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Spirituality is Medicine - not Philosophy

   First, two preliminary quotes to set the stage:

   ”One does not begin to know and feel one’s spiritual miseries until they begin to be cured.” - Fenelon

   “Once a man registers his name in the hospital, he cannot run away. The doctor will not let him go away unless his illness is completely cured.”
   - St. John of the Cross

   My spiritual Master, Sant Kirpal Singh, said, with a twinkle in his eyes, that I was “in a hospital,” shortly after I arrived at his ashram in the summer of 1973. Father Maximos of the Orthodox tradition tells us, in the book Gifts of the Desert, that when the University of Athens was created, theology was placed under the school of philosophy and law, but that was a big mistake. Rather, inasmuch as the Ecclesia or Church is foremost a spiritual hospital, the proper place for theology and religion should be in the school of medicine.

   The soul, the heart, is sick and must undergo a cure; the gist of that understanding, across the traditions, is the subject of this article. Unfortunately, what is in actuality a gift - spoken of in western mysticism as “the cross” - is often perceived by the soul otherwise and thus rejected. And so, the song goes, “Sometimes I think it’s a shame, when I get feeling’ better when I’m feeling no pain.” (Sundown; Gordon Lightfoot).

   One yogi, Swami Rudrananda, spoke very directly on this, one of the primary reasons that comparatively few advance in the spiritual way:

   "The basic reason that real growth does not occur is that no one wants to feel pain. We are animals in that respect, conditioned to seek out things that bring us pleasure, and to avoid those which hurt. Pain must occur in the growth process. When we avoid pain, we avoid growth. That is what stops ninety percent of the people dead in their tracks." (1)

   Countless teachers have said the same thing:

   “There are many who desire to advance and persistently beseech God to bring them to this state of perfection. Yet when God wills to conduct them through trials and mortifications, as is necessary, and hey are unwilling to suffer them and they shun them, flee from the narrow road of life [Mt. 7-14] and seek the broad road of their own consolation, which is that of their own perdition [Mt. 7-13]; thus they do not allow God to begin to grant their petitions…It is not that God wishes only a few of these spirits to be so elevated; he would rather want all to be perfect, but he finds few vessels that will endure so lofty and sublime a work.” - St. John of the Cross (1b)


   “You have wounded me in order to cure me, O divine hand, and you have put to death in me what made me lifeless, what deprived me of God’s life in which I now see myself live.” (1c)

   “You cannot realize God unless you suffer for him. Many aspire for God-realisation, but few are prepared to pay its price.” (2) - Sri Upasani Baba

   “Suffering is the way for realisation of God.” - Ramana Maharshi (3)

   "It is by suffering that suffering is overcome. For without suffering very few would see the need for self-purification which leads to the unfoldment of our Immortal Self." - Anandamayi Ma

   "The spiritual being will be born in the human soul, provided one willingly takes upon oneself the burden and pain caused by Divine Love...The horse that will bear us the quickest to God is suffering.” - Meister Eckhart (4)

   “The body is like Mary. Each of us has a Jesus, but so long as no pain appears, our Jesus is not born. If pain never comes, our Jesus goes back to his place of origin on the same secret path he had come, and we remain behind, deprived and without a share of him.” - Rumi (5)

   “If the spirit of him who has power descends upon you, do not abandon your place, for the cure will make great sins cease.” - Eccl. 10:4

   “Behold, blessed is the man whom God correcteth: therefore refuse not thou the chastising of the Almighty. For he maketh the wound, and bindeth it up: he smiteth, and his hands make whole.” - Job 5:17,18

   “It is only by the death of self that the soul can enter into Divine Truth, and understand in part what is the light that shineth in darkness.,,Nothing less than a divine operation can empty us of the creature and self, for whatever is natural tends constantly to fill us with the creature, and occupy us with ourselves.” - Pere La Combe (5a)

   "That which hurts, but is profitable, is drunk by the wise like medicine. For the result, afterwards attained, becomes incomparable." - Nagarjuna (6)

   "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.” - (6a)

   “The pale yellow-colored flower called the narcissus is often compared to a lover in mystic poetry. It is called the “patient,” one who is ailing, suffering from the malaise of love. As a result, this pale yellow flower is known as the ailing narcissus. And the malady of love is such that once we are infected, we can never find a cure for it. The lover may be in the elementary stages of this malaise, or he may be in the advanced stages when his life itself threatens to ebb away.” (6b)

   “Why give voice to the state of my heart? God knows well what I want. Oh my healer, I am sick for you - A cure from your hand is what I want.” (6c) - Sant Darshan Singh

   “If the patient has to be operated, and the doctor operates on him, for a while the patient may even curse the doctor, but the doctor will do his duty just the same.” - Bhai Sahib (6d)

   “Ask any physician and he’ll tell you there is no cure for my pain. Without the Beloved, I am heartbroken, sick. With him, I’m well. It’s as simple as that.” - Hafiz (7)

   “Tell my Beloved, since I am sick and he alone is my health, to give me health, and since I suffer and he alone is my joy, to give me joy; and since I die and he alone is my life, to give me life.” - St. John of the Cross

   “It has been the habit of man throughout the ages to heal people by applying some remedy to the outward body when the disease is deep inside.” - Jeanne Guyon (8)

   “Without the Lord every cell of my mind and body is in a state of anguish, and there is no sleep in my eyes. I am suffering in mind and body from the pain of separation. The poor doctors cannot diagnose my malady. Like one addicted to intoxicants and drugs, I can’t live without my Beloved even for a single moment. Those who have an intense desire to meet Thee are not interested in anything else.” - (Sikh) Guru Ram Das (9)

   “The ailment of bireh (feeling of separation) is chronic and has now gone deep into my bones. It is not possible to get rid of it. It is a pain of love which is even smothering my heart. The feeling of longing caused by separation troubles me at all times, and as a result my entire body is burning. Only one who has caused this pain or who undergoes it can understand this.” - Kabir (10)

   “You must go on burning in sorrow and pain and you must not resort to any treatment for this condition, for there is no remedy for this pain. It is a burning longing for communion with the Beloved, and for this there is no remedy.” - Hafiz (11)

   “We have no pain of love within us, otherwise the physician is always there. The physician of love has the power even to give life to the dead and is a fountain of mercy, but if we have no desire or no pangs, on whom shall He bestow His mercy?” - Hazur Baba Sawan Singh (11a)

   “O my mother! my heart has been so completely given away to my Beloved that I cannot live. I am prepared to surrender my life for the sake of my Beloved. This is my ailment and it will cost me my life. There is but one remedy, and that is that my Beloved should meet me. The snare of love has captured my heart and I have become senseless and indifferent to everything about me. O Paltu, who can teach us the way without a real physician in the form of my Master! O my mother! I have given my heart away and I am restless.” - Paltu (11b)

   “That which removes the ills of the waking state alone, is not the true sadhana [spiritual practice]. That alone is the real sadhana which removes the ills of all the three states.”

   “Tears of soft divine emotion are the panacea for all yogic ills.”
- Shri Atmananda (11c)

   “The perfect Master heals the heart; The healing is done in the heart.” - Bhai Nand Lal (12)

   “But you must remember that nothing can be achieved except in its proper time. Some persons must pass through many experiences and perform many worldly duties before they can turn their attention to God; so they have to wait a long time. If an abcess is lanced before it is soft, the result is not good; the surgeon makes the opening when it is soft and has come to a head.” - Sri Ramakrishna (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Ninth Printing, 2000, p. 162)

   [‘Lancing the boil’ was a favorite metaphor of Sri Ramakrishna for the grace of a Master working on the ego of a ripe devotee]

   “Suffering is a fundamental characteristic of the earthly dimension. It does not occur exclusively during times of misfortune - it is the permanent shadow of the unawakened self...It is an existential condition so chronic in nature that unawakened minds simply cannot detect it...It is better not to begin the spiritual journey if we are not ready to complete it - better not to open the wound of unconsciousness if we are not determined to heal it fully." - anadi (12a)

   "I have no dharma to give. I only cure diseases and undo knots.” - Rinzai (12b)

   “Rousing doubt when practicing Zen, one accords with dharmakaya. Then one feels lightness in body and mind, and no hindrance in any situation. But even if one experienced the unity of reality and appearance, and the whole world seems in harmony for the moment, it is not the ultimate...Because the life root has not been cut off, they don’t realize that even though they may have approached the Dharma, all is still within the realm of karmic consciousness. Speculating with their karmic consciousness, they are sick through and through. This is not Zen...You’ll never finish dying this way, nor will you thoroughly penetrate...Intending to return to the world with open arms to help others - you better encounter a true teacher or real Dharma friend instead. Such ones are great doctors who can help heal fatal ills and offer whatever is really needed. Never let self-satisfaction keep you from meeting them. If you do it is because you are attached to your own views. In Zen, there is no sickness worse than that....Disease is inevitable as long as this basic volitional clinging or desire to be - even to be enlightened - exists.” - Boshan (13) [Boshan reminds us that at a certain point a “final leap” is necessary, but it cannot be done by self-will, which is what keeps us in chains. In many paths it is understood in various ways that grace is needed to pull a ripe soul through this final illusory barrier.]

   Zen master Kushan Sunim likewise reminds us that abiding in the “disease” of emptiness - which the Buddha posited not as a finality but to counter the “disease” of existence - or even persevering further and “experiencing vividness and clarity, is not to be mistaken for awakening, but is merely the perception of the luminous nature of consciousness.” (The Way of Korean Zen, p. 67)

   Note: it may seem strange to consider experiencing lightness of body and mind, no hindrances, a state of oneness and the union of reality and appearance as being “sick through and through,” but classic Zen masters like Boshan are ruthless about settling for anything less than complete enlightenment as meaning that one is still quite ill! The most pernicious sickness at this stage is in being attached to ones own views and unwilling after such a deep awakening to visit a true Master who can “pull out his nails and spikes” and fully ‘cut off the root of life.’ “Otherwise, we may indulge and delight in temporary [even immaculate] experiences where all delusion is gone. But then self-delusion comes back with a vengeance; we may even think we’re the biggest no-self around! (13a). This theme to be explored further in “One-Eyed Monsters” on this website. One of the greatest Zen masters, recognizing this after having had a number of satori experiences culminating in a great Satori at the age of forty-one, lamented:

   “I feel like a physician who possesses a wonderful knowledge of medicine but has no effective means of curing an actual sickness. How can I possibly hope to help rid other sentient beings of their afflictions as long as I suffer from illness myself?” - Hakuin (13b)

   “There are only two diseases: one is riding an ass to search for an ass; the other is riding an ass and being unwilling to dismount. You yourself are the ass. Why do you ride on it? If you ride, you cannot cure your disease.” - Ch’an Master Shu-Chou (cited in Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, Part 1, 4.89)

   “Men suffer from various illnesses, for which they flock to physicians, clinics, and hospitals to find a cure. But they ignore the only illness which is more deeply rooted than all the others and which never leaves them. It is the ego’s octopus-like hold upon every atom of their being....What may such a one do about his trouble? He is a sick soul and needs a soul physician.” Paul Brunton (13c)

   "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I do not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

   “If the spirit of Him who has power descends upon you, do not abandon your place, for the cure will make great sins cease.” - Eccl. 10:4

   “I will give you back your health and heal your wounds, says the Lord.” - Jeremiah 30:17

   “Be not deceived in the midst of tribulation. There is no time in your life when you are nearer to God than when He has deserted you. The sun may be hidden behind the clouds, yet the sun has not changed its place, nor has one bit of its brightness been lost. The Lord allows a painful desertion of His presence from within you to purge and to polish you, to cleanse you and to despoil the Self. Your Lord does this so that you might have a clear-cut opportunity to give your whole being up to Him without any notice of personal gain, but rather only to be His delight. Although you may be groaning and lamenting and weeping, yet in the most secret and hidden places of your inmost being He is joyful and glad.” - Michael Molinos (14)

   “Religion is a hospital for spiritually sick people who want to be healed. To be healed they must submit themselves to suffering, namely, to bloodletting, to the lance, to the razor, to the probe, to the scalpel, to the fire, and to all the bitterness of medicine. In order to be spiritually cured, we have to submit to all the torture of the Divine Physician.” - Padre Pio (15)

   “If you feel weak, feeble, and powerless, well, so does the breeze. Being sick on the Path is a hundred times better than a healthy mind in a healthy body.” - Hafiz (16)

   "It is also noteworthy that those who feel in themselves the sickness of love, a lack of love, show they have some love, because they are aware of what they lack through what they have. Those who do not feel this sickness show they either have no love or are perfect in love."

   “God never makes you suffer unnecessarily. He intends for your suffering to heal and purify you. The hand of God hurts you as little as it can."

   “One does not begin to know and feel ones spiritual miseries until they begin to be cured.”
- Fenelon (17)

   "For the soul is now, as it were, undergoing a cure, in order that it may regain its health - its health being God Himself.”

   “God teaches not with ideas but by pains and contradictions.”

   “Pure love without any admixture of interior or self-love can only come to you from God, but to acquire a gift of such infinite value the soul is obliged to endure many depravations and trials. These are so many operations necessary for its purification, because we are always prone to become attached to the pleasure God allows us unless taught by sad experience to love Him even in the most terrible state of privation.”

   “Abandon yourself unreservedly to all that the Holy Spirit wishes to effect in you. It is for Him to determine the time, the duration, the manner, and the results of His operations, and for you to endure with submission, love and gratitude. Some of these results are extremely severe; but the most humiliating, the most bitter, are always the most sanctifying. Keep yourself, therefore, very quiet, and allow this good physician who has undertaken your cure to act as seems best to Him...Beg Him to treat you like a beast of burden that allows itself to be led, without resistance; or like a stone which receives the blows of the hammer, and takes what form the architect desires.”

   “Oh my God! How consoling this is, and how easily we could cast off our cares if, according to Your own words we could learn to look upon You as a loving Father, and upon ourselves as Your children, and to remember that You never show us more love than when You make us take bitter remedies for our cure! Have pity, Father of infinite goodness, on those who are sick, who, in their delirium turn against You, their good Physician, and refuse the medicine which is intended to procure them health and life.”

   “Like a wise surgeon He cuts the mortified flesh away from that which is sound to save the life of the patient, and to prevent the infection from spreading.”

   “When this storm is past 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.”

   “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 with 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.”

   “That which you experienced in Retreat was a slight increase of your ordinary state, resembling the paroxysms of a fever. This increase of trouble cannot but have been very salutary for you from the moment you accepted it, as you say you did. Keep quiet; God leads you, His grace works in you, although in a severe and crucifying manner, as is experienced in all violent remedies. Your spiritual maladies had need of remedies such as these; let your good Physician act as He best knows how; He will proportion the strength of the remedy to the power of the malady. Oh! how ill you were formerly without being aware of it! It was then that you ought to have taken the alarm, and not now that your convalescence is secured...Yes, indeed, this remedy is painful, but what fortunate effects are produced by it when you accept it lovingly from the hand of the kind Physician of your soul...Your only spiritual practice will be to continue, as now, in the hands of God like a rough stone to be shaped, cut, and polished, with heavy blows of the hammer and chisel, waiting patiently until the sovereign Architect arranges in what part of the building you are to be placed after you have been cut and shaped by His hand.”

   “No doubt, there occur, in your state of interior fever, paroxysms which seem to devour and consume you. These are caused by what is impure and earthly in the depths of the soil, which is thus consumed and devoured, like the evil humours of the body during the paroxysms of certain fevers. This is a symptom of cure not of illness.”

   “Interior privation, or death to self, is the most difficult renunciation of all; it is as though we were torn away from ourselves, or were flayed alive. The excruciating pain experienced by self-love, and the cries it utters, are an index to the power of the links which attach us to the creature, and to the necessity of this renunciation; for, the deeper the knife of the surgeon penetrates to the quick, the keener is the pain; and the greater the vitality one has, the stronger is the resistance to this death.”

   “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. 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 crushing weight that 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 round 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. You must therefore endure these operations with courage, with sweetness, avoiding as much as possible worrying, or distressing yourself interiorly. This is the good and sufficient penance that God requires of you...The waters of life are given to those who thirst for them.”

   “This state is usually the fruit of long years of combat and effort. The soul finds itself entering it when God, satisfied with the diligence with which it has laboured to die to all things, sets His own hand to the work to make it pass through that death to which the total privation of all things created leads. He strips it of all pleasure, even to that which is spiritual, of all inclination, of all light, to the end that, thus, it may become freed from the senses, dull, and as though annihilated. When God bestows this grace on a soul, it has hardly anything else to do than endure in peace this harsh operation, and to bear this gift of God in the profound interior silence of respect, adoration and submission. This is your task; in one sense a very easy one, since it means nothing more than to act as a sick person confined to his bed, and in the hands of his doctor and surgeon. He will suffer quite patiently in the expectation of a complete cure.You are in the same kind of position in the hands of the great and charitable Physician of our souls, and with a better founded certainty of a cure.”

   “Such a lively impression of your nothingness in the sight of God is one of the most salutary operations of the grace of the Holy Spirit. I know how much suffering this operation entails. The poor soul feels as if it would become utterly annihilated, but for all that it is only nearer the true life. In fact, the more we realize our nothingness the nearer we are to truth, since we were made from nothing, and drawn out of it by the pure goodness of our Lord. We ought therefore to remember this continuously, 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 we can arrive at the fullness of divine life and an intimate union with God. What else can be done when this painful but blessed hour arrives, but imitate Jesus Christ on the cross: commend ones soul to God, abandon oneself more and more utterly to all that this sovereign Master pleases to do to His poor creation, and to endure this agony for as long as He pleases. For the time that these crucifying operations continue, the understanding, the memory and the will are in a fearful void, in nothingness. Love this immense void since God deigns to fill it; love this nothingness since the infinitude of God is there...When these agonies begin, accustom yourself to repeat, “Yes, Lord, I desire to do Your holy will in all things, in union with Jesus Christ. The bitterest part of your trials, those ideas of being separate from God, which plunges you into a kind of hell, is the most divine of all the operations of divine love in you; but the operation is completely hidden beneath altogether contrary appearances. It is the fire which seems to destroy the soul while purifying it of all self-love, as gold is refined in the crucible.”
- deCaussade (18)

   “Strict as God seems to be in his dealings with us, he never inflicts any suffering solely to give us pain. He always has purification of the soul in view. The severity of the operation is caused by the depth of the malady to be cured. God would not cut if there were no sore. He only probes the ulcerated flesh. So, after all, it is our own destructive self-will that is the cause of what we suffer, and God's hand deals as gently as possible with us. But how deep our malady, how malignant our souls must be, since all the time he spares us so tenderly, yet puts us to such grievous pain."

   “The operation is painful, but is rendered necessary by our corruption, and the same cause makes it distressing; if our flesh were sound, the surgeon would use no knife; he only cuts in proportion to the depth of the wound, and the diseased condition of the parts; if we suffer greatly, it is because the evil is great; is the surgeon cruel because he cuts to the quick? Nay, on the contrary, it is both love and skill; he would treat in the same way his only and well-beloved son.”

   “What do you say to God when you are under the work of the cross? You need not say a lot to Him, or even think of Him much. He sees your suffering, and your willingness to submit. With people you love you do not need to continually say, “I love you with all my heart.” Even if you do not think about how much you love Him, you still love God every bit as much. True love is deep down in the spirit - simple, peaceful, quiet. How do you bear suffering? Silently before God. Do not disturb yourself by trying to manufacture an artificial sense of God’s presence. Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life - your job, your health, your inward failings - are really cures to the poison of your old nature. Learn to bear these sufferings in patience and meekness.”

   “While any self-love remains, we are afraid of its being revealed, but so long as the least symptom of it lurks in the most secret recesses of the heart, God pursues it, and by some infinitely merciful blow, forces it into the light. The poison then becomes the remedy; self-love, pushed to extremity, discovers itself in all its deformity by a transport of despair, and disgraces all the refinements, and dissipates the flattering illusions of a whole life. God lets you see who you really worship: yourself. You behold it and cannot turn your eyes away; and as you have no longer power over yourself, you cannot keep the sight from others...You ask for a remedy, that you may get well. You do not need to be cured, but to be slain; seek not impatiently for a remedy, but let death come.
[Note: compare with the earlier quote from St. John of the Cross, where he asked God for life; the difference is only apparent, for such life (divine) is only reached through death] Be careful, however, lest a certain courageous resolve to avail yourself of no remedy, be itself a remedy in disguise, and give aid and comfort to this cursed life. Seek no consolation for self-love, and do not conceal the disease. Reveal everything in simplicity and holiness, and then suffer yourself to die...But this is not to be accomplished by any exertion of strength. Weakness is become your only possession; all strength is out of place; it only serves to render the agony longer and more distressing...If it were possible to weaken him and hasten his death, we should abridge his sufferings, but we can do nothing; the hand alone that tied him to his torture can deliver him from the remains of suffering life.” Do not ask for cures or strength or even death. To ask for death is impatience. To ask for food or remedies is to prolong your agony. What shall you do then? Seek nothing. Hold to nothing. Confess everything, but not to gain comfort, but to gain humility and a desire to yield.“

   “It is by the circumcision of the heart that we are made children and inheritors of the faith of Abraham, in order that we may, like him, quit our native country without knowing whither we go. Blessed lot! to leave all and deliver ourselves up to the jealousy of God, the knife of circumcision! Our own hand can effect nothing but superficial reforms; we do not know ourselves, and cannot tell where to strike; we should never light upon the spot that the hand of God so readily finds. Self-love arrests our hand and spares itself; it has not the courage to sound itself to the quick. And besides, the choice of the spot and the preparation for the blow, deaden its force. But the hand of God strikes in unexpected places, it finds the very joint of the harness, and leaves nothing unscathed. Self-love then becomes the patient; let it cry out, but see to it that it does not stir under the hand of God, lest it interfere with the success of the operation. It must remain motionless beneath the knife; all that is required is fidelity in not refusing a single stroke...Stay still as He operates on you and His work will be a success.”
- Fenelon (19)

   “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life - your job, your health, your inward failings - are really cures to the poison of your old nature. Learn to bear these sufferings in patience and meekness.” - Fenelon (19a)

   “Learn, then, the lesson of becoming a little one, of becoming nothing. A man who fasts - leaving off all those things his appetite improperly craves - does a good thing. But the Christian who is fasting from his own desires and his own will, and who feeds upon God’s will alone, does far better. This is what St. Paul calls the circumcision of the heart.

   “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."
- Madame Guyon (20)

   “The wound left by material fire is only curable by other medicines, whereas the wound affected by the cautery of love is incurable through medicine; for the very cautery that causes it, cures it, and by curing it, causes it. As often as the cautery of love touches the wound of love, it causes a deeper wound of love, and the more it wounds, the more it cures and heals. The more wounded the lover the healthier the lover is, and the cure caused by love is to wound and inflict wound upon wound, to such an extent that the entire soul is dissolved into a wound of love. And now all made one wound of love, it is completely healthy in love, and transformed in love.”

   “Reveal yourself Presence, and may the vision of Your beauty be my death, for the sickness of love is not cured except by your very presence and image. The reason love sickness has no other remedy than the presence and image of the Beloved is that, since this sickness differs from others, its medicine also differs. In other sicknesses, contraries are cured by contraries, but love is incurable except by things in accord with love. The reason for this is that love of God is the soul’s health, and the soul does not have full health until love is complete. Sickness is nothing but the lack of health, and when the soul does not have a single degree of love she is dead. But when she possesses some degrees of love of God, no matter how few, she is then alive, yet very weak and infirm because of her little love. In the measure that love increases she will be healthier, and when love is perfect she will have full health.”

   “From what has been said, it is clear that God grants the soul in this state
[specifically, the dark night of the soul] 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...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 skin, He may begin to 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.”

   “People, then, should live with great patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials God places on them, whether they be exterior or interior, spiritual or bodily, great or small, and they should accept all as from God’s hand as a good remedy and not flee from them, for they bring health. In this matter let them take the counsel of the Wise Man: “If the spirit of him who has power descends upon you, do not abandon your place (the place and site of your probation, which is the trial he sends you), for the cure will make great sins cease
[Eccl. 10.4]; that is, it will cut off the roots of your sins and imperfections - your evil habits. The combat of trials, distress, and temptations deadens the evil and imperfect habits of the Soul and purifies and strengthens it. People should hold in esteem the interior and exterior trials God sends them, realizing that there are few who merit to be brought to perfection through suffering and to undergo trials for the sake of so high a state.”

   “Once a man registers his name in the hospital, he cannot run away. The doctor will not let him go away unless his illness is completely cured.”

   “No medicine can be gotten for these wounds of love except from the One who causes them.”
- St. John of the Cross (21)

   “He who has given the malady is best equipped to grant the cure.” - Hindu proverb

   “Big ordeal? BIG REVELATION!” The Guru may give happiness or misery, for he has to make a beautiful form from a rough piece of stone and therefore has to wind up all the karmas; but a true follower will never complain, no matter what condition he has to face in life - no matter what hardships the Guru allows." - Kirpal Singh

   “When the personal “me” stops the endless struggle for a while and remains quiet, inactive, and passive, the impersonal “I Who Am” arises and, little by little, gently suffuses it with new life and heals it with great love.”

   “He who has passed through this deepest and longest of the “dark nights” which precede 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 be also a little touched by that melancholy which must come to one who not only has plumbed the depth of life’s anguish himself, but has also been the constant recipient of other people’s tales of sorrow.”
- Paul Brunton (22)

   “For myriad 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
- Shantideva (23)

   For the Buddha asked:

   “Which is greater, the tears that were shed from existence to existence while wandering this samsara, crying red and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing, or the waters in the four great oceans?” The Buddha gave the answer that the tears shed were truly greater.”

   “Long have you repeatedly experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while wandering this long, long samsara, crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing, are greater than the waters in the four great oceans.”

   “Long have you repeatedly experienced the death of a father...the death of a brother... the death of a sister...the death of a son...the death of a daughter... loss with regard to relatives... loss with regard to wealth...loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while wandering this long, long time, crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing, are greater than the waters in the four great oceans.”

   “Why is that? From an inconceivable beginning comes birth. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are being reborn repeatedly. Long have you thus experienced distress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries, enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”
-Buddha (24)

   Finally, a Catholic priest, Henri J. Nouwen, gives another perspective on growth and pain:

    “As long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist. This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering. Your pain is the concrete way in which you are participating in the pain of humanity. Paradoxically, therefore, healing means moving from your pain to the pain...Real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share in humanity’s pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life.” (25)

   “There are little graces, such as those which produce the glimpse; but there is only one great Grace: this produces a lasting transformation, a deep radical healing and permanent enlightenment.” - Paul Brunton (26)


   “Hospitals” for sick souls may even extend to the afterlife. Somewhat akin to the concept of 'Pure Lands' in Buddhism, albeit perhaps on a less grandiose scale, is that of beings on the subtle planes manifesting a place or region for the temporary help of beings that have 'lost their way'. Thus, it seems to be a capacity we all have in potential. This has been mentioned and experienced by both David Spangler and Daskalos (the Cypriote esoteric Christian mystic whose teachings are explored in “The Idea of Man” on this website). Spangler writes of inner exploration he had with his guide 'John':

   "I learned that for John travel on the inner way was not so much from place to place but from one being to another. For John all places were the manifestation of living intelligences. We moved through life, rather than through space, and relationship was the road we traveled on."

   John showed him a place where certain souls might go after death that was animated by what appeared to them as the image of a feminine presence. He said:

   "She is the presence who creates and sustains this realm...She is one of many such beings who use their own living energies to create a place dedicated to the welfare and succor of others. In your world, a wealthy woman might pay to have a hospital built. Here, this being, who is rich in life and compassion and spirit, is the hospital. This realm exists because it is needed as a place of healing, but she is its architect and its life. This is not just a place, you see, but a living presence...She takes into herself the conditions of the people who are here...Left to themselves, their pity and depression could implode into a hard nugget of selfishness and despair, making it very difficult for them to find liberation and move to higher levels of consciousness. But within her love and spirit, their energy is kept lively and moving in ways they cannot do for themselves. It is as if they have forgotten to breathe, and she is breathing for them. This will make possible their eventual liberation from their self-enclosed state." (27)

   In Buddhism, also, there is thought to be a class of bodhisattva possessing great compassion who choose to be icchantika, incapable of realizing enlightenment themselves in order to save those who are otherwise irredeemable. All is well.

1. John Mann, Rudi: 14 Years with My Teacher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rudra Press, 1987), p. 137
1b. Kavanough/Rodriguez trans., The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanza 2:27
1c. Ibid, stanza 2.16
2. Sayings of Upasani Baba, p. 17
3. Talks of Ramana Maharishi
4. source misplaced
5. Helminski, The Pocket Rumi
5a. Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon & Pere La Combe, Spiritual Progress (Gideon House Books, 216), p. 204-205
6. Nagarjuna, founder of the emptiness doctrine of Madhyamika Buddhism, interestingly said, “Believers in emptiness are incurable.”
6a. Darshan Singh, Streams of Nectar (Naperville, Illinois: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1993), p. 172
6b. Darshan Singh, Spiritual Awakening (Bowling Green, VA: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1982), p. 222
6c. Darshan Singh, Love’s Last Madness (Prescott, Arizona: Hohm Press, 2001), p. 85
6d. Irena Tweedie, Daughter of Fire (Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 1986), p. 219
7. The Illuminated Hafiz (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2019), p. 69
8. Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Sargent, Georgia: SeedSowers, 1975), p. 121
9. Hazur Baba Sawan Singh, The Philosophy of the Masters, Series Two (Beas, India: Radhasoami Satsang, 1964), p. 78-79
10. Ibid, p. 82
11. Ibid, p. 160
11a. Ibid, p. 220
11b. Ibid, p. 200
11c. Nitya Tripta, ed., Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda (Salisbury, UK: Non-Duality Press and Stillness Speaks, 2009) Vol. 2, # 715, 1059

The second quote may appear somewhat unique for a Vedantist, but one must remember that Shri Atmananda was not only a sage but an acharya, i.e., one accomplished in different paths. He also said: “If it is the cure you need, information about the composition and qualities of the medicine is not relevant.” (#622)

And, as a keen vedantist, from a higher point of view he argued:

“You are the Ultimate Reality, the one without a second. Therefore, loneliness is inevitable and you welcome it; because every activity of yours is meant to make you lonely. You want Happiness, which is yourself alone, and when you are in your true nature you cannot share it with any other, because there is no other there. When there is no duality, there is always fear. Fearlessness obtains only in non-duality or loneliness. In fact, you are that always. Its nature is Peace or pure Happiness and therefore you never want to lose it. So, naturally, no remedy is called for.” (# 868)

[No ‘remedy’ for such an ailment, perhaps, but, nevertheless, much courage, patience, endurance, and understanding on the part of an aspirant].

12. Hazur Baba Sawan Singh, op. cit., Series Three, p. 75
12a. anadi, book of enlightenment (www.anaditeaching.com, 2010), p. 45, 36
12b. source misplaced
13. Jeff Shore, Great Doubt (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2016), p. 53-54, 76
13a. Ibid, p. 77
13b. Norman Waddell, trans., Wild Ivy, The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin (Shambhala, 1999), p. xxv
13c. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, (Burdett, New York: The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation, 1986), Vol. 6, Part One, 3.32; Vol. 3, Part One, 3.58
14. Michael Molinos, The Spiritual Guide (Auburn, Maine: The SeedSowers, 1982), p. 72
15. Ruffin, Bernard, Padre Pio: The True Story (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1982), p.
16. The Illuminated Hafiz op. cit., p. 118
17. Fenelon, The Complete Fenelon (Brewster. Massachusetts: Paraclete Giants, 2008), p.
18. E.J. Strickland, trans., Abandonment to Divine Providence/Spiritual Counsels (Exeter, England: The Catholic Records Press), p.
19. Fenelon, op. cit., also in Spiritual Progress
19a. Fenelon, The Seeking Heart (Christian Book Publishing House, 1992), p. 23
20. Madame Guyon, The Way to God
21. Kavanaugh/Rodriguez, trans., The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Living Flame of Love, pp.
22. Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 14, 5:133, Vol. 15, 3:1
23. Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997), p. 101
24. Samyutta Nikàya, Part II, XV.3
25. Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (New York: Doubleday, 1998), p.103
26. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 12, Part Two, 5:13
27. David Spangler, Apprenticed To Spirit (New York: Riverhead Books, 2011), p. 122-124