person continuously thinks about you and your welfare, it will happen -- because he is throwing a continuous force at you. That's why blessings are useful, helpful. If you can be blessed by someone who has attained no-mind, the blessing is going to be true -- because a man who never uses thought accumulates thought energy, so whatsoever he says is going to be true.
In all the Eastern traditions, before a person starts learning no-mind, there are techniques and much emphasis that he should stop being negative, because if you once attain to no-mind and your trend remains negative, you can become a dangerous force. Before the no-mind is attained, one should become absolutely positive. That is the whole difference between white and black magic.
Black magic is nothing more than when a man has accumulated thought energy without throwing out his negativity beforehand. And white magic is nothing more than when a man has attained too much thought energy, and has based his total being on a positive attitude. The same energy with negativity becomes black; the same energy with positivity becomes white. A thought is a great force, it is a thing.
This will be the third insight. It has to be understood and watched within yourself.
Sometimes it happens that you see your thought functioning as a thing, but just because of too much conditioning of materialism you think this may be just a coincidence. You neglect the fact, you simply don't give any attention to it; you remain indifferent, you forget about it. But many times you know that sometimes you were thinking about the death of a certain person -- and he is dead. You think it is just a coincidence. Sometime you were thinking about a friend and a desire arose in you that it would be good if he comes -- and he is on the door, knocking. You think it is a coincidence. It is not coincidence. In fact, there is nothing like coincidence, everything has its causality.
Your thoughts go on creating a world around you.
Your thoughts are things, so be careful about them. Handle them carefully! If you are not very conscious, you can create misery for yourself and for others -- and you have done that. And remember, when you create misery for somebody, unconsciously, at the same time, you are creating misery for yourself -- because a thought is a two-edged sword. It cuts you also simultaneously when it cuts somebody else.
One Israeli, Uri Geller, who has been working on thought energy, displayed his experiment on BBC television in England. He can bend anything just by thinking: somebody else keeps a spoon in his hand ten feet away from Uri Geller, and he just thinks about it -- and the spoon bends immediately. You cannot bend it by your hand, and he bends it by his thought. But a very rare phenomenon happened on the BBC television; even Uri Geller was not aware that this is possible.
Thousands of people in their homes were seeing the experiment. And when he did his experiment, bent things, in many people's houses many things fell and became distorted -- thousands of things all over England. The energy was as if broadcast. And he was doing the experiment at a ten-foot distance, then from the television screen in people's homes, around the area of ten feet, many things happened: things got bent, fell down, became distorted. It was weird!
Thoughts are things, and very very forceful things. There was one woman in Soviet Russia, Mikhailovana. She can do many things to things from far away, she can pull anything towards herself -- just by thought. Soviet Russia was not a believer in occult things -- a communist country, atheistic -- so they had been working on Mikhailovana, on what is happening, in a scientific way. But when she does it, she loses almost two pounds of weight; in a half-hour experiment she loses two pounds. What does it mean?
It means that through thoughts you are throwing energy -- and you are continuously doing it. Your mind is a chatterbox. You are broadcasting things unnecessarily. You are destroying people around you, you are destroying yourself.
You are a dangerous thing -- and continuously broadcasting.
And many things are happening because of you. And it is a great network. The whole world goes on becoming every day more and more miserable because more and more people are on the earth and they are broadcasting more and more thoughts.
The further back you go, you find the earth the more and more peaceful -- less and less broadcasters. In the days of Buddha, or in the days of Lao Tzu, the world was very very peaceful, natural; it was a heaven. Why? The population was very very small, for one thing. People were not thinkers too much, they were more and more prone to feeling rather than thinking. And people were praying. In the morning, they would do the first thing and that would be a prayer. In the night they would do the last thing -- the prayer. And throughout the whole day also, whenever they would find a moment, they would be praying inside.
What is a prayer? Prayer is sending blessings to all. Prayer is sending your compassion to all. Prayer is creating an antidote of negative thoughts -- it is a positivity.
This will be the third insight about thoughts, that they are things, forces, and you have to handle them very carefully.
Ordinarily, not aware, you go on thinking anything. It is difficult to find a person who has not committed many murders in thought; difficult to find a person who has not been doing all sorts of sins and crimes inside the mind -- and then these things happen. And remember, you may not murder, but your continuous thinking of murdering somebody may create the situation in which the person is murdered. Somebody may take your thought, because there are weaker persons all around and thoughts flow like water: downwards. If you think something continuously, someone who is a weakling may take your thought and go and kill a person.
That's why those who have known the inner reality of man say that whatsoever happens on the earth, everybody is responsible. Everybody. Whatsoever happens in Vietnam, not only are the Nixons responsible, everybody who thinks is also responsible. Only one person can not be held responsible, and that is the person who has no mind; otherwise everybody is responsible for everything that goes on. If the earth is a hell, you are a creator, you participate.
Don't go on throwing responsibility on others -- you are also responsible, it is a collective phenomenon. The disease may bubble up anywhere, the explosion may happen millions, thousands of miles away from you -- that doesn't make any difference, because thought is a non-spatial phenomenon, it needs no space.
That's why it travels fastest. Even light cannot travel so fast, because even for light space is needed. Thought travels fastest. In fact it takes no time in traveling, space doesn't exist for it. You may be here, thinking of something, and it happens in America. How can you be held responsible? No court can punish you, but in the ultimate court of existence you will be punished -- you are already punished. That's why you are so miserable.
People come to me and they say: "We never do anything wrong to anybody, and still we are so miserable." You may not be doing, you may be thinking -- and thinking is more subtle than doing.
A person can protect himself from doing, but he cannot protect himself from thinking. For thinking everybody is vulnerable.
No-thinking is a must if you want to be completely freed from sin, freed from crime, freed from all that goes around you -- and that is the meaning of a buddha.
A Buddha is a person who lives without the mind; then he is not responsible. That's why in the East we say that he never accumulates karma; he never accumulates any entanglements for the future. He lives, he walks, he moves, he eats, he talks, he is doing many things, so he must accumulate karma, because karma means activity. But in the East it is said even if a Buddha kills, he will not accumulate karma. Why? And you, even if you don't kill, you will accumulate karma. Why?
It is simple: whatsoever Buddha is doing, he is doing without any mind in it. He is spontaneous, it is not activity. He is not thinking about it, it happens. He is not the doer. He moves like an emptiness. He has no mind for it, he was not thinking to do it. But if the existence allows it to happen, he allows it to happen. He has no more the ego to resist; no more the ego to do.
That is the meaning of being empty and a no-self: just being a non-being, anatta, no-selfness. Then you accumulate nothing; then you are not responsible for anything that goes on around you; then you transcend.
Each single thought is creating something for you and for others. Be alert!
But when I say be alert, I don't mean that think good thoughts, no, because whenever you think good thoughts, by the side you are also thinking of bad thoughts. How can good exist without bad? If you think of love, just by the side, behind it, is hidden hate. How can you think about love without thinking about hate? You may not think consciously, love may be in the conscious layer of the mind, but hate is hidden in the unconscious -- they move together.
Whenever you think of compassion, you think of cruelty. Can you think of compassion without thinking of cruelty? Can you think of non-violence without thinking of violence? In the very word "non-violence," violence enters; it is there in the very concept. Can you think of brahmacharya, celibacy, without thinking of sex? It is impossible, because what will celibacy mean if there is no thought of sex? And if brahmacharya is based on the thought of sex, what type of brahmacharya is this?
No, there is a totally different quality of being which comes by not thinking: not good, not bad, simply a state of no-thinking. You simply watch, you simply remain conscious, but you don't think. And if some thought enters...it will enter, because thoughts are not yours; they are just floating in the air. All around there is a noosphere, a thoughtsphere, all around. Just as there is air, there is thought all around you, and it goes on entering on its own accord. It stops only when you become more and more aware. There is something in it: if you become more aware, a thought simply disappears, it melts, because awareness is a greater energy than thought.
Awareness is like fire to thought.
It is just like you burn a lamp in the house and the darkness cannot enter; you put the light off -- from everywhere darkness has entered; without taking a single minute, a single moment, it is there. When the light burns in the house, the darkness cannot enter. Thoughts are like darkness: they enter only if there is no light within. Awareness is fire: you become more aware, less and less thoughts enter.
If you become really integrated in your awareness, thoughts don't enter you; you have become an impenetrable citadel, nothing can penetrate you. Not that you are closed, remember -- you are absolutely open; but just the very energy of awareness becomes your citadel. And when no thoughts can enter you, they will come and they will bypass you. You will see them coming, and simply, by the time they reach near you they turn. Then you can move anywhere, then you go to the very hell -- nothing can affect you. This is what we mean by enlightenment.
Now try to understand Tilopa's sutra:
If one sees naught when staring into space; if with the mind one then observes the mind, one destroys distinctions and reaches buddhahood.
If one sees naught when staring into space.... This is a method, a tantra method: to look into space, into the sky, without seeing; to look with an empty eye. Looking, yet not looking for something: just an empty look.
Sometimes you see in a madman's eyes an empty look -- and madmen and sages are alike in certain things. A madman looks at your face, but you can see he is not looking at you. He just looks through you as if you are a glass thing, transparent; you are just in the way, he is not looking at you. And you are transparent for him: he looks beyond you, through you. He looks without looking at you; the "at" is not present, he simply looks.
Look in the sky without looking for something, because if you look for something a cloud is bound to come: "something" means a cloud, "nothing" means the vast expanse of the blue sky. Don't look for any object. If you look for an object, the very look creates the object: a cloud comes, and then you are looking at a cloud. Don't look at the clouds. Even if there are clouds, you don't look at them -- simply look, let them float, they are there. Suddenly a moment comes when you are attuned to this look of not-looking -- clouds disappear for you, only the vast sky remains. It is difficult because eyes are focused and your eyes are tuned to look at things.
Look at a small child the first day born. He has the same eyes as a sage -- or like a madman: his eyes are loose and floating. He can bring both his eyes to meet at the center; he can allow them to float to the far corners -- they are not yet fixed. His system is liquid, his nervous system is not yet a structure, everything is floating. So a child looks without looking at things; it is a mad look. Watch a child: the same look is needed from you, because again you have to attain a second childhood.
Watch a madman, because the madman has fallen out of the society. Society means the fixed world of roles, games. A madman is mad because he has no fixed role now, he has fallen out: he is the perfect drop-out. A sage is also a perfect drop-out in a different dimension. He is not mad; in fact he is the only sanest possibility. But the whole world is mad, fixed -- that's why a sage also looks mad. Watch a madman: that is the look which is needed.
In old schools of Tibet they always had a madman, just for the seekers to watch his eyes.
A madman was very much valued. He was searched after because a monastery could not exist without a madman. He becomes an object to observe. The seekers will observe the madman, his eyes, and then they will try to look at the world like the madman. Those days were beautiful.
In the East, madmen have never suffered like they are suffering in the West. In the East they were valued, a madman was something special. The society took care of him, he was respected, because he has certain elements of the sage, certain elements of the child. He is different from the so-called society, culture, civilization; he has fallen out of it. Of course, he has fallen down; a sage falls up, a madman falls down -- that's the difference -- but both have fallen out. And they have similarities. Watch a madman, and then try to let your eyes become unfocused.
In Harvard, they were doing one experiment a few months ago, and they were surprised, they couldn't believe it. They were trying to find out whether the world, as we see it, is so or not -- because many things have surfaced within the few last years.
We see the world not as it is, we see it as we expect it to be seen, we project something onto it.
It happened that a great ship reached a small island in the Pacific for the first time. The people of the island didn't see it, nobody! And the ship was so vast -- but the people were attuned, their eyes were attuned to small boats. They had never known such a big ship, they had never seen such a thing. Simply their eyes would not catch the glimpse, their eyes simply refused.
In Harvard they tried it on a young man: they gave him spectacles with distorting glasses, and he had to wear them for seven days. For the first three days he was in a miserable state, because everything was distorted, the whole world around him was distorted.... It gave him such a severe headache, he couldn't sleep. Even with closed eyes those distorted figures would be there...the faces distorted, the trees distorted, the roads distorted. He couldn't even walk because he couldn't believe: "What is true and what is given by the projection of distorting glasses?"
But a miracle happened! After the third day he became attuned to it; the distortion disappeared. The glasses remained the same, distorting, but he started looking at the world in the same old way. Within a week everything was okay: there was no headache, no problem, and the scientists were simply surprised; they couldn't believe it was happening. The eyes had completely dropped, as if the glasses were no longer there. The glasses were there, and they were distorting -- but the eyes had come to see the world for which they were trained.
Nobody knows whether what you are seeing is there or not. It may not be there, it may be there in a totally different way. The colors you see, the forms you see, everything is projected by the eyes. And whenever you look fixedly, focused with your old patterns, you see things according to your own conditioning. That's why a madman has a liquid look, an absent look, looking and not looking together.
This look is beautiful. It is one of the greatest tantra techniques:
If one sees naught when staring into space...
Don't see, just look. For the beginning few days, again and again you will see something, just because of the old habit. We hear things because of old habit. We see things because of old habit. We understand things because of old habit.
One of the greatest disciples of Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, used to insist on a certain thing with his disciples -- and everybody resented it, and many people left simply because of that insistence. If somebody said: "Yesterday you told..." he immediately would stop him and say: "Don't say it like that. Say: 'I understood that you said this thing yesterday.' 'I understood....' Don't say what I said; you cannot know that. Talk about what you heard." And he would insist so much because we are habitual.
Again you might say: "In the Bible it is said..." and he would say: "Don't say that! Simply say that you understand that this is said in the Bible." With each sentence he insisted: "Always remember that this is your understanding."
We go on forgetting. His disciples went on forgetting again and again, and every day, and he was stubborn about it. He would not allow you to go on. He would say: "Go back. Say first that: 'I understand you said this, this is my understanding'...because you hear according to yourself, you see according to yourself -- because you have a fixed pattern of seeing and hearing."
This has to be dropped. To know existence, all fixed attitudes have to be dropped. Your eyes should be just windows, not projectors. Your ears should be just doors, not projectors.
It happened: One psychoanalyst who was studying with Gurdjieff tried to do this experiment. In a wedding ceremony he tried a very simple but beautiful experiment. He stood by the side, people passing, and he watched them and he felt that nobody at the receiving end was hearing what they were saying -- so many people, some rich man's wedding ceremony. So he also joined in and he said very quietly to the first person in the receiving line: "My grandmother died today." The man said: "So good of you, so beautiful." Then to another he said it and the man said: "How nice of you." And to the groom, when he said this, he said: "Old man, it is time you also followed."
Nobody is listening to anybody. You hear whatsoever you expect. Expectation is your specs -- that is the glasses. Your eyes should be windows -- this is the technique.
Nothing should go out of the eyes, because if something goes a cloud is created. Then you see things which are not there, then a subtle hallucination.... Let pure clarity be in the eyes, in the ears; all your senses should be clear, perception pure -- only then the existence can be revealed to you. And when you know existence, then you know that you are a Buddha, a God, because in existence everything is divine.
If one sees naught when staring into space; if with the mind one then observes the mind...
First stare into the sky; lie down on the ground and just stare at the sky. Only one thing has to be tried: don't look at anything. In the beginning you will fall again and again, you will forget again and again. You will not be able to remember continuously. Don't be frustrated, it is natural because of so long a habit. Whenever you remember again, unfocus your eyes, make them loose, just look at the sky -- not doing anything, just looking. Soon a time comes when you can see into the sky without trying to see anything there.
Then try it with your inner sky:
...if with the mind one then observes the mind...
Then close your eyes and look inside, not looking for anything, just the same absent look. Thoughts floating but you are not looking for them, or at them -- you are simply looking. If they come it is good, if they don't come it is good also. Then you will be able to see the gaps: one thought passes, another comes -- and the gap. And then, by and by, you will be able to see that the thought becomes transparent, even when the thought is passing you continue to see the gap, you continue to see the hidden sky behind the cloud.
And the more you get attuned to this vision, thoughts will drop by and by, they will come less and less, less and less. The gaps will become wider. For minutes together no thought coming, everything is so quiet and silent inside -- you are for the first time together. Everything feels absolutely blissful, no disturbance. And if this look becomes natural to you -- it becomes, it is one of the most natural things; one just has to unfocus, decondition:
...one destroys distinctions...
Then there is nothing good, nothing bad; nothing ugly, nothing beautiful.
...and reaches buddhahood.
Buddhahood means the highest awakening. When there are no distinctions, all divisions are lost, unity is attained, only one remains. You cannot even call it "one," because that too is part of duality. One remains, but you cannot call it "one," because how can you call it "one" without deep down saying "two." No, you don't say that "one" remains, simply that "two" has disappeared, the many has disappeared. Now it is a vast oneness, there are no boundaries to anything.
One tree merging into another tree, earth merging into the trees, trees merging into the sky, the sky merging into the beyond...you merging in me, I merging in you...everything merging...distinctions lost, melting and merging like waves into other waves...a vast oneness vibrating, alive, without boundaries, without definitions, without distinctions...the sage merging into the sinner, the sinner merging into the sage...good becoming bad, bad becoming good...night turning into the day, the day turning into the night...life melting into death, death molding again into life -- then everything has become one.
Only at this moment is buddhahood attained: when there is nothing good, nothing bad, no sin, no virtue, no darkness, no night -- nothing, no distinctions. Distinctions are there because of your trained eyes. Distinction is a learned thing. Distinction is not there in existence. Distinction is projected by you. Distinction is given by you to the world -- it is not there. It is your eyes' trick, your eyes playing a trick on you.
The clouds that wander through the sky have no roots, no home; nor do the distinctive thoughts floating through the mind. Once the self-mind is seen, discrimination stops.
The clouds that wander through the sky have no roots, no home... And the same is true for your thoughts, and the same is true for your inner sky. Your thoughts have no roots, they have no home; they wander just like clouds. So you need not fight them, you need not be against them, you need not even try to stop thought.
This should become a deep understanding in you, because whenever a person becomes interested in meditation he starts trying to stop thinking. And if you try to stop thoughts they will never be stopped, because the very effort to stop is a thought, the very effort to meditate is a thought, the very effort to attain buddhahood is a thought. And how can you stop a thought by another thought? How can you stop mind by creating another mind? Then you will be clinging to the other. And this will go on and on, ad nauseam; then there is no end to it.
Don't fight -- because who will fight? Who are you? Just a thought, so don't make yourself a battle ground of one thought fighting another. Rather, be a witness, you just watch thoughts floating. They stop, but not by your stopping. They stop by your becoming more aware, not by any effort on your part to stop them. No, they never stop, they resist. Try and you will find: try to stop a thought and the thought will persist. Thoughts are very stubborn, adamant; they are hath yogis, they persist. You throw them away and they will come back a million and one times. You will get tired, but they will not get tired.
It happened that one man came to Tilopa. The man wanted to attain buddhahood and he had heard that this Tilopa has attained. And Tilopa was staying in a temple somewhere in Tibet. The man came; Tilopa was sitting, and the man said: "I would like to stop my thoughts."
Tilopa said: "It is very easy. I will give you a device, a technique. You follow this: just sit down and don't think of monkeys. This will do."
The man said: "So easy? Just not thinking of monkeys? But I have never been thinking about them."
Tilopa said: "Now you do it, and tomorrow morning you report."
You can understand what happened to that poor man...monkeys and monkeys all around. In the night he couldn't get any sleep, not a wink. He would open his eyes and they were sitting there, or he would close his eyes and they were sitting there, and they were making faces.... He was simply surprised. "Why has this man given me this technique, because if monkeys are the problem, then I have never been bothered by them. This is happening for the first time!" And he tried, in the morning again he tried. He took a bath, sat, but nothing doing: the monkeys wouldn't leave him.
He came back by the evening almost mad -- because the monkeys were following him and he was talking to them. He came and he said: "Save me somehow. I don't want this, I was okay, I don't want any meditation. And I don't want your enlightenment -- but save me from these monkeys!"
If you think of monkeys, it may be that they may not come to you. But if you want not to...if you want them not to come to you, then they will follow you. They have their egos and they cannot leave you so easily. And what do you think of yourself: trying not to think of monkeys? The monkeys get irritated, this cannot be allowed.
This happens to people. Tilopa was joking, he was saying that if you try to stop a thought, you cannot. On the contrary, the very effort to stop it gives it energy, the very effort to avoid it becomes attention. So, whenever you want to avoid something you are paying too much attention to it. If you want not to think a thought, you are already thinking about it.
Remember this, otherwise you will be in the same plight. The poor man who was obsessed became obsessed with monkeys because he wanted to stop them. There is no need to stop the mind. Thoughts are rootless, homeless vagabonds, you need not be worried about them. You simply watch, watch without looking at them, simply look.
If they come, good, don't feel bad -- because even a slight feeling that it is not good and you have started fighting. It's okay, it is natural: as leaves come in the trees, thoughts come to the mind. It's okay, it is perfectly as it should be. If they don't come, it is beautiful. You simply remain an impartial watcher, neither for nor against, neither appreciating nor condemning -- without any valuation. You simply sit inside yourself and look, looking without looking at.
And this happens, that the more you look, the less you find; the deeper you look, the thoughts disappear, disperse. Once you know this then the key is in your hand. And this key unlocks the most secret phenomenon: the phenomenon of buddhahood.
The clouds that wander through the sky have no roots, no home; nor do the distinctive thoughts floating through the mind. Once the self-mind is seen, discrimination stops.
And once you can see that thoughts are floating -- you are not the thoughts but the space in which thoughts are floating -- you have attained to your self-mind, you have understood the phenomenon of your consciousness. Then discrimination stops: then nothing is good, nothing is bad; then all desire simply disappears, because if there is nothing good, nothing bad, there is nothing to be desired, nothing to be avoided.
You accept, you become loose and natural. You simply start floating with existence, not going anywhere, because there is no goal; not moving to any target, because there is no target. Then you start enjoying every moment, whatsoever it brings -- whatsoever, remember. And you can enjoy it, because now you have no desires and no expectations. And you don't ask for anything, so whatsoever is given you feel grateful. Just sitting and breathing is so beautiful, just being here is so wonderful that every moment of life becomes a magical thing, a miracle in itself.
In space shapes and colors form, but neither by black nor white is space tinged. From the self-mind all things emerge, the mind by virtues and by vices is not stained.
And then, then you know that in space shapes and colors form. Clouds take many types of shapes: you can see elephants and lions, and whatsoever you like. In space forms, colors, come and go...but neither by black nor white is space tinged...but whatsoever happens, the sky remains untouched, untinged. In the morning it is like a fire, a red fire coming from the sun, the whole sky becomes red; but in the night where has that redness gone? The whole sky is dark, black. In the morning, where has that blackness gone? The sky remains untinged, untouched.
And this is the way of a sannyasin: to remain like a sky, untinged by whatsoever comes and happens. A good thought comes -- a sannyasin doesn't brag about it. He doesn't say: "I am filled with good thoughts, virtuous thoughts, blessings for the world." No, he doesn't brag, because if he brags he is tinged. He does not claim that he is good. A bad thought comes -- he is not depressed by it, otherwise he is tinged. Good or bad, day or night, everything that comes and goes he simply watches. Seasons change and he watches; youth becomes old age and he watches -- he remains untinged. And that is the deepest core of being a sannyasin, to be like a sky, space.
And this is in fact the case. When you think you are tinged, it is just thinking. When you think that you have become good or bad, sinner or sage, it is just thinking, because your inner sky never becomes anything -- it is a being, it never becomes anything. All becoming is just getting identified with some form and name, some color, some form arising in the space -- all becoming. You are a being, you are already that -- no need to become anything.
Look at the sky: spring comes and the whole atmosphere is filled with birds singing, and then flowers and the fragrance. And then comes the fall, and then comes summer. Then comes the rain -- and everything goes on changing, changing, changing. And it all happens in the sky, but nothing tinges it. It remains deeply distant; everywhere present, and distant; nearest to everything and farthest away.
A sannyasin is just like the sky: he lives in the world -- hunger comes, and satiety; summer comes, and winter; good days, bad days; good moods, very elated, ecstatic, euphoric; bad moods, depressed, in the valley, dark, burdened -- everything comes and goes and he remains a watcher. He simply looks, and he knows everything will go, many things will come and go. He is no more identified with anything.
Non-identification is sannyas, and sannyas is the greatest flowering, the greatest blooming that is possible.
In space shapes and colors form, but neither by black nor white is space tinged. From the self-mind all things emerge, the mind by virtues and by vices is not stained.
When Buddha attained to the ultimate, the utterly ultimate enlightenment, he was asked: "What have you attained?" And he laughed and said: "Nothing -- because whatsoever I have attained was already there inside me. It is not something new that I have achieved. It has always been there from eternity, it is my very nature. But I was not mindful about it, I was not aware of it. The treasure was always there, but I had forgotten about it."
You have forgotten, that's all -- that is your ignorance. Between a buddha and you there is no distinction as far as your nature is concerned, but only one distinction, and that distinction is that you don't remember who you are -- and he remembers. You are the same, but he remembers and you don't remember. He is awake, you are fast asleep, but your nature is the same.
Try to live it out in this way -- Tilopa is talking about techniques -- live in the world as if you are the sky, make it your very style of being. Somebody is angry at you, insulting -- watch. If anger arises in you, watch; be a watcher on the hills, go on looking and looking and looking. And just by looking, without looking at anything, without getting obsessed by anything, when your perception becomes clear, suddenly, in a moment, in fact no time happens, suddenly, without time, you are fully awake; you are a buddha, you become the enlightened, the awakened one.
What does a buddha gain out of it? He gains nothing. Rather, on the contrary, he loses many things: the misery, the pain, the anguish, the anxiety, the ambition, the jealousy, the hatred, the possessiveness, the violence -- he loses all. As far as what he attains, nothing. He attains that which was already there, he remembers.
Monday, December 24, 2007
to whom it may concern... I would like to share with you the most wonderful thing that happened into my life... " self realization"... self realization ... what's this.. ? This ? a so simple thing..
I am sure that you certainly have been told about " chakras " ? No...
Oh come on really no ?
Well the chakras are wheels of energy that circulate inside of us .. As you know... that you know.. we have different " bodies ", the etheric one, the physical one, etcc... 7 all together ... But the most interesting one is the " subtile body".
In science we know that we have the left sympathetic channel which governs the right balloon of the "ego" the right brain .. Ok ? this channel is our feminine aspect or the lunar channel and also the channel of desires, the blue channel..
Then the right channel, the masculin aspect in us, the solar channel which ends at our left side brain and becomes " the super ego "This channel of a yellow color is the one of our projections, our actions.
Humanity travels unconsciously from a channel to another one, without " resting" a while in the center..
Let me tell you when we desire something we do an action corresponding to that thing to be realized or achieved or done..
Supposing I wish to share something important.. Instead of just jumping on my computer to write... I stop a while, close my eyes.. ask the
Now I'm retired of course, and I still have this urge to help others.. sorry It's my profound nature.
So as I love all of you , whatever you are, jew, or black, or white, or red, or yellow,or muslims, or hindus, or catholic, or protestant, or budhist or young, or old, or fat, or skinny , or tall or short.. Please, Please come and sit down....
First read this carefully and try to experience the same thing I did 20 years ago, the experience of " self realization ". Ok
Sit down feet on the ground , well apart and no shoes ( stockings ok ), no glasses if you are wearing some., both hands, palms up, on your knees and close your eyes...
Put your right hand on your heart and ask yourself this question 3 times : " am I the spirit " ?
Then put your right hand on the upper left side of your stomack and ask 3 times :" am I my own
Then hand on the lower left side of your abdomen and ask 3 times : " can I have the pure knowledge" ?
Then without thinking keep your right hand there and make those affirmations ( as your energy will start to move ) ...Yes I have the pure knowledge !
Hand up on the upper left side of your stomach : YES I am my own guide.
Hand on your heart : " Yes I am the spirit, I am a part and parcel of the whole "
Then always your right on the left side of your neck head turned to the right and , say with full confidence without thinking: " I am not guilty.."
Then your right hand on your forehead ,head band downwards and say : I forgive, and I am forgiven!
Then put your right hand on your fontanella bone area(top of the head) ,fingers up ,and turn it 7 times clockwise and ask your energy : please Mother Energy, Mother Kundalini connect me with you.. connect me with the Universe.. remain silent 2 or 3 minutes, then open your eyes, and with both hands above your head ( more or less 5 ou 7 cm ) try to feel what is happening to you OK.?
I' m not going to suggest anything, but please mail me , I will be delighted to explain more things...( email@example.com )
Monday, December 17, 2007
-added by danny-
The Pali word metta is a multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others (parahita-parasukha-kamana). Essentially metta is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest. Through metta one refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind, developing instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks the well-being and happiness of others. True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.
anigho homAham avero homi
acariya ca natimitta ca
Imasmim arame sabbe yogina
Imasmim arame sabbe bhikkhu
Amhakam arakkha devata
Uddham yava bhavagga ca
adho yava aviccito
ye satta pathavicara
abyapajjha nivera ca
nidukha ca nupaddava
Uddham yava bhavagga ca
adho yava aviccito
ye satta udakecara
abyapajjha nivera ca
nidukha ca nupaddava
Uddham yava bhavagga ca
adho yava aviccito
ye satta akasecara
abyapajjha nivera ca
nidukha ca nupaddava
May I be free from enmity and danger
May I be free from mental suffering
May I be free from physical suffering
May I take care of myself happily
May my parents
teachers, relatives and friends
be free from enimity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
May they take care of thenselves happily
May all yogis in this compound
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
May they take care of themselves happily
May all monks in this compound
laymen and laywomen disciples
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
May they take care of themselves happily
May our donors of the four supports
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
May they take care of themselves happily
May our guardian devas
in this monastery
in this dwelling
in this compound
may the guardian devas
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
May they take care of themselves happily
May all beings
all breathing things
may all females
all noble one
all those in the four woeful planes
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
may they take care of themselves happily
May all beings be free from suffering
May whatever they have gained not be lost
All beings are owners of their kamma
In the eastern direction
in the western direction
in the northern direction
in the southern direction
in the southeast direction
in the northwest direction
in the northeast direction
in the southwest direction
in the direction below
in the direction above
may all beings
all breathing things
may all females
all noble one
all those in the four woeful planes
be free from enmity and danger
be free from mental suffering
be free from physical suffering
may they take care of themselves happily
May all beings be free from suffering
May whatever they have gained not be lost
All beings are owners of their kamma
As far as the highest plane of existence
to as far down as the lowest plane
in the entire universe
whatever beings that move on earth
may they be free from mental suffering & enmity
and from physical suffering and danger
As far as the highest plane of existence
to as far down as the lowest plane
in the entire universe
whatever beings that move on water
may they be free from mental suffering & enmity
and from physical suffering and danger
As far as the highest plane of existence
to as far down as the lowest plane
in the entire universe
whatever beings that move in air
may they be free from mental suffering & enmity
and from physical suffering and danger ...
Sunday, December 16, 2007
-added by danny-
SPIRITUAL CRISES AND BREAKTHROUGHS IN
CHRISTIAN AND BUDDHIST TRADITIONS
by Peter Holleran
"The sugar cane yields its sweet juice only after it has been crushed relentlessly in a mill. The human entity yields its noblest traits and truest wisdom only after it has been crushed repeatedly in the mill of anguish." - Paul Brunton (1)
“No one has been united to his Beloved through mirth. Whoever has attained communon with him has done so after shedding many tears. If it were possible to meet the beloved while laughing and in a state of comfort, why should one suffer the anguish of separation? The people of the world are happy. They eat and sleep. Kabir alone is unhappy. He is awake and is crying.” - Kabir
St. John of the Cross was described by Thomas Merton as “the greatest of all mystical theologians", and his writing stands at the pinnacle of the Christian esoteric tradition. The Dark Night of the Soul, his best known work, is considered a peerless account of spiritual blindness and its eradication by divine grace, and his astute analysis and advice have meaning and usefulness for many who find themselves in an apparent impasse or quandary on the path. To examine in detail the lesser known aspects and inner significance of this phenomenon is the purpose of this article. All mistakes are those of the author, whose only claim is that of writer, researcher, and fellow seeker after truth. As the subject matter is rather obscure and goes beyond that of conventional religious understanding some background in philosophy and mysticism, both theoretical and practical, is assumed on the part of the reader. Also, the hyperlinks in this piece are very important and add much to the discussion. However, since many are substantial entries themselves they might best be more fully studied on a second reading in order to better maintain the flow of argument the first time through. [I have tried to be relatively exhaustive and technical in the consideration of this topic. Those desiring a simpler, more immediately reader-friendly introduction may first refer to the following article by psychologist Darryl Pokea which artfully distills the spiritual essence of the dark night experience
In essence, the famed "dark night" is a transitional phase between a long novitiate of self effort to a more direct path of self-transcendance, from a time of reliance on the ego to one of reliance on the divine, from belief in a personal self to knowledge of its unreality, from identification with the ego to identification with the higher Self, and from the feeling of the soul being inside the body to that of the body also being inside of the Soul. It brings a thorough purgation where the personal will increasingly becomes sacrificed to the divine will. Its produces a complete metamorphosis wherein ones conception of self and world are literally turned inside out. While it has been written about and experienced on many levels, and may perhaps be considered a metaphor for much of the spiritual path itself, St. John very specifically states:
"Into this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners - which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road - and begins to set them in the state of the progressives - which is that of those who are already contemplatives - to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God." (2)
The authentic dark night is thus nothing less than a compassionate and beneficent gift of God. According to St. John, the true Divine Light is dark to the soul (ego), however, so when its influence is most potent one often feels as if he is losing ground. Thus, even with the help of those who have gone before, the aspirant finds himself on a necessarily secret path. St. John uses the words, "in darkness and secure...in secret, when none saw me...without light or guide," to highlight the sense of unknowing and bewilderment confronting the soul at this stage. A great undoing is necessary, he says, to prepare the soul for union or identity with the divine or higher Self, since it is so thoroughly identified with the “Old Man”. This undoing he describes in terms of two “nights”, the night of sense and the night of spirit. The first is “bitter and terrible”, and makes performance of spiritual exercises useless and futile, for varying periods of time, while the second night is “horrible and awful”, undermining the individual at his roots. The dark night, therefore, presents itself at the outset as a reward/punishment. Many may enter the first night, but few the second, according to the grace of God, which essentially comes to prepared souls for the purpose of producing the purified disposition capable of perceiving and receiving the sublime self-transcending touches of divine grace and realization.
During the course of ones initial approach to spiritual practise, grace or the apparent fruit of ones effort often manifests in the beginning with the gift of visions, positive emotions, interiorization of attention, and experiences of subtle energies. These are a glimpse of things to come and a form of incentive for the seeker to persevere in spiritual work. For St. John, the dark night generally only comes to those souls who have completed this initial stage and enjoyed many such "sweets," which were gifts to wean them from complete attachment to the world, or from a materialistic viewpoint. In order to progress further, however, these experiences may fade, and true tests of will, determination, patience, discrimination, and understanding will come to the aspirant, who may then feel as if he has been abandoned, whereas, in truth, this is not so. He is actually being brought to a new stage in which he is humbled, purified, emptied of self-satisfaction, and prepared for a more permanent realization of his higher Self or Soul, wherein he will also be able to perceive things in a divine or universal manner, rather than a personal or egoic one, which he could not do otherwise as a beginner, due to his inherent ignorance. In this third and final stage, even the world, as well as the personal self, are no longer negated, but are spiritualized and seen as existing in and as God or, in more philosophic traditions, Mind. Here one is reminded of Ramakrishna's famous reply to Vivekananda nirvikalpa samadhi for days on end: "You fool! Mystic trance is a trifling thing for you. There is a state much higher than that."
In other words, since the aspirant, crystalized, contracted, and misidentified as an ego, cannot help but unconsciously conceive of his goal in the form of a personal attainment, it is inevitable at some point that there will be a spiritual impasse. Much of this will depend on the individual karmas and/or relationship one has with an enlightened Teacher, and the form of practise that he engages. One contemporary mystic has suggested that perhaps no more than one in four will undergo a dark night similar to that which St. John has described. In its most precise details, my guess is that it is far fewer than that. In any case it is not something one chooses nor is it to be casually entertained. Anthony Damiani, a teacher of mine, who confessed to experiencing jnana samadhi at age forty-five and later having a stable realization of the witness self, spoke to his students once about this kind of "soul death". He said: "The mystics say to God, "more pain, more pain." - No! I don't want it. I know what I am. We're not strong enough. Don't ask for such a thing."
"You're going to go out and seek that? Who are you, Saint Francis?! We're talking about an ego-crushing experience! You are not going to come out better for it, you're going to come out a little humble. That's called eating crow. If you didn't eat crow, that's not the ego-crushing experience..Once that happens there is something made available. You are opened up a little bit, but usually it takes the whole cosmos to do it...for most of us it really has to be delivered. We're put through it...But as long as the ego has that persistant arrogance and a whole network of defense mechanisms to block out anything from coming in, it's not going to get that Grace; so the world has to come and crush it so that a little Grace might come in. But no one willingly goes out to seek it, take my word for it." (3)
Of this experience Paul Brunton, whose extensive writings will be referred to frequently in this article, tells us:
“In that state there is also a work being done for him by Grace, but it is deep in the subconscious mind far beyond his sight and beyond his control....In that terrible darkness he will find himself absolutely alone, able to depend on nothing else than what he finds within his own innermost being. Without anyone to guide him and with none to companion him, he will have to learn an utter self-reliance..It is useless to complain of the terror of this experience for, from the first moment that he gave his allegiance to this quest, he unconsciously invited its onset. It had to come even though the day of its coming was yet far off....During this period the mystic will feel forsaken, emotionally fatigued and intellectually bored to such a degree that he may become a sick soul. Meditation exercises will be impossible and fruitless, aspirations dead and uninviting. A sense of terrible loneliness willl envelop him...He feels lost, becomes fearful, reproaches himself with sins fancied or real, and thinks he is now permanently estranged from God as a punishment. Such is the "Dark Night"....The raptures, the aspirations, the devotions may be repeated many times, but in the end they are seen as part of the ever-changing picture which life itself is seen to be. Moreover in "the dark night of the soul" they die off altogether....How real is his experience of the Overself [Soul], or how near he is to it, must not always be measured by his emotional feeling of it. The deep inward calm is a better scale to use. But even this vanishes in the "dark night." (4)
Brunton goes on to say that, in general, while most aspirants are tested to some degree in this way, the dark night occurs in its truest form to those who have already achieved what he terms the second degree of contemplation, or rapt inward absorption and advanced mysticism, and serves to prepare them for the third stage, or union with the Soul or Overself. He therefore concurs with the supposition that the dark night is a profound purification and not for beginners, who have yet to proceed very far on the spiritual path nor have had a true spiritual glimpse, and who would therefore not be able to endure or profit from this extreme purgation. It might be noted in reflecting upon this particular observation of Brunton that one must take the long view. There is the possibility, for instance, that in some cases a person may have already achieved an advanced degree of meditation in a prior incarnation and then spend much of his present life in a dark night ordeal, without appearing to have consciously passed through every classic stage prior to it. Thus one should not necessarily expect to see all of these stages occur in a linear fashion in any one lifetime in order for the dark night experience to be genuine. This reasoning applies equally to those rare beings who seems to awaken suddenly without any apparent effort or spiritual discipline. It must be assumed that much was accomplished in prior lifetimes. Nor can we say that the dark night itself and all of the various stages are required experiences. It is just that they occur, and must be accounted for.
While for some this night serves to break down what has been termed "wrong crystalization", wherein the ego has become spiritualized yet remains intact, its greater purpose goes beyond classic purgation to prepare an aspirant to advance beyond mystical experience itself (up to and including even nirvikalpa samadhi or the Void, the highest interior trance state) to that of sahaj, or a lasting non-dual enlightenment, in which one not only feels the Soul within, but knows its true nature under all conditions, both within and without, and sees the world as non-distinct from the Self. It is true, of course, the entire affair is paradoxical, since realization has been described as the awakening to the fact that there is "no one" to be realized, and such in fact is considered a distinguishing characteristic of every true spiritual glimpse. Even if one understands this, however, and has had many such glimpses, to become stable in this condition involves an ordeal, as the vasanas or tendencies of egoity are not so easily dismissed.
The German mystic Tauler, in one of his Sunday sermons, said:
“Think not that God will always be caressing his children, or shine upon their head, or kindle their hearts as He does at the first. He does so only to lure us to Himself, as the falconer lures the falcon with its gay hood...We must stir up and rouse ourselves and be content to leave off learning, and no more enjoy strong feeling and warmth, and must now serve the Lord with strenuous industry and at our own cost.” (5)
Evelyn Underhill, in the classic work Mysticism , offers an in-depth consideration of the process of the dark night. In one passage she writes:
“In Illumination, the soul, basking in the Uncreated Light, identified the Divine Nature with the divine light and sweetness which it enjoyed. Its consciousness of the transcendant was chiefly felt as an increase of personal vision and personal joy. Thus, in that apparently selfless state, the “I, the Me, and the Mine”, though spiritualized, still remains intact. The mortification of the senses was more than repaid by the rich and happy life which this mortification conferred upon the soul. But before the whole self can learn to love on those high levels where - its being utterly surrendered to the Infinite Will - it can be wholly transmuted in God, merged in the great life of the All, this dependence on personal joys must be done away. The spark of the soul must so invade every corner of character that the self can only say with St. Catherine of Genoa, “my me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.”(6)
Brunton wrote that the ego may in fact welcome a "large attrition of its scope" (Notebooks, Vol 6,, 8:4.167), through religious, yogic and mystical disciplines, without being serious about its final undoing. That is, at some point the ego will agree to cooperate with the seeker in his spiritual quest so long as it can preserve itself. Its deviousness and cunning become more subtle. The problem forced towards a conclusion by the dark night is the very unraveling of egoism at its core. For even in the higher reaches of mystical experience, the thought, feeling, tendency or activity of I-ness (ego or ahamkara), remains, and may actually, in fact, be perceived as or identified with the infinite expanse of light, incorrectly understood to be the divine, as implied by Underhill above. Thus the final mystic experience, the ocean of light, is, in a sense, the highest illusion, according to sages, while saints and mystics see it is the first creative expression of God, if not the final goal. Abu Hasan Al Shadhili said, "The desire to enjoy ecstatic union with God is one of the things which most effectively separate us from God." Sant Kirpal Singh gave me a hint of such a point of view when I was with him in 1973. While sitting in a dejected mood at his feet he once asked me, "Do you want something, my friend?...do you want to leave the body?" In a response opposite to that of Vivekananda, but more out of resignation to my pitiful state than from any supreme insight, I simply said, "No, nothing." He became animated, leaned forward and excitedly said, "Nothing?! You're an emperor! I'll kiss your feet! God is nothing!" The 17th century Hindu saint, Sri Samartha Ramadas, in his treatise on gnana yoga, Atmaram, said, "The Bliss-Attainment of a yogi is Maya." In the Buddhist text known as The Transmission of the Lamp Shih-tou is even more emphatic in saying that one must not be attached to such experience, and suggests that one can remain for countless kalpas (eons) in such a state without gaining direct insight into Reality [df: Kalpa: (as a period of time) A Maha Yuga is 4.32 million years, ten times as long as Kali Yuga. Twenty seven Maha Yugas is one Pralaya. Seven Pralayas is one Manvantara. Finally, six Manvantaras is a Kalpa. That is, one Kalpa is 27x7x6 = 1,134 Maha Yugas. This works out to 1134 x 4.3 million = 4.876 billion years] :
"The Sravaka is enlightened but going astray; the ordinary man is out of the right path and yet in a way enlightened. The Sravaka fails to perceive that Mind as it is in itself knows no stages, no causation, no imagination. Disciplining himself in the cause he has attained the result and abides in the Samadhi of Emptiness itself for ever so many kalpas. However enlightened in his way, the Sravaka is not at all on the right track. From the point of view of the Bodhisattva, this is like suffering the torture of hell. The Sravaka has buried himself in Emptiness and does not know how to get out of his quiet contemplation for he has no insight into the Buddha-nature itself."
The Iso Upanishad says:
"They enter the region of the dark who are occupied solely with the finite. But they fall into a region of still greater darkness who are occupied solely with the Infinite."
Or, as Guru Nanak proclaims in the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture:
" Truth is above all, but higher still is true living."
The concentration of mind gained through yoga and mysticism and their purificatory requirements are sometimes considered prerequisites for the higher teaching and ultimate path, but the fulfillment of yoga, according to the Buddha in the Potthapala Sutra, does not in itself produce insight or Nirvana. Damiani reminds us, however, that one should be lucky to be a mystic who can be criticized liked that. Yet if truth be our goal we must listen to the warnings of those such as Brunton who writes:
"When the mystic comes to the end of this phase of his career but believes he has come to the end of his career itself, he falls under an illusion from which it is hard to recover....Hence, one of the texts belonging to this teaching, the Lankavatara Sutra, says of those who have perfected themselves in yoga: "When they have reached the eighth degree they become so drunk with the bliss of inner peace that they do not grasp that they are still in the sphere of separateness and that the insight into reality is not yet perfect"....There is a fourfold evolution in humanity and it unfolds successively - physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hence the mystic has to return to rebirth to complete his evolution despite his "union" which is consequently temporary...The attainment of this deep state of oneness in meditation by an ordinary mystic may seem to be the end of the quest. Nevertheless the cycle of reincarnation will not end for him until he has become a philosophical mystic. For even though all earthly desires have been given a quietus, there will remain a latent desire to know, to understand his own experience and the world experience. To satisfy this desire, which will slowly come to the surface under the compulsion of Nature, he will have to develop intelligence to the proper degree...For nature is shepherding the human race not only along the road of spiritual evolution but also of intellectual evolution....Giving up the world does not lead to reality, but it leads to peace of mind. Men who lack intelligence...must take to mysticism and yoga, but only the mature and developed mind can enter the quest of enquiry into truth. This means therefore that pupils are not generally initiated into this enquiry by gurus prematurely. They must first have developed their egos and their minds to a high degree, and only after that should they be taught to renounce what has been fostered with so much pain. This is evolution: although truth is ideally attainable here and now, technically it is attainable only at the end of the pageant of evolution, when the whole man has been highly developed and is ripe to receive the greatest of all gifts." (7)
An important aspect of the dark night, according to Brunton, is that it serves as a time when the undeveloped aspects of the character, notably the faculties of feeling, knowing, and willing, are allowed or forced to catch up to the aspirant's successes at meditation, so that a complete and enduring enlightenment may be accomplished. Through the unconsoling, humbling processes of a true dark night, the "bubble" of egoism is popped once and for all, and one reaches what Zen calls the "asylum of rest", from which he can "fall" no further. The consequences are profound and a revolutionary transformation in consciousness and understanding. Mystic experience thereafter becomes not so much negated but rather grounded and resurrected in reality.
"So important is this virtue of humilty," says Brunton, "that it may be labelled both first and last...That is why upon those who really do aspire to the very highest there descends the dread phenomenon of the dark night of the soul. When later they emerge from this awful experience, they emerge with all vanity ground down to powder and all pride burnt down to ash.." (8)
One may, therefore, read the words of gyanis like Ramana Maharshi, "In truth you have no birth and no death,", and Shree Atmananda (Krishna Menon), "Liberation is not going beyond birth and death, but going beyond the illusion of birth and death", and great Zen Master Bankei, “ “In the place of the Unborn, the whole question of being born or not being born is irrelevant,” and they are well worth our contemplation, but it must not be forgotten that this is a stage-specific realization usually accomplished in a lasting way and not as just a glimpse by fulfillment of a multi-disciplinary quest in which the entire being is matured. So while Brunton agrees, "Perhaps the most wonderful thing which the illuminate discovers is that his independence from the infinite life power never really existed and was only illusory, that his separation from the Overself was only an idea of the imagination and not a fact of being. Even the desire to unite with the Overself was only a dream, and consequently all lesser desires of the ego were merely dreams within a dream," (9) he also adds, "That initial realization has henceforth to be established and made his own under all kinds of diverse conditions and in all kinds of places. Hence his life may be broken up for years by a wide range of vicissitudes, pains, pleasures, tests, temptations, and tribulations." (10)
The following dialogue of Huang Po, as a preview to the second part of this article, should lay to rest any idea that a condition of utter humility is somehow not required for a true non-dual realization:
“Q: Illusion can hide from us our own mind, but up to now you have not taught us how to get rid of illusion.
A: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy it wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold. This is the meaning of: “I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my mind.”
Q: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma to be transmitted
A: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind.
Q: If Mind is used for transmission, why do you say that Mind too does not exist?
A: Obtaining no Dharma whatever is called Mind transmission. The understanding of this implies no Mind and no Dharma.
Q: If there is no Mind and no Dharma, what is meant by transmission?
A: You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma said: The nature of the Mind when understood, No human speech can compass or disclose. Enlightenment is naught to be attained, And he that gains it does not say he knows. If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand it.”
(source misplaced, but most likely John Blofield, The Zen Teachings of Huang Po (New York: Grove Press, 1959)
Notice that basically he did not say merely that he doubted if the questioner could grasp it, or understand it, but whether, in his present condition, he could handle it.
Madame Guyon continues:
“The soul, after many a redoubled death, expires at last in the arms of Love; but she is unable to perceive these arms...Then, reduced to Nought, there is found in her ashes a seed of immortality, which is preserved in these ashes and will germinate in its season. But she knows not this; and does not expect ever to see herself living again....and the soul which is reduced to the Nothing, ought to dwell therein; without wishing, since she is now but dust, to issue from this state, nor, as before, desiring to live again. She must remain as something which no longer exists: and this, in order that the Torrent may drown itself and lose itself in the Sea, never to find itself in its selfhood again; and that it may become one and the same thing with the Sea.” (11)
Augustine Baker tells us:
"For first He not only withdraws all comfortable observable infusions of light and grace, but also deprives her of a power to exercise any perceivable operations of her superior spirit, and of all comfortable reflections upon His love, plunging her into the depths of her inferior powers. Here, consequently, her former calmness of passions is quite lost, neither can she introvert herself [note: a particularly bitter and profound trial for the mystic who by long effort has found peace thereby] ; sinful motions and suggestions do violently assault her, and she finds great difficulty (if not greater) to surmount them as at the beginning of a spiritual course...If she would elevate her spirit, she sees nothing but clouds and darkness. She seeks God, and cannot find the least marks or footsteps of His Presence; something there is that hinders her from executing the sinful suggestions within her, but what that is she knows not, for to her thinking she has no spirit at all, and indeed, she is now in a region of all other most distant from spirit and spiritual operations - I mean, such as are perceptible." (12)
Underhill summarizes this process:
"The self, then, has got to learn to cease to be its "own center and circumference": to make that final surrender which is the price of final peace. In the Dark Night the starved and tortured spirit learns through an anguish which is "itself an orison" to accept lovelessness for the sake of Love, Nothingness for the sake of the All; dies without any sure promise of life, loses when it hardly hopes to find. It sees with amazement the most sure foundations of its transcendental life crumble beneath it, dwells in a darkness which seems to hold no promise of a dawn. This is what the German mystics call the "upper school of true resignation" or of "suffering love"; the last test of heroic detachment, of manliness, of spiritual courage." (13)
"Show us your wounds," is the question asked of the aspirant at the door of spiritual knowledge. St. John is critical of those who wish to linger in a passive state of grace, enjoying visions and other spiritual consolations; he asks readers to abandon the disposition of mere “babes” and to become grown men, capable of receptivity to the divine ego-less light which transcends and is the ground of all experiential phenomena.
The so-called dark night can perhaps be viewed as a somewhat inevitable ordeal that aspirants pass through in one form or another, due to the very nature of spiritual blindness, or egoic adaptation and consolation in all of its dimensions. No matter what the teacher says about the necessity of self-surrender and self-transcendance, the Way is conceived, consciously or unconsciously, as a “path" or “road” or “ladder” that the ego-self moves along from stage to stage. Real help is required to accomplish the true spiritual work which undermines this conception of a self-existing separate self. For according to wisdom teachings, the higher self is self-existing and individual, but non-separate, while the lower self is separate and individual, but not self-existing. In other words, it is subject to death, and derives its apparent existence from a higher principle, ie., Soul or Overself, which, while individual (although not personal), is cosmic and infinite. The guidance of a competent spiritual director is essential for this, according to St. John, although the real work is done by God, with the aspirant's fidelity and cooperation.
Thus one finds Job, faithful servant of the Lord, thrown into a condition of confusion, despair and anguish, where everything he did turned against him. His ordeal is masterfully detailed in the book Ego and Archtype by Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger. Job's struggles ended when he felt the limits of the personality or ego and surrendered its sovereignty. The Koran refers to this as the “state of self-accusing”. Thomas Merton wrote of this phenomenon, and in one of his later journal entries went so far as to remark that he felt his entire life was a charade and that he had been a failure as a writer, a monk, a priest, and a contemplative. At this point Tibetans who knew him said he was "very close" to enlightenment [which in this case might more accurately be considered a "glimpse"].
A Zen equivalent for the dark night is referred to as “descending into the cave of the blue dragon.” (14)
Master Hakuin said:
“I felt as if I were sitting in an ice cave ten thousand miles thick. I myself shall never forget the spiritual struggle I had in sheer darkness for years.” (15)
“The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening; the smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening; no doubt,
no awakening.” (16)
The Buddha describes his pre-enlightenment experience likewise in harrowing terms:
“Then Sariputta, I plunged into a fearsome forest thicket and dwelt therein. Such was the fearsome horror of that dread forest thicket that anyone whose passions were not stilled and entered there, the very hairs of his body would stand on end.” (17)
In The Conference of the Birds the Persian mystic Attar speaks of this as the “valley of detachment”. One must endure this process completely and allow oneself to be put to the test. Once one has been given hope and strength by an initial spiritual glimpse, he is then shown who the enemy is: his ego. And from that point on there is no way out but through. Half-hearted efforts will not create the inner alchemy, nor invoke the divine grace, that brings him to a liberating crisis. Paradoxically, moreover, over time as the ego matures and "ripens" its sense of "rotting" increases. Thus is derived the term "old soul". Paul Brunton explains that through a series of incarnations, the ego or personality, and all of its faculties becomes more balanced, refined, and evolved, until at some point a sense of inner "revulsion" arises and it is finally moved to transcend itself, which can of course only finally be achieved by Grace.
On the subjective nature of the purgation in the dark night he writes:
"It is the paradoxical irony of this situation that the joys of the beginner make him believe that he is very near to God whereas the desolations of the proficient make him despise himself." (18)
Eventually the process completes itself and the pilgrim emerges from his journey through the wilderness. St. John reminds us that this entire ordeal of the dark night is of a divine design:
“O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy will arid and constrained, and thy faculties incapable of any interior act, be not grieved by this, but look upon it rather as a great good, for God is delivering thee from thyself.” (19)
Though it may seem that nothing good can ever come from the midst of such an impasse, the aspirant is in the center of the oldest, most sacred struggle. The ego must inquire into its origins and lay itself on the altar, in order for man to become identified with his Soul. The anguish at this stage comes from the ego seeing that this is the one thing it can never successfully do by itself, even while it must still continue to try. Brunton explains:
“"When he finds that he has been following his own will even at those times when he believed he was following the higher self's will, he begins to realize the extent of the ego's power, the length of the period required for its subdual, and what he will have to suffer before this is achieved...The ego does not give itself up without undergoing extreme pain and extreme suffering. It is placed upon a cross whence it can never be resurrected again, if it is truly to be merged in the Overself. Inner crucifixion is therefore a terrible and tremendous actuality in the life of every attained mystic. His destiny may not call for outer martyrdom but it cannot prevent his inner martyrdom. Hence the Christ-self speaking through Jesus told his disciples, “If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (20)
In graphic language St. John speaks of the lowest possible dregs of such experiences, in the second night, the night of the spirit, which, it must again be said, may only occur to a few, for their unique karmic reasons and higher purpose. He gives quite a frightening description, in which the reader can see why such an ordeal is not for beginning aspirants. Brunton described it as the mystic witnessing the loss of everything he had previously attained, while what is left is relentlessly crushed. “The Living Flame of Love makes the soul feel its hardness and aridity," says St. John:
“The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus make it Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness. As a result of this, the soul feels itself to be perishing and melting away, in the presence and sight of its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death.” (21)
"The soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness. For the sensible part is purified in aridity, the faculties are purified in the emptiness of their perceptions, and the spirit is purified in thick darkness.....All of this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in air so that he could not breath), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoing and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual...Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that he may afterwards greatly exalt it; and if he ordained not that, when these feelings arise within the soul, they should speedily be fulfilled, it would die in a very short space; but there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity. At times, however, they are so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened." (22)
"It is well for the soul to perform no operation touching spiritual things at this time and to have no pleasure in such things, because its faculties and desires are base, impure, and wholly natural; and thus, although these faculties be given the desire and interest in things supernatural and Divine, they could not receive them save after a base and natural manner, exactly in their own fashion...All these faculties and desires of the soul..come to be prepared and tempered in such a way as to be able to receive, feel and taste that which is Divine and supernatural after a sublime and lofty manner, which is impossible if the old man not die first of all." (23)
"And when the soul suffers the direct assault of this Divine Light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is immense; because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable that it believes God to be against it, and thinks that it has set itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain, because it now believes that God has cast it away...the soul now sees its impurities clearly (although darkly), and knows it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it the most pain is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things are all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its spirit in the knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries, for this Divine and dark light now reveals them all to the eye, that it may see clearly how in its own strength it can never have aught else...When this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away..for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death." (24)
"It is clear that God grants the soul in this state the favor of purging it and healing it with this strong lye of bitter purgation, according to its spiritual and sensual part, of all the imperfect habits and affections which it had within itself with respect to temporal things and to natural, sensual and spiritual things, its inward faculties being darkened, and voided of all these, its spiritual and sensual affections being constrained and dried up, and its natural energies being attenuated and weakened with respect to all this (a condition which it could never attain of itself, as we shall shortly say). In this way God makes it to die to all that is not naturally God, so that, once it is stripped and denuded of its former self, he may clothe it anew. And thus its youth is renewed like the eagle's and it is clothed with the new man, which, as the Apostle says, is created according to God." (25)
In remarkably similar fashion Babuji Maharaj of the Radha Soami Satsang, Agra, offers the following, somewhat unique in the literature of the Sant Mat tradition, where such inner secrets are usually revealed only in private:
“It is usual that the awakened Saint or Gurumukh (beloved disciple of the Guru) must go through a period of great physical depression and weakness. This is because the entire constitution of the body has to be transformed in order that it may be in harmony with the spirit in its awakened condition and be fitted to perform the work before it. This period of depression may continue over a number of years, but it is usually followed by a high degree of bodily health.”
“This physical change is absolutely essential for making appreciable spiritual progress. The capacity of the body to undergo it constitutes the limit of usefulness of the body. There have been exceptional jivas (souls) endowed with bodies capable of enduring in one life the whole requisite transformation without breaking. But in (such) cases the immediate physical effect of the transformation was a low and depleted bodily condition which continued for quite a number of years. After the changes have been effected, complete physical vigour usually comes back, though with a body very different in its constitution. One of its acquired characteristics is its softness and freshness like that of a babe.” (26)
Brunton explains why such a process must necessarily take time:
"The depth to be penetrated from the surface to the deepest layers of the human psyche is too great to be reached quickly without acute sacrifice and intense anguish. " (27)
It might be better to substitute the words "human psyche" , ego, or jiva, where St. John somewhat less precisely uses the word "soul", for in a sense it is the psyche, ego, or jiva that is facing the "big squeeze" in the famed dark night, with the divine Soul being that which is to be realized. The ego or individuality is not so much annihilated, however, being itself the product of a long evolution, rather the egoism and false identification dies out and the personal self, which is illusory only in the sense that it has no inherent self-existence, becomes objective to the higher Self. According to Ramana Maharshi, "The 'I' casts off the illusion of 'I' and yet remains as 'I'. Such is the paradox of Self-Realization. The realized do not see any contradiction in it."(Talks) In the Forty Verses, he says: "Get at the Heart within by search. The ego bows its head and falls. Then flashes forth another “I”, Not the ego that, but the Self, Supreme, Perfect." Sastri comments: Does this mean that the ego-self is lost for ever? No, the ego is lost, but only to make way for its original, the real Self, to come up to the surface by either using the regenerate ego-self as an instrument or by transforming it to a true reflection so as to make its presence felt on the surface, the effect of which is an experience, a feeling in the ego-self that it is one with its deeper and real Self and that it is this deeper being that has assumed the form of the apparent self in the phenomenal existence." (Sastri, Coll. Works III, 355, cited Nandakumar 20).
"He enters into a state which is certainly not a disappearance of the ego, but rather a kind of divine fellowship of the ego with its source....He loses his ego in the calm serenity of the Overself, yet at the same time it is, mysteriously, still with him....It [the Overself] is a kind of impersonal being but it is not utterly devoid of all individuality....The dictionary defines individuality as separate and distinct existence. Both the ego and the Overself have such an existence. But whereas the ego has this and nothing more, the Overself has this consciousness within the universal existence. That is why we have called it the higher individuality....He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery....The actual experience alone can settle this argument. This is what I found: The ego vanished; the everyday "I" which the world knew and which knew the world was no longer there. But a new and diviner individuality appeared in its place, a consciousness which could say "I AM" and which I recognized to have been my real self all along. It was not lost, merged, or dissolved: it was fully and vividly conscious that it was a point in the universal Mind and so was not apart from that Mind itself. " (28)
Medieval sage Ibn 'al 'Arabi concurs that the experience is veritably non-dual, without a radical naughting of the individuality required:
"If you know yourself as nothing, then you truly know your Lord. Otherwise, you know him not. [But] you cannot know your Lord by making yourself nothing. Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self. This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence? ...If you think that to know Allah depends on your ridding yourself of yourself, then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him - the only unforgivable sin -because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the All-Existent: that there is a you and He." (29)
St. John continues:
"Wherefore the soul that God sets in this tempetuous and horrible night is deserving of great compassion...by reason of the dreadful pain which the soul is suffering, and of the great uncertainty which it has concerning the remedy for it, since it believes..that its evil will never end... It suffers great pain and grief, since there is added to all this (because of the solitude and abandonment caused in it by this dark night) the fact that it finds no consolation or support in any instruction nor in a spiritual master. For, although in many ways the director may show it good reason for being comforted because of the blessings which are contained in these afflictions, it cannot believe him. For it is so greatly absorbed and immersed in the realization of those evils wherein it sees its own miseries so clearly, that it thinks, as its director observes not that which it sees and feels, he is speaking in this manner because he understands it not; and so, instead of comfort, it rather receives fresh affliction, since it believes that its director's advice contains no remedy for its troubles. And, in truth, this is so; for, until the Lord shall have completely purged it after the manner that He wills, no means or remedy is of any service or profit for the relief of its affliction; the more so because the soul is as powerless in this case as one who has been imprisoned in a dark dungeon, and is bound hand and foot, and can neither move nor see, nor feel any favour whether from above or from below, until the spirit is humbled, softened, and purified, and grows so keen and delicate and pure that it can become one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree of union of love which His mercy is pleased to grant it." (30)
One contemporary writer, in an anonymous post to the internet entitled "Secrets of the Night", highlighted some of these problems facing the soul in the dark night:
"St. John refers frequently to this inner congestion, as like being bound hand and foot and unable to breathe. He uses the Biblical reference of Jonah being swallowed in the belly of the beast to illustrate his point. This psychological congestion has a marked effect physiologically on one's breathing pattern. Breath control is often advocated as an aid to contemplation. Here we have the reverse process whereby the spontaneous contemplative process that is unleashed during the "Dark Night" itself dramatically alters one's breathing process until it is almost fully suspended. One still gradually breathes in but the corresponding breathing out is greatly suspended. So the psychological congestion one feels has a striking physiological counterpart....... One can feel as if drowning or being caught up in an internal earthquake. At other times one feels greatly parched as if one's insides had received a severe overdose of sunburn. The sense of being confined like a hostage in a dark confined space with little freedom for manoeuvre is often very strong. When these recede one begins to surface a little to restore some kind of normality. However over time one's customary framework of experience is greatly eroded........ It is like a chain reaction. One has to exercise faith to literally survive in the darkness. But this growing inner light only highlights ego restrictions further forcing one into a greater exercise of faith. So the process steadily intensifies......... What is clinically diagnosed as "endogenous depression" is very likely and is associated with the loss of a general sense of meaning in one's life. As the very purpose of the "Dark Night" is to erode one's conceptual frameworks of understanding it is not surprising that this type of depression should occur. Endogenous depression is often diagnosed by the psychiatric profession in purely physiological terms as a chemical imbalance. This is very reductionist. Certainly a chemical imbalance can be associated with the illness. However this is inseparable from changing psychological factors which tend to activate the physiological process. Other psychotic symptoms associated with manic-depression or schizophrenia may well surface at this time. However this raises a key dilemma. To diagnose an authentic "Dark Night" experience in simply pathological terms (though such elements may well be present) is to very much misunderstand the nature of the problem. So people dealing with [those having] the genuine "Dark Night" experience are not likely to see ..and only notice these secondary characteristics. So they are likely to confirm the aspirant's own growing fears that the whole experience has been a tragic mistake".
The breathing problems and other extreme psychic episodes (such as literally going through the experience of Hell, which she later remarked had been very useful for her spiritual growth) are also very evident in the life and writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Other mystics have left similar reports. Their spiritual significance and similarity to perinatal near-death experiences are discussed in an illuminating article by Christopher Bache. A number of these great trials have definite parallels with primal-type psycho-therapeutic processes, and, as mentioned, pre and peri-natal experiences, yet, while these are often profound, it is my feeling that St. John describes a passage that extends beyond, or confirms a growing redefinition of, the limits of experiential psychology. [To Basche, the peri-natal realm is the borderline between the personal and transpersonal dimensions. For him, the emergence of peri-natal symptomology (pain, suffocation, feelings of annihilation and death) in mystics and spiritual aspirants represents the growing pains of expanded consciousness, the psycho-physical system's throwing off its poisons as it moves to more wholistic stages of consciousness].
The dark night, then, is far more than just an occasional dry patch or depression for the seeker after Truth, but a major and lengthy transformational crisis. Because the beginner who comes upon these writings may mistake his mere backsliding or lukewarmness for entry into such a process, St. John issues several criteria to distinguish between the two. First, the soul finds he can no longer engage in meditation as before. The power he had to do so using his natural faculties has been taken away. Second, in spite of this, he has no inclination towards the worldly pursuits he formerly enjoyed. He feels caught between two worlds, the one no longer wanted, and the other (apparently) not wanting him, as Paul Brunton once described. Third, he finds his only delight in a loving repose in the divine will, and the secret contemplation that he begins to experience, even though all outward signs may suggest he is lost and doing nothing of spiritual value. The fruit of this first dark night, the night of sense (which he calls "bitter and terrible"), and to which relatively many may be called, according to St. John in Bk. 2, Ch. 1, is that "the soul goes about the things of God with much greater freedom and satisfaction of the soul than before it entered the dark night of sense. It now very readily finds in its spirit the most serene and loving contemplation and spiritual sweetness without the labor of meditation." The soul is more respectful, humble, and circumspect regarding the things of God and spiritual life. Much of its natural conceit in such matters is diminished. However, there remain many deep and hidden impurities in the soul, including the root imperfection of egoity itself, that must now be eliminated in the second night, the night of the spirit (which he calls "horrible and awful"), and which, according to the saint, comparatively few will pass through.
At times the suffering may appear so great, and always seemingly greater than before, that ones faith is repeatedly tried to the breaking point, and it cannot prevent the arising feeling that something is terribly wrong, and that one is being destroyed for no reason. Brunton reminds us, however, that this perception is wrong, that the dark night is not a time of capricious and meaningless suffering, but a grace for removing egoism:
"The "dark night" does more to detach a man from his ego, his interests, and his desires than the rapturous joys and emotional ecstasies. The awful feeling of being separated from and even lost forever to the higher power, works as a hidden training and secret discipline of all personal feelings." (31)
Sant Darshan Singh also speaks of this secret process of grace:
"Even if the Lord seems to withdraw himself from us, we can not give Him up; we have no choice. We are afflicted with a disease and we cannot rest until we are reunited with Him...It is by withdrawing Himself from us, by moving away, that he compels us to follow Him. As we recognize that nothing compares with the joy of his presence, we disengage from our worldly attachments one by one. The suffering and anguish of separation are processes by which we are purified of all worldly desires. Love burns up everything except the Beloved. And as we restlessly wait for the faintest sounds of His coming footsteps, we are being cleansed and recreated from within." (32)
Brunton concurs with Darshan Singh that the soul has indeed reached the point of no return:
"The long hard search for the soul asks too much endurance of self-discipline from its pursuers ever to be more than it has been in the past - an undertaking for the few driven by an inner urge. Hence it is not so much a voluntary undertaking as an involuntary one. The questers cannot help themselves. It is not that they necessarily have the strength to endure so much as they have no choice except to endure." (33)
In the midst of such an experience Henry Suso was led to exclaim, "You ask where is my resignation? But tell me first, where is the infinite pity of God for His friends?...Alas my God! What art thou about to do unto me, I thought that I had had enough by that time. Show me how much suffering I have before me." The Lord said, "It is better for thee not to know."
St. John further describes this bitter period of purification with the following metaphor:
"This purgative and loving knowledge or Divine light whereof we here speak acts upon the soul which it is purging and preparing for perfect union with it in the same way as fire acts upon a log of wood in order to transform it into itself; for maternal fire, acting upon wood, first of all begins to dry it, by driving out its moisture and causing it to shed the water which it contains within itself. Then it begins to make it black, dark and unsightly, and even to give forth a bad odor, and, as it dries it little by little, it brings out and drives away all the dark and unsightly accidents which are contrary to the nature of fire. And, finally, it begins to kindle it externally and give it heat, and at last transforms it into itself and makes it as beautiful as fire....It drives out its unsightliness, and makes itself black and dark, so that it seems worse than before and more unsightly and abominable than it was wont to be. For this Divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in fact, that it has had so much evil within itself....This enkindling of love, however, is not always felt by the soul, but only at times when contemplation assails it less vehemently, for then it has occasion to see, and even to enjoy, the work which is being wrought in it, and which is then revealed to it. For it seems that the worker takes his hand from the work, and draws the iron out of the furnace, in order that something of the work which is being done may be seen; and then there is occasion for the soul to observe in itself the good which it saw not while the work was going on. In the same way, when the flame ceases to attack the wood, it is possible to see how much of it has been enkindled." (34)
Fenelon says, "One does not begin to know and to feel one’s spiritual miseries until they begin to be cured."
St. John is saying that this entire process is not one of unbroken suffering, but that there will be brief periods when the soul is restored to a more freer state of communion with the spirit than before, in which it is then almost convinced that its troubles are over, and it sees the value of what it has gone through, but these periods will not last, if it is to be a true dark night. Still, from time to time the maturing practitioner may be graced with spiritual glimpses such that, utterly poverty-stricken though his soul may be, he realizes in a very real sense it is like a dream and has little to do with his true Self, leading him to confess with Santideva:
"The thought of Enlightenment has arisen within me I know not how even as a gem might be gotten by a blind man from a dunghill."
and with the author of the Rubaiyat:
"Though pearls in praise of God I never strung, though dust of sin lies clotted on my brow, yet I wlll not despair of mercy. When did Omar argue that the One was two?"
While intermittently enjoying such graces, however, he continues to endure the plight of a lover, feeling the Lord toying with him while drawing him ever closer. As a sword is tempered by repeatedly being placed into the fire, however, so, too, says St. John, will the soul be returned to even worse states of poverty and purgation, where it will be filled with
"spiritual pain and anguish in all its deep affections and energies, to an extant surpassing all possibility of exaggeration...The spirit experiences pain and sighing so deep that they cause it vehement spiritual groans and cries, to which at times it gives vocal expression; when it has the necessary strength and power it dissolves into tears, although this relief comes but seldom." (35)
"And to this is added the remembrance of times of prosperity now past; for as a rule souls that enter this night have had many consolations from God, and have rendered Him many services, and it causes them the greater grief to see that they are far removed from that happiness, and unable to enter into it."(36)
"The Dark Night is not the result of any physical suffering or personal misfortune: it comes from a subtler cause. It induces a depression of enormous weight...The sombre loneliness experienced during the Dark Night of the Soul is unique. No other kind of loneliness duplicates it either in nature or acuteness... It creates the feeling of absolute rejection, of being an outcast...A terrible inner numbness, an unbearable emptiness, is a prominent feature of the spiritual dark night...The situation is really paradoxical and beyond correct appraisal by the conscious mind, certainly by the suffering ego. He is being made to learn, by the severest experience, that the divine reality must not be confused with his conscious reactions to it, nor with his mental reactions to it, nor even with his emotional reactions to it, that it belongs to an unknown and unknowable realm that transcends human faculties and defies human perceptions...It is not enough to recognize the Real in its homeland alone; he must be trained to recognize it under all conditions, even when it is hidden under thick illusion, even in the lowest ebb of the soul's dark night." (37)
"The life of faith is nothing but the continual pursuit of God through everything that disguises, disfigures, destroys, and, so to say, annihilates him," says Jean-Pierre deCaussade, in Abandonment to Divine Providence. He continues, agreeing with Brunton on the transcendent nature of the divine:
"This complete deprivation which reduces us to acts of bare faith and of pure love alone, is the final disposition necessary for perfect union. It is a true death to self; a death very inward, very crucifying, very difficult to bear, but it is soon rewarded by a resurrection, after which one lives only for God and of God...After the soul has mounted the first steps in the ladder of perfection, it can scarcely make any progress except by the way of privation and nudity of spirit, of annihilation and death of all created things, even of those that are spiritual. Only on this condition can it be perfectly united to God Who can neither be felt, known, or seen....." (Book Six, Letter VII)
It is a curious thing, however, that after experiencing the heavy hand of the Lord for some time, the soul actually feels cast adrift when it is absent. St. John continues:
"But in the midst of these dark and loving afflictions the soul feels within itself a certain companionship and strength, which bears it company and so greatly strengthens it that, if this burden of grievous darkness be taken away, it often feels itself to be alone, empty, and weak. The cause of this is that, as the strength and efficacy of the soul were derived and communicated passively from the dark fire of love which assailed it, it follows that, when that fire ceases to assail it, the darkness and power and heat of love cease in the soul." (38)
Once again, St. John offers this hope and consolation:
"Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thy seest thy desire obscured, thy affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for any interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather consider it a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands. For with those hands, however well they may serve thee, thou wouldst never labour so effectively, so perfectly, and so securely..as now, when God takes thy hand and guides thee in the darkness, as though thou wert blind, to an end and by a way which thou knowest not." (39)
Brunton likewise explains:
"If the Overself did not lead him into and through the final dark night, where he becomes as helpless as an infant, as bereft of interior personal possessions as a destitute pauper, how else would he learn that it is not by his own powers and capacities that he can rise at last into enduring illumination?" (40)
The Vissudhimagga, a Buddhist manual of meditation practice, calls the difficult purifications that spiritual aspirants go through as the core of their being is slowly revealed the "Higher Realizations."
deCaussade, in Abandonment to Divine Providence, wrote insightfully on inward destitution , death of self-love and mystical death:
"The loss of hope causes you more grief than any other trial. I can well understand this, for, as during your life you find yourself deprived of everything that could give you the least help, so you imagine that at the hour of your death you will be in a state of fearful destitution. Ah! this is indeed a misery, and for this I pity you far more than for your other sufferings. Allow me, with the help of God’s grace, to endeavour to set this trouble in its true light and so to cure you. What you want, my dear Sister, is to find support and comfort in yourself and your good works. Well, this is precisely what God does not wish, and what He cannot endure in souls aspiring after perfection. What! lean upon yourself? count on your works? Could self-love, pride, and perversity have a more miserable fruit? It is to deliver them from this that God makes all chosen souls pass through a fearful time of poverty, misery and nothingness. He desires to destroy in them gradually all the help and confidence they derive from themselves, to take away every expedient so that He may be their sole support, their confidence, their hope, their only resource."
"I know how much suffering this operation entails. The poor soul feels as if it would become utterly annihilated, but for all that, it is only nearer the true life. In fact the more we realise our nothingness the nearer we are to truth, since we were made from nothing, and drawn out of it by the pure goodness of our Lord. We ought therefore to remember this continually, in order to render by our voluntary annihilation a continual homage to the greatness and infinity of our Creator. Nothing is more pleasing to God than this homage, nothing could make us more certain of His friendship, while at the same time nothing so much wounds our self-love. It is a holocaust in which it is completely consumed by the fire of divine love. You must not then be surprised at the violent resistance it offers, especially when the soul experiences mortal anguish in receiving the death-blow to this self-love. The suffering one feels then is like that of a person in agony, and it is only through this painful agony and by the spiritual death which follows it that one can arrive at the fullness of divine life and an intimate union with God."
"God may possibly allow you to think that this painful state is going to last you your life-time, in order to give you an opportunity of making Him a more complete sacrifice. Do not waver, do not hesitate for a single moment, sacrifice all! Abandon yourself without reserve, without limitation to Him, by Whom you imagine yourself abandoned."
"Remember that God sees in the depths of your heart all your most secret desires. This assurance should be sufficient for you; a cry hidden is of the same value as a cry uttered, says the Bishop of Meaux. Leave off these reflexions and continual self-examinations about what you do, or leave undone; you have abandoned yourself entirely to God, and given yourself to Him over and over again; you must not take back your offering. Leave the care of everything to Him. The comparison you make is very just; God ties your hands and feet to be able to carry on His work without interference; and you do nothing but struggle, and make every effort, but in vain, to break these sacred bonds, and to work yourself according to your own inclination. What infidelity! God requires no other work of you but to remain peacefully in your chains and weakness."
(Book Seven, Letters I,IX,XII)
Maulana Rumi, in his Mathnawi, wrote:
Your anguish is seeking a way to attain to Me; yesterday evening I heard your deep sighs. And I am able, without any delay, to give you access, to show you a way of passage, to deliver you from this whirlpool of time, that you might set your foot upon the treasure of union with Me; but the sweetness and delights of the resting place are in proportion to the pain of the journey. Only then will you enjoy your native town and your kinsfolk, when you have suffered the anguish of exile." (The Pocket Rumi, ed. Kabir Helminski, p. 160)
Ramana Maharshi similarly advised:
"The Higher Power knows what to do and how to do it. Trust it." (41)
Further elegantly portraying the helplessness and bewilderment of the soul at this stage, deCaussade continues:
"God hidden in his veils gives himself with his grace in an altogether unknown way, for the soul feels nothing but feebleness under its crosses, disgust with its obligations, while its attractions are only to very commonplace exercises. The idea which it has formed of sanctity reproaches it internally with these low and contemptible dispositions. All the saints lives condemn it. It knows nothing with which to defend itself; it has light to see a sanctity which, however, brings it desolation, for it has no strength to rise to it, and does not recognize its weakness as divine order, but as its own cowardice....Experience shows us that nothing so much as this apparent loss inflames the desire of the soul for union with the divine will. What profound sorrow for the soul!...no consolation is possible....To ravish God from a heart longing for nothing but God, what a secret of love! It is indeed a great secret, for by this way and by this way only are pure faith and pure hope established in the soul...Everything one does seems the fruit of chance and natural inclination. Everything that happens humiliates the soul...Others are always admired, but we feel miles below them and put to confusion by their every action....The divine action seems to keep us far from virtue only to plunge the soul into a profound humility. But this humility does not seem to be such to the soul, it thinks it is suffering from the rigours of pure justice."
"The most remarkable thing about this is that in the eyes of those whom God does not enlighten concerning its path, the soul seems animated by quite contrary feelings such as obstinacy, disobedience, contempt and indignation that cannot be cured, and the more the soul tries to reform these disorders, the worse they become, for they are the most proper means to detach it from itself and fit it for divine union. From this painful trial comes the principal merit of self-abandonment. In the duty of the present moment everything is of a nature to draw the soul away from its path of love and simple obedience. It needs heroic courage and love to stand firm in its simple, active fidelity and sing its part with assurance, while grace sings its own with different melodies and in different keys which do nothing but convince the soul that it is deceived and lost." (42)
deCaussade sums up the Divine purpose in all of this as the mortification of the personal will, or self-love in all its disguises, and how His “chosen spouses” seemingly receive the harshest treatment:
“It is the usual way by which God conducts His chosen spouses to the perfection He destines them to attain; and I have known very few whom He has not judged it necessary to guide along this path when they give themselves up entirely to Him. Why then are there such painful states? Why this heaviness of heart which takes the pleasure out of everything? and this depression which makes life insupportable? Why? It is to destroy, in those souls destined to a perfect union with God, a certain base of hidden presumption; to attack pride in its last retreat; to overwhelm with bitterness that cursed self-love which is only content with what gives it pleasure; until at last, not knowing where to turn, it dies for want of food and attention, as a fire goes out for want of fuel to feed it. This death, however, is not the work of a moment; a great quantity of water is required to extinguish a great conflagration. Self-love is like a many-headed hydra, and its heads have to be cut off successively. It has many lives that have to be destroyed one after the other if one wishes to be completely delivered. You have, doubtless, obtained a great advantage by making it die to nature and the senses; but do not dream that you are entirely set free from its obsessions. It recovers from this first defeat and renews its attacks on another ground. More subtle in future, it begins again on that which is sensible in devotion; and it is to be feared that this second attempt, apparently much less crude, and more justifiable than its predecessor, is also much more powerful. Nevertheless, pure love cannot put up with the one any more than with the other. God cannot suffer sensible consolations to share a heart that belongs to Him. What then will happen? If less privileged souls are in question, for whom God has not such a jealous love, He allows them a peaceful enjoyment of these holy pleasures, and contents Himself with the sacrifice they have made of the pleasures of sense. This is, in fact, the ordinary course with devout persons, whose piety is somewhat mixed with a certain amount of self-seeking. Assuredly God does not approve of their defects; but, as they have received fewer graces, He is less exacting in the matter of perfection. These are the ordinary spouses of an inferior rank, whose beauty needs not to be so irreproachable, for they have not the power to wound His divine heart so keenly; but He has far other requirements, as He has quite other designs with regard to His chosen spouses. The jealousy of His love equals its tenderness. Desiring to give Himself entirely to them, He wishes also to possess their whole heart without division. Therefore He would not be satisfied with the exterior crosses and pains which detach from creatures but desires to detach them from themselves, and to destroy in them to the last fibre that self-love which is rooted in feelings of devotion, is supported and nourished by them, and finds its satisfaction in them. To effect this second death He withdraws all consolation, all pleasure, all interior help, insomuch that the poor soul finds itself as though suspended between Heaven and earth, without the consolations of the one, nor the comforts of the other. For a human being who cannot exist without pleasure and without love, this seems a sort of annihilation. Nothing then remains for him but to attach himself—not with the heart which no longer feels anything, but with the essence of the soul—to God alone, whom he knows and perceives by bare faith in an obscure manner. Oh! it is then that the soul, perfectly purified by this two-fold death, enters into a spiritual alliance with God, and possesses Him in the pure delights of purified love; which never could have been the case if its spiritual taste had not been doubly purified. (Book Seven, Letter XIV)
God, felt, enjoyed, and giving pleasure, is truly God; but He bestows gifts for which the soul flatters itself; but God in darkness, in privations, in destitution, in unconsciousness, is God alone, and as it were, naked. This, however, is a little hard on self-love, that enemy of God, of our own souls, and of all good; and it is by the force of these blows that it is finally put to death in us. (Book Seven, Letter XV)
One must never take the extreme expressions made use of by orthodox writers quite rigidly, but enter into the meaning and thought of the authors. One ought, without doubt, to prevent good souls from making use of expressions, coolly and with premeditation, which seem to savour of despair; but it would be unjust to condemn those who, driven almost out of their senses by the violence of their trials, speak and act as if they had no hope of eternal happiness. It does not do to feel scandalised at their language, nor to imagine it actuated by a real despair. It is really rather a feeling of confidence hidden in the depths of the soul which makes them speak thus; just as criminals have been sometimes known to present themselves before their sovereign with a rope round their neck saying that they gave themselves up to all the severity of his justice. Do you imagine that it was despair that made them speak in this way? or was it not rather an excess of confidence in the prince’s goodness? And, as a rule, they obtain their pardon by the excess of their sorrow, repentance, and confidence. Will God then be less good with regard to souls who abandon themselves to Him for time and for eternity? Will He take literally expressions which, in the main, only signify transports of abandonment and confidence?” (Book Seven, Letter XVI)
"To begin with you must know that these trials, which are more grievous than any others, are those which God usually makes those souls whom He most loves undergo. At this time I have under my direction some who, in this respect, are in an indescribable state, the mere account of which would horrify you. The entire interior nature is encompassed with darkness, and buried in mud. God retains and upholds the free will, that higher faculty of the soul, without affording it the slightest feeling of support. He enlightens it with the entirely spiritual light of pure faith in which the senses have no part; and the poor soul, abandoned, as it appears, to its misery, delivered over as a prey to the malice of devils, is reduced to a most frightful desolation, and endures a real martyrdom." (Book Seven, Letter VIII)
Steven Harrison speaks to the overall confusion one inevitably faces:
"We have misunderstood our confusion when we think there is an answer to it. The confusion is not a result of questions that are too hard, but rather a questioner who is disintegrating. Confusion is the introduction to true intelligence." (43)
St. Francis de Sales, in Book IX, Chapter 3, of Treatise on the Love of God, speaks with subtle sophistication on union with God through spiritual afflictions and resignation of the soul to the divine will:
"Now of all the efforts of perfect love, that which is made by acquiescence of spirit in spiritual tribulations, is doubtless the purest and noblest. The Blessed (S.) Angela of Foligno makes an admirable description of the interior pangs which she sometimes felt, saying that her soul was tortured like to a man who being tied hand and foot, should be hung by the neck without being strangled, and should hang in this state betwixt life and death, without hope of help, and unable to support himself by his feet or assist himself with his hands, or to cry out, or even to sigh or moan. It is thus, Theotimus: the soul is sometimes so overcharged with interior afflictions, that all her faculties and powers are oppressed by the privation of all that might relieve her, and by the apprehension and feeling of all that can be grievous to her. So that in imitation of her Saviour she begins to be troubled, to fear, and to be dismayed, and at length to sadden with a sadness like to that of the dying. Whence she may rightly say: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; and with the consent of her whole interior, she desires, petitions, supplicates, that, if it be possible, this chalice may pass, having nothing left her save the very supreme point of her spirit, which cleaving hard to the divine will and good-pleasure, says in a most sincere submission: O eternal Father, Ah! not mine but thy will be done. And the main point is that the soul makes this resignation amidst such a world of troubles, contradictions, repugnances that she hardly even perceives that she makes it; at least it seems done so coldly as not to be done from her heart nor properly, since what then goes on for the divine good-pleasure is not only done without delight and contentment, but even against the pleasure and liking of all the rest of the heart, which is permitted by love to bemoan itself... and to sigh out all the lamentations of Job and Jeremias, yet with the condition that a sacred peace be still preserved in the depths of the heart, in the highest and most delicate point of the spirit. But this submissive peace is not tender or sweet, it is scarcely sensible, though sincere, strong, unchangeable and full of love, and it seems to have betaken itself to the very end of the spirit as into the donjon-keep of the fort, where it remains in its high courage, though all the rest be taken and oppressed with sorrow: and in this case, the more love is deprived of all helps, and cut off from the aid of the powers and faculties of the soul, the more it is to be esteemed for preserving its fidelity so constantly."
Michael Molinos, whose Spiritual Guide came so close to the truth that it provoked a Papal Decree in 1687 proclaiming, "Anyone found in possession of this book will be excommunicated," also wrote on this time of trial:
"When God crucifies in the inmost part of the Soul, no creature is able to comfort it; nay, comforts are but grievous and bitter crosses to it. And if it be well-instructed in the laws and discipline of the ways of pure love, in the time of great desolation and inward troubles, it ought not to seek abroad among the creatures for comfort, nor lament itself with them, nor will it be able to read spiritual books: because this is a secret way of getting at a distance from suffering."(44)
Teutonic mystic and visionary Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), who wrote much extolling the glory of communing with the Eternal Word or Music and Spirit of God through inner meditation, practicing "holy abstraction and ceasing from self-thinking and self-willing", nevertheless, in The Way to Christ, Treatise Eight, in a way guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of ones neck, wrote of pain, fear and desolation on this path:
"The souls's will groaned for God but the outgoing senses that were to press into God were scattered and were not able to reach the power of God. This frightened the poor soul still more in that it could not bring its desire to God, so it began to pray more strongly. But the devil in his desire...awakened the evil characteristics so that false inclinations rose up and went in where they had earlier found happiness.
The poor soul wished to go to God with its will, and was in much anguish, but its thoughts all fled from God to earthly things, and did not want to go to God. The soul groaned and cried to God, but it appeared to it that it had been completely cast out from before God's face, as if it could not gain one glance of grace, and stood in vain anguish as well as great fear and dread.
The soul, yearned only for the first fatherland from which it originally came, yet it found itself far away from it, in great rejection and misery, and it did not now what to do. It thought it would enter into itself to pray more fervently, but the devil came into it and held it so that it might not enter greater inclination and repentance.
The devil awoke earthly lust in its heart so that these inclinations upheld their false natural rights and defended themselves against the soul's will and desires because they did not wish to die to their own will and lust but to keep their temporal pleasure and they held the poor soul captive in their false desire so that it could not awaken itself no matter how much it groaned and sighed for God's grace.
'Your ability is completely gone, even as a dry twig cannot gain sap and sprout by its own ability so that it might enjoy itself again among the trees, likewise you cannot reach God by your own abilities; you cannot change yourself into your first angelic form, for you are dry and dead to God as a twig without life or sap. You are only an anxious and dry hunger.'
And as it stood in such groans and tears it was drawn to the abyss of horror as if it stood before hell's gate and was to perish immediately...in such concern it began to sigh inwardly and to cry to the mercy of God. And then it began to sink itself into the purest mercy of God...
[But] the divine light..grew faint and only glimmered in the internal ground as a mould-fire so that reason saw itself as foolish and abandoned. It did not know how this happened, or if it was really true that it had tasted of the divine light of grace; yet it could not stop from thinking this...
The reason of its will was broken and the evil inherited inclinations were more and more killed and this caused much pain to the nature of the body making it weak and sick, yet this was not a natural illness but a melancholy of the earthly nature of the body. Thus the false lusts were broken."
In comparison to Boehme speaking of the soul's plaintive yearning for its "first fatherland", St. Therese of Lisieux, in acute trial in the last year of her life, which she described as a black hole, darkness, and a thick wall separating her from God, spoke of giving up hope for the glorious "fatherland" of light, and abandoning oneself to "nothingness":
"You believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.....My smile is a great mantle, which covers a multitude of sufferings. The sisters and people think that my faith, my hope and my love are profoundly fulfilling me, and that intimacy with God and union with His will, live in my heart. If they only knew...only blind faith moves me along, because the truth is that all is darkness for me. Sometimes the agony of desolation is so great and at the same time the living hope for The Absent so profound that the only prayer I am able to recite is “Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in You. I will quench your thirst for souls.”" ( Last Conversations)
Lest we think that these saints are exaggerating, or suffered unnecessarily due to starting spiritual life with a wrong foundation of understanding, which might have been avoided had he been trained in an “awareness” school such as Vipassana Buddhism, or Advaita Vedanta, let us think again. Perhaps the specifics of the dark night in its fullest extent as described by St. John are unique and rare, but stripping away the cultural and religious limitations of his tradition, it remains highly likely that the process he describes, in one form or another, is unavoidable at some point on the path, if one has truly petitioned the higher power for its help. This is because our ignorance is so thick that we cannot but conceive of the goal as some “thing” that will be “personally” attained. We confuse the personality with the ego and the ego (subtler and spiritualized) with the Self or Soul. This delusion will generally not go down without a struggle - even if we realize this fact - although the ordeal can be quickened considerably by association with a true master or sage, if one is fortunate enough to find one. Then much of the drama associated with mental and imaginative preconceptions, based on wrong understanding, may be seen through or bypassed. Still, the goal is great, and so is the sacred ordeal, especially if one has asked for truth, and not just inner peace. Non-dualist Douglas Harding wrote of going through a period of the dark night many years after having taught others about his awakening to what he called "headlessness." He expressed that having spiritual glimpses was easy, but surrender of the personal will most difficult. Brunton elaborates further:
"The need of predetermining at the beginning of the path whether to be a philosopher (ie., sage) or a mystic arises only for the particular reincarnation where attainment is made. Thereafter, whether on this earth or another, the need of fulfilling the philosophic evolution will be impressed upon him by Nature." (45)
"Beware what you pray for. Do not ask for the truth unless you know what it means and all that it implies and nevertheless are still willing to accept it. For if it is granted to you, it will not only purge the evil out of you but later purify the egoism from your mind. Will you be able to endure this loss, which is unlikely to be a painless one?" (46)
"Whoever invokes the Overself's Grace ought to be informed that he is also invoking a long period of self-improving toil and self-purifying affliction necessary to fit him to receive that Grace....If he offers himself to the divine, the divine will take him at his word, provided the word is sincerely meant. The response to this offer when it comes is what is called Grace...Many who ask for Grace would be shocked to hear that the troubles which may have followed their request were actually the very form in which the higher power granted the Grace to them." (47)
"There is.. an unpredictable element in the pattern of human life, which increases rather than decreases as the quality of that life rises above average. We see it markedly in the case of a maturing aspirant who has to undergo tests and endure ordeals which have no karmic origin but which are put across his path by his own higher self for the purpose of a swifter forward movement. They are intended to promote and not delay his growth, to accelerate and not impede his development. But they will achieve this purpose only if he recognises their true aim." (48)
Sant Darshan Singh writes:
"We are people of little faith and fail to recognize and appreciate the hand which guides and which sustains. Hazur (Baba Sawan Singh Ji) used to say that once a saint has taken a soul under his wing, he is keen to compress the progress of twenty births into a single one. And if we desire to pack the accomplishments of twenty lives into a single one, we must pay for it." (49)
Shantideva reminds us in his Bodhicharyavatara that the price for such a rich reward is actually less than that of its alternative:
”For myriads of ages, measureless, uncounted,
Your body has been cut, impaled,
Burned, flayed - for times past numbering!
Yet none of this has brought you to buddhahood.
The hardships suffered on the path to buddhahood
Are different, for their span is limited,
And likened to the pain of an incision
Made to cure the harm of hidden ailments.” (50)
Some have advanced the argument that the transformation described by St. John does not in itself produce the non-dual enlightenment or self-realization such as described in the highest forms of Buddhism, but only various forms of mystic union, even that of the highest, such as nirvikalpa samadhi or its Christian equivalent. While such an experience is an evolutionary advance which under no circumstances should be minimized, this is not an insignificant point. Perhaps if St. John were here today he might speak to us in more modern language and resolve our doubts. Indeed, Brunton points out that the saint "limited his reading to four or five books, of which one was Contra Haereses, and confined his writing by his proclaimed intention "not to depart from the sound sense and doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church." (51) It is quite possible, however, that he circumscribed his exposition of more esoteric teachings in order not to further arouse the hostility of the established church hierarchy, for which he had been thrown into prison. Many true mystics throughout history have unfortunately faced the same problem. (One is reminded of historian Will Durant's remark, "the Church has persecuted only two groups of people: those who did not follow the teachings of Jesus, and those who did").
St. John certainly did seem to be intimately familiar with and write about a realization beyond ego and the exclusive pursuit of interiorization. Evelyn Underhill in her classic work, Mysticism, wrote:
"The self which comes forth from the night is no separated self, conscious of the illumination of the Uncreated Light, but the New Man, the transmuted humanity, whose life is one with the Absolute Life of God." (52)
And the following passages from St. John read more like a satori or pre-satori description given by a Zen Buddhist, where one stands outside of the ego, than the report of an ordinary yogi or mystic, who, still identified with his ego, stands outside of the body:
"For this night is gradually drawing the spirit away from its ordinary and common experience of things and bringing it nearer the Divine sense, which is a stranger and an alien to all human ways. It seems now to the soul that it is going forth from its very self, with much affliction. At other times it wonders if it is under a charm or spell, and it goes about marvelling at the things it sees and hears, which seem to it very strange and rare, though they are the same that it was accustomed to experience aforetime. The reason of this is that the soul is now becoming alien and remote from common sense and knowledge of things, in order that, being annihilated in this respect, it may be informed with the Divine." (53)
It may very well be that the end result of passage through the dark night, as well as the experience of true spiritual glimpses, will vary depending on the metaphysical preparation of the individual. As briefly touched upon earlier, even with the highest or deepest mystical realization of the Soul in itself, as in nirvikalpa samadhi (the ultimate subject, consciousness itself, abstracted from the world, the conventional goal of mystic union or absorption of the ego into the Soul (sometimes mistaken as the absorption of the soul in God), there still remains, according to sages, the necessary and profound task of bringing that realization into the world and stably recognizing that the source of the world image is the same as, or not separate from, the source of ones ego or "I". This is generally known as sahaj samadhi, non-duality, the "natural state", considered superior than even the loftiest mystic trance, because it is permanent and not temporary, and also entailing a greater, perhaps even inconceivable degree of sacrifice. Here the Individual Soul can realize it is part of the All-Soul. Not just a bloodless, quiet contemplation, this has been described in a real sense as a merger of ones self into the world or absorption of the world into ones self. A concomitant of this is the merger or surrender of the personal will, illusory though it may be, with the divine or universal will. St. John certainly spoke of the latter, though not explicitly about the former. The realization here is simultaneously one of "no-self" and union. Of this further accomplishment Anthony Damiani writes:
"Do you see why PB [Paul Brunton] was in such pain and agony in spite of achieving nirvikalpa?...The truth is one thing, but personal comfort is something else -- our pleasure, the fact that we're comfortable, is something else." (54)
Other practitioners have described somewhat unique experiences of going through a painful extroversion, as if they were being pressed out of their bodies and egos, in quite the opposite direction of the conventional mystical experience of absorptive inner contemplation . This has occurred either through a prolonged dark night or as a relatively graceful, albeit uncomfortable, experience (see Appendix A). Kirpal Singh said, "The mystery of life is solved by dissolving yourself into it." Similarly, Ramana said, "One who truly renounces merges into the world." The idea is that one does not so much enter worlds as that he becomes them, i.e., "Thou art That."
The following material, along with what has been written so far, is presented to show similarity of experiences among serious practitioners in different traditions, but not necessarily to equate all of them with the exact processes described by St. John, or to make try to examine ultimate questions regarding identity, union, individuality, or non-duality. For an in-depth discussion of that, and more, see the companion article to this one, Emanationism and Non-Duality. What has been attempted is to show something of the profundity of the emotional depth involved in the quest.
The life of Zen Master Bankei Yotaku (1622-1693), considered by D.T.Suzuki to have been one of the greatest of all Zen Masters, illustrates the depths of liberating despair that often lead up to an awakening. Further, we will see that, contrary to many popular notions, such an awakening is often the beginning of true practice, and not the end.
Bankei was very devoted to his mother, and once confessed to her that more than anything else it was his desire to communicate the Truth to her which motivated his pursuit of Enlightenment. His childhood schooling consisted of little more than rote memorization of a Confucian classic entitled The Great Learning. Bankei was struck by the opening words of the book: “The way of Great Learning lies in illuminating the Bright Virtue.” He searched and searched but could find no one to satisfactorily explain this verse to him. His family, his teacher, and the local priest confessed their ignorance, and one day, his great heart-need unsatisfied, Bankei simply left school. He was obsessed with finding out what “Bright Virtue” meant, and he knew at the very least that he would find no answers there. His action, however, would never be acceptable to his elder brother, the head of the household, and knowing this Bankei decided to kill himself. His method of achieving this was to eat a handful of “poisonous” spiders, but to his great disappointment he did not die. When he refused to attend school his brother expelled him from the house, and at the age of eleven Bankei began a life of wandering, meditating and visiting spiritual teachers in search of the Bright Virtue.
For fourteen years he moved about, practising harsh austerities and paying scant attention to the needs of food and shelter. At one point he decided to find the answer within himself, and he built a tiny hut for meditation, leaving only a small hole through which food could be brought to him. He sat until the flesh on his buttocks was flayed and his health broke down. The wall of his hut was marked by gobs of thick black phlegm he would be spit up. Finally, Bankei realized that he was dying, and in his despair he experienced a fundamental breakthrough:
“The master, frustrated in his attempts to resolve the feeling of doubt which weighed so heavily on his mind, became deeply disheartened. Signs of serious illness appeared. He began to cough up bloody bits of sputem. He grew steadily worse, until death seemed imminent. He said to himself, “Everyone has to die. I’m not concerned about that. My regret is dying with the great matter I’ve been struggling with all these years, since I was a small boy, still unresolved.” His eyes flushed with hot tears. His breast heaved violently. It seemed his ribs would burst. Then, just at that moment, enlightenment came to him - like a bottom falling out of a bucket. Immediately, his health began to return, but still he was unable to express what he had realized. Then, one day, in the early hours of the morning, the scent of plum blossoms carried to him in the morning air reached his nostrils. At that instant, all attachments and obstacles were swept from his mind once and for all. The doubts that had been plaguing him ceased to exist.” (55)
Bankei’s satoris represented a profound transcendance of unconscious identification with the ego, and the realization of consciousness or Mind as the substrate of all experience, that became the basis for his further practise. It was the Buddhist “seed of enlightenment”, not the final achievement, but which nevertheless wiped doubt and uncertainty from his mind.
“For about thirty years I wandered searching for the real Tao everywhere.. But at this moment, seeing the plum blossoms, I am suddenly enlightened, and have no more doubts.” (56)
Bankei had a deepening of his realization three years later under the guidance of a Chinese priest, who confirmed that he had indeed penetrated to the Self-essence but still needed to clarify the “matter beyond”, “discriminating wisdom”, or "the practise after Enlightenment".
Master Po Shan similarly discoursed:
“Therefore the proverb says, after enlightenment one should visit the Zen Masters.” The sages of the past demonstrated the wisdom of this when, after their enlightenment, they visited the Zen Masters and improved themselves greatly. One who clings to his realization and is unwilling to visit the Masters, who can pull out his nails and spikes, is a man who cheats himself.” (57)
Garma C.C. Chang brings to our awareness the recognized distinction made in Zen and Ch’an Buddhism between the awakening to prajna-truth (or the immediate awakening to transcendental wisdom or selflessness) and Cheng-teng-cheuh (sabyaksambodhi), which is the final, perfect, complete enlightenment of Buddhahood:
“A great deal of work is needed to cultivate this vast and bottomless Prajna-mind before it will blossom fully. It takes a long time, before perfection is reached, to remove the dualistic, selfish, and deeply rooted habitual thoughts arising from the passions. This is very clearly shown in many Zen stories, and in the following Zen proverb, for example: “The truth should be understood through sudden Enlightenment, but the fact (the complete realization) must be cultivated step by step.” (58)
The great Lankavatara Sutra speaks not only of a fundamental "turnabout in the deep seat of understanding", but of the "inconceivable transformation death of the Bodhisattva's individualized will-control", the latter serving to balance and temper the enthusiastic claims of many self-professed non-dualists. Hubert Benoit, in The Supreme Doctrine, attempts to clarify the difference between freedom “for the ego” from freedom “from the ego” :
”In a book on Zen..a Western author affirms that the man liberated by satori can do anything in any circumstance; but this is radically contrary to a true understanding, for the man liberated by satori can only perform one single action in a given circumstance. He can no longer do anything but the single action that is totally adequate to that circumstance; and it is in the immediate, spontaneous elaboration of this unique adequate action that the enjoyment of the perfect liberty of this man lies. The natural egotistical man, activated by partial determinism, elaborates in a mediate manner one of the innumerable inadequate reactions to the given circumstance; the man who has attained Realization, activated by total determinism, elaborates with absolute rigour the unique action that is adequate.” (59)
Damiani explains why even such a true glimpse is only the beginning:
"Once he gets a Glimpse, he recognizes the illusory nature of the ego but also its tyrannical sway. Then usually what a person does is offer that ego to his higher self. In other words he wants to be of service to the higher power and all he can do is pray and ask that that be given for him to do. Make sure you know what you're asking for, because this is a big thing. Once you do that, I'm not saying it's granted, but then there comes a series of lives where egoism is really crushed, or you go through a training where you get rid of it, or you come across a master who will help you get rid of it." (60)
He further demolishes the claims of many to premature eradication of the ego:
"Don't kid yourself. Don't come to me from the point of view that the ego doesn't exist, because it's been around as long as the Overself [Soul] has been projecting itself, manifesting itself through some kind of life. The residue of all that living becomes a tendency which you're going to find is perhaps not a permanent entity, but good enough to drive you up the wall for the next indefinite number of incarnations....As soon as you say the ego is "empty" then you're in for it. I don't think you understand why I regard any talk like that as utterly futile and even esoterically stupid. I don't care who says it. Anyone who thinks he's going to outwit his ego is in for a real rough time. That's why I don't like to call it empty. I like to think of it as a real fire-breathing dragon.....That's why I sometimes tease you by saying that anyone who tells me the ego is illusory is out of his mind. He hasn't even encountered it yet." (61)
The following dialogue occured between Prince Chandragarbha and his guru Atisha:
"O guru! On entering samadhi, I perceived (a state of voidness) like a cloudless sky, radiant, pure and clear. Is that the nature of the Dharma, O guru? Then, after coming forth from meditation, I was troubled by no attachment, but longed to be of benefit to sentient beings. I recognize the reality of karma, even though all objects are revealed as illusions. O guru, is my practice without error?" The guru answered: "Fortunate man. You are a product of accumulated merit. As a bhikshu I do not exaggerate or pervert the truth. Although at the time of concentration one perceives that all objects share the voidness of the sky, one must lift up all beings through compassion after the concentration has been performed. This is an exposition of two truths (absolute and relative). "
Atisha's guru, Avadhutipa, himself gave this stern warning:
"As long as you do not properly modify your actions according to the law of cause and effect, you could still go to hell, despite being a great adept and yogi. Until you abandon grasping at a self and while you still place little value on the law of cause and effect, always remember that yogi so-and-so was reborn in hell."
Shawn Nevins, in The Ego of Seeking (TAT Forum, July 2005), explains that even those who may come to recognize that their spiritual search itself involves ego, and then make the somewhat more sophisticated attempt to get rid of this "spiritual ego" by "doing nothing" are, in most instances, not really "doing nothing", but rather entertaining "the thought of doing-nothing," which is just another form of ego and a dead-end or short-circuit on the path. The ego only truly gets eliminated by wearing itself out through its own efforts, taking a hand in its own evolution, exerting itself mentally and morally, seeing its painful ridiculousness, and finally getting trancended by grace. Paradoxically it does not get eliminated, since it has no reality from the beginning, and no true existence apart from the One, but the entire ordeal of practice is involved in coming to REALIZE this.
Bankei many years later confessed:
" When it comes to the truth I uncovered when I was twenty-six and living in retreat at the village of Nonaka in Ako in Harima - the truth for which I went to see Dosha and obtained his confirmation - so far as the truth is concerned, between that time and this, from beginning to end, there hasn't been a shred of difference. However, so far as penetrating the great truth of Buddhism with the perfect clarity of the Dharma Eye and realizing absolute freedom, between the time I met Dosha and today, there's all the difference of heaven and earth!" (62)
In short, as Brunton writes:
"The glimpse is the beginning; recognizing it for what it is, is a further and extended operation......For us who are philosophically minded, the World-Mind truly exists. For us it is God, and for us there is a relationship with it - the relationship of devotion and aspiration, of communion and meditation. All the talk about non-duality may go on, but in the end the talkers must humble themselves before the infinite Being until they are as nothing and until they are lost in the stillness - Its stillness." (63)
Anthony Damiani in commentating on PB said that the ego eventually gets "pressed into" the World-Idea, and the sage attains a universal viewpoint. His body, in essence, becomes identified with that of the cosmos, a rare and painful achievement. This is stated in the Lankavatara Sutra as follows:
"In the perfect self-realisation of Noble Wisdom that follows the inconceivable transformation death of the Bodhisattva's individualised will-control, he no longer lives unto himself, but the life that he lives thereafter is the Tathagata's universalised life as manifested in its transformations." (excerpted from Dwight Goddard, ed. A Buddhist Bible)
In the Sufi tradition reference is given to the difference between a state and a station. A state is incomplete and temporary while a station is relatively permanent and cannot be lost. The former is more often considered an unpredictable gift of God while the latter is largely a result of one’s effort and maturity along with the helping hand of grace. The essential difference is that between a first awakening to the heart and fully grown union with it.
It is sometimes assumed that Zen is chiefly a mental exercise (paradoxical and non-rational, as evidenced by the koan practise) leading to awakened insight, without requiring either a long course of personal discipline and self-purification as demanded in yoga, or devotion and self-sacrifice as called for in the Christian tradition. This former error is made by fans of Advaita Vedanta as well, who talk of the non-dual Self without creating the preparatory conditions for its actual realization. Whereas the practise of a wide range of disciplines as well as meditation sitting in some form, common in Buddhism generally, has been the traditional Zen practise from the beginning, and is the necessary prerequisite for the fruitful use of the koan. As Brunton pointed out,
"The earlier Chinese Zen lectures and writings were often prefaced by the warning that they were intended for persons who were already properly instructed and established in "the virtues....the Zen master Ma-tsu admitted as much when he said, "If there is no discipline, this is to be the same as ordinary people." (64)
Any confusion regarding this would be unheard of in the Sufi tradition, where the attainment of a particular station is intimately connected with the acquiring of a corresponding virtue. To speak of them as separate would be considered to talk nonsense. Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes:
”The gaining of the spiritual virtues and their corresponding states and stations are so many stages in the death of the soul in respect to its base and accidental nature, and its resurrection in divinis...Since man is not just an intelligence that can discern the Truth and know the Absolute but also a will, the virtues are a necessary concomitant to the total attachment of man to the Truth. For, ‘Truth, when it appears on the level of the will, becomes virtue, and it is then veracity and sincerity.’...If the discussion of spiritual states in Sufism is inseparable from that of the virtues (mahasin or fada ‘il), it is precisely because in Sufism a virtue is seen not as an act or external attribute but as a manner of being. It has a definite ontological aspect. That is why in the classical enumeration of the states and stations of the soul we always meet with the enumeration of the virtues. A state or station, like patience (sabr) or confidence (tawakkul), is a virtue, which means that when the soul reaches such a state not only does it possess the virtue in question as an accident, but its very substance is transmuted by it so that during that stage of the Way in a sense it is itself that virtue. It is this ontological dimension of the virtues that makes the discussion of them inseparable from that of the spiritual states, as we see in so many Sufi treatises, old and new. Of course the Sufis never tire of emphasizing that the end of Sufism is not to possess such and such a virtue or state as such but to reach God beyond all states and virtues. But to reach the Transcendent beyond the virtues, man must first possess the virtues; to reach the station of annihilation and subsistence in God, man must have already passed through the other states and stations.” (65)
As Kirpal Singh once said, “gold is gold.”
Not all Zen schools have used koans, which are a form of ‘riddle’ sometimes used by the Masters to break the fixation of mind of their students. They are solved not by giving the right answer but by transcending the conceptual mind in the process of contemplation of the paradox the koan represents. As such they are really only useful chiefly for advanced practitioners, whose mind, and general character development, are "ripe" for a breakthrough to a true glimpse. This matter of maturity and ripeness, as well as the need for practise after satori, is so important and apparently so rarely found today that the the very legitimacy of such practice and dharma transmission itself have been called into question. D.T. Suzuki (1970-1966) considered his master, Soyen Shaku, to be the last of the great Zen Masters. If it seem to some that Zen has deteriorated even further since then, despite notable exceptions, it may be partly and unfortunately inevitable when a tradition or school becomes too insular and its masters and students are uninformed by an in-depth study of their own as well as discriminative study other philosophical teachings.
A classic koan is “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”, or "what was your original face before you were born?", or simply "Mu". Then one might be told to meditate on his koan for twenty hours a day until he ‘solves’ it. The beginning student (but still one tested and prepared by a preliminary course of discipline) traditionally came to the master (in what came to be known as the 'shouting and beating school", at any rate) with a clever answer and typically got a whack from his staff or a cuff on the ear. In some cases, the disciple may get a blow even before he speaks:
" Master Tokusan was a much more severe kind of Zen Master. Once a monk came to see him and, according to the Buddhist manner, made a bow to the Master before asking a question. However, before he had finished bowing, Tokusan gave him a blow of his stick. The monk did not know what it was all about, and said, "I have just bowed to you and have not asked you any question yet. Why have you struck me?" "It is no use to wait till you start talking," was the reply Tokusan gave him. In such a strict denial of words we are to see how earnestly Zen insists on the experience itself." (66)
The mere contemplation of the koan is an intense discipline and could go on for years. It is similar to Vedantic enquiry in its ability to concentrate the mind and also undermine one's dualistic thinking processes. Thus it is a complement to and even a form of meditation. Half-hearted or superficial mental efforts will not produce the desired result. Interestingly, the disciple often gets his worst beating when he is close to penetrating the "knot of self" represented by the koan. This is because the seriousness of the endeavor, its spiritual life and death nature, self-evident to the Master, is now becoming apparent to his feeling. This often manifests as the anguish and despair evoked by devotees like Bankei or even Ramakrishna in the maturing stages prior to insight or a fundamental breakthrough.
In the Zen tradition one hears of the state of the “great doubt” that "burns like a ball of red-hot fire that one can neither swallow nor spit out". One may wonder if at least part of the meaning behind the choice of this metaphor refers to the hard inner clenching or contraction around an imaginary center that is a subjective symptom of egoity strongly felt (ie., St. John: "The living flame of love makes the soul feel its hardness and aridity."). This “doubt” may also be considered as a thought or feeling-sense of the struggle with self as it begins to become clear that you yourself , as you are , are the problem, but the problem itself (the activity of contraction or false identification, which is egoity) is not entirely obvious as yet. The ordinary man in general has no such existential "doubt". He is comfortable with a self which he unconsciously identifies with the body. As practise increases, however, this natural conceit becomes undermined. Certainty and knowledge turn into doubt. One no longer knows who or what the "I" or the "world" are, yet reality itself has yet to dawn upon his consciousness. The man at this stage has been described as "an idiot", knowing nothing - and often in deep despair, of an extreme existential nature. The energy of the Great Doubt gradually is built up within his being to a critical degree. When fundamental insight finally arises to consciousness, as satori, often catalyzed by the perception of an external sight or sound, the inherent distress is released and the “doubt” vanishes. One then becomes one who has truly "entered the path". Prior to satori every ‘answer’ one comes up with for the koan is rejected, which, of course, is as it should be, for short of satori no one passes his interview with the master - assuming the master truly has fundamental insight. Without a life of discipline, purification, meditation (concentration/contemplation), and study, however, it is highly unlikely for the ‘great doubt’ to arise or for a koan to be of much use. Our unconscious tendencies or vasanas will keep us preoccupied with the world and the ego to such an extent that insight will have difficulty arising. Further, our life of "sleep" will not be interrupted sufficiently to allow the insight that does manage to arise to become stable realization. Suzuki gave an account of his first satori at age 26 using the koan "Mu" under Soyen Shaku. In it he reveals the difference between absorptive trance samadhiprajna, or insight.
"Up until then he had been conscious of 'Mu' [the koan] in his mind. But to be conscious of Mu is to be separate from it. Towards the end of that sesshin [Zen retreat], on about the fifth day, he ceased to be conscious of Mu - "I was one with Mu, identified with Mu, so that there was no longer the separateness implied by being conscious of Mu"....That was samadhi; but samadhi is not enough: "You must come out of that state, be awakened from it, and that awakening is Prajna. That moment of coming out of the samadhi and seeing it for what it is - that is satori." His first words as he was awakened from that state of deep samadhi by the sound of a small hand bell being struck were: "I see. This is it." [Extract from D.T. Suzuki. A Biography by A.Irwin Switzer. Published by The Buddhist Society, London. 1985.)
Once true and profound insight or self-knowledge is gained, however, although itself a highly significant development, one must go on to practise with that insight. This is partly because it is in the feeling nature and the will where the deepest contractions of ego reside, and they must be unraveled - at least sufficiently for the soul's purposes. There are also many warnings in the Zen tradition that there are grades of satori, and that one must press on until he has had a great Satori from which there is no backsliding, and which generally must be approved by a master. One may rightly wonder where masters with such profound insight are to be found today. Thus there is a need to choose teachers wisely, lest one end up wasting years and suffering unduly from the "broken yogi syndrome". We should take to heart the dying words of the Buddha: "be on your guard," and "work out your salvation with diligence."
Hakuin, perhaps the greatest of the Rinzai teachers, had his first experience of satori after meditating on the koan ‘Mu’ for four years:
“He shouted: ‘Why, the world is not something to be avoided, nor is Nirvana something to be sought after!’ This realization he presented to the Abbot and some fellow disciples but they did not give their unqualified assent to it. He however burned with absolute conviction, and thought to himself that surely for centuries no one had known such a joy as was his. He was then twenty-four. In his autobiographical writings, Hakuin warns Zen students with peculiar earnestness against this pride of assurance.” (67)
After this he endured three years of merciless hammering by the Master Shoju, who “utterly smashed his self-satisfaction.” He had another satori, which he classified as a ‘great satori’, and which his teacher confirmed by saying, “You are through.” Nevertheless, Shoju admonished him not to be content with such a small thing but to perform the ‘practise after satori.’ This is known as the “downward” practise, where one ‘descends from the mountaintop’ to become the Great Fool, highly revered in the Zen tradition. It was not until more than ten years later, and much meditation under extremely austere conditions, that Hakuin penetrated to the depths of the Lotus Sutra, and gained a most fundamental awakening:
“The meaning of the ordinary life of his teacher Shoju was revealed, and he saw that he had been mistaken over his great satori realizations. This time there was no great reaction in the body-mind instrument.” (68)
Paul Brunton similarly writes:
“The glimpse, because it is situated between the mental conditions which exist before and afterwards, necessarily involves striking - even dramatic - contrast with their ordinariness. It seems to open onto the ultimate light-bathed height of human existence. But this experience necessarily provokes a human reaction to it, which is incorporated into the glimpse itself, becomes part of it. The permanent and truly ultimate enlightenment is pure, free from any admixture of reaction, since it is calm, balanced, and informed.” (69)
In the Zen tradition there is also mention of the ‘Zen illness’ or the ‘stink of enlightenment’, which arises after a first satori. Further practise is required for the complete breakdown of the conceit of self until the entire being is transformed. This will take as long as it takes, which sacred texts suggest may be many lifetimes of practice. Damiani, in response to the question of why someone who has a true glimpse does not yet know the truth of the I AM (ie., Soul), answered: "Because that's a long, arduous, difficult process, maybe twenty, thirty incarnations left to go." (70)
Harada Roshi, in his comments on the enlightenment of one of his female disciples, Yaeko Iwasaki, spoke further of the Zen sickness:
“An ancient Zen saying has it that to become attached to one’s own enlightenment is as much a sickness as to exhibit a maddeningly active ego. Indeed, the profounder the enlightenment, the worse the illness. In her case I think it would have taken two or three months for the most obvious symptoms to disappear, two or three years for the less obvious, and seven or eight years for the most insidious...My own sickness lasted almost ten years. Ha!” (71)
In light of some of the previous comments, would that he should be so lucky!
The depths of despair that Bankei experienced are common to many ripening aspirants at various stages or moments of the way. The Buddha spoke of an ocean of tears to be crossed on the journey to Nirvana, from self to Overself, before the hard crust of ego dissolves and the heart awakens. On the work required to become a sage, Paul Brunton, echoing Huang-Yang Ming, said one will "die a hundred deaths and suffer a thousand sufferings." (72) (see Appendix B) The great Tibetan Guru Marpa lamented that if he could have plunged his favorite disciple Milarepa into utter depair a ninth time he could have saved him years of suffering and the need for a future rebirth to eradicate all of his impurities. Even selfless servant of the poor Mother Teresa of Calcutta, through recently released private papers, confessed to five decades of feeling abandoned by God:
"I am told God lives in me - and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul..I want God with all the power of my soul - and yet between us there is a terrible separation...Heaven from every side is closed....I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing."
Thoughts of suicide have at times tormented the sincerest of devotees, among them Brunton, Ramakrishna, Rama Tirtha, Prophet Mohammed, Elijah, Milarepa, and St. Therese, to mention only a few. The latter confessed during her most extreme physical and mental suffering:
"What a grace it is to have faith! If I had not any faith, I would have committed suicide without an instant's hesitation." (LastConv 22.9.6). About a month earlier she was in such pain that she spoke of nearly losing her mind (CG 22.8.97). At this time too she said to her sister, Agnes: "Watch carefully, Mother, when you will have persons a prey to violent pains; don't leave near them any medicines that are poisonous. I assure you, it needs only a second when one suffers intensely to lose one's reason. Then one could easily poison oneself." (August 30, Green Notebook).
At times of more strictly inner, spiritual purgation, we are reminded of the words of St. John:
"When this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away..for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death."
Yet great souls have unanimously proclaimed the value of such periods of trial:
"That which hurts, but is profitable, is drunk by the wise like medicine. For the result, afterwards attained, becomes incomparable." - Nagarjuna
"If he could see his nothingness and his deadly, festering wound, pain would arise from looking within, and that pain would save him." - Rumi
“He who never spent the midnight hours, weeping and waiting for the morrow,
he knows ye not, ye heavenly powers.” - Goethe
"The moment when Divine Mother beats you the hardest is when you should cling tenaciously to her skirt." - Paramahansa Yogananda
"This state is full of consolation for those who have attained it; but to do so it is necessary to pass through much anguish. The doctrine concerning pure love can only be taught by the action of God, and not by any effort of the mind. God teaches the soul not by ideas, but by pains and contradictions." - Jean-Pierre deCaussade
"Hope indeed is misery greatest, Hopelessness a bliss above the rest.." - Shrimad Bhagavata Purana)
"The horse that will bear us quickest to perfection is suffering." - Meister Eckhart
"If suffering did not exist, it would be necessary to create it, because without it one cannot come to correct self-remembering." - P. D. Ouspensky
"Because I love you I have given you bad health since the beginning of your life, so that you would feel how dependent you are on Me." - Sister Marie of the Order of Poor Clares of Jerusalem
"When your grief transcends all bounds, it becomes its own cure." - Ghalib
"You cannot have spiritual exaltation without having intense mental depression." - Baha'ullah
"The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering." - Carl Jung
"The entrance to purgatory is at the deepest point of hell." - Dante
"Paradoxically, though the path is said to lead to the highest bliss,
it is paved with the anguish of separation and tears." - Darshan Singh
"Nanak saith: the wife doth get her Beloved if she really feels unhappy and is extremely miserable without him." - Adi Granth
"Suffering is the way for Realization of God." - Ramana Maharshi
"The Overself knows what you are, what you seek, and what you need...We sometimes wonder whether we can bear more, but no experience goes too far until it crushes the ego out of a man, renders him as helpless as the dying person feels." - Paul Brunton
"When God recognized my sincerity, the first grace that he accorded me was that her removed the chaff of the self from before me." - Farid al-Din Attar
So this type of experience and ordeal, while not exactly something to be sought after, can be more or less expected at some point. The insufficiency of ego is most fundamentally shown when, after many lifetimes of self-development, it then attempts to do what is seemingly impossible (transcend itself), and that is when the real anguish, resignation, patience, and humility comes. Out of this dead-end proceeds awakening, according to the mystics, for we become enabled to "surrender in the arms of love." The proclamation of Zen, similarly, is that "Satori falls upon us unexpectedly when we have exhausted all the resources of our being." Hubert Benoit writes:
“...The man who works according to Zen has no love of suffering; but he likes suffering to come to him, which is not the same thing, because, in helping him to 'let go', these moments will make it easier for him that inner immobility, that discretion and silence, thanks to which the Principle works actively in him for realization..One perceives how much the 'progressive' doctrines which invite man to climb up an ascending hierarchy of states of consciousness, and which more or less explicitly conceive the perfect man as a Superman, turn their back on truth and limit themselves to modifying the forms of our hopes. Zen invites us on the contrary to a task which, up to satori exclusively, can only appear to us as a descent. In a sense everything becomes worse little by little up to the moment when the bottom is reached, when nothing can any longer become worse, and in which everything is found because all is lost." (73)
Abbot Zenkei Shibayama of the Nanzenji Monastery in Kyoto, Japan, in an alternate manner describes the inner work of the true Zen path:
“The first step in pursuing the way to religion is to “empty oneself.” But this “emptying oneself” does not mean, as ordinarily understood, merely to be humble in one’s thinking or to clean out all from the self-deceived mind so that it can accept anything. It has a much deeper and stronger meaning. One has to face the “ugliness and helplessness” of oneself, or of human life itself, and must confront deep contradictions and sufferings, which are called the “inevitable karma.” He has to look deep into his inner self, go beyond the last extremity of himself, and despair of himself as a “self which can by no means be saved.” “Emptying oneself” comes from this bitterest experience, from the abyss of desperation and agony, of throwing oneself down, body and soul, before the Absolute.
It is the keenness with which one realizes one’s helplessness and despairs of oneself, in other words, how deeply one plunges into one’s inner self and throws oneself away, which is the key to religion. “To be saved,” “to be enlightened,” or “to get the mind pacified” is not of primary importance. Shinran Shonin, who is respected as one of the greatest religious geniuses in Japan, once deplored, “I am unworthy of any consideration and am surely destined for hell!”....When one goes through this experience, for the first time the words of the great religious teachers are directly accepted with one’s whole heart and soul...” (74)
From a different philosophical perspective, Damiani describes this situation and its requirements:
"The root desire is the reproductive faculty that is in the Soul, which insists upon being embodied. That's what has to be killed, and I don't mean with a shot gun. It is a complicated thing...the point here to understand is that the fear and trembling that comes in, and the sickness unto death...is exactly the giving up of this root desire. Not the body, because ascetics and saints have been known to torture the body beyond the point of endurance. And that's when the Higher Will comes down. The Higher Will [liberating grace] doesn't come down until after the moral conflict. So don't have any illusions about it, that you're going to wait around until the Higher Will comes down. It'll come down after your moral effort. This is what is the mystical death. The body ceasing to function, every animal goes through that, and we don't call him a great mystic...That Higher Will doesn't come into action until after you've made the moral effort. In other words, you have to find out that you are impotent to change yourself. And you're not going to find out unless you try, and you really have to try because you can't kid the Soul. You'll never know what the limits are until you try. You have to exhaust whatever potentiality you have before you can say, "I give up." You can't say, "I give up," before you've started; that would be phony. But you're actually going to have to reach the point of satiation with frustration. I think I must have called on that higher help a thousand and one times. It doesn't hear me. It says, "Try harder." (75)
Steven Harrison writes:
"What occurs when there is no psychologist, no guru, no god to help us? What occurs when there is no resolution to our conflict, no enlightenment, no end to our sorrow? What occurs when there is only emptiness and nothing to fill it? Our world, our life, our relationships collapse. We collapse. This collapse of our identity and the impossibility of escape is the end and the beginning. This "dark night of the soul," through which nothing can pass, is not an event, not an enlightenment. It is not in time or of time. It is not about us, or becoming something better. It is not causal, not the result of anything. No one can take us to this or through this. And we cannot create it, hurry it, or end it. It is a moment, a lifetime. Having been reduced to nothing, nothing may then express itself. This expression of nothingness is love." (76)
Jah Jae Noh, in the marvelous Do You See What I See?, describes how one comes to what he variously calls the life of faith, the cessation of the search, the unravelling of the "form of ones fear", and the willingness to allow oneself to "be done by reality":
“Among truly sincere students, any “method” will serve to promote spiritual realization. Among the insincere no method will serve...Methods are illusory, serving only to pacify and gratify the mind. That which accounts for the realization of some and not of others is readiness..It is best that each person try every conceivable method of redress, avenue of change, discipline of self-improvement, before he attempts faith...For whatever reasons, the fact remains that true conviction comes only after the lack of meaningful alternatives have been vividly, and intensely experienced. The entire structure of one’s existence must necessarily be dramatically questioned and undermined. It is not that the mind is being convinced in this affair, it is being destroyed. This insight is not a mindful one, but an intuitive one, and incredibly deep grasp of the idea of non-alternative, hopelessness, death. One must vividly see the absoluteness of his fear, his avoidance..This crisis is the heart informing the mind..It is not an insight of wisdom, but of profound ignorance, an insight of darkness, of death. There is no place to go. It is the ‘bottom of the pit’; end.”
Brunton said that to truly reach such a point of self-surrender, of "no-effort", could itself take a lifetime.
Sant Kirpal Singh, during a period of trial for me, once said, "Going strong, my friend? Going strong? No? Feeling weak? Feeling withered? Hopeless? Is it hopeless yet? No? Not hopeless yet? Well then, if there's hope, keep trying!"
Hakuin beautifully characterizes the process:
" When all the effort you can muster has been exhausted and you have reached a total impasse...it will suddenly come and you will break free. The phoenix will get through the golden net. The crane will fly free of the cage." (78)
Adyashani calls this "Achieving Total Failure." He quotes Lao Tzu, "failure is the foundation of success, and the means to its achievement," and adds, "when the neurotic tendency to be constantly trying to succeed..is once cast aside completely, or [this] is forced upon you, then the reality of its own accord presents itself." For most of us this is a hard-won realization that must gradually wear us down.
Finally, after this ordeal has been brough to fruition, the enigmatic words of sages like Ramana Maharshi can become clear:
"If the longing is there, Realization will be forced on you even if you do not want it...Sadhanas are needed so long as one has not realized it. They are for putting an end to obstacles. Finally, there comes a stage when a person feels helpless notwithstanding the sadhanas. He is unable to pursue the much-cherished sadhana, also. It is then that God's Power is realized. The Self reveals itself...There is no greater mystery than this: ourselves being the reality, we seek to gain reality. We think there is something hiding our reality, and that it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. That is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your previous efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now." (79)
"When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the soul laughs for what it has found." - Sufi aphorism. when the latter said that he wished to experience and (77)