Pierced by the Dark Ray of Infused Contemplation, the adept sees no immediate remedy from the awful desolate landscape which presents itself. Recollecting past spiritual gains only intensifies the grief of its loss. Advanced adepts who have entered into the Dark Night of the Spirit and who have accumulated past merit, experience tremendous grief in the sudden and all-encompassing realization of just how far removed they are from such former consolations. They despair of never being able to regain them in the same form as before.
Added to these great lamentations is the fact that these adepts who have now been baptized in the Dark Contemplation no longer find any solace in former spiritual doctrines or spiritual teachers. Any form of consolation offered from these spiritual guides only compounds the affliction. In truth, therefore, there is no viable remedy. Until the Unborn Spirit has finished these final purifications, nothing—no remedial cure—will help to dispel the anguish that must be endured totally alone and unaided. The adept will remain as such until one’s spirit is humbled and tempered, until one becomes so soft and supple and refined that one enters the Unitive Enterprise—the final Unitive Encounter with the Unborn Mind.
Even though the adept would prefer to have it otherwise, if this encounter with the Dark Purifying Agent is authentic, the Dark Night of the Spirit will last for an indefinite number of years, despite the intensity of the Unitive Purification. Although, during this process, the Unborn Spirit will grant intervals of relief in which the Dark Contemplation temporarily ceases the purgation and its Dark Ray issues-forth direct Illumination upon the adept’s spirit. This is when one feels that they have been released from the confined belly of the beast into the Absolute Freeing Boundlessness of the Unborn. One now experiences the sweetness of what the final absolvement and Union with the Unborn will be like.
The adept perceives that this Illuminative Reprieve is an indication that the Dark Purification is working and that one’s present tribulations will finally cease. When the Imageless Hand of the Unborn touches the adept, one feels that everything experienced as difficult in the past is finally over and that one will never be far from Spiritual Blessings ever again. But alas! When the reprieve ends the tribulations intensify even more terribly than before. The veil of Dark Contemplation descends once again and leads the adept evermore into a deeper-degree of spiritual-darkness. Again, the adept is terribly alone in the Void anguishing that the former blessings may never return.
Since the Dark Night of the Spirit is an actual impediment to the faculties and affections, the adept’s spirit cannot even lift itself-up and pay homage to the Unborn. Truth be told, this is no time to engage in any former form of discursive meditation. The adept must slowly learn to accept the lingering purgation, knowing full well that of oneself one can do nothing—even regular mundane business is hard to navigate. One may even slip into altered-states of consciousness and such profound periods of forgetfulness that long stretches of time pass-by unawares. One finds it very hard to focus, even on the most simplest of tasks.
The memory, too, is stripped-clean of cognitive content. This predicament is due to the effect of the interior-recollection that is totally absorbing the spirit. One also experiences longer durations of withdrawing from and being less-interested in all creature comforts. The more precisely and purely the Dark Ray strikes the spirit, the more radically it eradicates one’s particular attachments to all things in the earth and in the heavens. Piercing the adept’s spirit with Divine Light, the Dark Contemplation actually transcends the spirit’s very nature. Once again, all former natural perceptions and affections are darkened as one is now illumined with Unborn Light. Gradually one transcends all former associations and now directly perceives, through the Translucent Darkness, the ever-abiding Light of the Dharmadhatu—True Reality. Thus, to paraphrase the Apostle, the spiritual-one sees into all things—even unto the deepest things of the Unborn.
Thank you for this most exquisite series on a topic which is, it hardly need to be said, extremely relevant to the mahayana and demonstrates the heroic efforts of St. John of the Cross, who, born in an age of superstition and ignorance, had so few resources upon which to rely except his inward knowledge of the spirit and even fewer perhaps to explain and elaborate upon what he had realized for the benefit of all beings. What he accomplished is nothing short of awe inspiring and something which has long been inspirational to me. So, I just wanted to say thanks for this series, and indeed, all that you have done.
I may have missed this in your exegesis, but there seems to be something to add from St. John’s works. This is not to scout for errors or anything, just observing something which has been very inspirational and encouraging through what can appear – to the superficial view – a very bleak aspect of renunciation practice, which is of course the aridity of the spirit and deep disquiet which can arise when the spiritual faculties don’t “gain traction” as they seemed to before, and neither the delight which once infused the spirit through meditation can be obtained – even to the point of not being able to meditate at all, or feeling that one’s entire practice has gone stale so to speak. And this, almost necessarily at a time when so much has already been dropped or given up, leaving a sensation of dire and implacable hopelessness, a vacuity where once there was an infusion of light and sense of proximity to the numinous. What desolation! What once seemed wholesome and delightful seems to become insipid, and no delight remains in the former associations; indeed it is like the great fountain of noble wisdom has dried up and been covered by the sands as if it had never been, only residues and memories of a former connection which embitter and prove unsatisfying, while the former ways of taking delight in the world might surge up here and there, some spasm of worldliness, it all seems more futile and unsatisfying than ever before. What great heroism by St. John of the Cross, who traversed this vast desert, somehow finding a way through, and also recognizing the inevitability of such aridity, sooner or later, for all contemplatives, so that those who come after might find hope and encouragement on the Way.
And that encouragement can be found in distinguishing this aridity from a kind of existential ennui or psychological depression, or even a crisis of faith; the dark night does not seem to squelch devotion, though it may seem futile, but there can be a kind of inward doubt or longing, a questioning of whether or not any of it was ever really valid. But as St. John of the Cross points out in Chapter IX, on the signs of this purgation as distinct from a turning away from the path:
“There is a great difference between aridity and lukewarmness [or spiritual weakness], for lukewarmness consists in great weakness and remissness in the will and in the spirit, without solicitude as to serving God; whereas purgative aridity is ordinarily accompanied by solicitude, with care and grief as I say, because the soul is not serving God. And although this may sometimes be increased by depression or some other humor (as it frequently is), it fails not for that reason to produce a purgative effect upon the desire, since the desire is deprived of all pleasure, and has its care centered upon God alone. For, when mere humor is the cause, it spends itself in displeasure and ruin of the physical nature, and there are none of those desires to sense God which belong to purgative aridity. When the cause is aridity, it is true the sensual part of the soul has fallen low, and is weak and feeble in its actions, by reason of the little pleasure which it finds in them; but the spirit on the other hand, is ready and strong.”
Similarly, he writes of the presence, though most subtle and virtually impossible to grasp in its ineffability, of a peace which can be recognized in the midst of the dark night. We do, if we have reached this point, have the strength to endure. I think for me this is one of the most valued parts of the text, because this silence does not truly leave us ever, though it may seem to, or be so deeply covered in samsaric turbidity and grief that it cannot readily appear, but it is always there if it has been authentically realized. It is like the tiniest indestructible jewel just under the sands of the infinite desert, and to be made aware of this, though it provide no great solace, though this jewel prove so infinitely hard to grasp amid the seeming failure of all one’s faculties, if we are but able to become aware of it, can be enough to sustain the passage through the night.
My earnest prayer is that all beings win Nirvana through this dark night. Blessings to everyone, and persevere.
Eloquently stated–many thanks!
Loving everything you’re doing now and have done in the past, there’s no reason to go into detail about my own experiences because they’ll be apparent in time; just wanted to say that I was re-reading some of your earlier blogs such as this one and wanted to say that I found a nice (somewhat long though) web-page that talks about the light of darkness from an alchemy perspective: http://www.awakeninthedream.com/the-light-of-darkness/
Figured you might find it interested, I’ve found it illuminating in some respects.
Thanks for the reference.
This is an interesting synchronicity for me since I’ve just finished viewing again Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was done after reading an article entitled: “Alchemical Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Great Work-On Film,” by Jay Weidner. I wholeheartedly recommend following the link–one will never view the film in quite the same way again after doing so–wonderful article tying together Kubrick’s work and Alchemy.
Great article, just started reading it but so far loving it; It hadn’t occurred before the depths of knowledge that alchemy has, of course there are somethings that I consider to be extraneous conceptualization of the imaginary, but still overall it’s surprisingly similar to the illumination of the buddha-dharma (with a proper view of course, understanding the nature of words and not being caught up in definitions).
Thanks, for this series. It is very helpfull.