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Kenosis and Metanoia


   “You seem to become ever more deeply convinced of your miseries and imperfections. Now that happens only in proportion to our nearness to God, and to the light in which we live and walk…This divine light as it shines more brightly makes us see better and feel more keenly the abyss of misery and corruption within us, and this knowledge is one of the surest signs of progress in the ways of God and of the spiritual life. You ought to think rather more of this, not to pride yourself on it, but to be grateful for it.”

   “To consider what we have been, what we are, and what we should become, if God removed His hand from us. When we neglect to apply ourselves to these humiliating reflections, God, in His fatherly goodness, feels obliged to take other means to destroy the secret vanity of souls whom He desires to lead to a high state of perfection; He allows temptation, or even falls that throw them into the deepest confusion to cure them of this inflation of the mind and heart. When God makes use of this bitter but salutary remedy, we must be on our guard to prevent our hearts rebelling against it, but submit humbly without vexation, and without voluntary agitation.”

   “Know, daughter, that the heart is so full that it cannot be emptied all at once. It is a work of time, and as the space is enlarged God fills it gradually; but we shall not experience what St. Paul calls the plenitude of God until we are completely empty of all else. This will take a long time, and will require many trials to accomplish the work. Be patient and faithful. Have confidence and you will see the gift of God, and will experience His mercy.”
- Jean-Pierre deCaussade

   “Two things must be discovered: the greatness of God and the vastness of the devastation of the fall as pertaining to your own soul. It is an understanding so vast that no tongue can express it. From this revelation proceeds a glimpse of the grace of God...” - Michael Molinos

   “It is an ancient error which makes unimportant strivings for moral virtues provided they are replaced by strivings for ultimate knowledge.” - Paul Brunton



   KENOSIS: “self-emptying”
   METANOIA: “change of heart”



   In the Orthodox Christian mystical traditions, kenosis or catharsis is the humbling, cleansing process of self-emptying leading to metanoia, or a change of heart, which precedes fotisis or illumination, which culminates in theosis or God-Union. In Christianity, there is recognition of and cooperation with an active intervention by the Holy Spirit. The process goes by many names, however, and is at the heart of most authentic spiritual traditions. This article overlaps in many respects “Scrubbing,” “RAIN,” “Spirituality is Medicine - Not Philosophy” and, indeed, even “The Deeper Meanings of the Dark Night of the Soul” on this website. Its emphasis, perhaps, being more on the subjective, penitential side of the process and an important angle that adds depth and richness.

“The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.” - Ps. 51


   “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, and in those that hope in His mercy.” - Ps.147:11


   From Jean-Pierre deCaussade:

   “ You are convinced that you do nothing, that you merit nothing; and thus you are sunk in your nothingness. Oh! How well off you are! Because the moment you are convinced of your own nothingness you become united to God Who is all in all. Oh! What a treasure you have found in your nothingness! It is a state you must necessarily pass through before God can fill your soul; for our souls must be emptied of all created things before they can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God.”

   “Such a lively impression of your nothingness in the sight of God is one of the most salutary operations of the grace of the Holy Spirit. 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 realize our nothingness the nearer we are to truth, since we were made from nothing, and drawn out of it by the pure goodness
[in Sufism, mercy] 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. [We do realize that these views are not advaita vedanta - such considerations are dealt with in other essays!] 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 fulness of divine life and an intimate union with God...For the time that these crucifying operations continue, the understanding, the memory and the will are in a fearful void, in nothingness. Love this immense void since God deigns to fill it; love this nothingness since the infinitude of God is there...When these agonies begin, accustom yourself to repeat, “Yes, Lord, I desire to do Your holy will in all things, in union with Jesus Christ.”

   “The revolt of the passions without any occasion being given them by you, the interior excitement and involuntary trouble this and a hundred other miseries cause in you, are permitted for two reasons. First, to humble you in an extraordinary degree, to make you realise what a heap of misery, what an abyss of corruption is yours, in allowing you to see what would become of you without the great mercy of God. Secondly, in order by the interior supervention of fresh operations all these germs of death, hitherto hidden in your own soul, can be uprooted like noxious weeds, which only appear above ground that they may be more easily taken upon by the skilled hand of the gardener. It is only after having completely cleared the ground that he can cultivate wholesome plants, sweet smelling flowers, and choice fruits. Let Him do this, give up to Him entirely the task of cultivating this rough ground, which left to itself could bring forth nothing but thistles and thorns. Do not be anxious. Be content to feel yourself greatly humbled and much confounded, remain profoundly abased in this heap of mire, like Job on his dung-hill; it is your rightful place; wait for God to draw you out of it, and meanwhile allow yourself to be purified by Him. What does it signify so long as you are pleasing to Him?” Sometimes princes take pleasure in splashing their favorites with water, the. The favourite is happy to be thus treated since it gives his prince pleasure.”

   “The heavenly Physician has therefore treated you with the greatest kindness in applying an energetic remedy to your malady, and in opening your eyes to the festering sores which were gradually consuming you, in order that the matter which ran from them would inspire you with horror. No defect caused by self-love or pride could survive a sight so afflicting and humiliating...Do not lose sight for one moment of the contempt and horror of yourself with which your present state inspires you. Think only of your infidelities and ingratitude. When you look at yourself let it not be in the flattering mirror of self-love, but in the truth-telling one that God, in His mercy, presents to your eyes to show you what you really are. This sight so frequently presented produces a forgetfulness of self, humility, and respect for your neighbour. “Come and see,” the Holy Spirit says to you, which means, come to our Lord and behold by that new light with which He has enlightened you to what you have been, what you are, and what you would, infallibly, have become. Be careful never to give up prayer and Holy Communion, for it is in these that you find help and defense...Poor human nature in its dislike of suffering looks longingly for the end.The important matter is to gather the fruit of the Cross. Let us pray, then, and sigh for that power which we do not possess and should never find within ourselves. This is a fundamental truth of what you have an entire conviction based on your own experience; and it is for this reason that God prolongs your trial until you become so thoroughly convinced that the memory of it may never be effaced from your mind. You speak of pure love; no soul has ever yet attained to it without having passed through many trials and great spiritual labour...Continue on your way, then, courageously. Rejoice every time you discover a new imperfection. Look forward to that happy moment in which the full knowledge of this abyss of misery completes within you the destruction of all self-confidence and foolish self-satisfaction. Then it will be that, flying in horror from the putrefaction of this tomb you will enter with joyful transport the bosom of God. It is only after having completely cast off self that God becomes the sole thought, the only joy; that on Him alone you will rely, and that nothing will give you any pleasure out of Him. This is the new life in Jesus Christ, this is the life of the new man after the old has been destroyed. Hasten then to die like the caterpillar, so that you may become like a beautiful butterfly, flying in the air, instead of crawling on the ground as you have hitherto done.”

   “This keen realization of your poverty and darkness gives me pleasure, because I know it is a sure sign that divine light is increasing in you without your knowledge and is forming a sure foundation of true humility. The time will come when the sight of these miseries which now cause you horror, will overwhelm you with joy, and fill you with a profound and delightful peace. It is not till we have reached the bottom of the abyss of our nothingness, and are firmly established there that we can, as Holy Scripture says, “walk before God in justice and truth.” Just as pride, which is founded on a lie, prevents God from bestowing favours on a soul that is otherwise rich in merit, so this happy condition of humiliation willingly accepted, and of annihilation truly appreciated, draws down divine graces on even the most wretched of souls.”

   “You seem to me to become ever more deeply convinced of your miseries and imperfections. Now that happens only in proportion to our nearness to God, and to the light in which we live and walk, without any consideration of our own. This divine light as it shines more brightly makes us see better and feel more keenly the abyss of misery and corruption within us, and this knowledge is one of the surest signs of progress in the ways of God and of the spiritual life. You ought to think rather more of this, not to pride yourself on it, but to be grateful for it...The more painful and violent your trial is, the more certain do I become about your salvation and perfection. You will be able to understand this later just as I do.”

   “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, cooly 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?”
(Letters of Counsel)

   St. John of the Cross writes:

   “The soul, because of its impurity, suffers immensely at the time this divine light truly assails it. When this pure light strikes in order to expel all impurity, persons feel so unclean and wretched that it seems God is against them and they are against God...Clearly beholding its impurity by means of this pure light, although in darkness, the soul understands distinctly that it is worthy neither of God nor of any creature. And what most grieves it is that it thinks it will never be worthy, and there are no more blessings for it. This divine and dark light causes deep immersion of the mind in the knowledge and feeling of one’s own miseries and evils; it brings all these miseries into relief so the soul sees clearly that of itself it will never possess anything else.”
(Kavanough/Rodriguez, trans., The Dark Night of the Soul, Book Two, Chapter 5, Stanza 5)

   “When this purgative contemplation is most severe, the soul feels very keenly the shadow of death and the lamentations of death and the pains of hell, which consist in its feeling itself to be without God, and chastised and cast out, and unworthy of Him; and it feels that He is wroth with it. All this is felt by the soul in this condition - yea, and more, for it believes that it is so with it for ever.”
(A. Peers, trans., The Dark Night of the Soul, Book Two, Chapter Six, Stanza 2)

   In John’s Apocalypse, a dream interpretation of the Book of Revelation (which the author, Craig Isaacs, envisions not as prophecy but as a sequential symbolic portrayal of mystical stages of the path, i.e., purgation, illumination, union, or, in St. John’s terms, the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit, active and passive), there is delineated the stage of the mature soul’s anguish at seeing the untransformed parts of its nature obstructing its desire for God in the metaphor of the “overturning of the bowls of God’s wrath” - a final transforming act of grace, albeit not always recognized as such by the suffering soul. That is, “God’s wrath” is to be seen as an ‘impatient’ act of love by a God pleased with the soul’s efforts so far in surrendering itself, acquiring the virtues, and enduring a degree of purgation, but, yet ego-centred, unable to go anywhere further by such means. That is further to say that the full sight of one’s wretchedness does not come to the beginner, for whom it would be overwhelming, but only to the proficient, already schooled and practiced in the virtues and also having been the recipient of grace, having steeled him for a much deeper purification without which he might succumb to despair:

   “As each bowl is poured out, we once again watch the work of the Egyptian plagues demanding the release of the soul, this time completing their work. The plagues are poured out, the release is demanded, and the rebellious portions of the psyche scream forth. This is experienced in the inner life as pain upon realizing the intransigent nature of the “sinful” aspects of the soul. St. Paul felt it and could only refer to himself as the greatest of all sinners, the experience of these screams against God paining him to an intolerant extent. All of the great saints relate a similar experience, one which drove them to a more determined pursuit of union. Yet, the nature of these seemingly immoveable parts of the psyche would keep them from gaining such union, which was a still greater pain. It is an experience that is encapsulated in the Anglican Eucharistic liturgy during the confession of sin, articulated as “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.” [Guilbert, Book of Common Prayer, 331] For the average churchgoer the remembrance of sin is not grievous, nor an intolerable burden. For the soul experiencing the cleansing of God’s wrath, these sins are so intolerable that many consider themselves as going insane.” (p. 92-93)



   Fear of God followed by the love of God

   Old school? Too negative? Perhaps, but what is the meaning behind this ancient teaching, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” ? Essentially an appreciation of the depths into which the ego insinuates itself into our souls. The depth of our estrangement from the true Self. The profundity of the Holy Spirit’s action in our being, revealing the Truth which our own actions alone could never do. The fear and trembling Moses confronted on Mt. Sinai, or that propelled holy Job onto his dung-heap. The recognition of a power greater than man, at least as provisionally constituted prior to realization. Not the beginner’s perception, but that of the proficient. Along the lines of, “not to pay attention to the commandments of the master is worse than death for he who has love for the master” - Kirpal Singh. Perhaps “the fear of offending God” is a better term; inasmuch as God is the Soul of our soul, this is a recognition of the peril of going astray from our true being, or being lost in an endless stream of karma. Let us see what some of the saints have said about this form of fear before continuing more directly with our primary theme.

   St. John of the Cross speaks of holy fear as one of the fruits of a dark night of the soul:

   “They are neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as was their custom in their time of prosperity, but fearful and disquieted about themselves and lacking in any self-satisfaction. This is the holy fear that preserves and gives increase to the virtues. (Ibid, Book One, Chapter 13, Verse 12)

   “Humility, first and last, is the adornment of the saints,” said Kirpal Singh.

   And regarding those who have received an abundance of spiritual experiences without adequate purification St. John adds:

   “They become audacious with God and lose holy fear, which is the key and custodian of all the virtues; and in some of these souls so many are the falsehood and deceits which tend to multiply, and so inveterate do they grow, that it is very doubtful if such souls will return to the pure road of virtue and true spirituality. Into these miseries they fall because they are beginning to give themselves over to spiritual feelings and apprehensions with too great security, when they were beginning to make some progress upon the way.” (Ibid, Book Two, Chapter Two, Verse 3)

   On fear of having consented to temptations (i.e., imaginations, doubts, feelings, desires in the inferior part of the soul) deCaussade writes:

   “To a soul that loves God, the fear of offending Him is worse than any other. Nothing is more frightful than to have the mind filled with bad thoughts, and then feel the heart carried away to some extent, against one’s will, by the violence of the temptation; but that which is, to you, a subject of cruel anguish, is for your directors, a subject for satisfaction. The stronger are your fears, and the greater the horrors these temptations cause you, the more evident is it that your will has not given consent to them, and that, far from doing you harm they only serve to increase your merit...Besides, and I say it without the least hesitation, all these fearful temptations, these interior revolts which agitate you, the discouragement which makes you despond, that kind of despair which seems to separate you from God irreparably, all this takes place in the inferior part of your soul without any express and formal consent of the superior of part [wherein lies the will; this doctrine of two parts of the soul is from St. Francis de Sales]...Confessors who judge calmly and without difficulty, easily discern the truth; and the great distress the poor soul experiences, and its excessive fear of having consented, are to the confessor proof positive that there has been no full and deliberate consent. In fact we know by experience, that those who consent and give way too temptations do not suffer from these troubles and fears. The greater the temptation and the fear and the pain that result, the more certain is the verdict in favor of the person tempted.”

   “Also we find by experience that those who really consent to sin are very far from feeling these pains and troubles, this despondency and fear; they feel no uneasiness whatever. You have only to apply this reasoning to your own state and you will see, as I do, when your soul has regained its calm, that the more you fear and are in trouble about your want of interior submission the more certain it is that you possess it in the depths of your soul. But God does not allow you to see it as I do, because the assurance of this submission, by consoling you and delivering you from your greatest trouble, would put an end to the state of trial in which God wishes you to remain for a certain time, the better to purify your soul in the crucible of affliction...Therefore when you feel the greatest sadness on account of your supposed want of submission or the greatest terror at the idea of the judgement of God, the only thing to do is to say “Lord, You do not even wish me to know in what state I am, whether I have the submission I ought to have or am deprived of it. As You will, fiat, I submit to this also.”

   “You tell me that you are traveling along the path that is very dark. That is exactly what is meant by “the way of pure faith.” It is always obscure, and necessitates a complete abandonment to God. What could be more natural or more easy than to abandon yourself to so good and merciful a Father Who desires our welfare more than we do ourselves? “But,” you add, “I am always in trouble and extremely afraid of having sinned; this makes life very miserable and prevents me possessing the peace of the children of God.” It is so for the present, I know, but I also know that by these continual terrors the salutary fear of God takes root in the soul, and is followed by love of Him...Know that none can enjoy the peace of the children of God who have not shared their trials... If you could only see as I do the advantages and good to be derived from the state in which God has permitted you to be, instead of repining as you do about it you would be making continual acts of thanksgiving. You are, as you say, as deeply involved as the greatest sinners. Oh! my dear daughter, this is just what galls your pride. And what are we in truth but great sinners? Do we not carry about with us an amount of misery and corruption, which, without God’s grace, would lead us into the gravest disorders? This is what God wishes to make us understand by personal experience without which we might live and die without ever attaining to a knowledge of our nothingness, the foundation of humility. Let us thank God for having solidly laid this foundation, necessary for the salvation of our souls, and also for the perfection of our state.”

   “The thought and fear of the justice of the judgements of God is a great grace, but do not spoil it by carrying this fear so far as to be troubled and rendered uneasy by it; because the true and right fear of God is always peaceful, quiet, and accompanied with confidence. When contrary effects are produced, reject them as coming from the devil, who is the author of trouble and despair.”

   “This is what makes religion apparently so terrible, but it has another aspect that is sweet and consoling: no sooner do we submit, while trembling, to the sovereign dominion of God, and to His incomprehensible judgements, then we experience the greatest consolation. This is because in His mercy He gives us, instead of certainty, a firm hope which is of equal value, without depriving us of the merit of abandonment, so glorious to God, and for us deserving of so great a reward. On what then is this firm hope founded? On the treasures of the infinite mercy and infinite merits of Jesus Christ; on all the graces that have hitherto been heaped upon us; on the judgement of the directors whose office it is to judge of our state and disposition; on the clear light of faith which cannot deceive, and which we follow in our conduct; at any rate, in what is essential, such as overcoming sin, and practising virtue. We see, in fact, that by the grace of God we habitually practise these virtues, and that if we do so imperfectly we at least desire to practice them better. But in spite of all this there is always some fear remaining. If it is that fear which is called chaste, peaceful, and free from anxiety, then it is the true fear of God which must always be retained. When there is no fear, there will assuredly be an illusion of the devil; but should this fear be uneasy and wild, it must be caused by self-love, and for this we must lament and humble ourselves.”

   “I have known, and know many souls that...are astonished to find that the more feeble, poor, and miserable they realise themselves to be, the greater becomes their confidence in God. The reason of this is that in proportion to our insight into our own misery and corruption will be our distrust in ourselves and our confidence in God. God then imparts to those souls which have acquired this insight, an absolute self-distrust joined to an entire confidence in Him, from which proceeds total abandonment; these are the two strong springs of the spiritual life, and as long as you are in this state you run no risk of your salvation.”

   “It is certain that God always gives what is necessary to those souls who fear Him.”
(Spiritual Counsels)


   If “fear of the Lord” seems too antiquated a term for the modern mind, perhaps awe and respectful love may be more acceptable. Sant Kirpal Singh, writing in the name of his master, Baba Sawan Singh, in The Philosophy of the Masters, Series Three, Chapter Four: “AWE (BHAE) AND AFFECTION (BHAV)”, uses precisely these terms in in portraying this quality in the relationship between a devotee and his master. Its meaning is the same as the terms used in the Bible where David wrote:

   “God, how great is the goodness which you have laid up for those who fear and love You!” (Psalm 3:29)

   Jeanne Guyon comments:

   “Although David had come to know his own sinfulness, he had also come to know the incredible grace of God even more...You who come to such a place are also the ones who all too gladly give their lives to glorify God! Your only desire is to see God glorified. This is because God has transformed your nature, and you have come to share in His concerns.” (Spiritual Torrents (TheSeedSowers, 1990), . 120)

   St. John of the Cross, in The Loving Flame of Love, speaks of seven wine cellars of love, as well as seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

   “Thus when the soul attains to the perfect possession of the spirit of fear, she has the spirit of love insofar as that fear, which is the last of the seven gifts, is filial. And perfect filial fear arises from perfect paternal love. So when the divine Scripture wishes to point out that a person is perfect in charity, it says such a one is God-fearing. Isaiah, in prophesying the perfections of Christ, said: Replebit eum spiritus timoris Domini (The spirit of the fear of God will fill him) [Is. 11:3]. St. Luke likewise called Simeon a God-fearing man: Erat vir justus et timoratus [Lk. 2:25]. And so with many others.”

   “This wine cellar is the last and most intimate degree of love in which the soul can be placed in this life. Accordingly she calls this degree of love “the inner wine cellar,” that is, the most interior.”

   “What fulfillment will the soul have in her being, since the drink given her is no less than a torrent of delight! This torrent is the Holy Spirit, because, as St. John says, He is a resplendent river of living water that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb [Rev. 22:1]. These waters, since they are the intimate love of God, flow intimately into the soul and give her to drink of this torrent of love that, as we said, is the Spirit of her Bridegroom infused in this Union.”



   Previously mentioned, Kirpal Singh wrote on this paradoxical love and fear of God:

   “The word Bhey in Sanskrit and Bhae in Punjabi means to be ‘in fear of’ or ‘in awe of’...It is only the Lord who is not afraid of any one, as He is the Creator of all. He has no co-sharer or companion...If one wishes to become fearless he should worship the Lord. As one thinks, so he becomes. The worship of the fearless One makes you fearless also. The Lord is immanent or dwelling within you...When one is afraid of the Lord [i.e., and his universal law of karmic consequences], he constantly remembers Him and he cannot commit any sin. Awe and affection are thus born. It is for remembering the Lord that all worship is performed. If, while performing actions, there is no remembrance or awe of the Lord, then these actions and duties lead nowhere.”

   “In this body man can know himself and become indistinguishable from the Lord. The fear that the goal may not be realized before the end of this life, and that this human birth would therefore be in vain, compels a man to become spiritual. Not to know one’s own self, and to spend day and night in sin is to commit suicide. He who is afraid of not knowing his own self and of passing his days in sin and thus committing
[spiritual] suicide and not knowing the Lord, is in awe of Him and takes steps to free himself from his fear and to know the Lord through himself. In this way he escapes the fear of death. Those who are not in awe of the Lord always live in fear of death and rebirth.”

   Guru Nanak sums this up succinctly:

   “Without awe no one can cross the ocean of this world. The fear of the Lord keeps a man straight.” (“ The Philosophy of the Masters, Series Three, p. 29-31)

   Again, it has been written, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Especially when one begins to see a Higher Power working, one necessarily develops simultaneously a great love and holy fear, or awe of the higher values and greatness. The sage Plotinus wrote:

   "Such vision is for those only who see with the Soul's sight - and at the vision, they will rejoice, and awe will fall upon them and a trouble deeper than all the rest could ever stir, for now they are moving in the realm of Truth. This is the spirit that beauty must ever induce, wonderment and a delicious trouble, longing and love and a trembling that is all delight. For the unseen all this may be felt as for the seen; and this the Souls feel for it, every Soul in some degree; but those the more deeply that are more truly apt to this higher love - just as all take delight in the beauty of the body but all are not stung as sharply, and those only that feel the keener wound are known as Lovers." (Enneads)

   ‘Holy fear' - as opposed to timid fear, which is considered a hindrance - is an accompaniment of the experience of awe, and inner joy. This is far beyond the state of fearing a despotic or punishing God. Paradoxically, when one, after metanoia and purification, has an inner awakening, he is overwhelmed by the extent of the divine majesty. Kirpal states:

   “When one experiences the inner Nectar, one feels enwrapped or adorned with Truth itself. In this blissful condition, fear enters the heart along with the love - for one becomes fully aware that all one's thoughts and actions are known. These two things both come with adornment of Truth: love and fear...If a person really knows something of that Power, he has an awe-filled awareness. The more he sees, the more awe enters his heart...”When the mouth is red from the pan (betal-leaf)”, i.e., Naam [or Holy Spirit], and the heart-strings are pulled, he is filled with a deep fear. He is then neither alive nor dead. He cannot live in such agony, but he cannot die because of the joy. Do you understand a little? This is the disciple's condition." (Sat Sandesh, August 1972, p. 12)

   Perhaps the poet Shelley was on the track when he wrote his “Cancelled Passage Of The Ode To Liberty”:

   “Within a cavern of man’s trackless spirit
   Is enthroned an Image so intensely fair
   That the adventurous thoughts that wander near it
   Worship, and as they kneel, tremble and fear
   The splendour of its presence, and the light
   Penetrates their dreamlike frame
   Till they become charged with the strength of the flame.”


   [Upon listening to this Ramana Maharshi said, “The lines are excellent. He must have realized what he wrote.” (Talks, p. 258)]


   Kirpal Singh gives a further reason for kenosis, metanoia, repentance and forgiveness, which carries through even after death:

   We must forgive all who have wronged us before we depart from this earth-plane. [This] will be helpful for our soul's progress on the inner planes.”

   For the disciples of the Saints, it seems, it is not an all or nothing affair; progress may continue, depending on the will of Providence, even when the mortal coil is dropped.


   Some may still reject this as “old school” and argue for a non-dual perspective. All right, they may not be wrong. The term “awe” may be more to their liking than fear, which can seem like a “scare tactic” of the gurus for mere beginners on the path. But even they may not avoid a sober recognition of the laws of karma without peril. They may not so easily avoid the ordeal of metanoia and kenosis. “Keeps a man straight,” said Nanak. For a longer time than we would like to admit we or our egos are not straight, but seriously bent out of shape! Nevertheless, there is mystery as well as paradox on this quest, as well as in realization itself. What is useful and true at one stage, moreover, may not be true at another. Two quotes of Paul Brunton, albeit a little off topic, neatly present this contrast:

   “There are several causes of this joyful feeling, but the primary one is that the prodigal son has returned to his father. Each is exceedingly glad to see the other again.” (Notebooks, Vol. 14, 6.174)

   And

   “This is his real being. He sought for it, prayed to it, and communed with it in the past as if it were something other than, and apart from himself. Now he knows that it was himself, that there is no need for him to do any of these things. All he needs is to recognize what he is and to realize it at every moment.” (Ibid, 6.264)


   So there is something here to satisfy everyone. We now continue with our main topic.


   St. Seraphim of Sarov is said to have sat on a rock and cried bitterly for three years over his sinful nature, imploring God for mercy. This was not just ignorant self-pity, but true repentance of the broken heart.

   Of Elder Paissos from Mount Athos it is said:

   "The leader moved in another spiritual world. He judged his own deeds differently than he judged those of others. For everyone else, he would always find extenuating circumstances, but when it came to himself he was quite strict. "It's evidence that a person's spiritual life is genuine, if he's very strict with himself and very lenient with other people...When the saints said they were sinners, they meant it. Their spiritual eyes had turned into microscopes, and they saw even their tiniest errors as great ones." (Hiermonk Isaac, Elder Paissos of Mount Athos (Chalkidiki, Greece: The Holy Monastery “Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian”, 2004/2010), p. 325)

   In this process one’s attention is necessarily focused inwards on the psychic content (‘the mote in ones own eye’) hindering a fully spiritual life. The seeing of faults in others may even be seen as being ones own fault.

   Swami Rama Tirtha was known for his saying, ”Wanted: reformers not of others but of themselves.”

   Sant Darshan Singh in the same vein said:

   “If we were only to look at our own lapses and shortcomings, then those of others would pale into insignificance.”

   Bhai Sahib said:

   “Pray for forgiveness; say, please God (or whatever you may call him), forgive me if l injured the feelings of anybody and give me the power that I should avoid it in the future. It is called in Persian, ‘TOBA’ - repentance, a promise not to do it again, a vow, a resolution. If you don’t pray like this for the power, if you don’t do the Toba you will fall back again and repeat your sins. But if you pray like this, there will be progress.” (Daughter of Fire, p. 531)

   In this respect, he placed special emphasis on honoring one’s parents:

   “The parents of everybody are great; and I mean of absolutely everybody. The parents keep for you the Gate of Heaven open. Respect is due to them. Otherwise when you are dead and come face to face with the Absolute Truth, it may ask you: You did not even respect your parents? Then it can become really difficult…Don’t criticize parents, otherwise you will criticize the Master!…Parents are the first Masters; don’t they teach you: there is only one God; look towards Him! Never, never criticize parents!” (Ibid, p. 502-503)


   Contemporary teacher Shaykh Hakim Moinuddin Chisti writes:

   "If we read the testimony of all the greatest people who lived - the prophets - we find that they were the most fearful of what awaited them in the grave and in the next life. These people were the most humble, most righteous and selfless people who lived; and they were all constantly aware of their shortcomings and worried about their ultimate fate before their Lord. How much more ought ordinary people to express such concerns." (Shaikh Hakim Moinuddin Chisti, The Book of Sufi Healing (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991), p. 37)

   It is said that Saint Silouan of the Orthodox tradition, although considered a perfected human being,

   "would cry and wail on occasion that this was his last night and that his 'miserable soul' was going straight to Hades, away from God." (Kyriacos Markides, Gifts of the Desert (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 143)


   So while one must understand and respect where one stands from a more or less modern psychological point of view, it is well to also bear in mind the confessions of great traditional teachers at a certain stage of their development, and not merely at the outset consider them 'old-fashioned'. Also, one does not need to, nor should he necessarily, 'abandon' the lower stages or practices when he has entered a higher phase; if they are useful for his development he should feel free to use them as needed. Prayer is a good example. One ought never be too proud to pray, it is the salt of life and man cannot live without it. St. Silouan cried and wailed, therefore, in what are inevitable moments of forgetfulness in order to remind himself of God. Furthermore, as English mystic William Law wrote:

   "Regeneration or the renewal of our first birth and state is something entirely distinct from this sudden conversion or call to repentance...It is not a thing done in an instant, but is a certain process, a gradual release from our capacity and disorder, consisting of several stages, both of death and life, which the soul must go through before it can have thoroughly put off the old man."


   "Repentance is but a kind of table talk, till we see so much of the deformity of our inward nature as to be in some degree frightened and terrified at the sight of it. There must be some kind of an earthquake within us, something that must rend and shake us to the bottom, before we can be enough sensible either of the state of death we are in or enough desirous of that Savior, who alone can raise us from it."
(Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950), p. 25, 13-14)


   “Other sinners may have come to You, but I am the greatest sinner, so my qualifications are the greatest. This is how a bhakta speaks to his Lord.”
    - Bhai Sahib


   “I know that no one is spotless in the sight of the Lord, but my impurity is without bounds before Him. In the present state in which the merciful Lord, in His infinite wisdom and justice, condescends to raise the veil and reveal my secret shortcomings to me in all their malignity and hideousness, I see myself so deformed that it seems as if my very clothing shrinks in horror of my defilement.” Not only is he horrified by his actual sins, he is filled with terror at his potential to sin. “Thought of going astray and offending God fills me with terror. It paralyzes my limbs, and both body and soul feel as if they are being squeezed in a powerful vise. My bones feel as if they are being dislocated, crushed, and ground up.” Padre Pio: The True Story, p. 111


   “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. “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.”
         - Abbot Zenkei Shibayama (A Flower Does Not Talk


   “But what if it should be impossible to remember any distinct fault?” This is what you must say: “Father, I have not light enough to see my ordinary faults but I accuse myself in general of all the sins of my past life, and particularly of such and such a sin of which I ask pardon of God from the bottom of my heart.” - deCaussade (Spiritual Counsels)

   This is at times a delicate balancing act in which self-surrender or self-abandonment is called for:

   “When the reproaches of your conscience, however well merited they may be, throw you into a state of trouble and depression; when they discourage and upset you, it is certain that they come from the devil who only fishes in troubled waters, says St. Francis of Sales…Let us say with St. Teresa, “What my weakness finds impossible, will become easy with the help of the grace of God, and this He will give me in His own good time. For the rest, I desire neither perfection, nor to lead a spiritual life, except as far as it should please God to give them to me and at the time He has appointed to do so.” (Ibid)


   Continuing, Brunton writes:

   “He should not hesitate to pray humbly, kneeling in the secrecy of his private room, to the Overself. First his prayer should acknowledge the sins of his more distant past having led to sufferings in the later past or his immediate life present, and he should accept this as just punishment without any rebellious feeling. Then he may throw himself on the Grace as being the only deliverance left outside his own prayer and requisite efforts to amend the causes. Finally let him remember the living master to whom he has given allegiance and draw strength from the memory.” (The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, Vol. 12, Part Two, 2.59)

   "To confess sins of conduct and shortcomings of character as a part of regular devotional practices possesses a psychological value quite apart from any other that may be claimed for it. It develops humility, exposes self-deceit, and increases self-knowledge. It decreases vanity every time it forces the penitent to face his faults. It opens a pathway first for the mercy and ultimately for the Grace of the higher Self."

   "He has emotionally to crawl on hands and knees before the higher power in the deepest humility. This kills pride, that terrible obstacle between man and the Soul's presence."
(Ibid, reference misplaced)

   “His efforts to modify the effects of evil karma (recompense) must, where he can possibly trace any of them to causes set going in the present life, include remorse for wrongs done to others, as well as for harm done to himself. If the feeling of remorse does not come naturally at first, it may do so after several endeavors to reconsider his wrong actions from an impersonal standpoint. Constant reflection upon the major sins and errors of his past in the right way, setting the picture of his actual behavior against the picture of how he ought to have behaved, may in time generate a deep sense of sorrow and regret, whose intensity will help to purge his character and improve his conduct. If, by such frequent and impartial retrospection, the lessons of past misbehavior have been thoroughly learnt, there is the further likelihood that the Overself’s grace may wipe out the record of evil karma waiting to be suffered, or at least modify it,” (Ibid, Vol. 6, Part One, 3.144)

   “A vivid, intense, and self-critical revelation of how sinful he has been may precede, accompany, or follow the glimpse. It may shake him to his core. But it cannot be said that he feels he has betrayed his best and higher being any more than that it can be said that a child has betrayed the adult it has not yet grown into. He understands this at the same time and so forgives himself.” (source misplaced)

   “When a sensitive man loses faith in his own goodness, and even his own capacities, to the point of despairing hopelessness, he is really ready to pray properly and practise utter dependence upon the Higher Power’s grace. When he realizes that the evil in himself and in other men is so deep and so strong that there is nothing below the surface of things he can do, he is forced to turn to this Power. When he abandons further trust in his own nature and clings to no more personal hopes, he really lets go of the ego. This gives him the possibility of being open to grace.” (Ibid, Vol. 12, Part One, 4.15)

   “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 painful one?” (Ibid, Vol. 12, Part Two, 2.143)

   “The need of self-humbling before the Overself (which is not the same as self-humbling before other men) is greatest of all with the aspirant of an intellectual type. The veil of egotism must be lifted, and with his own hand pride must be humbled to the dust. So long as he believes he is wise and meritorious for entertaining spiritual aspiration, so long will the higher self withhold the final means for realizing that aspiration. As soon as he believes he is foolish and sinful the higher self will begin by its Grace to help him overcome these faults. Then, when his humility extends until it becomes a realization of utter helplessness, the moment has come to couple it with intense prayer and ardent yearning for Divine Grace. And this humility towards the higher self must become as abiding an attitude as firmness towards the lower one. It must persist partly because he must continually realize that he needs and will forever need its Grace, and partly because he must continuously acknowledge his ignorance, folly, and sinfulness. This the ego becomes convinced of its own unwisdom, and when it bends penitently before the feet of the Overself it begins to manifest the wisdom which hitherto it lacked. Instead of wasting its time criticizing others, it capitalizes its time in criticizing itself. In old-fashioned theological language, he must consider himself an unworthy sinner and then only does he become able to receive Grace. He should measure his spiritual stature not by the lower standards of the conventional multitude, but by the loftier standards of the Ideal. The one may make him feel smug, but the other will make him feel small.” (Ibid, 3.2)


   So we must have gratitude to be blessed with such grace. As the friend of God, deCaussade, expresses it:

   “You seem to me to become ever more deeply convinced of your miseries and imperfections. Now that happens only in proportion to or nearness to God, and to the light in which we live and walk, without any consideration of our own. This divine light as it shines more brightly makes us see better and feel more keenly the abyss of misery and corruption within us, and this knowledge is one of the surest signs of progress in the ways of God and of the spiritual life. You ought to think rather more of this, not to pride yourself on it, but to be grateful for it...See then how great is the goodness of God! He makes use of the sight that you have of your poverty to enrich you. This poverty becomes a treasure to those who understand, accept, and love it, because it is the will of God.”

   “It would indeed be very unjust to complain of this God of infinite mercy, Who alone knows how to purify your soul, a thing you would never have been able to do yourself. Your very complaints prove that you would never have had the courage to put an end to your self-love which alone impedes the reign of divine love in your heart. Bless our Lord then for sparing you the trouble, and because He only asks you to allow Him a free hand to accomplish this work in you...Like holy Job we should never kiss His hand more lovingly than when it seems to weigh most heavily upon us.”

   “It is we, ourselves, who compel God to overwhelm us with miseries to make us humble and to increase our self-contempt. If, in spite of this, we have so little humility and so much self-esteem, what would it be if we found ourselves free of these trials? Believe me, you have appeared to be for some time past so penetrated with the knowledge of your miseries that I believe this feeling alone is one of the greatest graces that God could bestow upon you. Love then everything that helps to preserve it.”

   “You feel as if you had neither faith, hope, nor charity; this is because God has deprived you of all perception of these virtues, and retained them in the highest part of the soul. He thus affords you an opportunity of making a complete sacrifice of all satisfaction, and this is better than anything. Of what then do you complain? It is disconsolate nature which grieves because it feels nothing but troubles, dryness, and spiritual anguish. These are its death, a necessary death in order to receive the new life of grace, a life altogether holy and divine...He accords you a great grace, a signal favour, in allowing you from time to time some slight perception of His help. The different shocks this good Master allows you to experience, the vivid recollection of your sins and miseries, are divine operations, very crucifying, and intended to purify you like gold in a crucible.”

   “It is quite unnecessary to explain your troubles and doubts, they are not sins, but simply spiritual crosses, which it is only necessary to bear with unlimited submission. It is on this account that God has made it impossible for you to speak about them, or even to have distinct ideas about them because nothing sanctifies pain so much as silence both exterior and interior. What a great sacrifice the “fiat” becomes then, especially if it is hidden in a simple desire that can scarcely be discerned...This desire tells Him all that we want Him to know without allowing us to enjoy the least consolation, nor giving us any certainty. From this there results a terrible agony which drives self-love to despair and assures in us at the same time the triumph of divine charity.”

   “You attribute to your wickedness the recollections of the past which fill you with horror of yourself; but it is clear as day that this is one of the most salutary impressions that grace can produce in you; there is, in fact nothing better calculated to sanctify you than this holy hatred of yourself occasioned by these recollections, and the deep humiliations in which they keep you before God. These feelings are given you suddenly when you least expect them or are thinking of them, to make you understand that they are an effect of grace. “But why used you formerly to experience exactly contrary feelings when recalling the past?” It is because formerly you would not have been able to endure the sight of your imperfections without great despondency. It was necessary then that hope should predominate in you, but now you require a holy horror of yourself which is a true change of heart. When God gives you these feelings, receive them quietly and with gratitude and thanksgiving, and allow them to pass away when God pleases, abandoning yourself entirely to all He wishes to effect in you.”

   “Happy is he who by dint of having destroyed self-love, which is the false love of oneself, no longer retains any estimation of himself, nor any love except that of pure charity, the same that he has for his neighbour, or even his enemies, in spite of a sort of contempt and horror that he feels towards himself. Many more trials will be necessary before arriving at that degree of perfection in which self-love ceases to exist, and is replaced by the real love of pure charity. I pray God with all my heart to give you this grace.”
(Spiritual Counsels)


   Fenelon cautions us however:

   “If the thought of former sins and wretchedness should be permitted to come before us, we must remain confounded and abashed before God, quietly enduring in his adorable presence all the shame and ignominy of our transgressions. We must not, however, seek to entertain or to call up so dangerous a recollection.”

   “In conclusion, it may be said that in doing what God wills, there is very little to be done by us; and yet there is a wonderful work to be accomplished, no less than that of reserving nothing, and making no resistance for a moment, to that jealous love, which searches inexorably into the most secret recesses of the soul for the smallest traces of self, for the slightest intimations of an affection of which itself is not the author...Do not go out in search of these crucifixions, but when God permits them to reach you without your having sought them, they need never pass without your deriving profit from them...Never trouble yourself to inquire whether you will have strength to endure what is presented, if it should actually come to you; for the moment of trial will have its appointed and sufficient grace; that of the present moment is to behold the afflictions presented tranquilly, and to feel willing to receive them whenever it should be the will of God to bestow them.”
(Christian Counsels on the Inner Life, in Spiritual Progress, p. 50)

   “But, behold a marvel that eclipses all the rest! Who but Thee could ever have snatched me from myself, and turned all my hatred and contempt against mine own bosom?I have not done this; for it is not by our own power that we depart from self; no! Thou, O Lord, didst shine with thine own light into the depth of my heart which could not be reached by any other, and didst there reveal the whole of my foulness. I know that, even after beholding, I have not changed it; that I am filthy in thy sight, that my eyes have not been able to discover the extent of my pollution; but I have, at least, seen a part, and I desire to behold the whole. I am despised in my own sight, but the hope that I have in Thee causes me to live in peace; for I will neither flatter my defects nor suffer them to discourage me. I take thy side, O God, against myself; it is only by thy strength that I am able to do this. Behold what God has wrought within me! and Thou continuest thy work from day to day in cleansing me from the old Adam and in building up the new one. This is the new creation which is gradually going on.” (Ibid, p. 22-23)


   Kabir confesses:

   “I am the worst of sinners and all others are better than myself. Those who think that way are my friends.”


   From Face the Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 290-291:

   “One day a young, well-educated man came to Bhagavan, prostrated and sat down. Addressing Bhagavan he said, “Ramakrishna Paramahansa was able to elevate Vivekananda to the state of nirvikalpa samadhi with just a touch. Can Bhavavan do the same for me?” Bhagavan did not say anything. The young man waited with obvious impatience for Bhagavan’s reply. After a few minutes of silence, Bhagavan looked at the youth and, in a soft voice asked, “You are another Vivekananda, I presume?” The young man was taken aback. He was at a loss for words. Greatly embarrassed, he left the hall quietly. Baghavan then told us, “It is difficult to appreciate the need for self-analysis and self-criticism. The tendency is to think of oneself as perfect. Though this person was eager to see whether I had the power of Sri Ramakrishna, he was not bothered whether he himself merited comparison with Vivekananda. That is because he assumed that he was perfect. Sri Ramakrishna bestowed that rare state upon Vivekananda alone because he was a person of rare spiritual merit.”

   The 51st Psalm: the “psalm of metanoia.”

   When does metanoia end? From one perspective, never. For the presence of God in the soul ever deepens. Father Maximos says:

   “Metanoia has a beginning but no end. It is a process of becoming good within God’s eternity and divine mercy. That is, metanoia is not a static state but a dynamic turning point in one’s eternal march toward union with God. There is no end point in our continuous learning and growth in love and wisdom.” - (Markides, Inner River, p. 79)


   On the other hand, a cautionary note is in order: while the process of self-abnegation and purgation is too often minimized, for which reason we include it here, too much of it - self-instigated, certainly - is not a good thing either. At a critical point it must come to a graceful end, or one may stagnate and remain ego-bound. Brunton writes:

   “A vivid, intense, and self-critical revelation of how “sinful” he has been may precede, accompany, may follow [a spiritual] glimpse. It may shake him to his core. But it cannot be said that he feels that he has betrayed his best and higher being any more than it can be said that a child has betrayed the adult it has not yet grown into. He understands this at the same time and so forgives himself.” (The Notebooks, Vol. 14, 6.373)

   “Looking too often and too long at his defects may cause him to become obsessed by them...He comes at last to the point where he must turn against his own constant indictment, where he must defend himself against these self-made and self-directed accusations...If, in his earlier days when on the Long Path, he practiced daily checking his personal feelings where they were negative, hostile, or condemnatory in the relationships with others, or when they interrupted his inner calm in the relationship with himself, now on the Short Path he abandoned this training. It was no more the really important thing - which was to forget and transcend the ego by transferring attention to the remembrance of his divine being, his Overself.”

   “The Long Path
[i.e., discipline, purification of the ego] is likely to come first in a man’s spiritual career with the bizarre result that he is required to become much more aware of what is going on within him - his thought, feeling, and character - and then, with entry on the Short Path, to become less aware of it, even to the point of ignoring it.” (Ibid, Vol. 15, Part 1, 4.29)

   “At first he learns that he is personally responsible for his thoughts and actions for their results in himself and outside in his destiny. Then if he accepts this truth and in the Long Path works upon it, he is led to the discovery of the Short Path and that he is God’s responsibility.” (Ibid, 4.42)

   deCaussade mirrors this delicate transition:

   “But are we not commanded to think of ourselves, to enter into ourselves, to watch over ourselves? Yes, certainly, when beginning to enter the service of God in order to detach ourselves from the world, to forsake exterior objects, to correct the bad habits we have contracted, but, afterwards we must forget ourselves to think only of God, forsake ourselves to belong to God alone.” (Spiritual Counsels)]