Caught on the Path -  the Master Trap

   Edited by Peter Holleran


   We seek through our own efforts a spiritual self-reliance, yet often find in spite of it all that we are coming to the end of our rope, with a need for reliance on a Higher Power, as Ramana Maharshi would say, or "Other-Power", the term used by Shinran Buddhism. Grace must take a hand in this affair and show us the way beyond the conceptions, expectations and limitations of our core wounds, mind, ego, and dualistic thinking. The following are a few quotes for contemplation from various traditions.

"Hope indeed is misery greatest, Hopelessness a bliss above the rest."

   Shrimad Bhagavata Purana 11.8.44

“The child cries and [the mother] comes to give him something to eat and again goes away. Again he cries until nothing satisfies him but the mother taking him in her arms. When you want nothing else Other than Him, He comes. Just as mothers always have pity, grace for the child, so it is with Master's Love. With His little thought, you weep like anything. Do you follow?”

   Kirpal Singh, unpublished talk

“Bhakti is our mother. She does not expect her infant child, embroiled in mud, to first clean itself and then climb into her lap. Rather, she picks up the child, bathes and wipes him clean, beautifies him and then offers him to the father’s (god’s) lap."

   Narada Bhakti Sutras

"There will come a day when you will feel totally helpless, a mere pawn of destiny, and then you will begin to realize that God alone is your haven of security."

   Paramhansa Yogananda, Journey to Self-Realization, Vol. III, p. 4

"When one cries one's inside become cleansed, just as water cleans the outside. I said: "I am unable to do what you tell me to do. I simply do not know how. The only thing I can do is cry." She said: "By this all will be achieved."

   Atmananda, a devotee of Anandamayee Ma, Death Must Die

"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?"

"Only when the ego, thwarted and disappointed, hurt and suffering, finds that it cannot sufficiently change its character, is it ready to beg, out of its helplessness, for Grace. So long as it believed that by its own power it could do so, it failed. And the way to ask for Grace is to sit perfectly still, to do nothing at all, since all previous doing failed."

"This thought that we are hermetically sealed in our five senses, that our sense-world is but a mere fragment of the total existence, and that such existence is itself a mere shadow of reality, is enough to awe us into a feeling of utter insignificance and helplessness."

"When such a mood of powerlessness overwhelms us utterly, we begin at last to cast all further hope for victory upon Grace alone. We know that we cannot save ourselves and we look to the higher power. We realize that self-effort is absolutely necessary to our salvation, but we discover later that it is not enough for our salvation. We have to be humbled to the ground in humility and helplessness before Grace will appear and itself finish the work which we have started."

"As soon as he believes he is foolish and sinful, the higher self will begin by its grace to help him overcome these faults. Then when his humility extends until it becomes a realization of utter helplessness, the moment has come to couple it with intense prayer and ardent yearning for divine grace. And this humility towards the higher self must become as abiding an attitude as firmness towards the lower one. It must persist partly because he must continually realize that he needs and will forever need its grace, and partly because he must continuously acknowledge his ignorance, folly, and sinfulness.

"Success ultimately depends not on the conscious efforts he puts forth but on the mysterious reaction to those efforts. This does not of course mean that the efforts are valueless in themselves for without them there would be no reaction. It means that the over-consciousness gets to work independently upon him at a certain stage. When this actually manifests itself it will not be during any of his struggles to obtain it but during the periods of cessation from those struggles, not during positive concentration but during the absence of concentration. It becomes articulate not during thinking about it but during the intervals of not thinking about it. Henceforth, whatever has to be done, will not be done by himself. Instead, it will be done to him. He will be taken by the hand, as it were, and led into the profound stillness that guards the threshold of the Overself. Across that threshold he will receive the reply to the question: What Am I? Like a loving mother the Overself will takes its progeny up into itself at this wonderful moment of initiation and thus the inner rebirth will occur. It will come as the culmination of long striving but it is not itself an act of striving. For only the divine grace can bring it about."

"Eventually we reach a point, a very advanced point, where the ego sees its own limitation, perceives its helplessness and dependence, realizes that it cannot lift itself up into final illuminations. It should then surrender itself wholly to the Overself and cast its further development on the mercy and Grace of the power beyond it. It will then have to go through a waiting period of seeming inactivity, spiritual stagnation, and inability to feel the fervour of devotion which it formally felt. This is a kind of dark night of the soul. Then slowly, it begins to come out of this phase, which is often accompanied by mental depression and emotional frustration, into a higher phase where it feels utterly resigned to the will of God or destiny, calm and peaceful in the sense of accepting that higher will and not in any joyous sense, patiently waiting for the time when the infinite wisdom will bring it what it once sought so ardently but what it is now as detached from as it is detached from worldly ambitions. After this phase there will come suddenly unexpectedly and in the dead of night, as it were, a tremendous Realization of the egoless state, a tremendous feeling of liberation from itself as it has known itself, a tremendous awareness of the infinitude, universality, and intelligence of life."

   Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, 3.54; Vol. 12, Part 2, 5.121; 5.131; Essays on the Quest, p. 186;
                        Notebooks, Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.55; The Wisdom of the Overself, 1984, p. 425

"The down cycle is absolutely essential for spiritual realization. You must have failed deeply on some level or experienced some deep loss or pain to be drawn to the spiritual dimension. Or perhaps your very success became empty and meaningless and so turned out to be failure."

   Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

"..there is in the core of our being a basic anxiety, a little empty hole from which all other forms of anxiety and unease draw their strength. In its pure form, this anxiety is experienced only by people with an introspective and philosophical turn of mind, and even then only rarely. If one has never felt it oneself, no amount of explanation will convince. If one has felt it, one will never forget, however much one may try. It may come upon you when you have been asleep, withdrawn from the world; you wake up in the middle of the night and feel a kind of astonishment at being there, which then gives way to a fear and horror at the mere fact of being there. It is then that you catch yourself by yourself, just for a moment, against the background of a kind of nothingness all around you, and with a gnawing sense of your powerlessness, your utter helplessness in the face of this astonishing fact that you are there at all. Usually, we avoid this experience as much as we possibly can, because it is so shattering and painful. People who are busy all the time, who must always think of something, who must always be doing something, are incessantly running away from this experience of the basic or original anxiety. What we usually do is to lean and to rely on something else than this empty centre of ourselves. The Buddhist contention is that we will never be at ease before we have overcome this basic anxiety, and that we can do that only by relying on nothing at all."

   Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, p. 22-23

“I do not know that my essential wish - to escape from the dualistic illusion, generator of anguish - is in process of being realised in me by something other than my personal ‘me’; I do not believe that I can count on anyone but on myself: I believe myself therefore obliged to do something. I take fright in believing myself alone, abandoned by all; necessarily then I am uneasy and my aggitation neutralises by degrees the beneficial work of my deeper self......Perfect Felicity does not await me above, but below; it does not await me in that which I see actually as a triumph, but in that which appears to me actually as a disaster. My perfect joy awaits me in the total annihilation of my hopes...One must thoroughly understand that the total disaster in the middle of which satori awaits us does not necessarily coincide with a practical exterior disaster. The realising disaster, the satori disaster, consists in an the clear vision of the nullity which is at the end of all of our hopes. The realising disaster does not consist in the practical ruin of hopes which would continue to exist in us (this would lead to suicide, not to satori), but in the annihilation of the hopes themselves. The man that one habitually calls ‘desperate’ is definitely not desperate; he is filled with hopes to which the world opposes a flat refusal; therefore he is very unhappy. The man who has become really desperate, who no longer expects anything from the world of phenomena, is flooded by the perfect joy which at last he ceases to oppose.”

   Hubert Benoit, Zen and the Psychology of Transformation -The Supreme Doctrine, p. 106 114-115)

"It's not about getting way from our imperfect selves toward some perfect selves; this is about just simply allowing all to be as it is until all battles fall away and we're just left shining, no more perfect than we ever were in this me, and yet this perfection shines through us. All these improvement projects to perfect this tacked-together piece of doo-doo we call the personality that we think we need. If we get that a little bit better looking then we'll attract bliss. No, it's about it just crumbling down out of disrepair. And then what's left is just this emptiness, and out of the emptiness shines the Beloved."

   Jeannie Zandi, http://www.jeanniez

"There is difficulty in practice, but in anything we undertake, we have to pass through difficulty to reach ease. In Dharma practice, we begin with the truth of dukkha, the pervasive unsatisfactoriness of existence. But as soon as we experience this, we lose heart. We don't want to look at it. Dukkha is really the truth, but we want to get around it somehow."

"It's similar to the way we don't like to look at old people, but prefer to look at those who are young. If we don't want to look at dukkha, we will never understand dukkha, no matter how many births we go through. Dukkha is noble truth. If we allow ourselves to face it, then we will start to seek a way out of it. If we are trying to go somewhere and the road is blocked, we will think about how to make a pathway. Working at it day after day, we can get through. When we encounter problems, we develop wisdom like this. Without seeing dukkha, we don't really look into and resolve our problems; we just pass them by indifferently."

"My way of training people involves some suffering, because suffering is the Buddha's path to enlightenment. He wanted us to see suffering, and to see origination, cessation, and the path. This is the way out for all the aryas, the awakened ones. If you don't go this way, there is no way out. The only way is knowing suffering, knowing the cause of suffering, knowing the cessation of suffering, and knowing the path of practice leading to the cessation of suffering. This is the way that the aryas, beginning with stream entry, were able to escape. It's necessary to know suffering."

   Achan Chah

"What most delights the heart of God is that you should hope against all hope; that is to say, against the apparent impossibility of seeing what you hope for realized...You will only attain to this hope when God shall have completely destroyed your self-confidence, root and branch, and this cannot be affected without retaining you for some time in the utmost spiritual poverty...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."

   Jean-Pierre deCaussade, Spiritual Counsels, Book Seven, Letters I, IX

"The utter annihilation that [PB] speaks not like the annihilation that you experience when you're going to die. Because when you die, there's almost a hidden certainty that you won't die - something like the ego knows it won't die, it'll just reappear, come back again in a different form. But the utter annihilation he speaks about... is that the very root-nature of the ego faces its own extinction. It's a different kind than when a person dies. A person dies with hope; there, there's no hope."

"You have to find out that you are impotent to change yourself. And you're not going to find out unless you try, and you really have to try because you can't kid the Soul. You'll never know what the limits are until you try. You have to exhaust whatever potentiality you have before you can say, "I give up." You can't say, "I give up," before you've started; that would be phony. But you're actually going to have to reach the point of satiation with frustration. I think I must have called on that higher help a thousand and one times. It doesn't hear me. It says, "Try harder."

   Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way, p. 220; unpublished class notes (The Fallacy of Divine Identity), 7/13/83

"You should be in a state off total helplessness; then the answer will come."

   U.G. Krishnamurti

"What occurs when there is no psychologist, no guru, no god to help us? What occurs when there is no resolution to our conflict, no enlightenment, no end to our sorrow? What occurs when there is only emptiness and nothing to fill it? Our world, our life, our relationships collapse. We collapse. This collapse of our identity and the impossibility of escape is the end and the beginning. This "dark night of the soul," through which nothing can pass, is not an event, not an enlightenment. It is not in time or of time. It is not about us, or becoming something better. It is not causal, not the result of anything. No one can take us to this or through this. And we cannot create it, hurry it, or end it. It is a moment, a lifetime. Having been reduced to nothing, nothing may then express itself. This expression of nothingness is love."

   Stephen Harrison, Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search, p. 31-32

"The seeker who sits in meditation with the intention of achieving enlightenment sits and waits patiently for enlightenment to happen. When nothing happens, he becomes frustrated. He goes seeking some other teacher and some other path. He cannot help it. All this is part of an evolutionary process which will go on through many lives and many body-mind organisms. The process continues until a particular body-mind organism becomes evolved highly enough spiritually to receive the sudden apperception that the seeker cannot achieve what he is seeking because he is himself what he is seeking. The seeker is the sought. Until the evolution is complete, as Ashtavakra says, Truth only confounds the already confused seeker (though this is the process of spiritual evolution). However, the extremely intelligent person, one who is ready for the happening of sudden illumination, will accept the ineluctable fact that the illusory human individual cannot possibly have any volition or choice, and leave the entire matter of bondage and liberation to His will. And such surrender brings about a tremendous sense of freedom."

"The spontaneous urge which turned you into a seeker in the first place will not let you stop seeking. Yet this is necessary, because it is only the deepest frustration generated by the objective comprehender which will be the catalyst, at the appropriate time (over which you can have no control) for that very objective comprehension to be suddenly transformed into subjective apperception."

"You will understand that the seeking is not of your choice but that the seeking itself is an impersonal event in the impersonal process of spiritual evolution, in which "you" are merely an instrument."

"This understanding, where the problem is not solved but dissolved, can only happen, at the appropriate time, at the appropriate place, in an appropriate body-mind organism duly evolved to be able to receive this understanding. It can only happen through what might be called Grace.

   Ramesh Balsekar, A Duet of One, p. 164-165, 181, 196, 198

"When you see that you don't exist as a separate, controlling entity there is a sense of relief, a surrendering that happens. You can't surrender because you don't exist as a separate controller. Have you ever tried to surrender? It doesn't work. But seeing that there's no way you can do it, seeing there is no 'you' who can do it, it's possible for it to happen...The real key to seeing through the 'I' concept is seeing for yourself that this 'I' that you feel you are has no power, no control over your experience. The 'I', the me, the ego, the sense of being a separate, controlling entity is false."

   Stephen Wingate, The Outrageous Myths of Enlightenment, p. 91, 94

“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.”

   Jacob Boehme, The Way to Christ, Treatise Eight

"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 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."

   St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul

"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."

"When God honors a soul by being jealous of its love, the greatest favor He can confer upon it is to gradually deprive it of everything that could turn its love away from Him; because never would it have sufficient courage and strength to detach itself."

"And so all our good things need purifying, so that they will not foster a merely natural life in us. Our corrupt nature finds a very subtle food in the graces that are most opposed to nature. Self-love is fed, not merely by humiliations and austerities, by fervent prayer and mortification - but even by the fullest self-renunciation and utter sacrifice. There is an infinite amount of moral strength in the thought that we have no strength at all and that amid such a horrible trial we are still yielding ourselves up unreservedly. And so, to make the sacrifice real, we must give up even our sacrifice in our sacrifice! The only way to find God truly is in readiness to part with all his gifts, this thorough sacrifice of self and all inward resources. God's exceeding jealousy exacts it, and you can easily see how we never lose ourselves in him until all else fails us. A man who is falling into an abyss is not completely cast down as long as he can clutch hold of the sides. And self-love, even when God overthrows it, clutches in its despair at every gleam of hope, like a drowning person grasping at straws.

   Fenelon, The Complete Fenelon

“You are not ready to accept the fact that you have to give up. A complete and total ’surrender’…. It is a state of hopelessness which says that there is no way out…. Any movement in any direction, on any dimension, at any level, is taking you away from Yourself…"

"It is total surrender, throwing in the towel, throwing in the sponge - and what comes out of this is jnana...All those to whom this kind of thing has happened have really worked very hard, touched rock bottom, staked everything. It does not come easily. It is not handed over to you on a gold platter by somebody.”

   U.G. Krishnamurti, The Mystique of Enlightenment

"Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough. Hard facts alone can show the absolute nothingness of the self-image...When you demand nothing of the world, nor of God, when you want nothing, seek nothing, expect nothing, then the Supreme State will come to you uninvited and unexpected."

   Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

"For whatever reasons, the fact remains that true conviction comes only after the lack of meaningful alternatives have been vividly, and intensely experienced. The entire structure of one’s existence must necessarily be dramatically questioned and undermined. It is not that the mind is being convinced in this affair, it is being destroyed. This insight is not a mindful one, but an intuitive one, and incredibly deep grasp of the idea of non-alternative, hopelessness, death. One must vividly see the absoluteness of his fear, his avoidance..This crisis is the heart informing the mind..It is not an insight of wisdom, but of profound ignorance, an insight of darkness, of death. There is no place to go. It is the ‘bottom of the pit’; end.”

Jah Jae Noh, Do You See What I See?, p. 62, 152, 155

"You do not let go of anything. That is another trick of the ego's designed to keep it (seemingly) in charge of the show. Everything is taken from you."

   Shawn Nevins, TAT, 2002

"There are no problems. There is nothing wrong. Everything is unfolding as it should. Everything happens in its own time. Space and time are illusions. They really do not exist. They're stationary. Causation doesn't exist either. No thing has a cause, therefore no thing has an effect. Cause and effects are again products of your own mind. When the mind is quiet, karma ceases. Samskaras are non-existent. There never was a cause for anything. But if you feel that in a previous life you did something wrong and now you are paying the price, or if you think that you did something wrong in this life and you're paying the price, then you'll pay the price, because that's what you think."

   Robert Adams

"If the longing is there, Realization will be forced on you even if you do not want it...Sadhanas [spiritual practices] are needed so long as one has not realized it. They are for putting an end to obstacles. Finally, there comes a stage when a person feels helpless notwithstanding the sadhanas. He is unable to pursue the much-cherished sadhana, also. It is then that God's Power is realized. The Self reveals itself."

   Ramana Maharshi, Talks, p. 182, 101-102

"Such longing is possible only through God's hidden presence. We cannot long for something that is not intimately close to us. Thirst is more than the absence of water. It is not experienced by stones, but only by living beings that depend on water. Who knows more about living water, the person who opens the water tap daily without much thinking, or the thirst tortured traveler in the desert in search for a spring?"

   Father Joseph Neuner, S.J., "Mother Teresa's Charism," Review for Religious 5 (2001), p. 485

"By their failures lovers are made aware of their Lord. Lack of success is the guide to Paradise."

   Maulana Rumi

"Failure is the foundation of success, and the means to achieve it."

   Lao Tzu

"...Jiriki is self-power. Tariki is other-power. The Pure Land school is known as the other-power school because it teaches that tariki is most important in attaining rebirth in the Pure Land or regeneration or enlightenment or salvation. Whatever name we may give to the end of our religious efforts, that end comes from the other-power, not from self-power. This is the contention of Shin followers...

This doctrine, other-power... is based on the idea that we humans are relative-minded, and as long as we are so constituted there is nothing in us, no power which will enable us to cross the stream of birth and death. Amida must come from the other side and carry us on the boat of all efficient vows - that is, by means of his hongan, his friendly Dharma.

There is a deep and impassable chasm between Amida and ourselves, and we are so heavy-laden with Karma hindrance that we cannot shake it off by our own power. Amida must come and help us, extend his arms of help from the farther end. This is what generally is taught by the Shin school. But from another point of view, however ignorant and impotent and helpless we may be, we will never grasp Amida' s arms unless we exhaust everything we have in our efforts to reach the other end.

It is all right to say other-power does everything by itself. We just let it accomplish its work, but we must nevertheless become conscious of the other-power's doing its work in us. Unless we are conscious of Amida's doing his work, we shall never be saved. We can never be conscious or sure of the fact that we are born in the Pure Land and have attained our Enlightenment. To acquire this consciousness, we must exhaust all our efforts. Amida may be standing and beckoning us to come to the other shore where he is standing, but we cannot see Amida until we have done all we can do. Self-power is not what is needed, really, to cross the stream. Amida will extend his arms of help only when we realize that our self-power is of no account.

Since we cannot achieve the end we try to accomplish, Amida' s help must be recognized. We must become conscious of it. In fact, recognition comes only after we have strained all our efforts to cross the stream by ourselves. We only realize the inefficacy of self-power when we try to make use of that power, when we become conscious of how worthless self-power is. The other-power is all-important, but this all-importantness is known only to those who have striven, by means of self-power, to attempt the impossible.

This realization or the worthlessness of self-power may also be Amida's work. In fact it is, but until we achieve recognition we do not realize that Amida has been doing all this for us and in us. Therefore, striving is a prerequisite of realization. Spiritually or metaphysically speaking, everything is finally from Amida, but we must remember that we are relative beings. As such, we cannot survey things unless we first try to do our best on this plane of relativity. Crossing from the relative plane to the transcendental or absolute plane - the plane of the other power - may be impossible, logically speaking, but it appears an impossibility only before we have tried everything on this side..."

   D. T. Suzuki, Shin Buddhism

"It is only after we have made every effort to perfect ourselves, to improve our condition, to solve our own problems, that we discover our helplessness."

   Darshan Singh, Streams of Nectar, p. 337

"Grace is indeed needed to turn a man into a Saint and he who doubts it does not know what a Saint or a man is."

   Pascal, Pensees