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