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