Sunday, May 3, 2009

52. Visions, second installment

Unlike the previous example in posting 51, this next example is of a vision, by a holy person, while he was awake, walking, instead of being asleep. It is taken from a book (1) which is considered a classic in spiritual literature.

The writer of this book was an anonymous Russian peasant of the nineteenth century, who was a homeless wanderer. I quote his introduction of himself:

“By the grace of God I am a Christian man, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the humblest birth who roams from place to place. My worldly goods are a knapsack and some dried bread in it, and a Bible in my breast pocket. And that is all”

He recited, in his heart, Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) incessantly. During his wandering he met a blind beggar who had also been saying Jesus Prayer, constantly, for a long time. But unlike him, his tongue would move, so that an onlooker could suspect that he was reciting something in his heart. He taught the blind beggar how to say the Prayer while picturing his heart, and synchronizing it with breathing. In about five days the blind beggar learnt it.

“…..He began to feel in his heart delightful warmth as well as a joy beyond words and a longing for incessant prayer which stirred up in him the love for Jesus Christ. At certain time he saw light, though he could not discern objects. At other times, it seemed to him, when he entered the region of the heart, as though the flame of a burning candle flared up brightly in his bosom and rushing outwards through his throat, filled him with light. And in this light he could see distant events, as it happened on one occasion when we were going through the forest. He was silent, wholly absorbed in the Prayer. “What a pity” he cried all of a sudden. “The church is on fire and the tower just collapsed.”

“Stop imagining things” I said to him “this is a temptation to you__nothing but idle fancies which must be put aside. How can anybody see what is happening in the city? It is still twelve versts away.”
“When we came to the city I saw few burnt houses and the fallen belfry……….. As I figured it out, the catastrophe had occurred at exactly the time when the blind man had told me about it”

Please note the interpretation of the event by this semi-literate pilgrim, and his warning to his friend:

“…..guard yourself from believing that your visions are a direct revelation of grace. They may occur frequently in a perfect natural order of things………….I have learnt from my departed elder that even people who are not given to prayer, but who are endowed with that kind of power or acquire it in sickness, can see in the darkest room the light flowing from every object and can perceive things in that light. They can even see their own doubles and enter into the thoughts of other people. However, in contrast, all that comes directly from the grace of God ……is filled with such sweetness and delight that no tongue can describe it, nor can it be compared with anything in the material world. For anything sensual is inferior when compared with the sweet realization of the grace in the heart.”

To be continued

(1) The way of a pilgrim. Translated by Nina A. Toumanova

Sunday, April 26, 2009

51. Visions, first installment

Spiritual literature is full of accounts of visions and voices, while the mystic is awake or sleeping. Let me first discuss the visions. There is no hierarchy in their occurrence and neither does one denote greater depth (of spirituality) than the other. It is just that some seekers see visions, while others hear voices and vice versa. However, if one has a vision of a person and the person talks to him also, while awake, it denotes a high level of spiritual growth.

Let me narrate some reliable examples. Here is an example of a vision, which is non-spiritual (worldly), the person who had the vision may or may not be holy (may be just a psychic), and the narrator is a worldly, materialistic, non superstitious, Westerner. There is an era of authenticity in the account.

Corbett, a famous hunter, worked as station master, close to river Ganges, in Indian Railways. Corbett Park in India is named after him. In his book ‘My India' he writes the following account from which I have chosen some excerpts:

“One afternoon, I met one of these special trains, which was conveying the Prime Minister of Nepal, his Secretary, and a large retinue of people…………ten days later the party returned and I saw them off.”

“A few days later……my friend, the Secretary, walked into my office. With his clothes dirty and creased, and looking as though they had been slept in for many nights…” “He accepted the chair I offered him and said, without any preamble, that he was in great trouble.

He had lost the suit-case containing the jewels! He was personally responsible for that suit-case.

The secretary said, ‘there is in Nepal a hermit who is credited with second sight….I went to him. I found the hermit, an old man in tattered clothing, living in a cave on the side of a great mountain, and to him I told my troubles……. He asked me to come next morning……. Next day he told me that as he lay asleep the previous night he had a vision. In the vision he had seen the suitcase, with its seals intact, in a corner of a room, hidden under boxes and bags of many kinds. The room was not far from a big river, had only one door leading into it, and this door was facing the east. I obtained permission to leave Nepal for a week and I have come to see if you can help me, for it is possible that the Ganges is the river the hermit saw in his vision’

There were many rooms at Mokameh Ghat in which a miscellaneous assortment of goods was stored, but none of them answered to the description given by the hermit. I did, however, know of one room , in another nearby station, that answered to the description, ….I sent the secretary, with an escort, to that room ( a parcel office ). The suit case was found over there with all its seals intact.” It had been placed in that room by a carriage sweeper, the lowest paid man on the staff.

To be continued

Sunday, April 19, 2009

50. Dark night of the soul, twelfth installment

We were discussing the changes in the person by the end of the first and second night and the mechanism of change.

God speaks to the soul during infused contemplation in a secret way. The soul cannot describe it even if it wanted to: “such a person can only say he is satisfied, tranquil and contented and that he is conscious of the presence of God, and that, as it seems to him, all is going well with him; but he cannot describe the state of his soul, nor can he say anything about it except in general terms”

This secret wisdom is like a ladder, up and down, not in a straight line. The reason is “as the state of perfection which consist in perfect love of God and contempt for the self, cannot exist unless it has these two parts, which are knowledge of God and of oneself…..soul experiences taste of one------that is exaltation-----and then the other----that is humiliation-----until it has acquired perfect habits, and then this ascending and descending will cease……since the soul will have attained God and united with Him”

What should be one’s attitude during this terrible and bitter ordeal? I quote from St John this eloquent passage:

“ Therefore , O spiritual soul, when thou 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 great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands.”

Ten steps of the mystic ladder of Divine love, according to St Bernard and St Thomas (taken from ‘dark night of soul' by St John):

First step .Soul loses the desire and taste for everything, like a sick person.

Second step. Soul seeks God without ceasing. It thinks of God, speaks of God. All it cares is about God

Third step. Soul acquires fervor and works for God. Great works are done at this stage

Fourth steps. Soul is in habitual suffering because of the Beloved, yet there is no weariness. This step is very lofty. The love for God is so true that God quite habitually grants it joy and visits it sweetly .

Fifth step. Soul desires and longs impatiently. Every delay is irksome. Soul must see the Beloved. Here men suffer hunger like dogs and go about the city of God

Sixth step. Soul runs swiftly to God and touches Him again and again

Seventh step. Soul becomes vehement in its boldness. Men like this obtain from God whatever they beg

Eighth step. Soul seizes Him and holds Him fast without letting Him go. On this step of union the soul satisfies her desire, but not continuously

Ninth step. Soul burns with sweetness. This step is that of the perfect, who now burns sweetly in God.

Tenth step. This is the last step. Soul is wholly assimilated in God. It goes forth from the flesh. These souls that are few do not go to purgatory, since they have already been wholly purged by love.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

49.Dark night of the soul, eleventh installment

We were discussing the pain and suffering of various mystics during their spiritual journey.

In a letter to her spiritual director, Mother Teresa writes:

“Now Father—since 49-50 this terrible sense of loss---this untold darkness—this loneliness—this continuous longing for God……Darkness is such that I really do not see---neither with my mind nor with my reason. The place of God in my soul is blank; --There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great---I just long and long for God…….God does not want me---He is not there………God does not want me.”

(Taken from “Mother Teresa, come be my light”, edited by Kolodiejchuk)

One cannot help being struck by the knowledge and experience of St John regarding the dark night. What he wrote in 16th century, Mother Teresa repeated approximately four hundred years later: he wrote, “The thought that God has abandoned”, she writes ‘God does not want me’. He wrote, “The love for God remains ever strong. The fervor to serve God is undiminished”, she writes ‘I just long and long for God’. He wrote “God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whenever and for as long as they desired”, she means ‘profound interior suffering, lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness’.

The great 11th century Muslim saint, Daata Gunj Bakhash, whose shrine in Lahore (Pakistan ) is visited by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of persons each year, writes about his murshid (teacher), Muhammad bin Hassan Khatli, “he spent sixty years completely isolated in mountain caves. He was unknown. Mostly he lived on a hill called ‘lagaam’.” And he adds, “He wore only one dress for fifty-one years which had multiple haphazard patches.” “I, never in my whole life, met anybody with more imposing bearing.”

“In a city in Khurasaan (now in Iran) called ‘Mlund’ I met a man who was famous. He was a man of great piety. He spent twenty years standing, except in certain portions of namaz (see sidebar) when sitting is compulsory. I (Data Gunj Bakhash), asked him the reason of it. He replied that he has not reached the stage in which he can have the courage to sit while witnessing Reality)

Taken from Kashaf-ul- mahjoob by Daata Gunj Bakhash. Translated by this writer)

Why such thorough purification?

St John explains: “For one single affection remaining in the spirit, or one particular thing to which, actually or habitually, it clings, suffices it to hinder it from …….union with that light and become Divine…” Remember the example of log of wood, which was given earlier. How it has to be burnt with fire to acquire the properties of fire.

How much suffering and pain is necessary. The answer is ‘to each one according to his capacity and need’

Once purification is near completion, the love of God becomes more and more and bursts into flames. The desire of every love is union with the object of love, so in this case soul is impatient for union.

The ten steps of progressive love will soon be described, but before that let me mention the formation of other faculties in the traveller. St John elucidates:
“God’s illumination of the understanding of the seeker, with supernatural light, so that it is no more a human understanding but becomes Divine through union with Divine.”

Similarly, will, memory, affections, desires are all changed and converted divinely, according to God.

All these changes are brought, according to St John, “…illumining and enkindling it divinely with yearning for God alone and naught else whatsoever.”

There are several advantages in suffering: (a) During suffering God’s strength is added to that of man, (b) soul becomes purer, wiser and more cautious, (c) one calls God in suffering , and forgets God during luxury,(d) God pays attention to one’s prayer----soul calling God for help!

To be continued

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

48.Dark night of the soul, tenth installment

We were discussing of the mortification and pain of various mystics during this period.

Sri Ramakrishna in his own words (see, 20. Ramakrishna) “…..I had no sleep at all for six long years. The eyes lost the power of winking….. I had no idea of the passing of the time and was not at all conscious of the body. I stood before a mirror and put a finger into my eyes to see whether the eyelids close, they did not. ……I became alarmed and wept complaining to the Mother. “Mother, is this the result of calling on Thee……..Thou have given this terrible disease to this body? Do reveal thyself to me….”

……….Flies would enter his mouth and nostrils, like they do in a dead body.

I have already quoted Brother Lawrence above, “It seemed to me that creatures, reason, and even God himself were against me…...”

Suso, a 14th century mystic once had a vision. He was told that he is going to have trials. He asked Lord to show him his pains in advance. Lord replied:

“No, it is better that thou know nothing lest thou should hesitate. But amongst the innumerable pains…….I will tell thee three. The first is this. Hitherto it is thou who scourged thyself…..Now; I would take thee from thyself, and cast thee into the hands of strangers who shall scourge thee. Thou shall see the ruin of thy reputation. Thou shall be an object of contempt to blinded men;

The second pain is this…..thou shalt find nought (nothing) but unfaithfulness, great sufferings, and great griefs. Thy trials shall be so many that those men who have any love for thee shall suffer with thee by compassion.

The third pain is this: hitherto thou hast been but a child at the breast, a spoiled child. Thou have been immersed in the divine sweetness like a fish in the sea. Now I will withdraw all this. It is my will that thou shouldst be deprived of it, and that thou suffer from this privation; that thou shouldst be abandoned of God and of man, that thou shouldst be publicly persecuted by the friends of thine enemies…………all thou shalt undertake, that might bring thee joy and consolation, shall come to nothing, and that might make thee suffer and be vexatious to thee shall succeed.”

(Taken from ‘Mysticism’ by Underhill)

This period lasted for 10 years. He had an earlier period of 22 years which consisted of constant mortification and intermittent illumination.

A recent great example of a saint suffering great ‘darkness’ is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. By darkness she meant, “ profound interior suffering, lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness, an apparent absence of God from her life, and, at the same time a painful longing for God.”

(Taken from “Mother Teresa, come be my light”, edited by Kolodiejchuk)

To be continued.

1.Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill
2. The life of blessed Henry Suso by himself by Thomas Francis Fox

Sunday, March 29, 2009

47. Dark night of the soul, ninth installment

We were discussing the detail of the second night

The aridities and the trials are similar to those of the first night. Lack of joy or sweetness with spiritual practices, absence of consolation from God or creatures. Understanding and will become feeble and memory turns fuzzy. There are periods of profound forgetfulness. Soul becomes dispirited and unhappy. Affections turn bitter. Nothing gives comfort. However the love for God remains ever strong. The fervor to serve God is undiminished. He will happily give a thousand lives for God.

Remember, during the first night the greatest source of depression was the thought that God has abandoned him, same is the case this time.

Remember, during the first night the person thought that his miseries will never be over, since he is so unworthy and full of defects, same is the thought this time.

Remember, during the first night one thought that God has shut out his prayers; same is the thought this time.

Remember, during the first night nothing helped, till God Himself decided to end his misery, same is true this time . Let me quote St John here, since it is written so well by him :

“….The soul is so 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 favor 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..”

Remember, during the first night, the dark period was not continuous but there were intervals of great happiness and consolation, so is the case this time.

Remember, during the first night, soul asked itself again and again, if it has caused Him to be offended. So is the case now

Let me furnish some examples of the pain and suffering of Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist mystics. To avoid exaggeration I have selected only from autobiographies or authentic biographies,

David (in Bible) said, “After the manner wherein the wounded are dead in the sepulchres, being now cast off by Thy hand, so that Thou remembers them no more, even so they have set me in the deepest and lowest lake, in the dark places and in the shadow of death and Thy fury is confirmed upon me and all Thy waves Thou hast brought in upon me.” “….the pains of hell surrounded me; I cried in my tribulation.” “I was annihilated and I knew not”.

An example of mortification by a British Buddhist mystic, Tenzin Palmo’s. She remained, alone, at 13200 feet, in a cave in snowy Himalayas, for twelve years. She slept and meditated in a three feet square box and never lay down, because the box was not long enough. She encountered wild beasts and avalanches.
I have included her here, but it should be noted that she remained joyful and peaceful during her isolation in the cave. She never had dark night of the soul.
(See ‘cave in the snow’ by Vicki Mackenzie)

To be continued

Sunday, March 22, 2009

46. Dark night of the soul, eighth installment

We were talking of the near completion of the first night

The soul has, “the yearning to serve God, which is a thing very pleasing to God”

Although purgation of the first night is complete, still three problems often occur at this stage. First, violent temptations for fornication. There may be vile and graphic scenes which are thrust on imagination. Second, the thoughts of blasphemies. And the third, the scruples that perplex the soul. These trials and temptations are sent by God, to those, who are selected to go to the second night. Their purpose is to keep them (the future travelers) ever on the alert.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone who completes the first night goes to the second night. Why? Only God knows.

There is a waiting period after the completion of the first night to entry into the second night. This period varies. In weaker spirits it may last into years.

Second night. Or purgation of the spiritual and sensual parts of soul.

One would think that the purification is complete after the first, miserable, violent and dark night. The traveler is now at peace. He is in love with God. His impurities have been removed. He is now once again getting sweetness and joy with his spiritual practices, even more than he used to have before he entered in the first dark night of purgation. Now he does not need formal meditation because he remembers God all the time.

Is he ready for union with God?

No, he is not. He still has impurities and deficiencies. He needs further purification. And that is performed during the second night.

The method of purification is the same that was used during the first night; aridities and trials.

There are several differences between this night and the previous night

1. Second night is harsher and more bitter than the first night
2. It is performed by God, without any participation of the soul. That is why it is called “infused contemplation” ( God infuses His boons directly in a secret way)
3. There is variable suspension of faculties during contemplation. There is gradual loss of will, imagination, memory, and understanding. In some states, the soul neither sees nor hears or feels. In deepest states, person is motionless like a dead body (but pulse is present)or statue. These states occur near the end of the second night.

Now the details of the second night.

To start, let us mention the defects in these travelers. First is that now they get spiritual sweetness so easily and so abundantly that they tend to see too much of actual or false visions and feelings (the receiving apparatus has become too sensitive). They may have false prophecies. Some are sent by the devil

The abundance of these benefits may fill them with pride which may become a huge concern because it affects their motives, and that may tarnish the purity of the soul.

The other imperfections are their old habits, which, like old stains on a fabric, come back.

To be continued

Sunday, March 15, 2009

45.Dark night of the soul, seventh installment

How should the person behave during this purification of senses?

You saw that nothing is helpful during this period until Divine help comes. Not reasoning, not meditation, not anxiety, not anger at God. Therefore, one should have patience and loving trust in God. Remember, faith carried Brother Lawrence through his ten years ordeal (see 19. Brother Lawrence). Let me quote:

“It seemed to me that creatures, reason, and even God himself were against me, and that faith alone was on my side.”

One should also continue his practice of prayer.

What are the benefits accrued by the traveler during the first night? At least nine major and several minor.

1. The first major benefit is the knowledge of oneself and how lowly he is. Beforehand one was happy and contented. He becomes miserable and helpless now which causes him to realize his own lowliness. He starts to commune with God with more respect and courtesy.
2. He learns the majesty and greatness of God. He realizes that he cannot do anything without God’s help. The period of aridity has shown him the impotence of his efforts.
Thus God gives the soul knowledge, during this dark and dry period, of his own wretchedness and imperfections and God’s splendor and eminence.
3. His senses (sensual desires) are dampened. This increases his understanding because sensual desires (even for spiritual things) impede understanding of the truth.
4. Spiritual humility replaces spiritual pride.
5. He develops love of other human beings. Beforehand he was exalted and felt better than others. Now he remembers his own misery. He is more tolerant of others and sees good in others.
6. Spiritual greed, spiritual gluttony and spiritual luxury are removed or greatly diminished. Remember these were three of the seven imperfections. The soul is freed from them because it does not get any sweetness and inebriation from his spiritual practices. There are several other imperfections which get better.
7. Lust and desire are quenched. Once they are quenched, tranquility sets in.
8. A great benefit results from loss of desires and passions and ever increasing love for God, and that is the constant remembrance of God. These passions and desires were previously clouding the soul
9. There is another great benefit of this purging, and that is the practicing of several virtues by the soul, such as patience, steadfastness, and equanimity during sorrows.

In short, the above mentioned benefits can be summarized into, constant remembrance of God, purity of soul, peace, and practice of several virtues. He also becomes humble. Humble towards himself, others, and God. On top of all these benefits, God gives him knowledge and sweetness in secret ways which he is unaware of.

In St John’s words:

“these time of aridity then cause the soul to journey in all purity in the love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its actions by the pureness and sweetness of the actions themselves, as perchance it was when he experienced sweetness, but now he only journeys by a desire to please God …………..”

To be continued

Sunday, March 8, 2009

44.Dark night of the soul, sixth installment

We were talking of what happens during the first dark night

In St John’s own words:
“When they are going about these spiritual exercises with the greatest delight and pleasure, and when they believe that the sun of Divine favor is shining most brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whenever and for as long as they desired……”

“…….everything seem to be going wrong with them”

There are two signs of this condition ( ( i.e, sorrow during the first night ):

First, the person does not find any pleasure in anything, whether pertaining to God or any created thing. Second, God is in his thoughts constantly. He worries that he is not doing enough for God or he is backsliding in his quest of God. This second point distinguishes this condition from that of clinical depression. In depression one is not preoccupied about God.

The period of aridity is not continuous, but is interspersed with episodes of joy and sweetness during spiritual exercises, similar to what the traveler used to enjoy before he entered the first dark night of senses. Perhaps this is done to lighten their burden, which may otherwise break their spirit and completely crush them.

The cause of the greatest grief to these travelers is not the aridity itself, but the thought that God has abandoned them. They go over, in their minds, that what sin they might have committed which has displeased God and for which they are being punished.

This period of deprivation, darkness and misery may last for years. In the case of a great 14th century mystic, Suso (1), both nights lasted for about ten years.

God’s help comes during this period. In what form?

The answer is that it comes with enkindling of love for God.

Initially it is not felt, because it is a gradual process. The person starts yearning for God. The yearning increases. The vehemence of this love becomes an obsession.

How does this love arise? St John explains:

“ in the midst of these aridities…….there is an habitual care and solicitude with respect to God……..which is not a little pleasing to God that the soul should go afflicted and solicitous for His love. This solicitude and care leads the soul into that secret contemplation, until the senses (that is, the sensual part) having in course of time been in some degree purged……by means of the aridities…….this Divine love begins to be enkindled in the spirit”

St John, in his own words:

“…….the yearning for God becomes so great …..that the very bones seem to be dried up by this thirst, and the natural powers to be fading away,……….due to the intensity of the thirst of love, for the soul feels this thirst of love is a living thirst.” However its intensity fluctuates.
To be continued
1. The life of blessed Henry Suso by himself by Thomas Francis Fox

Sunday, March 1, 2009

43. Dark night of the soul, fifth installment

We were talking of the other imperfections of the travelers such as lust and gold. Please read posting 42 first

And there are others temptations and attachments; power, greed, family ties, fame, etc. The reason that they are not mentioned in the imperfections which were discussed in the last installments is that these are weakness of the body, and had already been brought under fair (but not full) control by these beginners.
Otherwise, God would not have selected them for the two purification processes. St John was supervising nuns and monks; the people who had taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. He was dealing with persons who had already forsaken wealth, marriage, family and many other worldly desires.

Here let me disclose a point, based on my own experience and of one other person, and not mentioned in spiritual literature that I have come across, and that is the observation that as one proceeds on spiritual journey (enters second stage )one becomes a better person without any extra effort of one’s own. It is a free gift that he gets. His defects gradually go away or come under good control.

This worthless mote lost most of his desire for money very early, I think during the first year. Next to leave was the desire to have powerful position in life. I soon started saying (vain silly boasting) that if God Himself offers to make me ruler of the world, I would beg Him to excuse me, because I neither want it nor am worthy of such honor . As I remember, next, fame lost its attraction. Lust was never completely gone but lost its hold. Next to last to go was jealousy and it took a long time for control over jealousy. Last was anger, which is still not under fair control, but it is better than before.

Sometimes during this journey one acquires truthfulness and humility. However, it should be noted that imperfections thought to have been conquered, often come back to humble the soul.

I have discussed it with some other travelers, and they verify this observation that one’s character improves. Love of God, drives other loves out.

Now let me describe the first night

First dark night, or purgation of the sensual part of soul.

I had thought that the first night begins with the second stage (when one starts meditation). But if one reads carefully what St John has written, it appears to start during the 3rd stage, after the first glimpse of Reality has already taken place. Part of the disparity lies in the staging systems. Most of the Western mystic literature consider stage I, or start of spiritual journey, the point at which first glimpse of Reality occurs (see Underhill’s classic book on mysticism )(1). I have called it stage 3a. According to their staging, a person suddenly gets contact with Divine current (like Mayorga did) and realizes what a tremendous event has taken place. He or she now wants it again, and so starts the quest of God.

What happens in the first dark night?

The answer is in two words : aridity and trials.

Aridity or dryness occurs during meditation and other spiritual practices. There is no joy, no consolation, no reward, and no sweetness. Whereas before, with spiritual exercises they used to get pleasure, now they don’t. On the contrary the practices result in blandness or even bitterness. The reason is that these beginners were indulging in self-love and were following their inclinations (gratification of their senses); God wants to lead them away from it.

To be continued
1. Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill

Sunday, February 22, 2009

42.Dark night of the soul, fourth installment

We were talking of spiritual gluttony

In Saint’s own words:

"These persons are most imperfect and unreasonable; for they set body penance over obedience, (which is penance according to reason and discretion)…….”

“For some of them kill themselves with penances, and others weaken themselves with fasts, by performing more than their frailty can bear”…… “... Avoiding their superiors whom they should obey.”

“But such one-sided penance is no more than penance of beasts, to which they are attracted, exactly like beasts, by the desires and pleasures which they find, therein. Inasmuch as all extremes are vicious………………….., they are acquiring spiritual gluttony and pride in this way, through not walking in obedience.”

“……better way is that of humble resignation...”

“They strive with every nerve to obtain some kind of sensible sweetness and pleasure……..and when they don’t receive it, they think they have accomplished nothing at all. This is to judge God very unworthily” The reason is that invisible part of grace, which does not come through senses, is better than the visible part, which comes through senses. Thus, their behavior denotes impurity of faith in God, which is a grave imperfection.

“But God, very justly, wisely and lovingly, denies it (pleasure) to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony ….would breed innumerable evils”

“…….they are very weak and remiss in journeying the hard road of Cross….” For they want pleasure, while that road is devoid of pleasure and consists of self-denial.

“They have many other imperfections. ……in time the Lord heals them, by means of temptations, aridities, and other trials, all of which are part of the dark night”

The last two defects ( 6th and 7th) are spiritual envy and spiritual laziness. If others outperform them, they are envious of them. They may dislike others being praised, may even dispute the praise, or may argue that they should be similarly praised. Whereas correct attitude should be one of holy envy: grief at not having the virtues of others, yet also joy that others have them, and strive to be like them.

These beginners may be so used to sweetness in spiritual acts, that the things that do not give pleasure tire them quickly. For instance if prayers do not give them satisfaction, they may abandon them. Thus due to this laziness they may give up the way to perfection.

In a similar vein, if they are ordered to do something which does not give them pleasure, it irritates them. They are in for sweetness, not for fortitude in denial of sweetness.

The seven imperfections of the soul are not the only imperfections in these beginners, there are others, but these are the most important root defects, others arise from them.

You may wonder why the other more grave weaknesses, from which most if not all humanity suffers, are not mentioned here. For instance, Sri Ramakrishna, one of the greatest mystic of all times, railed against the two cardinal temptations of lust and gold, which are not mentioned here

To be continued

Sunday, February 15, 2009

41.Dark night of the soul, third installment

We were talking of spiritual greed. Please read posting 40 first for better understanding

Saint John warns:
“For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consists in the truth and substance alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment…”

Compared with some others, who;
“……make good progress, attach themselves to no visible instruments, nor desire to know more than is necessary; for they set their eyes only in being right with God, and please Him”

Third defect is spiritual luxury. There may arise in them impure acts and motions, while they are engaged in spiritual exercises. These acts arise in sensual part of the soul, and may arise when the soul is in deep meditation. Both acts may be proceeding simultaneously; meditation on God satisfying the spiritual aspect, impure thoughts pleasing the sensual aspect. The aspirants have no control over their impure thoughts and are powerless to prevent them. They may visualize, most vividly, foul and impure actions. There are at least three reasons, cited by the saint, which are the cause of this distress. For the sake of brevity I will not discuss the causes.

Some aspirants are so weak and excitable that any spiritual reward, during prayer or penance, overwhelms them. They become inebriated with joy. Their senses are overly satisfied. They may later realize that certain inappropriate acts have taken place. All this is vain gratification and not good for the soul. Anger and grief raise similar exaggerated emotions in them.

Some other souls develop spiritual friendship with others, but its basis may be related to their sensual nature. A test of such spiritual luxury is that as the sensual love increases, the love with God decreases, and as the love for God rises, the other love falls. The two loves are contrary to each other.

Fourth defect is the sin of anger. These seekers have been deriving joy and consolation with spiritual practices. When they no longer derive any consolations from spiritual things they become bitter and angry. They become irritated over little things. They become like children whose favorite toy has been taken from them. Others may have difficulty in tolerating them. It is natural to be saddened by the deprivation of joy with spiritual practices, but it is not correct to indulge in it.

Some travelers have another kind of anger. They become angry with imperfections in others.

Another group recognizes their problem, but become vexed and irritated by it. They lose their patience. This is contrary to what is required; patience and meekness. They should strive hard to remove their faults, but still wait patiently for God’s grace to fall on them and remove their defects.

Fifth shortcoming is spiritual gluttony. These persons are never satisfied by what they have, they want more and more. They are most unreasonable. It appears that St John, as director of souls, encountered several of them. He has a lot to say about them

These souls used to derive great pleasure from spiritual exercise, now they don’t. They go to extremes to get these joys. Spirit of patience and moderation leaves them.

To be continued

Sunday, February 8, 2009

40.Dark night of the soul, second installment

We were talking of the imperfections of those souls who are about to enter the first dark night.

The defects, which the saint examines one by one, are the seven capital sins, which result in one of many imperfections in these beginners.

The souls, once selected by God, enter the first night. The pool from which these souls are selected are those that show an interest in God, meditate about spirituality, are already contemplative, and have been discussed in the first stage (postings 33-34).

Once they have c0mmitted themselves to the service for God, they are tenderly nurtured by God, just as a mother, takes care of a newborn baby. When the baby is hungry and cries, mother readily gives the baby nourishment. She rushes to alleviate his distress. She sings to the baby lullabies, gives him warmth from her bosom, caresses him, and changes his diapers. So far, these beginners were like babies. They were given spiritual nourishment readily. Sometimes for whole night they were given joys and bliss. Grace of God gave them pleasures in all things pertaining to God, free, without their own efforts. Even hardships such as fasts and penances were joyful.

As they enter into the purification process, things change. No more milk and honey. They have to give up baby food and learn to eat food with crust. They have to stand on their feet, and learn to walk. They have to endure falls and pain. Mother puts aloe over her breasts to give it a bitter taste. She lets the baby cry, without picking him up.

The first of the seven deadly sins is pride. Aspirants may develop secrete pride over their efforts and hardships, and be proud of the fervor in their hearts. There may develop a desire in them, which is vain desire, to talk about spiritual things in front of others. They want to be esteemed by others. They don’t like others being praised.

To increase their pride the devil may increase their enthusiasm to perform more of such actions which are a source of their pride, such as penances, fasts and prayers. Thus their virtues start turning into vices. Instead of being humble, which is a necessary requirement for spiritual travelers, (because God likes humility and dislikes pride and arrogance) they become proud. They like to teach others instead of learning from others.

Some of them realize their imperfection. They become angry and impatient with themselves, which is another fault. The correct attitude being meekness, , patience , loving fear of God, thinking little of their efforts , ascribing their virtues to God’s grace and not to their actions, holy envy of others, (whom, they think, are far better than them ) , and begging Him to remove their defects.

Second defect is spiritual greed. These seekers are not content with the spirituality that God gave them. They become dejected and irritable. They think that some other practice or some other article may be the answer to their troubles. Thus, to find the answer, they are forever reading books or listening to counsels. They may become strangely attached to crosses, images and rosaries. Leaving one, picking up another. They are like children with trinkets. Thus, instead of developing inner poverty of spirit, by mortifications, they use outer crutches.

To be continued.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

39.Dark night of the soul, first installment

There are not one but two dark nights of the soul. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ was coined by St John of the Cross (widely quoted from; see sidebar; ‘dark night of the soul’), a 16th century Discalced (shoeless) Carmelite Spanish monk. He supervised (director of souls) the spiritual training of dozens or hundreds of monks/nuns, and, therefore, had extensive experience with the problems and pitfalls faced by spiritual travelers. The term “dark night” is used to denote purification process.

Thus, the saint tells us, that there are two purification processes. The first is an active process; the second is a passive process. The first is performed by the seeker; the second is performed by God Himself, without any participation of the seeker. The first process is for purification of the sensual part of one’s soul. The second deals with purification of the spiritual aspect of one’s soul, although further improvements of the sensual side of one’s nature also takes place, because the root cause of some sensual defects resides in the spirit.

Second purification process follows the first. The first night is bitter and terrible; the second is bitterer and more terrible.

As I mentioned previously (35. Stages in spiritual development) not everybody goes through these purification processes. Although, the saint describes it in Christian mystics, similar processes probably occur in seekers of other faiths also.

I think, persons who are pure to begin with do not need any further purification. This is further supported by statement by St John in his book that the duration and the harshness of the nights depend upon the amount of imperfection the soul has.

The purpose of these nights is to remove the defects from the sensual and spiritual aspects of one’s soul and make it ready for Divine union with God. The union with God cannot take place unless the soul is perfect, even one imperfection will hinder the Divine union.

St John compares the purification process to the burning of a log of wood. The log has to burn in fire, its impurities such as mould, dirt, rot and moisture have to be burnt and removed, an extremely painful process for the log, for it to assume the properties of fire and become like fire.

Not every aspirant is selected for the first night. Not every aspirant who has completed the first night is selected to go to the second night. Not everybody who travels the second night climbs to the 10th and final step of the secret ladder (according to St Thomas and St Bernard) of progressive love for God. Such honor is reserved for very few souls. It entails complete assimilation into God. Person leaves the flesh after the nineth step.

Imperfections: Those who travel the first night have several imperfections and three enemies. The enemies, who constantly put obstacles in traveler’s path, are the world, the devil and the flesh. At the end of this purification process the traveler has to achieve control over two main forces, and those are grouped under the heading of passions and desires.

To be continued

Sunday, January 25, 2009

38.Stages of spiritual development ( sixth installment) afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest

We were talking of sorrow and suffering in spiritual journey

Sorrow and depression are something different from suffering. For spiritual travelers sadness is mostly due to aridity or lack of spiritual progress. Ah! Aridity. We will discuss it when we discuss the two dark nights of the soul. It should be noted, though, that this spiritual depression , is different from clinical depression, in two important aspects: one , that it is directly related to spiritual progress, or meditation sessions; two, that it is readily, sometimes in the twinkling of an eye, reversible, which is never the case with clinical depression. One is hilariously happy for hours, days or weeks after a great session or spiritual event.

The difference in stage 2a and 2b is arbitrary. It just reflects greater depth of meditation in 2b. But it is still second stage. One may get so absorbed in meditation that one forgets his surroundings and time. One may experience the phenomena (posting 33) which come with great concentration of mind on one point, or by silencing of thoughts. St Teresa is the only saint that I know, who experienced all of them (a to f) and described them. I will narrate them sometimes in the future.

However, it is not necessary to enter into stage 2b before 3rd stage. If God’s grace is with him/her, he/she may get the contact with Divine current (stage 3) straight from 2a, as Nancy Mayorga did. She had contact with the great spiritual current, on the first day she sat for meditation according to Patanjali’s method.

Contact with the Divine current, or entry into the third stage, is one of the most important events, if not the most important event, in one’s life. It is reassuring. It is affirmation of the correctness of one’s doing. It is awesome, stupendous, beyond words, that God Almighty, Master of the universe, has paid attention to you, responded to you. You----who is so insignificant compared to the vastness of the limitless universe. It reaffirms your beliefs, which were so far theoretical, that there is a God, who though remote , is approachable, and kind, and compassionate, to have responded to an infinitely small particle like you. You and Him are a like mote caught in the sunlight pouring through a window and the great sun himself.

How does it feel when first contact takes place?

"I did not always believe in God……….…….And one day when my soul was open and receptive, it was charged through and through by something shocking, galvanic, almost frighteningly vibrant, was suddenly flooded, irradiated by something inexplicable and beautiful and altogether overwhelming..…….But to cover the impressive magnitude of my soul’s experience, I found only one word----God. It was wrung from my lips and I said it loud, “God!” “ I was at once grabbed, swept upwards, completely out of myself, farther than I could have imagined in my life, beyond space, beyond time, into an unlocated , timeless, inexpressible bliss”

(See sidebar: 'hunger of the soul')

Now, everybody is not lucky like her. Here is what Mayorga noted:

" Yesterday I learned that after thirty-five years of spiritual practice , the most faithful devotee I know has not been with one such contact as came to me, unsought, at the first try…….then I wanted to cry ----out of pity and admiration, too. I don’t know whether I would have that kind of patience and perseverance”

( see sidebar; 'hunger of the soul' )

But we are jumping ahead. We still have to cross the two terrible dark nights of the soul, which will be discussed now

To be continued

Sunday, January 18, 2009

37.Stages of spiritual development (fifth installment)afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest

For continuity, please read posting 36 first

We were talking of stages. Whole of second stage and third stage is like this. Up and down. Your sessions are not good. There is no progress. You feel restless and depressed. Nothing gives pleasure. Separation from God is killing you. You want to be united with God, even if it means death. One day dam bursts; there are torrents of rain (tears). Words are wrung from your mouth; "I want to be with You”. You feel calm. Inner turmoil ceases for a while. Contentment leads to sessions that lack bliss. This leads to restlessness. Inner turmoil worsens into despair, sadness and anguish. The fuel for another rain gathers mass. And lo! It rains. The whole cycle repeats with great regularity.

Progress in spiritual journey is never smooth. There are always mountains and valleys, except at the end, in the fourth stage, when great peace comes. All mystics have noted it. St John of Cross gives two frightening spiritual reasons for it, which I will describe later, in the dark night of the soul.

Let me quote from St Teresa of Avila, one of the greatest saints of all times, what Lord Himself had to say about it:

"Once He told me, by way of consolation, not to worry----and He said it very lovingly------for in this life we could not always be in the same condition. Sometimes I should be fervent and at other times not; sometimes I should be restless and at other times……tranquil. But I was to hope in Him and not to be afraid.”

(See sidebar; 'the life of Teresa of Jesus')

There is a difference between suffering and sorrow. One can suffer and be happy. Athletes torture their bodies in preparation. Students study hard till late at night and deprive themselves of sleep. They suffer but are content in their suffering.

In fact this is often the case for spiritual travelers. The more they suffer, happier they become. Body suffers but the soul is happy. What is the reason for that?

The reason is that the person is suffering for the sake of God and that makes the person happy. He may be in pain, or paralyzed, or hungry, or shivering with cold, but he has brought these discomforts upon himself by giving up everything for God. Money would have bought him medicine for his disease, clothes would have protected him from cold, and food would have assuaged his hunger.

Again, listen to St Teresa:

"….to know how much we are gaining by suffering for His sake! But we cannot properly understand this until we have given up everything; for, if there is a single thing to which a man clings, it is a sign that he sets some value upon it, it will naturally distress him to give it up, and so everything will be imperfection and loss”

Those who serve God are like "…. Soldiers who in order to win booty and grow rich upon it, are spoiling for war, realizing that without fighting they can never become rich at all”
( See sidebar; 'the life of Teresa of Jesus')

To be continued.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

36.Stages of spiritual development (fourth installment)afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest

We were talking about the value of praying to God

When life is too hard, either people become angry and sullen with God and banish Him from their thoughts, or they invite Him in their lives and become religious. Religion gives them strength to bear the misfortunes, for three reasons: First, because they may think that it is God’s will. And religion teaches unquestioned surrender to God. Secondly, they may think that there may be hidden benefit in the present calamity. Who are they to question God’s wisdom? He knows better. Thirdly, if they are not rewarded here, then God’s justice makes it absolutely certain that they will be rewarded in the next life. And, through these trials, there may be improvement in the better part of one’s nature.

As I mentioned previously (posting 16), there are spiritual reasons for these ordeals. Let me reiterate Brother Lawrence’s explanation:

What is the purpose of the dark night of soul? Why does God, often, put the seekers through these terrible ordeals? Brother Lawrence gives two answers to it. His first answer, in his own words, is, "…that it is normal for His divine providence to abandon us to all sort of trials, miseries and temptations". The second purpose of these tribulations is to purify the soul

(See sidebar; 'the practice of the presence of God')

We will have a lot to say about this purification process, when we discuss the two dark nights of the soul

The man who coined the phrase 'dark night of the soul', St John of the Cross', had the following to say about the purpose of suffering in spiritual journey:

“…..For the road of suffering is more secure and even more profitable than that of fruition and action, first, because in suffering the strength of God is added to that of man…….; second, because in suffering the soul continues to practice and acquire the virtues and become purer, wiser and more cautious.”

(See sidebar; ‘dark night of the soul’)

This mote can provide one more reason, from his own experience, as to how suffering helps in spiritual journey. When heart is heavy with sorrow. When one is depressed, whether the reasons are worldly or spiritual, one goes in his daily session with God. Sometimes words are not spoken, but one still pours out one’s heart to God. Sometimes tears flow. And you know what happens. If the anguish is great, and one is lucky, God’s grace falls on that person, and he/she feels the presence of God. This is a great consolation. Often depression goes away. One feels uplifted. He /she advances in spirituality .

I will go so far as to say, that for some seekers, like me, who follow the path of love for God (in contradistinction to the path of knowledge), depression is necessary for spiritual journey. Depression, restlessness and discontentment are the fuel that light the fire of spiritual fervor. It is like pouring petroleum over burning wood. I almost never get a great session when I am contented.

To be continued.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

35. Stages in spiritual development (third installment) afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest

We were talking of the first day of the second stage. For purposes of clarity, it would be better if you read posting 34 first.

This is the start of the journey. Stage 1 was flying here and there; stage 2 is flying in a fixed direction. The road is unimaginably difficult. One reaches the depths of despair. Many times one cries out loud, “Oh! My God why do you make it so difficult?” “ Why don’t you ever help me”? “God, please, have mercy on me.”

If the yearning for God is real, one never gives up. As I mentioned earlier, thought of quitting never enters one’s mind (25. Why do they travel)? There are great sorrows. As one progresses, over the years, great joys also occur. As Mayorga writes (Hunger of the soul. See sidebar ) about the life of Thomas Merton:

“Mystics, it seems, suffer greatly all their lives, more than other men. But they have joys far greater than other men”

I had previously thought that misery and sorrow are inevitable in spiritual journey, but that is not always the case. I know of a fellow traveler who has lead a happy and contented half a century of life (except troubled childhood and early manhood). Swami Yogananda, author of famous book (see sidebar, “Autobiography of a yogi”) did not seem to have encountered grave sorrows or anguishes, and he appeared to achieve the pinnacle of spiritual growth. These two may be the exceptions, because they were perhaps pure to begin with.

Why is suffering necessary? Because one calls upon God in suffering. One is unlikely to call on God for help when one is happy, and contented. We reviewed average person’s life in posting 33. There is hardly any place for God. On the other hand, one cries for help to God, from the depth of one’s soul, when all avenues of help are exhausted, and there is pitch darkness everywhere. Relief is impossible. There is only one Entity in the universe that can make impossible, possible. So one appeals to Him.

Why does God answer to some prayers?

Because He starts paying attention to you. Your prayer has crossed some barrier, by dint of your sincerity, and reached Him.

In order for God to intervene in one’s affairs, God has to be invited in one’s life. One has to ask Him to help, to intervene. Normally, He is aloof to human affairs. Whatever happens is the result of the law of cause and effect. He may help or He may not help. We do not know His criteria. But we do know that sometimes prayers are answered, and miracles happen. I personally know three instances, where God’s help was sought, and it came, miraculously, but not supernaturally, through human instruments. Therefore I believe without an iota of doubt, in personal God. I will narrate them sometimes in future.

It is also true, that God responds in His own way, which may not be what we had in mind, and we may not like it, and it may be too slow.

To be continued

Saturday, January 3, 2009

34. Stages in spiritual development (second installment) afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest

We were discussing an average person’s life. For clarity, you may want to read previous posting, 33, first

Soon, both men and women, start a family. All of one’s energy, is spent on earning a living, and taking care of the family. Sexual desires occupy most of one’s time during adolescence and early manhood. Other desires, later, enter into the picture. Ambition becomes a driving force in the life of most persons; to have more money, to have more amenities of life (house, car, etc), to succeed in job, to acquire position of power, to have fame. You get the picture

In Western society, situation is not much different, although ambitions may be different and priorities may be different, but the desires are almost completely worldly.

Where is the time for God?

Once the desires are fulfilled, or the person ceases to care for them, usually in forties or fifties, some of us reflect on the drama of one’s life. What was this all about? Was this all there was to life? Was I born only for this?

Some individuals try to find answers. They turn to religion and philosophy. If the answers supplied by religious dogma and rational thinking, do not satisfy them, their search leads them to the only other untapped source of answers; the infinitely extending spiritual current. But how to contact this current? This leads to the paths, which I have discussed earlier (postings 26-31). They enter into the second stage.

As I have already mentioned (8. Why do they travel? ), not all seekers come this way. Please read that posting again. Preselected persons are a separate category. Three alive travelers, that I personally know, entered due to three different motives. One person, wanted the answers to eternal questions, second, wanted to attain supernatural powers, to satisfy his ego, and the third was devotional by nature and often visited holy places and persons. Nancy Mayorga wanted to expand her consciousness,and to learn the meaning of life (see sidebar, "hunger of the soul”)

I know of a young man who came upon a book ('My India', by Jim Corbett). The book was about episodes in the life of the author, who is famous for books on hunting tigers. But this book was not about hunting. The author narrated his own good deeds, and noble acts of other persons. That book had a profound effect on the young man; he wept for hours, and wanted to become like Corbett. That book was read by a dozen other persons, but had no affect on anybody else.

I narrate the incident to make a point; some have the receptor in them, others don’t.

Second and third stages. These are the stages of actual pursuit of one’s aim of God-realization, by taking concrete, practical steps. Not everyone in the first stage enters the second stage. Directions are given either by a teacher, who has traversed this path, or the person takes the matters in his own hands, and starts meditation or mental chanting, after consulting spiritual books.

It is said that a teacher is necessary. The teacher points you to the proper path and keeps you at the right path. However many famous mystics realized God on their own. I think, they must be born with mind attuned towards God. They did not need any help from others.

It is also mentioned in spiritual literature that if you do not have a teacher, but want to reach God, God Himself will initiate you.

The first day, the person sits in meditation or marakba, is a historical day. If he/she has the two requisite qualities of patience and perseverance, without which nobody can succeed in spiritual quest, his/her life changes forever. The changes are irreversible. He/she will never be the same person again.

To be continued