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Deeper Meanings of the Dark Night of the Soul:


by Peter Holleran

   "The ineffable consolations experienced by this good Sister before she fell into this state of obscurity and dryness, was only a merciful kindness of grace, intended to gain the foundation and centre of the soul in which God wished to establish His dwelling and from there to work insensibly...Give this dear Sister who is so full of pain the most deeply spiritual reading; this is the only means she has to soften and relieve her continued torment, and to make it bearable; to convert her pain into profit, and to recover from it at the time arranged by divine providence." - Jean-Pierre deCaussade


   "When your grief transcends all bounds, it becomes its own cure." - Ghalib

   "The wine of wisdom is distilled in the grape presses of bitter agony. The best tempered steel comes out of the fiercest fires...The sugar cane yields its sweet juice only after it has been crushed relentlessly in a mill. The human entity yields its noblest traits and truest wisdom only after it has been crushed repeatedly in the mill of anguish."

   "The Holy Land, flowing with milk and honey, is within us but the wilderness that we have to cross before reaching it is within us too."

   "The calmness which he carries inside himself, and which is apparent in all his bearing, has not arisen out of nothing. It has come to him out of long struggle and after varied suffering."
- Paul Brunton (PB) (1)

   "The swete kernel can only be eaten bot if thou crack first the hard shelle and bite of the bitter bark."
- The Cloud of Unknowing

   "If he could see his nothingness, and his deadly festering wound, pain would arise from looking within, and that pain would save him."
- Rumi

   “No one has been united to his Beloved through mirth. Whoever has attained communion with him has done so after shedding many tears. If it were possible to meet the beloved while laughing and in a state of comfort, why should one suffer the anguish of separation? The people of the world are happy. They eat and sleep. Kabir alone is unhappy. He is awake and is crying.” - Kabir

   "We are people of little faith and fail to recognize and appreciate the hand which guides and which sustains. Hazur (Baba Sawan Singh Ji) used to say that once a saint has taken a soul under his wing, he is keen to compress the progress of twenty births into a single one. And if we desire to pack the accomplishments of twenty lives into a single one, we must pay for it." - Sant Darshan Singh

   "If you have not endured through the bone-chilling winter, how can you expect to smell the scent of plum blossoms?" - Huangbo Xiyun (Huang Po)

   “As dawn was breaking, He gave me salvation from sorrow, and in that darkest night, He gave me the water of eternal life.” - Hafiz

   "First the chaff is separated from the grain. This is an example of your conversion and separation from sin. After the grain has been separated, it must be ground by trials and by the cross. The grain is ground until it is reduced to flour. The process, however, is far from finished. The flour is course and must have foreign matter removed from it. The flour is kneaded and made into pastry. The flour appears dark as it is kneaded, but the kneading is essential for the flour to be made into pastry. The pastry, in turn, must be put into the fire. After the pastry is baked, it is destined for the king's delight. The king not only looks upon the pastry with delight, he partakes of it...This comparison shows you some of the different aspects of your spiritual journey. It shows you the difference between union with God and transformation...Not many people come to this place. For this reason, people do not talk much about the cross and transformation. We cannot speak well upon subjects we know little about." - Madame Guyon, Les Torrents

   "The crushing weight you feel on your heart is one of the most salutary operations of that crucifying love which does in your heart what fire does to green wood. Before the flame can make its way the wood crackles, smokes, and gives out all the damp with which it is saturated; but when it is perfectly dry it burns quietly, diffusing all around it a brilliant light. This will be the case with you after your heart has been purified by many crosses, and particularly by these crucifying spiritual operations [and spiritual death which follows] There is no intelligence or power in the world capable of wresting from the hand of God a soul He has seized in the rigour of His mercy to purify it by suffering...Not even an angel from Heaven could draw a soul out of the crucible in which God keeps it, to purify it more and more...The extent to which the soul is purified in its most secret recesses, is the measure of its union with the God of all holiness." - Jean-Pierre deCaussade

   "God loves not the believer who does the most, nor who feels the most, nor who thinks the most cleverly or best, nor even that one who shows the greatest love, but He loves him who suffers the most." - Michael Molinos

   "The misery of human nature is such in this life that, when the communication and knowledge of the Beloved, which means more life for the soul and for which she longs so ardently, is about to be imparted, she cannot receive it save almost at the cost of her life." - St. John of the Cross

   "I realize that no contemplative path wants to advertise the cross or the suffering entailed in the crossing over. On the other hand we must not be naive about this or in any way mislead others. The truth is that getting to the other shore will stretch the human limits to the breaking point, and not once, but again and again. Who can take it? It is not for nothing that the cross is the central Christian symbol." - Bernadette Roberts

Part One

   St. John of the Cross was described by Thomas Merton as “the greatest of all mystical theologians", and his writing stands at the pinnacle of the Christian esoteric tradition. The Dark Night of the Soul, his best known work, is considered a peerless account of spiritual blindness and its eradication by divine grace, and his astute analysis and advice have meaning and usefulness for many who find themselves in an apparent impasse or quandary on the path. This is an inspired book, written from experience. It is a book to be read again and again, if one is interested in understanding in depth and fine detail the nuances of this experience. Only a deep, contemplative reading will yield this to the reader. However, St. John wrote within the Christian tradition, and so the scope of his book is not universal. To examine in detail lesser known aspects and inner significance of this phenomenon across the traditions, then, is the purpose of this article. As some of the subject matter here is rather obscure and goes beyond that of conventional religious understanding some background in philosophy and mysticism, both theoretical and practical, is assumed on the part of the reader. Also, the hyperlinks in this piece are very important and add much to the discussion. However, since many are substantial entries themselves they might best be more fully studied on a second reading in order to better maintain the flow of argument the first time through. Note: this is a long and exhaustive consideration, approximately 50+ single-spaced pages. Section numbers are inserted to make it easier to keep your place. Furthermore, the material is difficult and sobering, but it needs to be said.

   “The ego does not give itself up without undergoing extreme pain and extreme suffering. It is placed upon a cross whence it can never be resurrected, if it is truly to be merged in the Overself. Inner crucifixion is therefore a terrible and tremendous actuality in the life of every attained mystic. His destiny may not call for outer martyrdom but it cannot prevent his inner martyrdom. Hence the Christ-self speaking through Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

   “In that deep underground mining operation which is the dark night of the soul, the saint’s spirituality is utterly lost from sight, feeling, and consciousness. He is left for a while bereft of all that he has gained, while what remains of his ego is relentlessly crushed. Yet this is followed by a true and lasting enlightenment!”
- PB

   In essence, the famed "dark night" is not just an occasional dry spell or down-cycle, but rather it is considered variously by some to be a transitional phase between a long novitiate of self-effort to a more direct path of self-transcendance through grace and active endurance, from a time of reliance on the ego to one of reliance on and transformation by the divine, from belief in a personal self or person to knowledge of its relative unreality, from identification with the ego to identification with the higher Self, and the very non-dual Self of consciousness-being that you ultimately are, and from the feeling of the soul exclusively being somehow inside the body to that of the body also being inside of the greater Soul. It is said to bring a thorough purgation where the personal will passes through existential hopelessness, and increasingly becomes sacrificed to the impersonal divine will. It works to produce a complete metamorphosis wherein ones conception of self and world are literally turned inside out, and one passes from life in the underself to life in the Overself.

   While it has been written about and experienced on many levels, and, most importantly, may perhaps be considered a metaphor for much of the spiritual path itself, all do not necessarily go through it. St. John - while somewhat confined to the world-view of his time - specifically states:

   "Into this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners - which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road - and begins to set them in the state of the progressives - which is that of those who are already contemplatives - to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God." (2)

   The authentic dark night is thus nothing less than a compassionate and beneficent gift of God. It is 'the wound that only God can heal'. As Prophet Muhammed spaketh:

   "If Allah touch thee with affliction, none can remove it but He." - Qur'an 6:17

   According to St. John, the true Divine Light (not just a subtle mystically perceived light) is dark to the soul (ego), so when its influence is most potent one often feels as if he is losing ground. Thus, even with the help of wise guides or those who have gone before, the aspirant finds himself on a necessarily secret path. St. John uses the words, "in darkness and secure...in secret, when none saw me...without light or guide," to highlight the sense of unknowing and bewilderment confronting the soul at this stage. A great undoing is necessary, he says, to prepare the soul for union or identity with the divine or higher Self, since it is so thoroughly identified with the “Old Man”. This undoing he describes in terms of two “nights”, the night of sense and the night of spirit. The first is “bitter and terrible”, and makes performance of spiritual exercises useless and futile, for varying periods of time, while the second night is “horrible and awful”, undermining the individual at his roots. The dark night, therefore, presents itself at the outset as a reward/punishment. Many may enter the first night, but few the second, says St. John, which essentially comes to prepared souls for the purpose of producing the purified disposition capable of perceiving and receiving the sublime self-transcending touches of divine grace and realization, which, essentially, produce a non-separate person, or a person in tune, or identified with, the soul. This, to say the least, from the perspective of the ego, is a big thing.

   During the course of ones initial approach to spiritual practice, grace or the apparent fruit of ones effort often manifests in the beginning with the gift of visions, positive emotions, interiorization of attention, and experiences of subtle energies. These are a glimpse of things to come and a form of incentive for the seeker to persevere in spiritual work. For St. John, the dark night generally only comes to those souls who have completed this initial stage and enjoyed many such "sweets," which were gifts to wean them from complete attachment to the world, or from a materialistic viewpoint. This is the traditional mystical portrayal of the dark night. It may no longer be necessary or even appropriate for one to achieve such success or even pursue it for the dark night experience to settle into one's bones, as it were. It may take many forms - even a practitioner of zen or advaita vedanta may not be immune!

   For St. John, however, in order to progress further, these kinds of experiences must fade, and true tests of will, determination, patience, discrimination, and understanding will come to the aspirant, who may then feel as if he has been abandoned, whereas, in truth, this is not so. He is actually being brought to a new stage in which he is humbled, purified, emptied of self-satisfaction, and prepared for a more permanent realization of his essential Self or Soul, wherein he will also be able to perceive things in a divine or universal manner, as it were, rather than a personal or egoic one, which he could not do otherwise as a beginner, due to his inherent ignorance. In this third and final stage, even the world, as well as the personal self, are no longer negated, or even avoided, but are spiritualized or seen as existing in and as God or, in more philosophic traditions, Mind or Consciousness. Here one is reminded of Ramakrishna's famous reply to Vivekananda, when the latter said that he wished to experience nirvikalpa samadhi for days on end: "You fool! Mystic trance is a trifling thing for you. There is a state much higher than that."

   In other words, since the aspirant - crystalized, contracted, and misidentified as an ego [as unavoidable and even provisionally necessary that may be in the divine/evolutionary scheme of things] can not help but unconsciously conceive of that goal in the form of a personal attainment, it is inevitable that at some point that there will be a spiritual impasse. Much of this, it is suggested, may depend on the individual karmas of a person and/or relationship he has with an enlightened master or transmitter of grace, and also the form of spiritual practise that he engages. One contemporary mystic has suggested that perhaps no more than one in four will undergo a dark night similar to that which St. John has described. In its most precise details, my guess is that it is fewer than that. However, since first drafting this article some years ago, I have come to feel that most will and must pass through a similar process, sooner or later, which is what this article will attempt to explain. In any case it is not something one 'willfully' chooses, nor is it to be casually entertained. Anthony Damiani, a teacher of mine, who confessed to experiencing jnana samadhi at age forty-five and later having a stable realization of the witness self, spoke to his students once about this kind of "soul death". He said: "The mystics say to God, "more pain, more pain." - No! I don't want it. I know what I am. We're not strong enough. Don't ask for such a thing." Nevertheless Anthony said that eventually one must really come to see how powerless he is to change himself by exercise of the will. And, generally (always generally, for nothing is the same for each and all), the only way for that to happen is in some sense for one to try to do so! He states:

   "You're going to go out and seek that? Who are you, Saint Francis?! We're talking about an ego-crushing experience! You are not going to come out better for it, you're going to come out a little humble. That's called eating crow. If you didn't eat crow, that's not the ego-crushing experience..Once that happens there is something made available. You are opened up a little bit, but usually it takes the whole cosmos to do it...for most of us it really has to be delivered. We're put through it...But as long as the ego has that persistant arrogance and a whole network of defense mechanisms to block out anything from coming in, it's not going to get that Grace; so the world has to come and crush it so that a little Grace might come in. But no one willingly goes out to seek it, take my word for it." (3)

   Of this experience Paul Brunton (PB), whose extensive writings will be referred to frequently in this article, tells us:

   “In that state there is also a work being done for him by Grace, but it is deep in the subconscious mind far beyond his sight and beyond his control...In that terrible darkness he will find himself absolutely alone, able to depend on nothing else than what he finds within his own innermost being. Without anyone to guide him and with none to companion him, he will have to learn an utter self-reliance..It is useless to complain of the terror of this experience for, from the first moment that he gave his allegiance to this quest, he unconsciously invited its onset. It had to come even though the day of its coming was yet far off...During this period the mystic will feel forsaken, emotionally fatigued and intellectually bored to such a degree that he may become a sick soul. Meditation exercises will be impossible and fruitless, aspirations dead and uninviting. A sense of terrible loneliness willl envelop him...He feels lost, becomes fearful, reproaches himself with sins fancied or real, and thinks he is now permanently estranged from God as a punishment. Such is the "Dark Night"...The raptures, the aspirations, the devotions may be repeated many times, but in the end they are seen as part of the ever-changing picture which life itself is seen to be. Moreover in "the dark night of the soul" they die off altogether...How real is his experience of the Overself [Soul], or how near he is to it, must not always be measured by his emotional feeling of it. The deep inward calm is a better scale to use. But even this vanishes in the "dark night"...It is not enough to recognize the Real in its own homeland alone; he must be trained to recognize it under all conditions, even when it is hidden under dark illusion, even in the lowest ebb of the soul's dark night." (4)

   Madame Guyon states:

   "He gives us some token of His immediate presence, as if to assure the soul for a moment, that He was with it in its tribulation. I say for a moment, for it is of no service subsequently as a support, but is rather intended to point out the way and invite the soul to further loss of self."

   [She somewhat harrowingly adds:

   “These states are not continuous in their violence; there are remissions, which, while they afford space for taking breathe, serve, at the same time, to render the subsequent trial more painful. For nature will make use of anything to sustain its life, as a drowning man will support himself in the water by clinging to the blade of a razor, without adverting to the pain it causes him, if there be nothing else within his reach.”]

   deCaussade, like Guyon, writes that the spiritual experiences or glimpses initially given to the soul are done so primarily in order for the Divine, as it were, to gain the center of the soul, its confidence, and thereafter work insensibly within it.

   Elder Sophrony, (in We Shall See Him As He Is, p, 218-219), echoes this description, common among Christian practitioners:

   “There are three stages to the process. Firstly...a gracious gift bestowed at a moment that God judges to be favorable - when man will receive the visitation with love. This is an act of Self-revelation on the part of God to a given person, when the Divine Light affords a genuine experience of Divine eternity.. [But] Divine grace has not yet so flowed into us that our nature and grace have become one for all eternity.”

   “The second stage is a long spell of varying degrees of being deserted by God. In its extreme this is a dreadful experience. The soul feels her fall from Light as a spiritual death. The Light that has appeared is not yet the inalienable attainment of the soul. God has wounded our heart with love and then departed. We are faced with the prospect of an austere struggle which may last for years - many, many years...it is noticeable that many who are unfamiliar with this feature in the spiritual growth of the Christian fall away from God when deprived of the grace that they have experienced...St. Silouan spoke of it thus: ‘The Lord sometimes abandons the soul in order to test her, so that she may manifest her understanding and her free-will.’

   Finally, in the third stage , “Grace will smile on one and not desert one.”

   Brunton goes on to say that, in general, while most aspirants are tested to some degree in this way, the dark night occurs in its truest form to those who have already achieved what he terms the second degree of contemplation, or rapt inward absorption and advanced mysticism, and serves to prepare them for the third stage, or union with the Soul or Overself. He therefore concurs with the supposition that the full classic dark night is a profound purification and not for beginners, who have yet to proceed very far on the spiritual path nor have had a true spiritual glimpse, and who would therefore not be able to endure or profit from this extreme purgation. However, as the matter of past lifetimes of development comes into play, it is not so easy to assign practitioners into such rigid categories. Still:

   "The Overself demands a sacrifice upon its altar so utter, so complete that even the innocent natural longing for personal happiness must be offered up. As no novice and few intermediates could bear this dark night of the soul, and as even proficients cannot bear it without murmuring, it is reserved for the last group alone - which means it happens at an advanced stage along the path, between a period of great illumination, and another of sublime union."

   "When the dark night comes, its effect stuns him. His eager aspirations fade away into despondency and his spiritual exercises fall into disuse. Nothing that happens around him seems to matter, and everything seems so aimless, futile, or trivial. He has to force himself to go on living outwardly as usual. His will is listless and his emotion leaden. He feels inwardly dead, hardly aware of anything except his own state...The inner nature becomes stiff, muscle-bound, unresponsive to the joyous evidences and serene intimations of the Overself. What is even worse, bringing a dark hopelessness with it, is the fear that this will become a permanent state...When this drying up of all aspirations comes upon him without any traceable cause, the beauty and warmth of past intuitive feeling or mystical experience will seem unreal."
(Notebooks, Vol. 15, Part I, 3.1, 3.8, 3.10, 3.19)

   deCaussade adds:

   "You have never understood in what true poverty and the nudity of the spirit consists, by which God succeeds in detaching us from ourselves and from our own operations to purify us more completely, and to simplify us. This complete deprivation which reduces us to acts of bare faith and of pure love alone, is the final disposition necessary for perfect union. It is a true death to self; a death very difficult to bear, but it is soon rewarded by a resurrection, after which one lives only for God and of God..."

   ”It would 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.”


   “The extent to which a soul is purified in its most secret recesses, is the measure of its union with the God of all holiness.”

   The latter being the primary reason for the suffering of the soul, and why it is thrown out for a time from the consolations of an ‘inner life.’ Its wounds to be healed, and its ignorance eradicated, on earth, while awake, and not merely in trance states.

   Guyon distinguishes the stages before and after the dark night as follows:

   “Its former devotion caused it to sink within itself, that it might enjoy God, but that which it now has, draws it out of self, that it may be more and more lost and changed in God. The difference is quite remarkable, and can only be accomplished by experience.

   Students of mystical forms of meditation will be familiar with the stage of ‘sinking within ones self.’ The understanding of being ‘drawn out of ones self is less common.

   We can not say that the classic dark night itself and all its various stages are required experiences. It is just that they occur, and must be accounted for. However, all, or most, or certainly many, will generally pass through a dreaded black vortex, an abyss, or many such passages, to be born again from the ground up. Howsoever one chooses, one may call it a stage, a phase, or simply an aspect of the path itself.


   To summarize, St. John proposes that there are two nights: of sense and of spirit. He says that much had been written of the first, but not of the second - and unfortunately he died before explaining more than the first three stanzas of his eight-stanza poem on the complete enfoldment of this transforming divine union as he envisioned it. The night of sense, according to St. John,  can be 'bitter and terrible', but it ebbs and flows. It has itself two phases: active and passive. In this night the soul still does practices, but the divine or Overself or God starts to take a hand in the work of weaning the soul from spiritual consolations, consolations which in turn had earlier begun to wean the soul away from gross pursuits. Some persons, he says, may never pass through either night; others, what he calls the more 'recollected' types (which means the more self-introspective and/or more meditative/concentrated souls), will pass directly into at least the night of sense very soon after actively starting on their spiritual way. Of course, karma needs to be considered, too, in regards to what one will or needs to go through. We generally are said to pick up where we left off in a previous incarnation, with different lessons to be learnt.

    There is still much active work or effort of will and understanding and endurance in this dark night of sense, which is more or less of a correction of desires, cleaning up the act, getting more respectful and humble before the divine, and so on. For some traditional religious persons he says that this is as far as they can go without falling off the path. They can tolerate some aridity and ebbing of their spiritual experiences, but only to a point, and God accommodates them.

    The 'night of spirit' , on the other hand, while a continuation of the first night of the sense, is entirely  a passive infusion of grace, what he calls infused contemplation (i.e., no longer active meditation as such), and the action of grace is largely behind the scenes and imperceptible much of the time to the personality. He speaks of the 'object' of our devotion and aspiration 'retreating' from in front of us, so to speak, to take up a rear guard as our principle support. It is also characterized as a deep purification to the very roots of the 'old man', often seeming like a 'cruel spiritual death', including in general  stripping away of all supports or anything the ego can rely on for certainty - or even for breath! The descriptions he gives go so far as to be 'horrible and awful' with extremes of deep pain in body, mind, and soul. The quotes are fairly harrowing and hair-raising. One can easily see this night is much more than just a period of despair and depression, although those are certainly there. But this also is said to come to souls strong enough to handle it (although it may at times not feel that way), who have the requisite faith and/or background - or who have 'signed on for the trip'.  One spiritual master, Sant Darshan Singh, to repeat an opening quote, said "when a saint takes a soul under his wings, he is anxious to compress twenty lifetimes into one; but if we want to pack twenty lives into one we must pay for it."  That is, the Master, the Overself, God, whatever, hears our prayers, takes us at our word, and assumes a much more apparently active hand in the work, doing what we can not do for ourself in so short a time. Even here there are periods of respite; it is not a constant 'darkness or 'down' period, for most. The soul has periods, albeit short, when it feels more liberated than ever before, with more confidence in God even as it has less confidence in itself.

   The more philosophic aspirant, if he likes, may consider all of these experiences as 'oscillations of conscious clarifying itself,' rather than as the action of God in the soul; either way, the process has its way. We will speak more of these oscillations later.

   Inasmuch as in this “night” it is God working in the depths of the soul, ones reason, to say the least, may be sorely tested. But then, as Pere LaCombe, a spiritual director of Madame Guyon, once said;

   “Reason should not undertake to comprehend the last destructions; they are ordained expressly to destroy our reason.”

   - Or perhaps one might say, to make it reoriented and subservient to the designs of the divine will, and not that of the ego. In either case, one may feel he is losing his wits, but, in reality, he is simply beginning to wake up.

   The revelations of the dark night are essentially what masters mean when they say that "self-knowledge precedes God-knowledge." Indeed, Teresa of Avila held that "the first mansion of spirituality was true self-knowledge." We see what we are really made of, in all our human misery, emptiness, and insufficiency, in order to be prepared to then see the awesome grandeur and mercy of God, who is "more the life of the soul than the soul is the life of the body." (de Caussade) We are, in essence, purified of ‘the conceit of the Gnostics’, which Ireneus said long ago was that “they seek to become divine before they have become human.” So this sort of teaching has been around for a long time.

   St. John appeared constrained to use dualistic, theistic language, i.e., soul and God, and so forth; one could attempt to update and explain this process more non-dualistically, but with some effort and even then perhaps not entirely successfully. In part what this essay tries to do, however, is to interpret this phenomena in both a traditional as well as a more modern way. For we must not be limited to certain preconceptions derived from a theological model that may not in all case suit us today. Much of it is of a perennial nature, but the stages as depicted hundreds of years ago may not enfold literally or linearly as described.

   While for some, then, this night serves to break down what has been termed "wrong crystalization", wherein the ego has become spiritualized yet remains intact, its greater purpose, it is suggested, goes beyond classic purgation to prepare an aspirant to advance beyond mystical experience itself to that of sahaj, or a lasting enlightenment, in which one not only feels himself as Soul, or, in more modern terms, Consciousness-Being, but knows its true nature under all conditions, both within and without, and sees the world and others as both distinct and non-distinct from one's own self. It is true, of course, the entire affair is paradoxical, since realization has been described as the awakening to the fact that there is 'no one' (i.e., no exclusively empirical or conditioned being) to be realized, and such in fact is considered a distinguishing characteristic of every true spiritual glimpse. Even if one understands this, however, and has had many such glimpses, to become stable in this condition involves an ordeal, as the vasanas or tendencies of egoity are not so easily dismissed. Truly awakening as conscious-being through the portal of the broken-heart makes one more in touch with his humanity - his divine humanity - and all his parts come back to be embraced and known as 'non-other'. Thus, a confrontation with 'shadow' material may continue long after one's initial true awakening, and the descriptions of the dark night are well-accommodative of that s well.

   The German mystic Tauler, in one of his Sunday sermons, said:

   “Think not that God will always be caressing his children, or shine upon their head, or kindle their hearts as He does at the first. He does so only to lure us to Himself, as the falconer lures the falcon with its gay hood...We must stir up and rouse ourselves and be content to leave off learning, and no more enjoy strong feeling and warmth, and must now serve the Lord with strenuous industry and at our own cost.” (5)

   Evelyn Underhill, in the classic work Mysticism , offers an in-depth consideration of the dark night. In one passage she writes:

   “In Illumination, the soul, basking in the Uncreated Light, identified the Divine Nature with the divine light and sweetness which it enjoyed. Its consciousness of the transcendant was chiefly felt as an increase of personal vision and personal joy. Thus, in that apparently selfless state, the “I, the Me, and the Mine”, though spiritualized, still remains intact. The mortification of the senses was more than repaid by the rich and happy life which this mortification conferred upon the soul. But before the whole self can learn to love on those high levels where - its being utterly surrendered to the Infinite Will - it can be wholly transmuted in God, merged in the great life of the All, this dependence on personal joys must be done away. The spark of the soul must so invade every corner of character that the self can only say with St. Catherine of Genoa, “my me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.”(6)

   Father Sophrony of Mt. Athos gives an explanation for this process, lest one concludes that it is only found in the Western tradition:

   "When he turns to God man receives grace which accompanies and enlightens him, instructing him in many of the mysteries of life in God. Then, inevitably, grace departs, at any rate in its 'tangible' strength, and God will wait for a response to the gift that He has poured out. This testing of our faithfulness has a dual purpose - firstly, and imperatively, to allow us to manifest our freedom and our reasoning power and to educate and, if possible, perfect the gift of freedom for self-determination in the eternal sphere. And secondly, to give our Heavenly Father the occasion to commit to us all that he has [cf. Luke 15:31] for our eternal use, since every gift from on High is assimilated by us inescapably through suffering. When we have demonstrated our steadfastness God comes again and makes His abode for ever in the man who has proved himself able to contain the fire of the Father's love [cf. John 14:23; Luke 16:10-12]." (6a)

   Michael Molinos adds:

   "The Lord deprives you of comfort, and even of understanding. Furthermore, you see no spiritual progress in your life. In a way, there is none! Yet, let enough time pass, and there is enrichment that has been added to you far beyond your hope." (6b)

   All of which led St. John to say that

   “Charity is more precious in God’s sight than all the visions and communications possible - since these imply neither merit or demerit, and...many individuals who have never received these experiences are incomparably more advanced than others who have received many.”
(The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 22:19)

   Continuing with our previous line of thought, Brunton wrote that the ego is very crafty and may, in fact, welcome a "large attrition of its scope" (Notebooks, Vol 6, 8:4.167), through religious, yogic and mystical disciplines, without being serious about its final undoing. That is to say, while the ego is positive in the sense that it is part of the intelligence of the soul, and when so aligned is a help in getting started on and navigating the quest, at some point it becomes apparent that it will agree to cooperate with the seeker only so long as it can preserve itself. Its deviousness and cunning thus become more subtle. deCaussade agrees:

   "Oh God, how subtle is this wretched self-love! It turns and twists like a serpent, and is only too successful in preserving its life in the midst of the most fearful deaths...Have a horror of this accused self-love, but learn that, in spite of all your efforts it will not die completely and radically until the last moments of your life."

   This problem forced towards a conclusion by the dark night, then, is essentially the unraveling of egoism at its core. This bcomes important, for even in the higher reaches of mystical experience, the thought, feeling, tendency or activity of I-ness (ego or ahamkara), remains, and may actually distort the perception of mystical light, when experienced through the filter of desire. Abu Hasan Al Shadhili said, "The desire to enjoy ecstatic union with God is one of the things which most effectively separate us from God." Sant Kirpal Singh gave me a hint of such a point of view when I was with him in 1973. While sitting in a dejected mood at his feet he once asked me, "Do you want something, my friend?...do you want to leave the body?" In a response opposite to that of Vivekananda, but more out of resignation to my pitiful state than from any supreme insight, I simply said, "No, nothing." He became animated, leaned forward and excitedly said, "Nothing?! You're an emperor! I'll kiss your feet! God is nothing!" The 17th century Hindu saint, Sri Samartha Ramadas, in his treatise on gnana yoga, Atmaram, said, "The Bliss-Attainment of a yogi is Maya." In the Buddhist text known as The Transmission of the Lamp Shih-tou is even more emphatic in saying that one must not be attached to such experience, and suggests that one can remain for countless kalpas (eons) in such a state without gaining direct insight into Reality [df: Kalpa: (as a period of time) A Maha Yuga is 4.32 million years. Twenty seven Maha Yugas is one Pralaya. Seven Pralayas is one Manvantara. Finally, six Manvantaras is a Kalpa. That is, one Kalpa is 27x7x6 = 1,134 Maha Yugas. This works out to 1134 x 4.3 million = 4.876 billion years - i.e., a very long time!] :

   "The Sravaka is enlightened but going astray; the ordinary man is out of the right path and yet in a way enlightened. The Sravaka fails to perceive that Mind as it is in itself knows no stages, no causation, no imagination. Disciplining himself in the cause he has attained the result and abides in the Samadhi of Emptiness itself for ever so many kalpas. However enlightened in his way, the Sravaka is not at all on the right track. From the point of view of the Bodhisattva, this is like suffering the torture of hell. The Sravaka has buried himself in Emptiness and does not know how to get out of his quiet contemplation for he has no insight into the Buddha-nature itself."

   The Iso Upanishad says:

   "They enter the region of the dark who are occupied solely with the finite. But they fall into a region of still greater darkness who are occupied solely with the Infinite."

   Nagarjuna, the great Mahayana Buddhist, put it even more bluntly:

   "Believers in emptiness are incurable."

   Or perhaps, as Guru Nanak proclaims in the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture:

   " Truth is above all, but higher still is true living."

   The concentration of mind gained through yoga and mysticism and their purificatory requirements are sometimes considered prerequisites for the higher teaching and ultimate path, but the fulfillment of yoga, according to Brunton, and the Buddha in the Potthapala Sutra, does not in itself produce insight or Nirvana, but are preparatory aids to make it available through insight. Damiani reminds us, however, that one should be lucky to be a mystic who can be criticized liked that! Yet if truth be our goal we must listen to the warnings of those such as Brunton who writes:

   "When the mystic comes to the end of this phase of his career but believes he has come to the end of his career itself, he falls under an illusion from which it is hard to recover....Hence, one of the texts belonging to this teaching, the Lankavatara Sutra, says of those who have perfected themselves in yoga: "When they have reached the eighth degree they become so drunk with the bliss of inner peace that they do not grasp that they are still in the sphere of separateness and that the insight into reality is not yet perfect"...There is a fourfold evolution in humanity and it unfolds successively - physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hence the mystic has to return to rebirth to complete his evolution despite his "union" which is consequently temporary...The attainment of this deep state of oneness in meditation by an ordinary mystic may seem to be the end of the quest. Nevertheless the cycle of reincarnation will not end for him until he has become a philosophical mystic. For even though all earthly desires have been given a quietus, there will remain a latent desire to know, to understand his own experience and the world experience. To satisfy this desire, which will slowly come to the surface under the compulsion of Nature, he will have to develop intelligence to the proper degree...For nature is shepherding the human race not only along the road of spiritual evolution but also of intellectual evolution...Giving up the world does not lead to reality, but it leads to peace of mind. Men who lack intelligence...must take to mysticism and yoga, but only the mature and developed mind can enter the quest of enquiry into truth. This means therefore that pupils are not generally initiated into this enquiry by gurus prematurely. They must first have developed their egos and their minds to a high degree, and only after that should they be taught to renounce what has been fostered with so much pain. This is evolution: although truth is ideally attainable here and now, technically it is attainable only at the end of the pageant of evolution, when the whole man has been highly developed and is ripe to receive the greatest of all gifts." (7)

   An important aspect of the dark night, according to Brunton, is that it serves as a time when the undeveloped aspects of the character, notably the faculties of feeling, knowing, and willing, are allowed or forced to catch up to the aspirant's successes at meditation, so that a complete and enduring enlightenment may be accomplished. Through the unconsoling, humbling processes of a true dark night, the "bubble" of egoism is popped once and for all, and one reaches what Zen calls the "asylum of rest", from which he can "fall" no further. The consequences are profound and a revolutionary transformation in consciousness and understanding. Mystic experience thereafter, when present, becomes not so much negated but rather grounded and resurrected in reality. In Zen and Taoism one is said to become the 'Universal Man'. But it is none other than one's real, authentic self.

   "So important is this virtue of humilty," says Brunton, "that it may be labelled both first and last...That is why upon those who really do aspire to the very highest there descends the dread phenomenon of the dark night of the soul. When later they emerge from this awful experience, they emerge with all vanity ground down to powder and all pride burnt down to ash.." (8)

   And he gives another reason for such a trial:

   "Illumination arising from suffering seems to last longer than that arising from happiness because the latter is easier to lose. One is likely to become careless with that which comes from happiness." (8a)


   To divert a bit once more, one may, therefore, read the words of gyanis like Ramana Maharshi, "In truth you have no birth and no death,", and Shree Atmananda (Krishna Menon), "Liberation is not going beyond birth and death, but going beyond the illusion of birth and death", and great Zen Master Bankei, “ “In the place of the Unborn, the whole question of being born or not being born is irrelevant,” and they are well worth our contemplation, but it must not be forgotten that this is a stage-specific realization usually accomplished in a lasting way and not as just a glimpse by fulfillment of a multi-disciplinary quest in which the entire being is matured. So while Brunton agrees, "Perhaps the most wonderful thing which the illuminate discovers is that his independence from the infinite life power never really existed and was only illusory, that his separation from the Overself was only an idea of the imagination and not a fact of being. Even the desire to unite with the Overself was only a dream, and consequently all lesser desires of the ego were merely dreams within a dream," (9) he also adds, "That initial realization has henceforth to be established and made his own under all kinds of diverse conditions and in all kinds of places. Hence his life may be broken up for years by a wide range of vicissitudes, pains, pleasures, tests, temptations, and tribulations." (10)

   The following dialogue of Chan master Hsi Yun, as a preview to the second part of this article, should lay to rest any idea that a condition of utter humility is somehow not required for a true realization, whether it be characterized as dual or non-dual.

   “Q: Illusion can hide from us our own mind, but up to now you have not taught us how to get rid of illusion.
    A: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy it wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold. This is the meaning of: “I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my mind.”
   Q: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma to be transmitted
   A: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind.
   Q: If Mind is used for transmission, why do you say that Mind too does not exist?
   A: Obtaining no Dharma whatever is called Mind transmission. The understanding of this implies no Mind and no Dharma.
   Q: If there is no Mind and no Dharma, what is meant by transmission?
   A: You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma said: The nature of the Mind when understood, No human speech can compass or disclose. Enlightenment is naught to be attained, And he that gains it does not say he knows. If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand up to this knowledge.”

   (from E. A. Burtt, ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha (New York: Mentor, 1955), p. 205-206)

   Notice that basically he did not say merely that he doubted if the questioner could grasp it, or understand it, but whether, in his present condition, he could stand it.

   Sri Nisargadatta concurs on the need for preparation before revelation:

   M: It is only when you are satiated with the changeable and long for the unchangeable, that you are ready for the turning round and stepping into what can be described, when seen from the level of the mind, as emptiness and darkness. For the mind craves for content and variety, while reality is, to the mind, contentless and invariable.
   Q: It looks like death to me.
   M: It is. It is also all-pervading, all-conquering, intense beyond words. No ordinary brain can stand it without being shattered; hence the absolute need for sadhana. Purity of body and clarity of mind, non-violence and selflessness in life are essential for survival as an intelligent and spiritual entity."
( I AM THAT (Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2009), p. 436)

   Amazingly, however, after such a profound passage one finds that his ego, as a body-mind complex, still exists, and is not really annihilated. It is not just a mistake, or something wrong, but remains as a functional part of reality.

   Whether the preceding non-Christian material is relevant to a discussion on the dark night of the soul is for the reader to decide, but it seems reasonable that such understanding becomes part of the comprehension deriving from a true dark night of the soul.


   Madame Guyon continues:

   “The life of the believer is like a torrent making its way out of the high mountains down into the canyons and chasms of life, passing through many experiences until finally coming to the spiritual experience of death. From there, the torrent experiences resurrection and a life lived in concert with the will of God while still going through many stages of refinement. At last the torrent finds its way into the vast, unlimited sea. Even here the torrent does not totally come to be one with the vast ocean until it has once more passed through final dealings by the Lord...

   The soul, after many a redoubled death, expires at last in the arms of Love; but she is unable to perceive these arms...Then, reduced to Nought, there is found in her ashes a seed of immortality, which is preserved in these ashes and will germinate in its season. But she knows not this; and does not expect ever to see herself living again...and the soul which is reduced to the Nothing, ought to dwell therein; without wishing, since she is now but dust, to issue from this state, nor, as before, desiring to live again. She must remain as something which no longer exists: and this, in order that the Torrent may drown itself and lose itself in the Sea, never to find itself in its selfhood again; and that it may become one and the same thing with the Sea
.” (11)

   And even after all this, she says, "what happens next? - the soul begins to rot."

   "Rot" is a very choice word. For contemporary teacher Saniel Bonder, founder of Waking Down in Mutuality, it is a fundamental part of the spiritual process. In it the separate and separative ego-soul identity is broken down as conscious heart-realization moves front and center.

   Damiani equated rotting, or what he called becoming "rotten-ripe," with what the Buddhists speak of as "revulsion." It is a fundamental turnabout or revulsion at the root of egoic selfhood that paradoxically, is not chosen, cannot be willfully sought, but nevertheless must be worked hard for. That is, it requires earnestness and self-honesty. "Rot" may sound romantic, but from the ego's point of view, it might be said be the worst that could happen.

   Augustine Baker tells us:

   "For first He not only withdraws all comfortable observable infusions of light and grace, but also deprives her of a power to exercise any perceivable operations of her superior spirit, and of all comfortable reflections upon His love, plunging her into the depths of her inferior powers. Here, consequently, her former calmness of passions is quite lost, neither can she introvert herself [note: a particularly bitter and profound trial for the mystic who by long effort has found peace thereby] ; sinful motions and suggestions do violently assault her, and she finds great difficulty (if not greater) to surmount them as at the beginning of a spiritual course...If she would elevate her spirit, she sees nothing but clouds and darkness. She seeks God, and cannot find the least marks or footsteps of His Presence; something there is that hinders her from executing the sinful suggestions within her, but what that is she knows not, for to her thinking she has no spirit at all, and indeed, she is now in a region of all other most distant from spirit and spiritual operations - I mean, such as are perceptible." (12)

   Underhill summarizes this process:

   "The self, then, has got to learn to cease to be its "own center and circumference": to make that final surrender which is the price of final peace. In the Dark Night the starved and tortured spirit learns through an anguish which is "itself an orison" to accept lovelessness for the sake of Love, Nothingness for the sake of the All; dies without any sure promise of life, loses when it hardly hopes to find. It sees with amazement the most sure foundations of its transcendental life crumble beneath it, dwells in a darkness which seems to hold no promise of a dawn. This is what the German mystics call the "upper school of true resignation" or of "suffering love"; the last test of heroic detachment, of manliness, of spiritual courage." (13)

   "Show us your wounds," is the question asked of the aspirant at the door of spiritual knowledge. St. John is critical of those who wish to linger in a passive state of grace, enjoying visions and other spiritual consolations; he asks readers to abandon the disposition of mere “babes” and become grown men.

   Fenelon writes: :

   “There comes a time, when God, having completely stripped us, having mortified the flesh as to the creatures to which it clung, commences an interior work for the purpose of forcing from us our hold upon Self. External objects are now no longer the subjects of his spoliation: he would tear from us the “I,” which is the center of our self-love. It was only for the sake of this “I,” that we loved all the rest; and he now pursues it relentlessly and without cessation. To deprive a man of his clothing, would be harsh treatment enough; but that is nothing in comparison with the discipline which should strip off his skin and muscles, and reduce him to a skeleton of bones. Trim up the branches of a tree, and far from killing it, you even add to its vigor, and it shoots out again on every side; it attack the trunk, wither the root, and it fades, languishes and dies. It is the good will of God towards us, thus to make us die to self...In process of time, God reserves for his own hand the work of attacking the soul in its depths, and depriving it finally of the last vestige of the life of Self. It is no longer the strength of the soul that is then employed against the things without, but its weakness that is turned against itself. It looks at self; it is shocked at what it sees: it remains faithful, but it no longer beholds its own fidelity. Every defect in its previous history rises up to view, and often new faults, of which it had never before even suspected the existence. It no longer finds those supports of fervor and courage which formerly nourished it. It faints; like Jesus, it is heavy even unto death. All is taken away but the will to retain nothing, and to let God work without reservation.
   It has not even the consolation of perceiving that it has such a will
[i.e., inasmuch as the aforementioned “revulsion” has occured]. It is no longer a perceptible, designed will, but simple, without reflex acts, and so much more hidden, as it is deeper and more intimate in the soul. In such a state, God sees to everything that is necessary to detach the soul from self. He strips it little by little, removing one after another all the investments in which it was wrapped.
   The last operations, though not always the greatest, are, nevertheless, the most severe. Though the outside garments may be more costly than those within, yet the removal of the latter is more painful than that of the former. During the first, we are consoled by reflecting upon what is left us; during the last, nought remains but bitterness, nakedness, and confusion...I should perhaps be asked, in what these deprivations consist; but I cannot say. They are as various as the characters of men. Each man suffers according to his necessity, and the designs of God. How is it possible to know what will be taken off from us, when we do not know what we have on?....That which we expect, finds us prepared, and is scarce proper to hasten the death of self. God surprises us and in the most unlooked for quarters. They are nothings, but nothings which desolate us and crucify self-love...Others see nothing great, and the person himself discover within, only what seems natural, weak, and feeble , but he would rather a hundred times, fast all his life on bread and water, and practice the greatest austerities, than suffer what is going on within him. Not because he enjoys a certain taste of fervor in austerities; not at all, that delight is gone; but he finds in the pliability which God requires in an infinity of little things, more of self-abandonment and death than there would be in great sacrifices...If we are still fearful in any recess, to that spot He comes, for He always attacks us in our weakest points. He pushes hard, without giving us time to breathe. Do you wonder? Can we be dead while we yet breathe? We desire that God would give us the death-stroke; but we long to die without pain; we would die to our own will by the power of the will itself; we want to lose all and still hold all. Ah! what agony, what distress, when God has brought us to the end of our strength! We faint like a patient in need a painful surgical operation. But the comparison is nought, for the object of the surgeon is to give life - that of God to make us die.”

   One form of interpretation of the dark night is given by Satyam Nadeen:

   "If you live long enough everyone eventually experiences enough disasters in their personal lives to qualify for what Zorba the Greek calls "the full catastrophe" that leads to a terrible depression. But there is a huge difference between a clinical depression and the dark night of the soul. It is the function of the latter to soften one up for the total change of perspective that is to follow all the fruitless years of weary searching for one's absolute truth."
   "There is only one way that I know of for Life to teach us its one absolute truth. First it has to totally destroy every other so-called truth that we think we already know. Add to that the realization that I call all of the truths we have ever learned before the Shift as mere concepts in the face of this one absolute truth."
   "How does Life erase these countless concepts? It starts by destroying the foundation upon which all these concepts are based, namely the ego personality that thinks it is a special somebody somehow separate from the Source of all Consciousness and from all others. This separated persona is a direct result of an identity with the mind. Anything that the mind can perceive in this physical manifestation I have named the "3rd dimension."
   "So what occurs with a shift from the third dimensional perspective to the 4th dimension? This is where the Stranger who has always waited for us at the door of our perception welcomes us into the Presence of the Witness. There is a switch of identity here from how the mind perceives reality to how our Witness understands that very same reality in such a different way."
   "And so began my own transition via the despair, hopelessness and depression that characterizes a good dark night of the soul. For it is only here that the concepts of the mind that have guided us so brilliantly through life up to this point seem to completely break down now and fail as to a possible solution out of this hellish nightmare."
   "This process crushes our whole self-image of who we think we are. It calls into question all of our "shoulds" and "should-nots" that make up the minefield of our concepts. It is the mind which has created these concepts and because this mind is a Divine instrument created by Infinite Intelligence, it is not about to just commit voluntary suicide so its role can be assumed by a more powerful unified force field that the Witness brings to the table."
   "Enough time spent in the dark night of the soul and the seeker quits seeking. The whole quest seems so hopeless now that it is given up. Futile seems the seeking of anything that is outside of us. We finally disintegrate into a big pile of nothingness inhabited by a little nobody."

   The aspirant must then simmer in this nothingness for an indeterminate amount of time until he is drawn out of it by a higher power. Actually, it can be said that he is not drawn out of it, but, rather, he becomes conscious within it. That is being drawn out of it.

   The so-called dark night can perhaps then be viewed as a somewhat inevitable ordeal that aspirants pass through in one form or another, due to the very nature of spiritual blindness, or egoic adaptation and consolation in all of its dimensions. No matter what the teacher says about the necessity of self-surrender and self-transcendance, or, let's say - since that is rather problematic and dualistic language, i.e., 'who' surrenders? - no matter what the person hears about this essential, graceful and inherent, natural process, the Way is still felt, unconsciously, as a “path" or “road” or “ladder” that the ego-self moves or progresses along. Real help is required to accomplish the true spiritual work which undermines this conception of a self-existing separate self. The guidance of a competent spiritual director is essential for this passage, according to St. John, although the real work is done by God, with the aspirant's fidelity and helpless cooperation.

   Thus one finds Job, faithful servant of the Lord, thrown into a condition of confusion, despair and anguish, where everything he did turned against him. His ordeal is masterfully detailed in the book Ego and Archtype by Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger. Job's struggles ended when he felt the limits of the personality or ego and surrendered its sovereignty. The Koran refers to this as the “state of self-accusing”. Thomas Merton wrote of this phenomenon, and in one of his later journal entries went so far as to remark that he felt his entire life was a charade and that he had been a failure as a writer, a monk, a priest, and a contemplative. At this point Tibetans who knew him said he was "very close" to enlightenment [which in this case might more accurately be considered a "fundamental glimpse" or an "awakening"].

   A Zen equivalent for the dark night might be referred to as “descending into the cave of the blue dragon.” (14)

   Master Hakuin said:

   “I felt as if I were sitting in an ice cave ten thousand miles thick. I myself shall never forget the spiritual struggle I had in sheer darkness for years.” (15)

   “The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening; the smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening; no doubt,
   no awakening
.” (16)

   This means, in a sense, that the greater the existential confusion about one's real being, the greater the felt sense of separation and the anguish that brings, the greater and richer the eventual realization potentially is.

   The Buddha seemed to describe his pre-enlightenment experience likewise in harrowing terms:

   “Then Sariputta, I plunged into a fearsome forest thicket and dwelt therein. Such was the fearsome horror of that dread forest thicket that anyone whose passions were not stilled and entered there, the very hairs of his body would stand on end.” (17)

   In The Conference of the Birds the Persian mystic Attar speaks of this as the “valley of detachment”. One must endure this process completely and allow oneself to be put to the test. Once one has been given hope and strength by an initial spiritual glimpse, he is then further shown who the enemy is: his essentially arrogant - yet an evolutionary developedment, and therefore not wrong - self-will. And from that point on there is no way out but through. Half-hearted efforts will not create the inner alchemy, nor invoke the divine grace, that brings him to a liberating crisis, where his efforts are seen to be of no avail. Paradoxically, then, over time as the ego matures and "ripens" its sense of "rotting" increases. Thus is derived the term "old soul". Paul Brunton explains that, generally, through a series of incarnations, the ego or personality, and all of its faculties becomes more balanced, refined, and evolved, until at some point the aforementioned sense of inner "revulsion" arises and it is finally moved to let itself be 'done in', which can of course only finally be achieved by Grace.

   On the subjective nature of the purgation in the dark night he writes:

   "It is the paradoxical irony of this situation that the joys of the beginner make him believe that he is very near to God whereas the desolations of the proficient make him despise himself." (18)

   This quote carries much meaning, but there is a potential drawback that we face in having access to such profound teachings, which is that of creating a self-image and a self-fulfilling prophecy through overmuch thinking about them; nevertheless, it is something that apparently can't be helped. There is no need of dwelling on the misery, but when the process starts in earnest one can do nothing to avoid it from having its way.

   Eventually the process completes itself and the pilgrim, a new man or woman, emerges from his 'journey through the wilderness'. St. John reminds us that this entire ordeal of the dark night is of a divine design:

   “O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy will arid and constrained, and thy faculties incapable of any interior act, be not grieved by this, but look upon it rather as a great good, for God is delivering thee from thyself.” (19)


   Though it may seem that nothing good can ever come from the midst of such an impasse, the aspirant is in the center of the oldest, most sacred struggle. The ego must inquire into its origins and lay itself on the altar, in order for man to become identified with his Soul. The anguish at this stage comes from the ego seeing that this is the one thing it can never successfully do by itself, even while it still continues to try. Brunton explains:

   “"When he finds that he has been following his own will even at those times when he believed he was following the higher self's will, he begins to realize the extent of the ego's power, the length of the period required for its subdual, and what he will have to suffer before this is achieved...The ego does not give itself up without undergoing extreme pain and extreme suffering. It is placed upon a cross whence it can never be resurrected again, if it is truly to be merged in the Overself. Inner crucifixion is therefore a terrible and tremendous actuality in the life of every attained mystic. His destiny may not call for outer martyrdom but it cannot prevent his inner martyrdom. Hence the Christ-self speaking through Jesus told his disciples, “If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (20)

   In graphic language St. John speaks of the lowest possible dregs of such experiences, in the second night, the night of the spirit. He gives quite a frightening description. Brunton described it in terms of a mystic witnessing the loss of everything he had previously attained, while what is left is relentlessly crushed.

   Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote, "Before there was so much love and real tenderness for the Sisters and the people - now I feel my heart is made of stone." Sant Darshan Singh echoed with one of his mystic verses, “My heart - now concrete pain - once laughed” (Love’s Last Madness, p. 120). Brunton writes:

   "The inner nature becomes stiff and muscle-bound, unresponsive to the joyous intimations of the Overself. What is worse, bringing a dark hopelessness with it, is the fear that this will become a permanent state. This is the famed Dark Night."

   "'The living flame of love,' St. John confirms, makes the soul feel its hardness and aridity". This may mean literally that one may feel his sense of 'insane' separation even viscerally, perhaps as a tight band constricting his chest, or a feeling of being crushed, and so on. Again, it is a somewhat individual thing. He continues:

   “The Divine assails the soul in order to renew it and thus make it Divine; and, stripping it of the habitual affections and attachments of the old man, to which it is very closely united, knit together and conformed, destroys and consumes its spiritual substance, and absorbs it in deep and profound darkness. As a result of this, the soul feels itself to be perishing and melting away, in the presence and sight of its miseries, in a cruel spiritual death.” (21)

   "The soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness. For the sensible part is purified in aridity, the faculties are purified in the emptiness of their perceptions, and the spirit is purified in thick darkness...All of this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in air so that he could not breath), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoing and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual...Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that he may afterwards greatly exalt it; and if he ordained not that, when these feelings arise within the soul, they should speedily be fulfilled, it would die in a very short space; but there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity. At times, however, they are so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened." (22)

   "It is well for the soul to perform no operation touching spiritual things at this time and to have no pleasure in such things, because its faculties and desires are base, impure, and wholly natural; and thus, although these faculties be given the desire and interest in things supernatural and Divine, they could not receive them save after a base and natural manner, exactly in their own fashion...All these faculties and desires of the soul..come to be prepared and tempered in such a way as to be able to receive, feel and taste that which is Divine and supernatural after a sublime and lofty manner, which is impossible if the old man not die first of all." (23)

   "And when the soul suffers the direct assault of this Divine Light, its pain, which results from its impurity, is immense; because, when this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and miserable that it believes God to be against it, and thinks that it has set itself up against God. This causes it sore grief and pain, because it now believes that God has cast it away...the soul now sees its impurities clearly (although darkly), and knows it is unworthy of God or of any creature. And what gives it the most pain is that it thinks that it will never be worthy and that its good things are all over for it. This is caused by the profound immersion of its spirit in the knowledge and realization of its evils and miseries, for this Divine and dark light now reveals them all to the eye, that it may see clearly how in its own strength it can never have aught else...When this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away..for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death." (24)

   St. John summarizes this process of purification with a metaphor of a log of burning wood; it takes a long while before the wood stops hissing and crackling and then burns cleanly with bright flame. Furthermore,

   "It is clear that God grants the soul in this state the favor of purging it and healing it with this strong lye of bitter purgation, according to its spiritual and sensual part, of all the imperfect habits and affections which it had within itself with respect to temporal things and to natural, sensual and spiritual things, its inward faculties being darkened, and voided of all these, its spiritual and sensual affections being constrained and dried up, and its natural energies being attenuated and weakened with respect to all this (a condition which it could never attain of itself, as we shall shortly say). In this way God makes it to die to all that is not naturally God, so that, once it is stripped and denuded of its former self, he may clothe it anew. And thus its youth is renewed like the eagle's and it is clothed with the new man, which, as the Apostle says, is created according to God." (25)

   In remarkably similar fashion Babuji Maharaj of the Radha Soami Satsang, Agra, offers the following, somewhat unique in the literature of the Sant Mat tradition, where such inner secrets have only been revealed in private:

   “It is usual that the awakened Saint or Gurumukh (beloved disciple of the Guru) must go through a period of great physical depression and weakness. This is because the entire constitution of the body has to be transformed in order that it may be in harmony with the spirit in its awakened condition and be fitted to perform the work before it. This period of depression may continue over a number of years, but it is usually followed by a high degree of bodily health.”

   “This physical change is absolutely essential for making appreciable spiritual progress. The capacity of the body to undergo it constitutes the limit of usefulness of the body. There have been exceptional jivas (souls) endowed with bodies capable of enduring in one life the whole requisite transformation without breaking. But in (such) cases the immediate physical effect of the transformation was a low and depleted bodily condition which continued for quite a number of years. After the changes have been effected, complete physical vigour usually comes back, though with a body very different in its constitution. One of its acquired characteristics is its softness and freshness like that of a babe.” (26)

   It is interesting that many of these descriptions of what may occur in the most extreme versions of the dark night sound much like the inner process of bodily dissolution at death as described in the Tibetan Buddhist writings:

   "Our complexion pales as the energy drains from the body. We might feel we are falling or sinking, and that the ground under us has given way...We feel as if we are under a pressure of a heavy weight....Tears fall and then dry up...We might feel very thirsty [i.e., 'arid' or ''parched']... suffocated and irritated...We struggle to breathe.." (26a)

   The dark night of the spirit, the second night, according to St. John, essentially results in a bodily transformation, necessary to fully live realization:

   "As, however, this sensual part of the soul is weak and incapable of experiencing the strong things of the spirit, it follows that these proficients [i.e., those who have gone through the first night, the dark night of the senses], by reason of the spiritual communication which is made to their sensual part, endure therein many frailties and sufferings and weaknesses of the stomach, and in consequence are fatigued in spirit. For, as the Wise Man says: 'The corruptible body pressed down the soul.' Hence comes it that the communications that are granted to these souls cannot be very strong or very intense or very spiritual, as is required for Divine union with God, by reason of the weakness and corruption of the sensual nature which has a part in them. Hence arise the raptures and trances and dislocations of the bones which always happen when the communications are not purely spiritual -- that is, are not given to the spirit alone, as are those of the perfect who are purified by the second night of the spirit, and in whom these raptures and torments of the body no longer exist, since they are now enjoying liberty of the spirit, and their senses are now neither clouded nor transported." (The Dark Night of the Soul, ed. E. Allison Peers, 1959, p. 92-93)

   Rumi states:

   "The spiritual way ruins the body and, after having ruined it, restores it to prosperity."

   Irena Tweedie's guru Bhai Sahib concurs:

   "...at a certain stage of development the body is ill continuously. This is the secret people usually don't know. They think the more perfect one is, the healthier one becomes. It is so at the beginning, but not at the later stages." (26aa)

   The Rig Veda declares:

   "He tastes not that delight (of the twice-born) who is unripe and whose body has not suffered in the heat of this fire; they alone are able to bear that and enjoy it who have been prepared by the flame."

   Perhaps this is why the Christian mystics often speak of those who undergo such a trial are free of the need to experience hell and purgatory, because they have already in essence experienced here what they might have needed to experience there.

   In light of the Babuji quote above, we might mention a third possible form of the dark night - what the Church sometimes calls the 'reparatory night'. This is said to be no longer personal purification in preparation for divine union, but suffering endured by the friends of God, or those called to service, who may undergo much more suffering than other souls. It might be considered to be a continuation of the night of the spirit, but for souls called to a special mission of service who suffer for others. For instance, Sant Darshan Singh wrote:

   "If you study the lives of the saints you will find they sacrifice themselves on the altar of love. The Master undergoes so much suffering for us, silently and unperceived."

   Of course, such beings will never say or even feel that they are special, and are likely to consider themselves the worst of human beings and still suffering the rigours of divine justice and personal purification. Such is the characteristic of many saints. "I am worse than all others; those who see that way are my friends," said Kabir:

   "Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., using the example of the founder of the Passionist order, St.Paul of the Cross, asserts: "The reading of the works of St. John of the Cross leads one to consider the night of the spirit chiefly as a personal passive purification, which prepares the soul for the perfect union with God, called the transforming union. This purification, which in its passive aspect is a mystical state and implies infused contemplation, appears thus as necessary to remove the defects of proficients of whom the author speaks in The Dark Night (Bk II, chap.10)...The lives of some great servants of God especially dedicated to reparation, to immolation for the salvation of souls or to the apostalate by interior suffering, make one think, however, of a prolongation of the night of the spirit even after their entrance into the transforming union. In such cases, this trial would no longer be chiefly purificatory; it would be above all reparative...The common opinion is that the servants of God are more particularly tried, whether it be that they need a more profound purification, or whether, following the example of our Lord, they must work by the same means as he used for a great spiritual cause, such as the foundation of a religious order or the salvation of many other souls." The long duration of this trial is one of the striking common traits between the night of St. Paul of the Cross and that of Mother Teresa." (26b)

   As the quote indirectly makes reference to, and as mentioned above, contrary to outward appearances Mother Teresa privately confessed to having a feeling of extreme abandonment by God for fifty years during her active mission, feeling that her heart was like a stone with her beloved Jesus absent and as if non-existent, this inspite of her being a continuing influence for God's love in the lives of others. Similarly, as stated above, in one of Sant Darshan Singh's verses he wrote, "my heart, now concrete pain, once laughed."

   The Athonite father Maximos speaks about this. If one has been on the path for a long time he will no doubt recognize the signs:

   "Another [illness] is what the elders call hardness or toughness of the heart. A person may fervently desire to listen to the word of God, to desire union with God, to come in contact with wisdom that comes from God, but the heart is impenetrable. The Grace of God cannot enter the essence of that person. The heart does not allow the seed of God's grace to take root. Based on the experience of the saints, this is a given for all of us. If we consider ourselves as a parcel of land that we begin to dig and cultivate with the Prayer [in this Athonite tradition, the practice of repetition of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”] we'll notice that at first the ground may be soft and relatively easy to plow. But as we continue digging we reach a level full of pebbles. Further down we reach solid rock. It is like sowing on granite. Nothing can penetrate it." Father Maximos looked thoughtful and serious, as if speaking from direct experience.

   "So what happens after that?"

   "The hardness becomes even more impenetrable,"
he said with a somber tone and remained pensive for a few more seconds. (Kyriakos Markides, The Mountain of Silence, p. 58-59)

   Many of the mystics use this very metaphor of their heart being like a stone, despite their great submission and love for God. It certainly makes one wonder about one's own humble state. Brunton says that one will be frustrated by the utter helplessness, the feeling that he is entirely in God's hands, and that, essentially,

   "There is nothing he can do except to hold on to the sure faith that he will emerge from it at the time set by the wisdom of his higher self."

   One yearns for peace, but there is no peace to be found anymore until this process completes itself. St. John explains:

   "Since by means of this contemplative night the soul is prepared for the attainment of inward peace and tranquility, which is of such a kind and so delectable that, as Scripture says, it passes all understanding, it behoves the soul to abandon all its former peace. This was in reality no peace at all, since it was involved in imperfections, but to the soul aforementioned it appeared to be so, because it was following its own inclinations, which were for peace. It seemed, indeed, to be a two-fold peace - that is, the soul believed that it had already acquired the peace of sense and that of spirit - as I say, it is still imperfect. First of all, then, it must be purged of that former peace and disquieted concerning it and withdrawn from it. Even so was Jeremias when he felt and lamented therein "my soul is withdrawn and removed from peace."

   And as previously quoted,

   "The misery of human nature is such in this life that, when the communication and knowledge of the Beloved, which means more life for the soul and for which she longs so ardently, is about to be imparted, she cannot receive it save almost at the cost of her life."

   In regard to the above, and the notion of a reparatory night, one devotee asked Sant Kirpal Singh a question, "Master, is it true that Jesus died for the sins of the world?", to which Kirpal replied, "all Masters have died for the sake of the world." The implication is that to be an active agent of grace may necessitate a depth of trial more severe than that required of more ordinary souls. At another time one disciple, seeing his Master in severe pain, asked if He would please let him share it by taking some of it on himself. Kirpal, whose body in this moment was said to be burning-hot to the touch, said, "Look here, if you have a son, would you give him poison?" One gets an appreciation for the sacrifice involved. "You can't handle the Truth" takes on another meaning altogether. Perhaps this is something to ponder in a day of 'instant enlightenment and the new paradigm' where the guru function is cavalierly dismissed as obsolete.

   In a similar vein regarding divine vision, St. John of the Cross writes, in The Living Flame of Love:

   "This experience is so intense that if God had not favored the flesh by fortifying the sensory part with his right hand, as he did Moses in the rock, enabling him to behold the divine glory without dying [Ex. 33:22], nature would be torn apart and death would ensue, since the lower part is unequipped to suffer so much and such a sublime force of glory."

   And so we occasionally hear of a Master taking a disciple "under cover" or "in a protective bubble" to higher planes, said disciple not being ready to truly die while alive wherein, unpurified, the experience would be beyond his capacity to handle or integrate.


   Sri Aurobindo offers a yogic explanation for what appears to be a phenomenon similar to the dramatic externalization or embodiment aspect of the dark night experience; for him, too, it is a natural progression, and not just a corrective remedy for a wrong or ignorant approach. The end result, nevertheless, is not only ascent of consciousness to the Light, or freeing of the soul, but the descent of Light transforming the lower nature. This is in line with various emerging teachings:

   “Most sadhaks of the old type are satisfied with rising into the spiritual or psychic realms and leave this part [the bodily or descended nature] to itself - but by that it remains unchanged, even if mostly quiescent, and no complete transformation is possible.”
   “Hitherto your soul has expressed itself through the mind and its ideals and admirations or through the vital and its higher joys and aspirations; but that it not sufficient to conquer the physical difficulty and enlighten and transform Matter. It is your soul in itself, your psychic being that must come in front, awaken entirely and make the fundamental change.”
   “These are things which come about almost inevitably in one degree or another at a certain critical stage through which almost everyone has to pass and which usually lasts for an uncomfortably long time, but which need not be at all conclusive or definitive. Usually, if one persists, it is a period of darkest night before the dawn which comes to every or almost every spiritual aspirant. It is due to a plunge one has to take into the sheer physical consciousness unsupported by any true mental light or by any vital joy in life, for these usually withdraw behind the veil, though they are not, as they seem to be, permanently lost. It is a period when doubt, denial, dryness, greyness and all kindred things come up with a great force and often reign completely for a time. It is after this stage has been successfully crossed that the true light begins to come, the light which is not of the mind but of the spirit. The spiritual light, no doubt, comes to some to a certain extent and to a few to a considerable extent, in the earlier stages, though that is not the case with all - for some have to wait till they can clear out the obstructing stuff in the mind, vital, and physical consciousness, and until then get only a touch here and there. But even at best this earlier spiritual light is never complete until the darkness of the physical consciousness has been faced and overcome. It is not by one’s own fault that one has fallen into this state, it can come when one is trying one’s best to advance. It does not really indicate any radical disability in the nature but certainly it is a hard ordeal and one has to stick very firmly to pass through it. It is difficult to explain these things because the psychological necessity is difficult for the ordinary human reason to understand or to accept.”

   “It is always the effect of the physical consciousness being uppermost (so long as it is not entirely changed) that one feels like this - like an ordinary man or worse, altogether in the outer consciousness, the inner consciousness veiled, the action of the yoga power apparently suspended. This happens in the earlier stages also, but it is not quite complete usually then because something of the mind and vital is active in the physical still, or even if the interruption of sadhana is complete, it does not last long and so one does not so much notice it. But when from the mental and vital stage of the yoga one comes down into the physical, this condition which is native to the physical consciousness fully manifests and is persistent for long periods. It happens because one has to come down and deal with this part directly by entering it, - for if that is not done, there can be no complete change in the nature. What has to be done is to understand that it is a stage and to persist in the faith that it will be overcome. If this is done, then it will be easier for the Force, working behind the veil at first, then in front to bring out the yoga consciousness into this outer physical shell and make it luminous and responsive.”

   The experience of Dante in the Divine Comedy is illustrative of this process. Craig Isaacs describes that Dante and his guide, Virgil, after passage through a gate above which was inscribed, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here,” begin

   descending through various levels of hell (the Inferno), encountering the numerous attitudes and activities which populate the self-centered, ego-oriented, passion-indulging - yet unfulfilling - life. They encounter lust, murder, envy, power-hungry avarice, and betrayal. Finally, Dante and Virgil come to meet the Satan-like figure of Dis, a demonic monster trapped at the waist in a frozen sea...It is not the literal Satan that is met but a representation of destruction and dissolution...Here is the energy of division and death, the very opposite of the move toward union and life. Dis does not reign over a realm of passionate fire, it an abode of cold barrenness... But to Dante’s surprise, what appears at the very depth of despair nd hopelessness is actually the gateway to life. In order to get to paradise, instead of the seeming logic of turning around, ascending back up the levels of hell traversed so as to start over, the travelers now climb deeper, down the torso of Dis, heading beneath the frozen lake, toward his feet.”

   “As they begin their descent, they are startled, and possibly a little disoriented, to suddenly find themselves climbing not down but up. It is then that they realize that Dis himself was upside down in this frozen lake and that their descent into hell was actually an ascending toward paradise. They begin to realize that the world that they thought was up, is really upside down...The ego-centered experience which has dominated life to this point begins to diminish. With this, the divine Comedy transitions and the reader enters the second section of the work, Purgatorio.”
(John’s Apocalypse, p. 82-83)

   Aurobindo once remarked, “It is not with the Empyrean that I am involved, I wish it were so; rather, it is the opposite end of things.”

   Brunton explains why such a process must necessarily take time:

   "The depth to be penetrated from the surface to the deepest layers of the human psyche is too great to be reached quickly without acute sacrifice and intense anguish. " (27)

   And further, that the end result is a serene but sober character, detached from emotional ecstasies:

   “He who has passed through this deepest and longest of the “dark nights” which precedes mature attainment can never again feel excessive emotional jubilation. The experience has been like a surgical operation in cutting him off from such enjoyments. Moreover, although his character will be serene always, it will also be a little touched by that melancholy which must come to one who not only has plumbed the depths of life’s anguish himself, but also has been the constant recipient of other people’s tales of sorrow.”

   It needs to be clarified that the ego or individuality per se is not so much annihilated - being itself the product of a long evolution - but rather the egoism and false identification dies out and the personal self, which is illusory only in the sense that it has no inherent self-existence, becomes objective to the higher or true Self. (27aa)

   St. John continues:

   “And thus it is fitting that, if the understanding is to be united with that light, and become Divine in the state of perfection, it should first of all be purged and annihilated as to its natural light, and by means of this dark contemplation, be brought actually into darkness. This darkness should continue for as long as is needful in order to expel and annihilate the habit which the soul has long since formed in its manner of understanding, and the Divine light and illumination will then take its place. And thus, inasmuch as that power of understanding which it had aforetime was natural, it follows that the darkness which it here suffers is profound and horrible and most painful, for this darkness, being felt in the deepest substance of the spirit, seems to be substantial darkness. Similarly, since the affection of love which is to be given to it in the Divine union of love is Divine, and therefore very spiritual, subtle and delicate, and very intimate, transcending every affection and feeling of the will, and every desire thereof, it is fitting that in order that the will may be able to attain to this Divine affection and most lofty delight, and to feel it and experience it through the union of love, since it is not, in the way of nature, perceptible to the will, it be first of all purged annihilated in all its affections and feelings, and left in a condition of aridity and constraint, proportionate to the habit of natural affections which it had before, with respect both to Divine things and to human. Thus, being exhausted, withered and thoroughly tried in the fire of this dark contemplation, and having driven away every kind of evil spirit...it may have a simple and pure disposition and its palate may be purged and healthy, so that it may feel the rare and sublime touches of Divine love, wherein it will see itself divinely transformed. Moreover, in order to attain this said union to which this dark night is disposing and leading it, the soul must be filled and endowed with certain glorious magnificences in its communion with God, which includes within itself innumerable blessings springing from delight which exceed all the abundance that the soul can naturally possess. For by nature the soul is so weak and impure that it cannot receive all this. As Isaias says: ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, that which God hath prepared for those who love Him.’ It is meet, then, that the soul be first of all brought into emptiness and poverty of spirit and purged from all help, consolation and natural apprehension with respect to all things, both above and below. In this way, being empty, it is able indeed to be poor in spirit and freed from the old man, in order to live that new and blessed life which is attained by means of this night, and which is the state of union with God.”

   "Wherefore the soul that God sets in this tempetuous and horrible night is deserving of great compassion...by reason of the dreadful pain which the soul is suffering, and of the great uncertainty which it has concerning the remedy for it, since it believes...that its evil will never end...It suffers great pain and grief, since there is added to all this (because of the solitude and abandonment caused in it by this dark night) the fact that it finds no consolation or support in any instruction nor in a spiritual master. For, although in many ways the director may show it good reason for being comforted because of the blessings which are contained in these afflictions, it cannot believe him. For it is so greatly absorbed and immersed in the realization of those evils wherein it sees its own miseries so clearly, that it thinks, as its director observes not that which it sees and feels, he is speaking in this manner because he understands it not; and so, instead of comfort, it rather receives fresh affliction, since it believes that its director's advice contains no remedy for its troubles. And, in truth, this is so; for, until the Lord shall have completely purged it after the manner that He wills, no means or remedy is of any service or profit for the relief of its affliction; the more so because the soul is as powerless in this case as one who has been imprisoned in a dark dungeon, and is bound hand and foot, and can neither move nor see, nor feel any favour whether from above or from below, until the spirit is humbled, softened, and purified, and grows so keen and delicate and pure that it can become one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree of union of love which His mercy is pleased to grant it
." (30)

   Such a process may go on a long time in some cases; there is no way of pre-figuring it. In the alchemical work, Sophic Hydrolith (A Brief Exposition of the Water Stone of the Wise, Commonly Called the Philosopher's Stone), published in English in 1678, we read:

   "The old nature is destroyed, dissolved, decomposed, and, in a longer or shorter period of time, transmuting into something else. Such a man is so well digested and melted in the fire of affliction that he despairs of his own strength and looks for help and comfort to the mercy of God alone. In this furnace of the cross, a man, like earthly gold, attains to the true Raven's Head, i.e., loses all beauty and reputation in the eyes of the world; and that not only during forty days and nights, or forty years, but often during his whole life, which is thus often more full of service and suffering than of comfort and joy."

   One contemporary writer, in an anonymous post to the internet entitled "Secrets of the Night", highlighted some of these problems facing the soul in the dark night:

    "St. John refers frequently to this inner congestion, as like being bound hand and foot and unable to breathe. He uses the Biblical reference of Jonah being swallowed in the belly of the beast to illustrate his point. This psychological congestion has a marked effect physiologically on one's breathing pattern. Breath control is often advocated as an aid to contemplation. Here we have the reverse process whereby the spontaneous contemplative process that is unleashed during the "Dark Night" itself dramatically alters one's breathing process until it is almost fully suspended. One still gradually breathes in but the corresponding breathing out is greatly suspended. So the psychological congestion one feels has a striking physiological counterpart....... One can feel as if drowning or being caught up in an internal earthquake. At other times one feels greatly parched as if one's insides had received a severe overdose of sunburn. The sense of being confined like a hostage in a dark confined space with little freedom for manoeuvre is often very strong. When these recede one begins to surface a little to restore some kind of normality. However over time one's customary framework of experience is greatly eroded........ It is like a chain reaction. One has to exercise faith to literally survive in the darkness. But this growing inner light only highlights ego restrictions further forcing one into a greater exercise of faith. So the process steadily intensifies......... What is clinically diagnosed as "endogenous depression" is very likely and is associated with the loss of a general sense of meaning in one's life. As the very purpose of the "Dark Night" is to erode one's conceptual frameworks of understanding it is not surprising that this type of depression should occur. Endogenous depression is often diagnosed by the psychiatric profession in purely physiological terms as a chemical imbalance. This is very reductionist. Certainly a chemical imbalance can be associated with the illness. However this is inseparable from changing psychological factors which tend to activate the physiological process. Other psychotic symptoms associated with manic-depression or schizophrenia may well surface at this time. However this raises a key dilemma. To diagnose an authentic "Dark Night" experience in simply pathological terms (though such elements may well be present) is to very much misunderstand the nature of the problem. So people dealing with [those having] the genuine "Dark Night" experience are not likely to see ..and only notice these secondary characteristics. So they are likely to confirm the aspirant's own growing fears that the whole experience has been a tragic mistake”.

   Brunton writes:

   “The Dark Night is not the result of any physical suffering or personal misfortune. It induces a depression of enormous weight...The somber loneliness experienced during the Dark Night of the Soul is unique. No other kind of loneliness duplicates it either in nature or acuteness, although some may approach it. It creates the feeling of absolute rejection, of being an outcast...A terrible inner numbness, an unbearable emptiness, is a prominent feature of the spiritual dark night.”
   To distinguish psychological purification from a spiritual process of eradication of vasanas (inherited or conditioned tendencies) is near impossible for the soul at this time. The whole matter of levels is confusing, in any case:

   "The working of Grace takes place outside the level of ordinary consciousness - whether above or below it is a matter of point of view.” (Brunton)

   The breathing problems and other extreme psychic episodes (such as literally going through the experience of Hell, which she later remarked had been very useful for her spiritual growth) are also very evident in the life and writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Other mystics have left similar reports. Their spiritual significance and similarity to perinatal near-death experiences are discussed in two illuminating articles by Christopher Bache. A number of these great trials have definite parallels with primal-type psycho-therapeutic processes, and, as mentioned, pre and peri-natal experiences, yet, while these are often profound, it is my feeling that St. John describes a passage that extends beyond, or confirms a growing redefinition of, the limits of experiential psychology. [To Basche, the peri-natal realm is the borderline between the personal and transpersonal dimensions. For him, the emergence of peri-natal symptomology (pain, suffocation, feelings of annihilation and death) in mystics and spiritual aspirants represents the growing pains of expanded consciousness, the psycho-physical system's throwing off its poisons as it moves to more wholistic stages of consciousness; the work of Stanislov Grof also lies in this area].

   The dark night, then, is far more than just an occasional dry patch or depression, although depression certainly may be present. For the seeker after Truth, it is a major and lengthy transformational crisis. Because the beginner who comes upon these writings may mistake his mere backsliding or lukewarmness for entry into such a process, however, St. John issues several criteria to distinguish between the two. First, in the dark night the soul finds it can no longer engage in meditation as before. The power it had to do so using its natural faculties has essentially been taken away. Second, in spite of this, it has no inclination towards the worldly pursuits it formerly enjoyed. One feels caught between two worlds, the one no longer wanted, and the other (apparently) not wanting him, as Brunton once described. Third, one finds his only delight in a loving repose in the divine will, and the secret contemplation that he begins to experience, even though all outward signs may suggest he is lost and doing nothing of spiritual value. The fruit of this first dark night, the night of sense (which John calls "bitter and terrible"), and to which relatively many may be called, according to St. John in Bk. 2, Ch. 1, is that "the soul goes about the things of God with much greater freedom and satisfaction of the soul than before it entered the dark night of sense. It now very readily finds in its spirit the most serene and loving contemplation and spiritual sweetness without the labor of meditation." The soul is more respectful, humble, and circumspect regarding the things of God and spiritual life. Much of its natural conceit in such matters is diminished. However, there remain many deep and hidden impurities in the soul, including the root imperfection of egoity itself, that must now be eliminated in the second night, the night of the spirit (which he calls "horrible and awful"), and which, according to the saint, comparatively few will pass through.

   Here at times the suffering may appear so great, and always seemingly greater than before, that ones faith is repeatedly tried to the breaking point, and it cannot prevent the arising feeling that something is terribly wrong, and that one is being destroyed for no reason, or even that he is going insane. This, mystics tell us, is really par for the course. It is to happen. Brunton also reminds us that such an understandably negative perception is wrong, that the dark night is not a time of capricious and meaningless suffering, but a grace for removing egoism and being reborn:

   "The "dark night" does more to detach a man from his ego, his interests, and his desires than the rapturous joys and emotional ecstasies. The awful feeling of being separated from and even lost forever to the higher power, works as a hidden training and secret discipline of all personal feelings." (31)

   Sant Darshan Singh also speaks of this secret process of grace:

   "Even if the Lord seems to withdraw himself from us, we can not give Him up; we have no choice. We are afflicted with a disease and we cannot rest until we are reunited with Him...It is by withdrawing Himself from us, by moving away, that he compels us to follow Him. As we recognize that nothing compares with the joy of his presence, we disengage from our worldly attachments one by one. The suffering and anguish of separation are processes by which we are purified of all worldly desires. Love burns up everything except the Beloved. And as we restlessly wait for the faintest sounds of His coming footsteps, we are being cleansed and recreated from within." (32)

   This is baffling for a time because, as deCaussade writes:

   "in this state God communicates Himself to the soul as its life, but He is no longer visible as its way and its truth. The bride seeks the Bridegroom during this night, she seeks Him before her, and hurries forward; but He is behind her, and holding her with His hands. He is no longer the object, but principle and source."


   Madame Guyon writes:

   "At [the time of your conversion] you made an unreserved surrender of your being to God. Not only that, you surrendered yourself to all that God willed for you. It was at that very time that you gave your total consent to whatever God might wish to require of you."

   "Oh, it is true that when your Lord actually began burning, destroying, and purifying, you did not recognize that it was the hand of the Lord in your life. You certainly did not recognize the operation as something good.You had the very opposite impression."

   "Instead, you saw all that beautiful gold in you turning black in the fire rather than becoming bright as you had expected. You stood looking at the circumstances around you that were producing all that tragedy in your life. You thought that all the purity in your life was being lost."

   "If, at that moment, the Lord had come and asked you for your active consent, at best you would hardly have been able to give it. It is more likely that you would not have been able to give consent at all."

   "There is something you can do at times like these, however. You can remain firm in a passive consent, enduring as patiently as you can all that God has introduced into your life."

   Brunton concurs with Darshan Singh that the soul has indeed reached the point of no return:

   "The long hard search for the soul asks too much endurance of self-discipline from its pursuers ever to be more than it has been in the past - an undertaking for the few driven by an inner urge. Hence it is not so much a voluntary undertaking as an involuntary one. The questers cannot help themselves. It is not that they necessarily have the strength to endure so much as they have no choice except to endure." (33)

   In the midst of such an experience Henry Suso was led to exclaim, "You ask where is my resignation? But tell me first, where is the infinite pity of God for His friends?...Alas my God! What art thou about to do unto me, I thought that I had had enough by that time. Show me how much suffering I have before me." The Lord said, "It is better for thee not to know."

   St. John further describes this bitter period of purification with the following metaphor, briefly mentioned before:

   "This purgative and loving knowledge or Divine light whereof we here speak acts upon the soul which it is purging and preparing for perfect union with it in the same way as fire acts upon a log of wood in order to transform it into itself; for maternal fire, acting upon wood, first of all begins to dry it, by driving out its moisture and causing it to shed the water which it contains within itself. Then it begins to make it black, dark and unsightly, and even to give forth a bad odor, and, as it dries it little by little, it brings out and drives away all the dark and unsightly accidents which are contrary to the nature of fire. And, finally, it begins to kindle it externally and give it heat, and at last transforms it into itself and makes it as beautiful as fire....It drives out its unsightliness, and makes itself black and dark, so that it seems worse than before and more unsightly and abominable than it was wont to be. For this Divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humours which the soul has never perceived because they have been so deeply rooted and grounded in it; it has never realized, in fact, that it has had so much evil within itself....This enkindling of love, however, is not always felt by the soul, but only at times when contemplation assails it less vehemently, for then it has occasion to see, and even to enjoy, the work which is being wrought in it, and which is then revealed to it. For it seems that the worker takes his hand from the work, and draws the iron out of the furnace, in order that something of the work which is being done may be seen; and then there is occasion for the soul to observe in itself the good which it saw not while the work was going on. In the same way, when the flame ceases to attack the wood, it is possible to see how much of it has been enkindled." (34)

   Fenelon succinctly states, "One does not begin to know and to feel one’s spiritual miseries until they begin to be cured” - meaning that the disturbing and painful states that arise or are illumined as the spirit makes its way through the knot of self or egoic conditioning one presents, are in fact signs of cure and not the opposite.

   This metaphor of the burning wood is found not only in the Christian tradition. In the book Tales of the Mystic East one finds the following story:

   "Sheik Shibli, accompanied by some of his disciples, was one day idly watching a piece of wood that was burning slowly on the top of a cooking fire. As the log was wet, the heat was driving drops of liquid from it at one end. After a moment or two of reflection, Shibli said to his disciples:

   “How can you who profess to have deep love and devotion for the Lord, truly say that you are burning in the pangs of separation from Him? I see no tears of sadness or longing in your eyes. To all of you I say, that you should take a lesson from this dumb and humble piece of wood. See how it burns and how it weeps.”

   Fenelon also writes of the insight the soul has after each round of such purification - which he calls 'the goodness of the cross' - has passed:

   "I cannot help admiring the goodness of the cross. We are worth nothing without it. It makes me tremble and convulses me as soon as I begin to feel it. All that I have said of its helpful operations vanishes away before the agony it brings to my inmost heart. But as soon as it gives me time to breathe, I open my eyes again and I see that it is worthy of praise. Then I am ashamed to have been so overwhelmed by it. The experience of this inconsistency is a deep lesson for me."

   deCaussade, in one of his letters, also speaks of this ongoing realization:

   "I am certain that this state of suffering has already produced very good results in this soul. Even when the extreme pains have altogether ceased..there will remain for a long time a certain impression of interior humiliation which will continue to produce marvelous after-effects. The fear that this miserable state will return will make her depend on God in a profound and continuous confidence, which will prove for her a very great blessing."

   St. John, then, says that this entire process is not one of unbroken suffering, but that there will be brief periods when the person is restored to a more freer state of communion with spirit than before, in which it is then almost convinced that its troubles are over, and it sees the value of what it has gone through, but these periods will not last, if it is to be a true dark night. Still, from time to time the maturing practitioner may be graced with spiritual glimpses such that, utterly poverty-stricken though his soul may be, he realizes in a very real sense it is like a dream and has little to do with his true Self, leading him to confess with Santideva:

   "The thought of Enlightenment has arisen within me I know not how even as a gem might be gotten by a blind man from a dunghill."

   and with the author of the Rubaiyat:

   "Though pearls in praise of God I never strung, though dust of sin lies clotted on my brow, yet I wlll not despair of mercy. When did Omar argue that the One was two?"

   While intermittently enjoying such graces, however, he continues to endure the plight of a lover, feeling the Lord toying with him while drawing him ever closer. As a sword, however, is tempered by repeatedly being placed into the fire and then cooled, so, too, says St. John, will the soul be repeatedly returned to even worse states of poverty and purgation, where it will be filled with

   "spiritual pain and anguish in all its deep affections and energies, to an extant surpassing all possibility of exaggeration...The spirit experiences pain and sighing so deep that they cause it vehement spiritual groans and cries, to which at times it gives vocal expression; when it has the necessary strength and power it dissolves into tears, although this relief comes but seldom." (35)

   "And to this is added the remembrance of times of prosperity now past; for as a rule souls that enter this night have had many consolations from God, and have rendered Him many services, and it causes them the greater grief to see that they are far removed from that happiness, and unable to enter into it."(36)

   Brunton states:

   "The Dark Night is not the result of any physical suffering or personal misfortune: it comes from a subtler cause. It induces a depression of enormous weight...The sombre loneliness experienced during the Dark Night of the Soul is unique. No other kind of loneliness duplicates it either in nature or acuteness... It creates the feeling of absolute rejection, of being an outcast...A terrible inner numbness, an unbearable emptiness, is a prominent feature of the spiritual dark night...The situation is really paradoxical and beyond correct appraisal by the conscious mind, certainly by the suffering ego. He is being made to learn, by the severest experience, that the divine reality must not be confused with his conscious reactions to it, nor with his mental reactions to it, nor even with his emotional reactions to it, that it belongs to an unknown and unknowable realm that transcends human faculties and defies human perceptions" (37)

   "The life of faith is nothing but the continual pursuit of God through everything that disguises, disfigures, destroys, and, so to say, annihilates him," says Jean-Pierre deCaussade, in Abandonment to Divine Providence. He continues, agreeing with Brunton on the transcendent nature of the divine:

   "This complete deprivation which reduces us to acts of bare faith and of pure love alone, is the final disposition necessary for perfect union. It is a true death to self; a death very inward, very crucifying, very difficult to bear, but it is soon rewarded by a resurrection, after which one lives only for God and of God...After the soul has mounted the first steps in the ladder of perfection, it can scarcely make any progress except by the way of privation and nudity of spirit, of annihilation and death of all created things, even of those that are spiritual. Only on this condition can it be perfectly united to God Who can neither be felt, known, or seen....."
(Book Six, Letter VII)

   It is a curious thing, however, that after experiencing the 'heavy hand of the Lord' for some time, one actually feels cast adrift when it is absent. St. John continues:

   "But in the midst of these dark and loving afflictions the soul feels within itself a certain companionship and strength, which bears it company and so greatly strengthens it that, if this burden of grievous darkness be taken away, it often feels itself to be alone, empty, and weak. The cause of this is that, as the strength and efficacy of the soul were derived and communicated passively from the dark fire of love which assailed it, it follows that, when that fire ceases to assail it, the darkness and power and heat of love cease in the soul." (38)

   Once again, St. John offers this hope and consolation:

   "Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thy seest thy desire obscured, thy affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for any interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather consider it a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands. For with those hands, however well they may serve thee, thou wouldst never labour so effectively, so perfectly, and so securely..as now, when God takes thy hand and guides thee in the darkness, as though thou wert blind, to an end and by a way which thou knowest not." (39)

   Brunton likewise explains:

   "If the Overself did not lead him into and through the final dark night, where he becomes as helpless as an infant, as bereft of interior personal possessions as a destitute pauper, how else would he learn that it is not by his own powers and capacities that he can rise at last into enduring illumination?" (40)

   And deCaussade said:

   "Our divine Guide would not have reduced us to the necessity of walking if he had not intended to carry us in His arms. What need have we of lights and certainties, ideas and reflections? Of what use would it be to see, to know, to feel, when we are no longer walking but being carried in the arms of divine Providence?"


   The Vissudhimagga, a Buddhist manual of meditation practice, calls the difficult purifications that spiritual aspirants go through as the core of their conditional being is slowly undone the "Higher Realizations."

   An episode in the life of Dodrupchen Jigme Thrinle Ozer, an advanced Tibetan Tulku, illustrates this phenomenon from another angle. On a three-year meditation retreat he experienced a terrible ordeal:

   "After a month or so, a great shaking up (Lhong Ch'a) arose in him. It became hard for him to stop the turbulent waves of thoughts, emotions, and illusions. He now started having disturbances of the life-force energy (Srog rLung), symptoms that brought him to the brink of insanity. All appearances arose as enemies. He even saw fearful animals in his teapot. He felt he was involved in fighting with weapons. One night in a dream he heard a frightening shout, and he felt that it almost split his heart. Even after he awoke, he kept hearing the same cry and then saw a pillarlike dark light linking the ground and the sky. His body was trembling violently. He felt an unbearable terror and feared that the sky and earth were being turned upside down. But then in an instant, all the disturbing appearances dissolved into himself, the "I," which was merely projecting and experiencing all those appearances. Then the concept of "I" was also gone beyond any elaboration. The fearful mind and the objects of fear all had merged into one taste, the taste of ultimate nature, the total openness."

   The author of the book from which this biographical account was taken explains:

   "Just before reaching a high realization, it is normal for many meditators to experience the final mental, emotional, and habitual struggles in various forms or degrees of temptations, fearful illusions, threatening sounds, or painful feelings. Many great masters have had the same kinds of experiences just before they entered high states of realization. If you do not succumb to these kinds of last-minute disturbances created by hidden subtle habits and get beyond all those final encounters by remaining in the realized nature, like shaking the dust from a rug for good, you will attain total freedom from mental and emotional obscurations with their traces. A person having a so-called smooth meditative experience might think, "I am doing so well that I have no shaking-up experiences," but the truth could be that he has not yet destroyed his mental and emotional defilements and their habits from the root." (40a)

   Dipa Ma, taking up Buddhist practice after years of life suffering and a descent into deep despair following the deaths of her husband and two children, rapidly went through a series of dramatic transitions in her meditation practice. As recounted by Amy Schmidt:

   "[On her second retreat,] by the third day she was able to attain a deep state of concentration and the need for sleep vanished, along with the desire to eat...On the way to the talk, Dipa Ma began to experience heart palpitations. Feeling very weak, she ended up on her hands and knees, crawling up the stairs to the hall. She didn't understand the talk but continued her meditation practice. After the talk Dipa Ma found that she couldn't stand up. She felt stuck in her seated posture, her body stiff, immobilized by the depth of her concentration." [In the first hours of practice on her first retreat she attained a state of concentration so deep that even afterwards while standing she had no awareness of aa large dog that had clamped its teeth around her leg!]

   "In the following days, Dipa Ma's practice deepened dramatically as she moved rapidly through the classical stages of the "progress of insight" that are said to precede enlightenment, according to the teachings of Theravada Buddhist (South Asian) tradition. She experienced a brilliant light, followed by the feeling that everything around her was dissolving. Her body, the floor, everything was in pieces, broken and empty. That gave to intense mental and physical pain, with an excruciating burning and constricting in her body. She felt that she would burst with pressure."

   "Then something extraordinary happened - it was daytime, she was sitting on the floor, practicing among a group of meditators - an instantaneous transition took place, so quiet and delicate, that it seemed as if nothing at all had happened. Of this luminous instant Dipa Ma was later to say simply, "I did not know," and yet in it her life had been profoundly and irrevocably transformed."

   "After three decades of searching for freedom, at the age of fifty-three, after six days of practice, Dipa Ma reaches the first stage of enlightenment. (The Theravada tradition recognizes four phases of enlightenment, each producing distinct recognizable changes in the mind.) Almost immediately her blood pressure returned to normal and her heart palpitations diminished.Previously unable to climb the meditation center stairs, this ascent was now effortless, and she could walk at any pace. As the Buddha had predicted in her dream, the grief she had borne day and night vanished. Her constant fearfulness was gone, leaving her with an unprecedented equanimity and a clear understanding that she could handle anything."

   "...At her next retreat, she experienced another breakthrough after only five days of meditation. The path leading to this insight was similar to the first, except that it was marked by even more pain and suffering. After reaching the second stage of enlightenment, her physical and mental condition were transformed yet again; her restlessness decreased and her physical stamina increased."


   Returning to the Christian mystics, deCaussade, in Abandonment to Divine Providence, wrote insightfully on inward destitution , death of self-love and mystical death:

   "The loss of hope causes you more grief than any other trial. I can well understand this, for, as during your life you find yourself deprived of everything that could give you the least help, so you imagine that at the hour of your death you will be in a state of fearful destitution. Ah! this is indeed a misery, and for this I pity you far more than for your other sufferings. Allow me, with the help of God’s grace, to endeavour to set this trouble in its true light and so to cure you. What you want, my dear Sister, is to find support and comfort in yourself and your good works. Well, this is precisely what God does not wish, and what He cannot endure in souls aspiring after perfection. What! lean upon yourself? count on your works? Could self-love, pride, and perversity have a more miserable fruit? It is to deliver them from this that God makes all chosen souls pass through a fearful time of poverty, misery and nothingness. He desires to destroy in them gradually all the help and confidence they derive from themselves, to take away every expedient so that He may be their sole support, their confidence, their hope, their only resource."

   "I know how much suffering this operation entails. The poor soul feels as if it would become utterly annihilated, but for all that, it is only nearer the true life. In fact the more we realise our nothingness the nearer we are to truth, since we were made from nothing, and drawn out of it by the pure goodness of our Lord. We ought therefore to remember this continually, in order to render by our voluntary annihilation a continual homage to the greatness and infinity of our Creator. Nothing is more pleasing to God than this homage, nothing could make us more certain of His friendship, while at the same time nothing so much wounds our self-love. It is a holocaust in which it is completely consumed by the fire of divine love. You must not then be surprised at the violent resistance it offers, especially when the soul experiences mortal anguish in receiving the death-blow to this self-love. The suffering one feels then is like that of a person in agony, and it is only through this painful agony and by the spiritual death which follows it that one can arrive at the fullness of divine life and an intimate union with God."

   "God may possibly allow you to think that this painful state is going to last you your life-time, in order to give you an opportunity of making Him a more complete sacrifice. Do not waver, do not hesitate for a single moment, sacrifice all!   Abandon yourself without reserve, without limitation to Him, by Whom you imagine yourself abandoned."

   "Remember that God sees in the depths of your heart all your most secret desires. This assurance should be sufficient for you; a cry hidden is of the same value as a cry uttered, says the Bishop of Meaux. Leave off these reflexions and continual self-examinations about what you do, or leave undone; you have abandoned yourself entirely to God, and given yourself to Him over and over again; you must not take back your offering. Leave the care of everything to Him. The comparison you make is very just; God ties your hands and feet to be able to carry on His work without interference; and you do nothing but struggle, and make every effort, but in vain, to break these sacred bonds, and to work yourself according to your own inclination. What infidelity! God requires no other work of you but to remain peacefully in your chains and weakness."
   (Book Seven, Letters I,IX,XII)

   And he speaks of the great mercy and grace in having this process speeded up, accomplishing what one could never do by oneself:

   “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 sight of 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. I conclude from my knowledge of this merciful design that you ought neither to desire nor to hope for the cessation of the treatment to which you are being subjected until a complete cure has been effected. At present, you must brace yourself to receive many cuts from the lancet, to swallow many bitter pills, but go on bravely and excite yourself to a filial confidence in the fatherly love which administers these remedies.”

   Speaking to someone undergoing an especially intensified period of trial, he wrote:

   “When this storm has passed you will understand...so keenly and distinctly that you will not know how, sufficiently, to thank God for having been so good as to put His own hand to the work, and to operate within your soul in a few months what with the help of ordinary grace would have taken you, perhaps, twenty years to accomplish, namely, to get rid of a hidden self-love, and of a pride all the more dangerous in being more subtle and more imperceptible.”

   “From this poisonous root grows an infinite number of imperfections of which you are hardly conscious; useless self-examinations, still more useless self-complacency, idle fears, fruitless desires, frivolous little hopes, suspicions unfavorable to your neighbor, little jokes at her expense, and airs full of self-love. You would have run a great risk of remaining for a long time subject to all these defects; filled, almost without suspecting it, with vanity and self-confidence without either the power or will to sound the profound abyss of perversity and natural corruption that you had within your soul.”

   Maulana Rumi, in his Mathnawi, wrote:

   Your anguish is seeking a way to attain to Me; yesterday evening I heard your deep sighs. And I am able, without any delay, to give you access, to show you a way of passage, to deliver you from this whirlpool of time, that you might set your foot upon the treasure of union with Me; but the sweetness and delights of the resting place are in proportion to the pain of the journey. Only then will you enjoy your native town and your kinsfolk, when you have suffered the anguish of exile." (The Pocket Rumi, ed. Kabir Helminski, p. 160)

   Ramana Maharshi similarly advised:

   "The Higher Power knows what to do and how to do it. Trust it." (41)

   Further elegantly portraying the helplessness and bewilderment of the soul at this stage, deCaussade continues:

   "God hidden in his veils gives himself with his grace in an altogether unknown way, for the soul feels nothing but feebleness under its crosses, disgust with its obligations, while its attractions are only to very commonplace exercises. The idea which it has formed of sanctity reproaches it internally with these low and contemptible dispositions. All the saints lives condemn it. It knows nothing with which to defend itself; it has light to see a sanctity which, however, brings it desolation, for it has no strength to rise to it, and does not recognize its weakness as divine order, but as its own cowardice....Experience shows us that nothing so much as this apparent loss inflames the desire of the soul for union with the divine will. What profound sorrow for the soul!...no consolation is possible....To ravish God from a heart longing for nothing but God, what a secret of love!

   Sant Darshan Singh referred to this apparent spurning of the lover by the Beloved in the following verses:

   "I will never forget the despair of those nights of longing, When I saw even my shadow abandon me."

   "All my life I spent on the journey of love - Watching my hopes at nightfall flee with the dawn."

   "The night of exile has engulfed my heart - not a light in sight; Except the hope of homecoming at dawn, I have nothing."

   “My trust is in your mercy, for in my heart I'm certain, my cries fail to reach you, my sighs have no effect."

   "Do not question me about the grief of fruitless waiting; That is a long story, not simple in the telling."

   "Despair invades, I ache for a glimpse; Night never ends - a caravan of longing. Hope, dismay and grief, despondency from hopes dashed. My heart - now concrete pain - once laughed."

   "What an irony, Darshan! In the tavern master’s presence, those parched with thirst gain no entrance.”

   He explains further about this less often spoken of aspect of the path of the Masters:

   "To be purified, gold has to pass through fire before it is free from dross. It is only by passing through various fires that we too become purified. These are the fires of longing for the Beloved, of yearning and pining for the Beloved, even to the point of death. In a state like this how can you be happy? What will be your condition? You will be physically with the Master for short periods, but the periods of separation will seem longer and longer. You will feel that the path you are treading is one of eternal struggle, of endless tears, of pearls flowing from your eyes."

   He then speaks seriously about a stage of "cold sighs" in the lover:

   "Your very life is sustained by the warmth produced by the love of the Beloved. But when you start feeling that your Beloved has severed all connections with you, when you feel this warmth is gone, then your sighs become cold."

   "This first sign is the greatest test because the heart of the lover is likely to flutter.
[the word 'flutter' is likely a poetic understatement, based on what we have read on this subject so far] The lover is caught in the tresses of the Beloved, and this stage of cold sighs is sometimes apt to lead the lover to a state of despair and despondency. And in that semi-lunatic state the bird of the heart flutters in its cage of trials and tribulations. Once caught, this bird of the heart cannot become free again In spite of its fluttering and crying, once captive, it is captive for all times.The Lover needs all the sympathy, all the pity for his helpless state. He now feels hopeless and abandoned because there is no one to care for him. The lyrical glances and the love that emanate from the Beloved are no longer felt. The lover is in a pitiable state of cold sighs. In Christian mysticism this period is referred to as "The dark night of the soul."

   "Master has many an arrow of love in his quiver. He can enrapture you with a single glance.He can put you in a state of ecstasy, and then rob you of your heart when you are under a spell. If you can escape one arrow, he has another arrow. He has so many arrows in his quiver. And a poor victim, once caught, is always caught."

   "These are the hard facts of life. I can express them in platitudes. I can say that the moment you come to a Master you get intoxicated with his eyes, and that intoxication increases every moment until you attain communion with the Lord. If you would like I can describe the path of love in these words but in doing so I would neither be fair to myself nor to you. What I have been explaining is the truth of the mystic path that you do not find in books. Had they written about this in the books with such great clarity, then people would have shunned this path. But this is the naked truth and the only truth. It is a fact that you ultimately enjoy lasting bliss, lasting ecstasy, lasting salvation. Nobody can deny that. But I have explained in detail all the stages which are full of pain, anguish and yearning so that you should not be afraid of facing these moments on the path. Kabir, Guru Nanak, and all the great mystics have spoken of these moments. Our Beloved Master Sant Kirpal Singh Ji used to say that this is a path of tears; this is a path of dampness. He would say, "When love dances on the heart, it pains. But that pain is coated with honey. Who is there who would give up that pain?" People have been referring to this aspect of the path since the dawn of eternity, but we have not heeded their words. For those on the path of love, the pain and the suffering may be intense, but as Ghalib, the great Urdu poet has said, "When your grief transcends all bounds, it becomes its own cure."

   "...in order to make something of great value and beauty in the lovers, the Beloved sometimes shakes up their hearts. Not all lovers can withstand it. Many hearts become crushed or broken in this process. But those who are able to submit to the Beloved's shake-up, and who surrender to it, are not broken - instead they come out whole and give forth the sweetest taste. Such lovers who have surrendered to the Beloved's treatment, be it gentle or vigorous, are the most fortunate."

   "Your faith must never be shaken. Once we have come to a Master, where is the question of losing faith? Remember, he has taken a vow never to leave or forsake us until he takes us to our eternal Home. But we should also realize that we must go through the stage when we feel abandoned, when we feel that the Master has deserted us.
[compare Brunton: "It is not only by the experience of feeling at times the presence of God that an aspirant may develop inwardly: it may also happen by the equivalent non-experience, by feeling quite deserted by God, quite left alone! This - the "dark night of the soul" - is just as essential."] This is one of the features of the path of mystic love. We must go through this stage without a grumble on our lips, for this stage is in reality a gift from the Master himself to help us grow. Ultimately, it is for our own benefit, for our own salvation. There is a divine purpose behind everything the Master does. We may have to spend a lifetime of tears to get his love. We cannot demand the gift supreme from our Beloved. This gift descends at the appointed hour. Patience and perseverance should be the keynotes of the life of a seeker after truth. Acting in divine wisdom, the Master grants us the object of our longing, the object of our pining, when the appropriate hour arrives." (41b)


   Sometimes a teacher acts in mysterious, forceful ways, plunging the disciple into and out of the fire again and again, as Mde. Guyon mentioned earlier in reference to the actions of a divine Forger. Ch’an Master Yuanyun Jiexian (1610-1672) writes on some of these metbods:

   “While the practitioner’s meditation work has not reached its culmination, the master gives the practitioner thousands of hammer blows and smelts and forges the practitioner thousands of times. As long as the “thief mind” has not yet totally died, the master releases and recaptures the practitioner hundreds of times. The master’s task is to locate the lair of the shadows of emotional consciousness and the entangling vines of subjective opinions that the practitioner has accumulated over aeons and cut them off root and branch, giving the practitioner no way to escape. Gradually the practitioner arrives at the point where, hanging from a cliff, he lets go. With one more thrust, the decisive moment arrives.” (Attaining the Way, p. 49)

   deCaussade goes on:

   "It is indeed a great secret, for by this way and by this way only are pure faith and pure hope established in the soul...Everything one does seems the fruit of chance and natural inclination. Everything that happens humiliates the soul...Others are always admired, but we feel miles below them and put to confusion by their every action....The divine action seems to keep us far from virtue only to plunge the soul into a profound humility. But this humility does not seem to be such to the soul, it thinks it is suffering from the rigours of pure justice."

   "The most remarkable thing about this is that in the eyes of those whom God does not enlighten concerning its path, the soul seems animated by quite contrary feelings such as obstinacy, disobedience, contempt and indignation that cannot be cured, and the more the soul tries to reform these disorders, the worse they become, for they are the most proper means to detach it from itself and fit it for divine union. From this painful trial comes the principal merit of self-abandonment. In the duty of the present moment everything is of a nature to draw the soul away from its path of love and simple obedience. It needs heroic courage and love to stand firm in its simple, active fidelity and sing its part with assurance, while grace sings its own with different melodies and in different keys which do nothing but convince the soul that it is deceived and lost."

   If the 'soul' can rest in this state, without struggling to get out (which, once fully in this state, it really cannot do), something great can happen.

   deCaussade sums up the Divine purpose in all of this as the mortification of the personal will, or self-love in all its disguises, and how His “chosen spouses” [A term we need be careful not to consider mere caprice on the part of a Deity] receive the harshest treatment:

   “It is the usual way by which God conducts His chosen spouses to the perfection He destines them to attain; and I have known very few whom He has not judged it necessary to guide along this path when they give themselves up entirely to Him. Why then are there such painful states? Why this heaviness of heart which takes the pleasure out of everything? and this depression which makes life insupportable? Why? It is to destroy, in those souls destined to a perfect union with God, a certain base of hidden presumption; to attack pride in its last retreat; to overwhelm with bitterness that cursed self-love which is only content with what gives it pleasure; until at last, not knowing where to turn, it dies for want of food and attention, as a fire goes out for want of fuel to feed it. This death, however, is not the work of a moment; a great quantity of water is required to extinguish a great conflagration. Self-love is like a many-headed hydra, and its heads have to be cut off successively. It has many lives that have to be destroyed one after the other if one wishes to be completely delivered. You have, doubtless, obtained a great advantage by making it die to nature and the senses; but do not dream that you are entirely set free from its obsessions. It recovers from this first defeat and renews its attacks on another ground. More subtle in future, it begins again on that which is sensible in devotion; and it is to be feared that this second attempt, apparently much less crude, and more justifiable than its predecessor, is also much more powerful. Nevertheless, pure love cannot put up with the one any more than with the other. God cannot suffer sensible consolations to share a heart that belongs to Him. What then will happen? If less privileged souls are in question, for whom God has not such a jealous love, He allows them a peaceful enjoyment of these holy pleasures, and contents Himself with the sacrifice they have made of the pleasures of sense. This is, in fact, the ordinary course with devout persons, whose piety is somewhat mixed with a certain amount of self-seeking. Assuredly God does not approve of their defects; but, as they have received fewer graces, He is less exacting in the matter of perfection. These are the ordinary spouses of an inferior rank, whose beauty needs not to be so irreproachable, for they have not the power to wound His divine heart so keenly; but He has far other requirements, as He has quite other designs with regard to His chosen spouses. The jealousy of His love equals its tenderness. Desiring to give Himself entirely to them, He wishes also to possess their whole heart without division. Therefore He would not be satisfied with the exterior crosses and pains which detach from creatures but desires to detach them from themselves, and to destroy in them to the last fibre that self-love which is rooted in feelings of devotion, is supported and nourished by them, and finds its satisfaction in them. To effect this second death He withdraws all consolation, all pleasure, all interior help, insomuch that the poor soul finds itself as though suspended between Heaven and earth, without the consolations of the one, nor the comforts of the other. For a human being who cannot exist without pleasure and without love, this seems a sort of annihilation. Nothing then remains for him but to attach himself—not with the heart which no longer feels anything, but with the essence of the soul—to God alone, whom he knows and perceives by bare faith in an obscure manner. Oh! it is then that the soul, perfectly purified by this two-fold death, enters into a spiritual alliance with God, and possesses Him in the pure delights of purified love; which never could have been the case if its spiritual taste had not been doubly purified. (Book Seven, Letter XIV)

   Fenelon, another "Friend of God", familiar with both St. John and deCaussade, wrote similarly about different intentions of God for particular souls:

   "God, in his desire to strip the soul for its own perfection, causes it really to pass through these trials of self, and never leaves it alone until he has put an end to its love of self-concern and support. There is nothing so jealous, so exacting, and so searching as this pure love of God. It cannot abide a thousand things that were unnoticed in our previous state. What other Christians might consider insignificant seems a vital point to the soul that is intent on the death of the old self. As with gold in the furnace, the fire consumes all that is not gold, so it seems necessary that the heart should be melted with fervent heat in order for the love of God to be rendered pure. Those being purified in this way are thankful to God for whatever he does in them solely because he does it for his own glory.
   God does not pursue every soul in this way in the present life. There are many truly good persons whom he leaves in some degree under the sway of self-love. These remainders of self support them in the practice of virtue and serve to purify them to a certain degree. There would be almost nothing more harmful or dangerous than to deprive such persons of the contemplation of the grace of God in them as leading to their own personal perfection. This second group is also grateful, but partly because their own perfection is secured at the same time. If the first group should try to deprive the second of this interior comfort they have in reference to grace, they would cause them as much injury as they would an infant by weaning it before it was able to eat. To take away the breast would be to destroy it. We must never seek to deprive a soul of the food that still contains nourishment for it, and that God allows to remain as a stay to its weakness. To forestall or hinder grace would be to destroy it.
   On the other hand, the second group should not condemn the first because they do not see them as much concerned as they themselves are about their own perfection. God works in everyone as he pleases. The wind blows wherever it pleases, and as it pleases. Forgetfulness of self is a state in which God can do with us whatever most pleases him.
   The important point is that those who are still supported somewhat by self should not be too anxious about those who are in pure love, nor should the latter try to make the former pass through new trials before God calls them to it."


   deCaussade continues:

   "God, felt, enjoyed, and giving pleasure, is truly God; but He bestows gifts for which the soul flatters itself; but God in darkness, in privations, in destitution, in unconsciousness, is God alone, and as it were, naked. This, however, is a little hard on self-love, that enemy of God, of our own souls, and of all good; and it is by the force of these blows that it is finally put to death in us. (Book Seven, Letter XV)

   "One must never take the extreme expressions made use of by orthodox writers quite rigidly, but enter into the meaning and thought of the authors. One ought, without doubt, to prevent good souls from making use of expressions, coolly and with premeditation, which seem to savour of despair; but it would be unjust to condemn those who, driven almost out of their senses by the violence of their trials, speak and act as if they had no hope of eternal happiness. It does not do to feel scandalised at their language, nor to imagine it actuated by a real despair. It is really rather a feeling of confidence hidden in the depths of the soul which makes them speak thus; just as criminals have been sometimes known to present themselves before their sovereign with a rope round their neck saying that they gave themselves up to all the severity of his justice. Do you imagine that it was despair that made them speak in this way? or was it not rather an excess of confidence in the prince’s goodness? And, as a rule, they obtain their pardon by the excess of their sorrow, repentance, and confidence. Will God then be less good with regard to souls who abandon themselves to Him for time and for eternity? Will He take literally expressions which, in the main, only signify transports of abandonment and confidence?”
(Book Seven, Letter XVI)

   "To begin with you must know that these trials, which are more grievous than any others, are those which God usually makes those souls whom He most loves undergo. At this time I have under my direction some who, in this respect, are in an indescribable state, the mere account of which would horrify you. The entire interior nature is encompassed with darkness, and buried in mud. God retains and upholds the free will, that higher faculty of the soul, without affording it the slightest feeling of support. He enlightens it with the entirely spiritual light of pure faith in which the senses have no part; and the poor soul, abandoned, as it appears, to its misery, delivered over as a prey to the malice of devils, is reduced to a most frightful desolation, and endures a real martyrdom." (Book Seven, Letter VIII)

   Steven Harrison speaks to the overall confusion one inevitably faces:

   "We have misunderstood our confusion when we think there is an answer to it. The confusion is not a result of questions that are too hard, but rather a questioner who is disintegrating. Confusion is the introduction to true intelligence." (43)

   St. Francis de Sales, in Book IX, Chapter 3, of Treatise on the Love of God, speaks with subtle sophistication on union with God through spiritual afflictions and resignation of the soul to the divine will:

   "Now of all the efforts of perfect love, that which is made by acquiescence of spirit in spiritual tribulations, is doubtless the purest and noblest. The Blessed (S.) Angela of Foligno makes an admirable description of the interior pangs which she sometimes felt, saying that her soul was tortured like to a man who being tied hand and foot, should be hung by the neck without being strangled, and should hang in this state betwixt life and death, without hope of help, and unable to support himself by his feet or assist himself with his hands, or to cry out, or even to sigh or moan. It is thus, Theotimus: the soul is sometimes so overcharged with interior afflictions, that all her faculties and powers are oppressed by the privation of all that might relieve her, and by the apprehension and feeling of all that can be grievous to her. So that in imitation of her Saviour she begins to be troubled, to fear, and to be dismayed, and at length to sadden with a sadness like to that of the dying. Whence she may rightly say: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; and with the consent of her whole interior, she desires, petitions, supplicates, that, if it be possible, this chalice may pass, having nothing left her save the very supreme point of her spirit, which cleaving hard to the divine will and good-pleasure, says in a most sincere submission: O eternal Father, Ah! not mine but thy will be done. And the main point is that the soul makes this resignation amidst such a world of troubles, contradictions, repugnances that she hardly even perceives that she makes it; at least it seems done so coldly as not to be done from her heart nor properly, since what then goes on for the divine good-pleasure is not only done without delight and contentment, but even against the pleasure and liking of all the rest of the heart, which is permitted by love to bemoan itself... and to sigh out all the lamentations of Job and Jeremias, yet with the condition that a sacred peace be still preserved in the depths of the heart, in the highest and most delicate point of the spirit. But this submissive peace is not tender or sweet, it is scarcely sensible, though sincere, strong, unchangeable and full of love, and it seems to have betaken itself to the very end of the spirit as into the donjon-keep of the fort, where it remains in its high courage, though all the rest be taken and oppressed with sorrow: and in this case, the more love is deprived of all helps, and cut off from the aid of the powers and faculties of the soul, the more it is to be esteemed for preserving its fidelity so constantly."

   Michael Molinos, whose Spiritual Guide came so close to the truth that it provoked a Papal Decree in 1687 proclaiming, "Anyone found in possession of this book will be excommunicated," also wrote on this time of trial:

   "When God crucifies in the inmost part of the Soul, no creature is able to comfort it; nay, comforts are but grievous and bitter crosses to it. And if it be well-instructed in the laws and discipline of the ways of pure love, in the time of great desolation and inward troubles, it ought not to seek abroad among the creatures for comfort, nor lament itself with them, nor will it be able to read spiritual books: because this is a secret way of getting at a distance from suffering."(44)

   Teutonic mystic and visionary Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), who wrote much extolling the glory of communing with the Eternal Word or Music and Spirit of God through inner meditation, practicing "holy abstraction and ceasing from self-thinking and self-willing" [see "Jacob Boehme and His Teachings," in Sat Sandesh, July, 1976], nevertheless, in The Way to Christ, Treatise Eight, in a way guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of ones neck, wrote of pain, fear and desolation on this path.

   "The soul's will groaned for God but the outgoing senses that were to press into God were scattered and were not able to reach the power of God. This frightened the poor soul still more in that it could not bring its desire to God, so it began to pray more strongly. But the devil in his desire...awakened the evil characteristics so that false inclinations rose up and went in where they had earlier found happiness."
   " The poor soul wished to go to God with its will, and was in much anguish, but its thoughts all fled from God to earthly things, and did not want to go to God. The soul groaned and cried to God, but it appeared to it that it had been completely cast out from before God's face, as if it could not gain one glance of grace, and stood in vain anguish as well as great fear and dread."
   "The soul, yearned only for the first fatherland from which it originally came, yet it found itself far away from it, in great rejection and misery, and it did not know what to do. It thought it would enter into itself to pray more fervently, but the devil came into it and held it so that it might not enter greater inclination and repentance."
   "The devil awoke earthly lust in its heart so that these inclinations upheld their false natural rights and defended themselves against the soul's will and desires because they did not wish to die to their own will and lust but to keep their temporal pleasure and they held the poor soul captive in their false desire so that it could not awaken itself no matter how much it groaned and sighed for God's grace."
   "Your ability is completely gone, even as a dry twig cannot gain sap and sprout by its own ability so that it might enjoy itself again among the trees, likewise you cannot reach God by your own abilities; you cannot change yourself into your first angelic form, for you are dry and dead to God as a twig without life or sap. You are only an anxious and dry hunger."
   "And as it stood in such groans and tears it was drawn to the abyss of horror as if it stood before hell's gate and was to perish immediately...in such concern it began to sigh inwardly and to cry to the mercy of God. And then it began to sink itself into the purest mercy of God..."
   " [But] the divine light..grew faint and only glimmered in the internal ground as a mould-fire so that reason saw itself as foolish and abandoned. It did not know how this happened, or if it was really true that it had tasted of the divine light of grace; yet it could not stop from thinking this...
   The reason of its will was broken and the evil inherited inclinations were more and more killed and this caused much pain to the nature of the body making it weak and sick, yet this was not a natural illness but a melancholy of the earthly nature of the body. Thus the false lusts were broken."

   In comparison to Boehme speaking of the soul's plaintive yearning for its "first fatherland", St. Therese of Lisieux, in acute trial in the last year of her life, which she described as a black hole, darkness, and a thick wall separating her from God, spoke of giving up hope for the glorious "fatherland" of light, and abandoning oneself to "nothingness":

   "You believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.....My smile is a great mantle, which covers a multitude of sufferings. The sisters and people think that my faith, my hope and my love are profoundly fulfilling me, and that intimacy with God and union with His will, live in my heart. If they only knew...only blind faith moves me along, because the truth is that all is darkness for me. Sometimes the agony of desolation is so great and at the same time the living hope for The Absent so profound that the only prayer I am able to recite is “Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in You. I will quench your thirst for souls.”" ( Last Conversations)

   Lest we think that these saints are exaggerating, or suffered unnecessarily due to starting spiritual life with a wrong foundation of understanding, which might have been avoided had he been trained in an “awareness” school such as Advaita Vedanta, let us think again. For there is an energy component of the awakening process. As Anadi reminds us:

   "Above all, the power of Grace brings finality to our inner work...It is not self-knowledge only, which brings the presence of the complete state. Self-knowledge, which is the very effort of our intelligence to understand who we are, must be supported by the alchemical transmutation of our energy system."


   Perhaps the specifics of the dark night in its fullest extent as described by St. John are unique and rare, and to some extent old school medieval, but stripping away the cultural and religious limitations of his tradition, it remains highly likely that the process he describes, in one form or another, is unavoidable at some point on the path, if one has truly petitioned the higher power for its help, or is simply ripened to the point where it is time. This is partly because our ignorance is generally so thick that we cannot but conceive of the goal as some “thing” that will be personally attained by the ego. This identification will generally not go down without a struggle - even if we realize this fact, and try not to struggle. But then, it may not be a matter of choice, and deCausssade reminds us:

   "An angel from heaven himself could not succeed in giving you either light or consolation. There is no intelligence nor power in the world capable of wresting from the hand of God a soul He has seized in the rigour of His mercy to purify it by suffering."


   "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....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." (Spiritual Counsels, Book Six, Letter V; Book Seven, Letter XXIII)

   Some contemporary teachings might object, intellectually arguing , 'but how can what is 'empty' and unreal (a self) be filled with anything? It is indeed a paradox: the Divine 'Nothingness' or Emptiness of our true Self is not revealed in fullness until we have first seen the nothingness and emptiness of our little selves. We will save this discussion for a later time [see "Kenosis and Metanoia" on this website]; for now suffice it to say that even the great Nagarjuna, seminal influence for the 'emptiness' doctrine of Buddhism, had this to say relating to this matter:

   "That which hurts, but is profitable, is drunk by the wise like medicine; for the result, afterwards obtained, becomes incomparable."

   The goal is great, and so is the sacred ordeal, especially if one has asked for truth, and not just inner peace. (44a)

   It is might also be likely that there could be specific forms of 'dark night' experience corresponding to archtypal stages on the path. These may be such, for example, as respecting the four stages (stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arhat) suggested by the Buddha and leading subsequently to nondual buddhahood. These stages can perhaps be loosely related to esoteric initiations relating to the transcendance or eradication of physical, emotional, mental, and then intuitional ('buddhic')/spiritual egoic karma. Thus, a dark night at stage two - emotional/psychic purification - will be often intense, but different in quality and character from a dark night - the 'great death' - of stage four. This is a major issue and may be dealt with in a sequel to this article [For now, more on this in "The Depths of This Thing", and "Not a One-Shot" on this website].

   Non-dualist Douglas Harding wrote of going through a period of the dark night many years after having taught others about his awakening to what he called "headlessness." He expressed that having spiritual glimpses was easy, but surrender of the personal will most difficult.

   This correlates to what non-dual teacher Adyashanti in The End of Your World says about awakening proceeding from the head to the heart to the gut. An initial awakening at the level of the understanding, while profound and important, must proceed to enlighten all aspects of the being, including the emotions (heart) and the personal will (the "gut," the basic survival instinct or "existential grip"). This was also discussed in the Lankavatara Sutra, where it speaks of a 'fundamental turnabout in the deep-seat of understanding', as well as an 'inconceivable transformation death of the Bodhisattva's individualized will-control'. Bob Ferguson (TAT, from "Why We Don't Get It?) wrote:

   "Only through the simple process of self-observation can this thing called the "self" be seen. We may need years of looking at it, seeing why it does what it does, thinks what it thinks, until we know it well enough to cease to believe in it. All of our energy, for all of our life, has been poured into this thing: our personality, the little self, the ego. A few moments of seeing, while of monumental importance, will not cause its complete demise. This demise is what we fear most; for it is seen by the thought-pattern we call "us" as death. At some point, the initial joy of seeing will turn to the pain of ego-death, as the Truth becomes known. It will not be pleasant. In fact, the pain and horror felt by the ego as it faces its own death, will be felt as yours."

   These profound developments, in my opinion, are the fundamental province of the dark night of the soul, call it by whatever name you like. Because soul has many connotations, and we are not talking about simply (or not so simply) purifying the dross of the personality so one can get to a heavenly place, but the undermining of all of that, simply the 'dark night', 'dark night of the person,' or 'dark night of the being', may be more useful terms for our time. If one can hold on, without leaping out of the fire, and allowing any and all drama to arise, without blame, even if one feels extremely blameworthy, he will get through, so to speak. Actually he will and he won't. To say, however, like some modern teachers do , that all problems come from 'a simple misunderstanding,' or because of the existence of 'thoughts, beliefs, or personal' stories', can in some instances be seriously underestimating the depth of the quest. While seeing through some of that may be enough to produce an 'awakening', the true alchemical process known to the ancients as 'coagulation' goes much farther, and relieves even the awakened being - who now has more strength to deal with it - of deep cellular imprinting and what might be called 'primal insanity', even while the true light penetrates and comes alive in and through the being more and more. Brunton elaborates further on why such a process of descent is important, and some of its ramifications:

   "The need of predetermining at the beginning of the path whether to be a philosopher (ie., sage) or a mystic arises only for the particular reincarnation where attainment is made. Thereafter, whether on this earth or another, the need of fulfilling the philosophic evolution will be impressed upon him by Nature." (45)

   "Beware what you pray for. Do not ask for the truth unless you know what it means and all that it implies and nevertheless are still willing to accept it. For if it is granted to you, it will not only purge the evil out of you but later purify the egoism from your mind. Will you be able to endure this loss, which is unlikely to be a painless one?" (46)

   "We sometimes wonder whether we can bear more, but no experience goes too far until it crushes the ego out of a man, renders him as helpless as the dying person feels." (46a)

   [For an account by Brunton of his own experience of this, please see (46b)]

   "Whoever invokes the Overself's Grace ought to be informed that he is also invoking a long period of self-improving toil and self-purifying affliction necessary to fit him to receive that Grace....If he offers himself to the divine, the divine will take him at his word, provided the word is sincerely meant. The response to this offer when it comes is what is called Grace...Many who ask for Grace would be shocked to hear that the troubles which may have followed their request were actually the very form in which the higher power granted the Grace to them." (47)

   "There is.. an unpredictable element in the pattern of human life, which increases rather than decreases as the quality of that life rises above average. We see it markedly in the case of a maturing aspirant who has to undergo tests and endure ordeals which have no karmic origin but which are put across his path by his own higher self for the purpose of a swifter forward movement. They are intended to promote and not delay his growth, to accelerate and not impede his development. But they will achieve this purpose only if he recognises their true aim." (48)

   And once again we repeat this quote from Sant Darshan Singh:

   "We are people of little faith and fail to recognize and appreciate the hand which guides and which sustains. Hazur (Baba Sawan Singh Ji) used to say that once a saint has taken a soul under his wing, he is keen to compress the progress of twenty births into a single one. And if we desire to pack the accomplishments of twenty lives into a single one, we must pay for it." (49)

   PB similar writes:

   "If his evolutionary need should require it, he will be harassed by troubles to make him less attached to the world, or by sickness to make him less attached to the body. It is then not so much a matter of receiving self-earned destiny as of satisfying that need. Both coincide usually but not always and not necessarily. Nor does this happen with the ordinary man so much as it does with the questing man, for the latter has asked or prayed for speedier development." (49a)

   Santideva reminds us in his Bodhicharyavatara, that the price for such a rich reward is actually less than that of its alternative:

  ”For myriads of ages, measureless, uncounted,
   Your body has been cut, impaled,
   Burned, flayed - for times past numbering!
   Yet none of this has brought you to buddhahood.

   The hardships suffered on the path to buddhahood
   Are different, for their span is limited,
   And likened to the pain of an incision
   Made to cure the harm of hidden ailments.”

   Finally, Sufi teacher Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee describes some of the unique oscillations he went through in the process of his spiritual practice under the guidance of Irena Tweedie and his sheikh Bhai Sahib:

   "The pain of longing is the most potent pain in the world, and it cannot be healed by any remedy. Often my physical heart would hurt, echoing this inner pain. The heart can be so heavy, its sting so bitter. For hours, days, weeks, the longing would continue, sometimes intensely penetrating, sometimes just a dull ache always present. When the longing seemed almost unbearable, love would come, sweet as honey. The states are always changing, and the lover is always caught unprepared. Sometimes I was left in a feeling of separation more desolate than anything I could have imagined. There is an anguish of emptiness which tore into me; or, even more difficult, the separation left me without sensation or feeling, without even the desire for God. I love a challenge, and even the pain of separation was preferable to this desert, when only willpower took me through endless, meaningless days. Pushed to the limit of inner endurance, I held on, to find the state suddenly, inexplicably changing. In the place of desolation came a sense of closeness, a tenderness melting in the heart. Always, what was given was more than anything I believed possible. The sense of fulfillment deeper, richer, anymore complete than ever I have expected." (50a)


   How does the "union with God" spoken of by these mystics compare with the "no-self" realization espoused in Advaita and Buddhism?

   This is a complex question which some have asked, and feeble attempts to examine it are given in the articles, "Non-Duality and the Soul," "The Primordial Ground," "Dual Non-Dualism," and others on this website. For instance, Paul Brunton felt that the union with God that mystics talk about is often "only" ("only" in quotes because even this is a lofty realization) union with their divine Soul, but not the Absolute, the latter being beyond any categorization of union. Others have advanced the argument that the transformation described by St. John does not in itself produce the non-dual enlightenment or self-realization such as described in the highest forms of Buddhism or by an advaitic sage like Ramana Maharshi, but, as mentioned, a state of mystic union, even if it is of the highest type, such as nirvikalpa samadhi or its Christian equivalent (if there is one). While such an experience is an evolutionary advance which under no circumstances should be minimized, this may not be an insignificant point. It is true that St. John did not have access to the nondual texts found in eastern teachings. However, this much we do know. St. John himself writes of four nights. The Ascent of Mt Carmel is about the active nights of sense and spirit (mostly the former), while the Dark Night of the Soul is about the passive ones, where a higher power takes the major role. It is probably not possible for any of us to say what level St. John had access to, because (1) the first  book of the Dark Night book is devoted to only the first of eight stanzas in his summary poem (which stanza he says pertains to the passive night of sense), and book number two covers only stanza number two which is devoted to the much deeper passive night of the spirit - where the book then breaks off unfinished, after him saying there is much more to say about the unfoldment of this divine union. He also had said that he would devote the majority of his writing to this deepest stage, as 'very little of it has been written or experienced so far', while the night of sense (which can get extreme and difficult also, but not near as much as the former) 'there has been much written'. So perhaps if St. John were here today he might not only complete his work but also speak to us in more modern language and resolve our doubts. Indeed, the saint confessed to limiting his reading to four or five books, of which one was Contra Haereses by Irenaeus, and confined his writing by his proclaimed intention "not to depart from the sound sense and doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church." (51) It is quite possible, however, that he also circumscribed his exposition of more esoteric teachings in order not to further arouse the hostility of the established church hierarchy, for which he had been thrown into prison. Many true mystics throughout history have unfortunately faced the same problem. (One is reminded of historian Will Durant's remark, "the Church has persecuted only two groups of people: those who did not follow the teachings of Jesus, and those who did").

   St. John certainly did seem to be intimately familiar with and write about a realization beyond ego and even the exclusive pursuit of soul interiorization. Evelyn Underhill in her classic work, Mysticism, wrote:

   "The self which comes forth from the night is no separated self, conscious of the illumination of the Uncreated Light, but the New Man, the transmuted humanity, whose life is one with the Absolute Life of God." (52)

   Hubert Benoit also feels this way:

   “When St. John of the Cross passes beyond his mystical compensation, when he detaches himself from the image of ‘God’ after this image has been as far as possible rendered impersonal, he does not feel attached to the image ‘Ego’ from which the image ‘God’ drew its apparent Reality; he does not feel attached to anything. He no longer feels anything; it is the ‘Night’ in which nothing exists any longer in connexion with what can be felt or thought. But there is still an ultimate attachment to the Ego which links together all the powers of the being, an ultimate and invisible compensation. It is passing-beyond this invisible compensation which is the veritable detachment, total and instantaneous. To the Night succeeds what St. John of the Cross calls the theopathic state, that which Zen calls Satori.” (Zen and the Psychology of Transformation: The Supreme Doctrine (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1990), p. 220)

   The following passages from St. John do read more like a satori description given by a Zen Buddhist, where one stands outside of the ego, than the report of an ordinary yogi or mystic, who, still identified with his ego, stands outside of the body:

   "For this night is gradually drawing the spirit away from its ordinary and common experience of things and bringing it nearer the Divine sense, which is a stranger and an alien to all human ways. It seems now to the soul that it is going forth from its very self, with much affliction. At other times it wonders if it is under a charm or spell, and it goes about marvelling at the things it sees and hears, which seem to it very strange and rare, though they are the same that it was accustomed to experience aforetime. The reason of this is that the soul is now becoming alien and remote from common sense and knowledge of things, in order that, being annihilated in this respect, it may be informed with the Divine." (53)

   St. John makes a big deal of the fact that this deeper night of the spirit is passively infused, and a mystery even to the understanding that receives it:

   "This dark contemplation is secret, since, it is mystical theology, which theologians call secret wisdom, and which, as Saint Thomas says, is communicated and infused into the soul through love. This happens secretly and in darkness, so as to be hidden from the work of the understanding and of other faculties...And in truth, not only does not the soul understand it, but there is none that does so, not even the devil, inasmuch as the Master Who teaches the soul is within it in its substance, to which the devil may not attain, neither may natural sense nor understanding. And it is not for this reason alone that it might be called secret, but likewise because of the effects which it produces in the soul. For it is secret not only in the darkness and afflictions of purgation, when this type of love purges the soul, and the soul is unable to speak of it, but equally so afterwards in illumination, when this wisdom is communicated to it most clearly. Even then it is still so secret that the soul cannot speak of it and give it a name whereby it may be called; for, apart from the fact that the soul has no desire to speak of it, it can find no suitable way or manner or similitude by which it may be able to describe such lofty understanding and such delicate spiritual feeling...This property of secrecy and superiority over natural capacity which belongs to this Divine contemplation, belongs to it, not only because it is supernatural, but also inasmuch as it is a road that guides and leads the soul to the perfections of union with God, which, as they are things unknown after a human manner, must be approached, after a human manner, by unknowing and divine ignorance." (54)

   These passages in themselves do not guarantee us a teaching of advaitic nonduality, true, but they do certainly suggest the 'beginning of the end of duality', so to speak. We have no way of knowing for sure, for St. John left his writing incomplete and unfinished. Other mystics of the church, however, such as Meister Eckhart, have hinted at a high realization. The latter spoke of a 'primordial ground where distinction never peeped', and also how seeing a difference between God and the world was 'a common delusion'. Also several centuries before St. John, a lesser-known mystic named Margaret Porete, who was executed for heresy, wrote

   "about seeing Nothing, about immersion in the Abyss, about an identity with the divine in a nothingness which is at the same time the All. "Now this soul has fallen from love into nothingness, and without such nothingness she cannot be All."

   It may very well be, then, that the end result of passage through the dark night, as well as the experience of true spiritual glimpses, will vary depending on the metaphysical preparation of the individual and their stage of development from previous lifetimes. And not just a bloodless, quiet contemplation, this high state has been described in a real sense not only as an inner union with God or with one's divine soul, but also as a merger of one's self-identity with the world, or contrastingly, absorption of the world into one's self. Does one dare think this will be reached without a tussle, an inner revolution in fact? This is talking turkey, not theory.

   From another angle, much of this confusion may be due to semantics. That is, some of the mystics speak of purification not of the self, but from the self, with the self being that which contaminates the soul. Thus, the purgation and purification that takes place is not merely that of an ego-soul so that it may abide in a divine domain as a separate entity, per se, but rather more in the nature of the purgation and purification of the bundle of tendencies that create that sense of self. An initial glimpse of 'no-self', then, would in fact be the beginning of the realization of the Soul. No need to jump the gun and confuse it with the Absolute. Madame Guyon writes

   "There is something in this universe which is the very opposite of God; it is the self. The activity of the self is the source of all the evil nature as well as all the evil deeds of man. On the other hand, the loss of the selfhood in the soul increases the purity of the soul! In fact, the soul's purity is increased in exact proportion to the loss of self!"

   Then she gives what for a Christian seems to be a very unique and astute philosophic interpretation of the "fall":

   "It was the entrance of the self, which came into the soul as a result of the fall, that established a difference between the soul and God."

   "What is the name of this impurity? Self."

   And she goes on to further clarify the situation:

   "But there is more than the self that prevents union. This thing called activity is, in itself, opposed to union. Why? because God is an infinite stillness. Your soul, if it is to be united with the Lord, must partake of His stillness...It is for this reason we can never arrive at divine union except by putting the human will to rest. You can never become one with God, in experience, until you become as restful and pure as when you were first created."

   Here she speaks unlike the advaitins and more like the Sufis, or Daskalos, wherein the soul is spoken of as a created yet eternal reality.

   Plotinus also spoke of man's "audacious self-will" as standing between him and the Truth. Guyon further states:

   "His Wisdom burns away all the impurities of a man...Man must pass through the fire to be purged from self."

   She then continues:

   "Oh, how many times the gold is plunged back into the fire - far, far more times than seem necessary. Yet you can be sure the Forger sees impurities no one else can see. The gold must return to the fire again and again until positive proof has been established that it can be no further purified."

   And also:

   "You can be sure, dear reader, that you will never be motivated enough to allow this purging process to happen to you! Man, by his nature, is very reluctant to submit to such a transformation. All of us are greatly enamored with self and very fearful of its destruction. You can be sure you would never consent if it were not that God takes it upon Himself to act upon you. It is He who comes with power and authority." (55)

   For Brunton, man actually in his highest attainment attains a union our identity with his Soul or Overself, and the Overself is in fact characterized by "no-self". Yet there is still said to be a (paradoxical) relationship between the so-called Overself and the One, Mind, or the Absolute. The Sufi's also maintain there is no absolute union of man with the divine but more like a paradoxical identity-relatedness. Irena Tweedie's guru, Bhai Sahib, said, "If you say there is nothing but One, you insult Him and you insult yourself."

   But again we may be getting ahead of ourself; such a consideration is not immediately relevant to the topic at hand. Or perhaps not. Non-dual teacher Richard Sylvester argues that it is precisely the 'death' of meaning and purpose,without the 'death' of the 'person' - i.e., the sense of being a separate self - however lofty or attenuated or spiritualized - that produces the despair and angst known as a dark night of the soul. Whereas, if ones loses the sense of personhood, i.e., has the insight of 'no-self', then a loss of meaning would not lead to despair. This is in fact the existential problem. In addition, a common scenario is that the sense of being a person may disappear, but then come back, and then one can be in despair as he finds all of his previous coping strategies no longer work. And this oscillation can go on for a long time.

   We have in this essay explored some common themes in the mystical literature, without claiming any special or definitive knowledge. Please feel free to ponder what is said here, but do not torture your mind trying to figure it all out. The mind will never fully understand it! Rather, take what is of use and leave the rest for another day. For PB's extended practical and metaphysical consideration of the dark night, its meaning, and aftermath, see The Notebooks of Paul Brunton: Category 23, Chapters 1-5. Here he lucidly portrays it as a relatively inevitable transition between an initial traditional 'Long Path' of self-effort, discipline, and meditation, and a 'Short Path' of surrender, grace, and infused contemplation.]

   Part Two (Approximately 1/3 the size of Part One)

(1) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, N.Y.: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 12, 5.238; Vol. 2, 5.56; Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.69
(2) E. Allison Peers, trans. The Dark Night of the Soul (Garden City, New York: Image/Doubleday, 1959), p.37
(3) Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way (Burdett, New York, 1993), p. 199
(4) Brunton, op. cit., Vol 15, 3.70, 3.1, 3.31, 3.35, 3.39, 3.59
(5) Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent (Winkworth’s translation, p. 280) Cited in: Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (New York: New American Library, 1974)
(6) Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (New York: New American Library, 1974), p. 396.
(6a) Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is (Platina,California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood), p.
(6b) Michael Molinos, The Spiritual Guide (Auburn, Maine: Christian Books Publishing House, 1982; originally published in 1675), p. 15
(7) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 11, 2.222,238,241,250,124
(8) Ibid, Vol. 11, 5.100
(8a) Ibid, Vol. 14, 7.26
(9) Ibid, Vol. 14, 3.35
(10) Ibid, 8.64
(11) 1st paragraph, source unknown; 2nd from Les Torrents, pt. i. cap. viii. Cited in: Underhill, op. cit.
(12) Ibid
(13) Ibid, p. 397
(14) John Daido Loori, Mountain Records of Zen Talks (Boston: Shambhala, 1988), p. 21
(15) Ibid
(16) Chang Chen-Chi, The Practise of Zen (London: Rider & Co., 1960), p. 78
(17) Majjhima Nikaya, I, 166
(18) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 15, 3.71
(19) The Dark Night of the Soul, in Mystic Doctrine, an abridgement by C.H. (London: Sheed & Ward, 1948), p. 83-106
(20) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 1, 4.356; Vol. 12, 4.5
(21) E. Allison Peers, op. cit., p. 104
(22) Ibid, p. 106-107
(23) Ibid, p. 152
(24) Ibid, p. 102-103
(25) Ibid, p. 145-146
(26) Babuji Maharaj , Notes of Discourses, Radha Soami Satsang, Agra, 1947), p. 80, 117
(26a) Tulku Thondup, Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth (Boston: Shambhala, 2005), p. 48
(26aa) Irena Tweedie, Daughter of Fire (Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 1986), p. 362
(26b) Mother Teresa, Come be My Light: The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta", edited and with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchul, M.C., footnote chapter nine, # 59
(26c) Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Volume II (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1983), p. 1423-1427
(27) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 9, 1.277
(27a) Ibid, ol. 15, Part One, 3.1
(27aa) Even this sounds too dualistic, as in reality the two become fused and/or realized as no-separation. According to Ramana Maharshi,

   "The 'I' casts off the illusion of 'I' and yet remains as 'I'. Such is the paradox of Self-Realization. The realized do not see any contradiction in it." (Talks)

   In the Forty Verses, he says:

   "Get at the Heart within by search. The ego bows its head and falls. Then flashes forth another “I”, Not the ego that, but the Self, Supreme, Perfect."

    Sastri comments:

    "Does this mean that the ego-self is lost for ever? No, the ego is lost, but only to make way for its original, the real Self, to come up to the surface by either using the regenerate ego-self as an instrument or by transforming it to a true reflection so as to make its presence felt on the surface, the effect of which is an experience, a feeling in the ego-self that it is one with its deeper and real Self and that it is this deeper being that has assumed the form of the apparent self in the phenomenal existence." (Sastri, Coll. Works III, 355, cited Nandakumar 20).

   Brunton agrees:

   "He enters into a state which is certainly not a disappearance of the ego, but rather a kind of divine fellowship of the ego with its source....He loses his ego in the calm serenity of the Overself, yet at the same time it is, mysteriously, still with him....It [the Overself] is a kind of impersonal being but it is not utterly devoid of all individuality....The dictionary defines individuality as separate and distinct existence. Both the ego and the Overself have such an existence. But whereas the ego has this and nothing more, the Overself has this consciousness within the universal existence. That is why we have called it the higher individuality....He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery....The actual experience alone can settle this argument. This is what I found: The ego vanished; the everyday "I" which the world knew and which knew the world was no longer there. But a new and diviner individuality appeared in its place, a consciousness which could say "I AM" and which I recognized to have been my real self all along. It was not lost, merged, or dissolved: it was fully and vividly conscious that it was a point in the universal Mind and so was not apart from that Mind itself. " (28)

   [For those unfamiliar with PB's unique terminology (Mind, World-Mind, World-Idea, Overself) , please click here for a precise explanation].

   Sri Nisargadatta similarly refers to realization of the source of the I AM as a "point in Consciousness."

   Whether in ultimate realization there is only One Self, as the Upanishads declare, or distinct Souls, is a matter of ongoing debate. In either case it is said to be a paradoxical realization, ie., a 'not-two', or the whole of the One Self present as each individual Soul [the "ocean merging into the drop"]. Plotinus prefers to settle this discussion by refering to Soul as a "One-in-Many."

   Medieval sage Ibn 'al 'Arabi concurs that the experience is veritably non-dual, without a radical naughting of the individuality required:

   "If you know yourself as nothing, then you truly know your Lord. Otherwise, you know him not. [But] you cannot know your Lord by making yourself nothing. Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self. This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence? ...If you think that to know Allah depends on your ridding yourself of yourself, then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him - the only unforgivable sin - because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the All-Existent: that there is a you and He." (29)

   The following quote by Shaikh Mawlay Al Arabi ad Darqawa confirms Ibn 'al' Arabi's insight:

   "Extinction also is one of thine attributes. Thou art already extinct, my brother, before thou art extinguished and naught before thou art annihilated. Thou art an illusion in an illusion and a nothingness in a nothingness. When hadst thou Existence that thou mightest be extinguished?" (Martin Lings, A Moslem Saint, p. 137)

   But we are getting ahead of ourselves, speaking of the fruit of a true dark night, being yet in the midst of describing it.

(28) Ibid, Vol. 14, 6,265,27; 3.401, 394; Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.194; Part 2, 2.142 2.142
(29) Jerry Katz, ed., Essential Writings on Nonduality (Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2007), p. 59
(30) E. Allison Peers, op. cit., p.110-111
(31) Ibid, Vol. 15, 3.64
(32) Darshan Singh, Streams of Nectar (Naperville, Illinois, 1993), p. 172
(32a) Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Sargent, Georgia: Christian Books Publishing House, 1975), p. 131
(33) Brunton, op. cit.,Vol. 2, 2.262
(34) E. Allison Peers, op. cit., p. 127
(35) Ibid, p. 125
(36) Ibid, p. 108
(37)Brunton, op. cit.,Vol. 15, 3.22-24, 3.58
(38) E. Allison Peers, op. cit.,p. 135-136
(39) Ibid, p. 153-154
(40) Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 15, 3.54
(40a) Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet (Boston: Shambhala, 1999), p. 140-141
(40b) Amy Schmidt, Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master (New York: BlueBridge, 2005), p. 33-34
(41) Talks with Ramana Maharshi (Carlsbad, California: Inner Traditions Publishing, 2001), pp.182
(41a) Darshan Singh, Love's Last Madness (Prescott, AZ: HOHM PRESS, 2001), pp.
(41b) Darshan Singh, Spiritual Awakening (Bowling Green, VA: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1982), p. 191-192, 221-222, 231-232, 234, 307
(42) Jean-Pierre deCaussade, Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence (Glascow, England: Collins, 1974), pp. 126-128
(43) Steven Harrison, Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search (New York, N.Y.: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 1997), p. 29
(44) Michael Molinos, The Spiritual Guide (Christian Books Publishing House, 1982), p.
(44a) Note that it may be more accurate to speak of this classic mystical 'dark night of the soul' as a purifying 'dark night of the psyche' (through the agency of the Holy Spirit), the result being union with the Divine Soul and not God per se, with a further recognition, revelation, merger or identification by the Soul with God as an even higher stage. For thoughts on this please see "PB and Plotinus: The Fallacy of Divine Identity", and "The Grandeur of a Sage", on this website.
(45) Brunton, op. cit.,Vol. 13, Part 2, 4.191
(46) Ibid, Vol. 12, Part 2, 2.143
(46a) Ibid, Vol. 9, Pt. 1, 1.384)
(46b) Kenneth Thurston Hurst, Paul Brunton: A Personal View (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications) p. 29-31:

   "Only a man in a higher state of consciousness can really depend upon God; because without such illumination he depends upon his ego to the end. No matter how much he prays for help he first tries to work out his problems by his own management. In the illumined state, he completely depends upon Good for everything. He no longer has any ambitions or desires. The desiring ego is dissolved. Only a grave inner crisis involving the crushing of the ego can bring on this God-conscious state. Very often this is not possible of achievement by ourselves so it has to be done by an outside force or by outside circumstances. It is seldom that a man's own voluntary power can shatter its ego shell. However, he can assist the process somewhat through a self-discipline, purification and trying to raise himself to a higher existence. But in the end he has to acknowledge the ego's limitations and turn to the Short Path or else circumstances or disasters must crush him. He is so much in the ego that he cannot see outside it and therefore cannot, unaided, destroy it. Ultimately, if he remains on the Long Path, unpleasant and humiliating experiences must finish this process. It is the dark night of the Soul, the shock of being driven out of his personal complacency. He cannot help himself and feels that no one in the world can help him either. In that darkness he is utterly and completely lost, and there is no place to turn for light or relief, no way out at all. He is forced to give up and cry out in desperation to the great Nothingness which surrounds him. He loses faith that God is merciful for he seems so deserted and alone."
   "When this experience happened to me, I felt dead and empty inside. I was suddenly faced with an entirely new problem which caused me intense mental anguish for about a day and a half. There seemed to be no way out from it. Desolation and emptiness covered my heart. Confusion and torment filled it. There seemed to be no one to whom I could turn for help or advice, and I could find no solution within myself and had no power to do anything within myself. It was impossible not to refrain from crying and giving away to tears as I sank deeper into this black state. I became oblivious of my physical surroundings, as I was so intensely wrapped up in my descending thoughts. I felt utterly lost within myself. All the people around me seemed like empty shells. I felt no affinity with them."
   "Suddenly, I realized that this was a crushing of the self by an unknown power beyond myself. It was then that I began fervently to pray, feeling forlorn, humbled, terrified and lost. I did not pray for any particular one thing but prayed only for help in a general sense. I lost the feeling of the passage of time. I felt severed from earthly reality and became dizzy at the thought that I had reached the end of my endurance. Then I swooned. The moments just before I fainted were filled with indescribable horror. But I soon awoke. A tiny flame of hope appeared in my heart. And then it grew and grew. My first thought was that God was answering my prayers. I began gradually to feel close to the people around me once more, closer than ever before. Some hours later reassurance gradually returned to me and I felt mature and newly born. Enlightenment seemed to come."
   "Next a feeling of oneness with God followed. I seemed to know and understand much that I had never understood before. My ego was going and my happiness increased every moment. I felt that this newfound faith would guide me through every possible situation...All day long I felt that I was in communion with God so that I was either praying or talking to Him, and he was constantly with me as my beloved companion, whose presence I felt strongly. At times I would become so immersed in this feeling that I thought I was God! I felt that the real me was invulnerable. No one could hurt it whatever they did to the outer person.
   The word 'I' was pronounced in me; I saw it was the only reality, all else was illusion...'I AM' is the foundation of truth and reality of the whole universe. I saw my body as a mere shell and all other people's bodies as shells. I felt like a bird, free of all desires, really detached from everything. I was not the body and felt so free of it that I knew I could not die; in the real 'I' I would always be able to live for it was God...I lived completely, vividly, and intensely in the present moment. There was no past and no future; they were both contained within it. This was not like the ordinary man's Now which is based on the passage of time. This had a timeless quality about it. It was an unmoving stillness and things, events, people, came into and flowed out of it. I realized that the passage of time was an illusion, that everything which was happening to the ego was not making any difference to the real self, which remained the same. Looking back upon the past years I still seemed to be in the same eternal Now which I had been in which I first experienced it. It is as if nothing has happened since then....."

(47) Ibid, Vol. 12, 5.189, 5.33, 5.262
(48) Paul Brunton, Essays on the Quest (York Beach, Maine:Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1985), p. 197
(49) Darshan Singh, op. cit., p. 407-408
(49a) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 2, 3.347
(50) Shantideva, The Way of the Boddhisattva (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997), p. 101
(50a) Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee, The Face Before I Was Born (Inverness, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1997), p. 140-141
(51) , op. cit.,Vol. 12, 3.114
(52) Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, op. cit., p.
(53) E. Allison Peers, op. cit., p. 123
(54) Ibid, p. 158-159, 162
(55) Guyon, op. cit., p. 126-131