Nada and Silence in John of the Cross

We have extensively covered the rich apothatic spirituality of John of the Cross in a prior series. Our focus now is on the significance of this Nadayana and its twin sister, Silence. John’s negative path is a cradle of nothingness in that no-thing can withstand the awesome splendor of the Unborn Absolute:

To reach satisfaction in all
Desire satisfaction in nothing.
To come to possess all
Desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
Desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
Desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to enjoy what you have not
You must go by a way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not
You must go by a way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not
You must go by a way in which you possess not.
To come to be what you are not
You must go by a way in which you are not. (AMC, I, 13, 11: 150)

We have often utilized his above passage in many other blogs, yet it is essential that we reiterate it here for our present purposes. Desire is the root of all becoming, yea it is the spermatic germ that perpetuates this wild spin of samsara. The way to cut the root of this wily demon is to sever it thereby initiating a self-emptying process whereby desire itself is “turned-about” from all craving to a desirelessness that prepares the spirit for Union with the Light of all lights. Hence, what is left on the former insatiable plane of the appetites in the intellect, memory and will is nada, nada, nada—a blank slate that commences the return, if you will, to the lux summa. John refers to this process as an act of purgation:

The purging of the natural faculties is done in the light of unknowing. ‘The spiritual light is so bright and so transcendent that it blinds and darkens the natural intellect’ (DN II, 16, 11: 434). The spiritual light that comes from God makes the soul to soar in unknowing, for it blinds and darkens all that is natural to human faculties. At that point there is an ascent in unknowing. (C.D. Sebastian, ibid, pg. 91)

This can also be referred to as placing all desirous notions beneath a cloud of forgetfulness, or rendering them all null and void beneath a Cloud of Unknowing. Once these vexations are calmed and eventually dissipated in the Cloud, the Real and True deathless-dominion of the Dharmadhātu is revealed. The Doctrine of Unknowing is not so much an absence of knowledge, but rather indicates an ineffable gnosis. Once again, from John’s Ecstasy of Contemplation:

I entered into unknowing,
Yet when I saw myself there,
Without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
For I remained in unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.

One cannot speak of what transpires beneath the veil of forgetfulness, but one is assured of THAT which transcends conventional knowledge; in return, one is blessed with a Dark Gnosis—one that was coined in a previous blog of this series as, a “Dark Science of Unknowing”, or the “Illuminative Science of Apophaticism itself.” It is indeed within this “Dark-Wonder that the contemplative adept will discern great and ineffable divine dimensions”, all of which is bracketed by the Great Silence. “This is the highest wisdom, which is ‘tranquil, solitary, peaceful, mild’ and ‘without knowing’ ‘where and how’.” (ibid, pg. 94)

As Sebastian states, the negative-way of John’s nada “ends in silence.” Silence is the premier mentor and guardian in the ways of the Unborn. John of the Cross expressed it as “Silent Music”, yea an ineffable melody of the soul. As he would state, it is [alone] in secure-darkness that this sweet music can be heard—not with carnal-ears but with the supernal inner-ear of the soul:

After all, music is normally sonorous, and solitude, silent. In theological terms, St John uses an inherent paradox to communicate a sense of the numinous and the ineffable: ‘silent music’ can only be a conceptual audition, perceived not through fleshly senses but directly through the soul’s inner ear, and as concept it serves to demonstrate religious truth in a way that cannot be grasped at all – and yet cannot be grasped in any other way. (Nicky Losseff 2007: 206) [ibid, pg. 98]

Of course, the one constant unseen companion in all of this is solitude. And solitude can only be contracted through aloneness. The two repose gently side by side, brimming with the ecstasy of numinous coitus in the Unborn and Absolute—there is no greater lasting satisfaction and fulfillment than this divine-union. Any form of fleeting-momentary sexual gratification pales in comparison.

Thus, in the silence of nada, John of the Cross would say, go beyond the active and passive nights of the senses as well as the active night of the spirit. The soul, then, ‘reaches a state of vacuum, emptiness, nakedness, or nothingness (nada). In this state, which is called the ‘‘passive night of the spirit,’’ the soul no longer works. Nothing from the outside or inside world is perceived’ (Nieto 1979: 59), and there is ‘tranquil night’, ‘silent music’ and ‘profound solitude’. (ibid, pg. 102)

If one is in spiritual earnest, silence and solitude need to be employed above all else—they need to be one’s hidden and constant companion. Nāgārjuna would have employed them too, “for śūnyatā is the propitious quietening of the conventional (prapañcopaśamaṁ śivaṁ )” (MK 1, 2b: 4). [ibid, pg. 118]

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3 Responses to Nada and Silence in John of the Cross

  1. J says:

    Thank you for an excellent series so far! Highly inspiring me in my endeavour to deepen meditative practice.

    This may be a little off topic, but it has bothered me ever so slightly, and your last remarks reminded me to ask you about it. What do you make of Ramana Maharshi’s repeated insistence that it was of no consequence to the follower of his path of jnana whether he remained outwardly engaged with the business of ordinary working life because it doesn’t affect the Self? I understand the principle, but find it hard to believe that any ordinary person taking up the practice will be able to attain sufficient stability of mindfulness under such conditions. Yet Ramana does not seem to have recommended renunciation of such occupations at all. By this logic, granted that one’s worldly occupation doesn’t matter at all for realization because the Self is detached, one could even work for an evil and corrupt corporation like Monsanto and still be a jnani, no problem, as long as one is not identified with or attached to it. But if one is no longer that, what is it that sustains the association and keeps one’s bodily manifestation returning there? If a path of activity was formerly established through a karma determined by ignorance, grasping to wrong self-identity etc, would not detachment from those subtler causes naturally lead to a cessation of the activity initiated therefrom on the plane of bodily action also? If one is to engage in selfless offerings of action, like in karma-yoga, in the world, is it not better that new paths of action are determined by wisdom than that one disinterestedly upholds the old ways on the plane of one’s worldly occupation, while inwardly detaching from it, constituting a kind of separation between ‘outer’ activity, the form of which was initially determined by ignorance and bondage, and ‘inner’ state, the former not reflecting, symbolising or corresponding to the latter? Is not such a ‘disassociation’ by which one should not care to change one’s illusory outer life a limitation on the power of spirituality to act upon the conditions of the world and transform them not only in one’s own awareness, but also in their manifested conditions? Would not the powers of darkness prefer that we continue to outwardly act within the patterns of their modern societal matrix (going to one’s office job, handing one’s children over to state school indoctrination etc), while being inwardly detached jnani, so that the damage inflicted on their dark system by spiritual awakening is rendered minimal by not letting another way of life manifest outwardly as well as inwardly? Is there anything to what I’m saying, or am I just confused?

    • Vajragoni says:

      Best to forget Ramana Maharshi altogether and just quieten down the mind. Avoid he said/she said, or even what your (m)ind says.

      • J says:

        You’re right. You can just delete the irrelevant comment. I’ll only comment if I have questions pertaining to the teachings and practice. Keep up the good work.

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