The Fifth Tower: The Silkworm

By now one can realize that Teresa’s Interior Castle is a treatise on profound Unitive Mysticism. What she has been revealing are the later stages of the interior spiritual life. The final stages correspond to the fifth, sixth and seventh dwelling places. While the Fourth Tower was about a transitional phase from active to passive contemplation, this glorious Fifth Tower designates what Teresa refers to as the beginning of the Divine Union, or Absolute Illumination. According to her, ones task belies any form of adequate human communication for what IT is truly like:

O Sisters, how can I explain the riches and treasures and delights found in the fifth dwelling places? I believe it would be better not to say anything about these remaining rooms, for there is no way of knowing how to speak of them; neither is the intellect capable of understanding them nor can comparisons help in explaining them; earthly things are too coarse for such a purpose.

But one is still called—better yet, mystically drawn to take the plunge. From the spiritual direction point, perhaps none are better equipped for this supernal mission than the Carmelites:

So I say now that all of us who wear this holy habit of Carmel are called to prayer and contemplation. This call explains our origin; we are the descendants of men who felt this call, of those holy fathers on Mount Carmel who, in such great solitude and contempt for the world, sought this treasure, this precious pearl of contemplation that we are speaking about.

From time immemorial, the first hermits on Mount Carmel were the early explorers into the spiritual-realms of the Divine ineffable—the epitome of the eremitical life. They were one of the first Desert Monks who initiated the inner-prayer of solitude. Today their spirituality still flourishes and calls many to live that “interior spirit” as described by John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. My own spiritual practice is oftentimes complimented by wearing my own Carmelite habit.

So, then, what is this Prayer of Union like?  In the Fifth Tower, all the faculties are quieted, both to the outer view of the world and even the best inner-realization of the self.

There is no need here to use any technique to suspend the mind since all the faculties are asleep in this state – and truly asleep — to the things of the world and to ourselves. As a matter of fact, during the time that the union lasts, the soul is left as though without its senses, for it has no power to think even if it wants to. In loving, if it does love, it doesn’t understand how or what it is it loves or what it would want. In sum, it is like one who in every respect has died to the world so as to live more completely in God. Thus the death is a delightful one, an uprooting from the soul of all the operations it can have while being in the body. The death is a delightful one because in truth it seems that in order to dwell more perfectly in God the soul is so separated from the body that I don’t even know if it has life enough to breathe. (I was just now thinking about this, and it seems to me that it doesn’t – at least if it does breathe, it is unaware it is doing so.)

Quite simply from the above one’s very breath is taken away—a form of death occurs, a death to the body-consciousness. Spiritually, one is no longer in and of the flesh but exclusively now a denizen of celestial realms—a true deep-sea diver into the undivided ways of the Unborn Spirit—In Spiritu! In this fashion, Teresa clarifies how this Divine Union is far and beyond those “spiritual delights” that were experienced in the Fourth Tower. The difference is like “that between feeling something on the rough outer covering of the body or in the marrow of the bones—I don’t know how to say it any better”. And in effect, an inner metamorphosis occurs.

We now arrive at the title of today’s blog, because this inner-transformation is likened unto the silkworm and the weaving of its cocoon.

You must have already heard about his marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only he could have invented something like that.

The silkworms come from seeds about the size of little grains of pepper. (I have never seen this but have heard of it, and so if something in the explanation gets distorted it won’t be my fault.) When warm weather comes and the leaves begin to appear on the mulberry tree, the seeds start to live, for they are dead until then. The worms nourish themselves on mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs. There, with their little mouths, they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. And the poor little worm loses its life in the challenge.

Or, as scripture says, “in order for one to save one’s life, one must lose it.” A radical death to samsaric worlds. All of this is a comparison to the transformation of souls. Hence by weaving that cocoon, the skandhic self-dies, in essence getting rid of “self-love and self-will.” In so doing, final preparation is made to be transformed into that white butterfly which is a symbol of Divine Metamorphosis. Now then, this mystical transformation doesn’t rule out what is commonly known as religious-conversion, rather it is its fulfillment. Thus, true, unequivocal existential transformation. It’s a final filiation with the Unborn that happens when one dies to the skandhic-self.

Nonetheless, take careful note, daughters, that it is necessary for the silkworm to die, and, moreover, at a cost to yourselves. In the delightful union, the experience of seeing oneself in so new a life greatly helps one to die; in the other union, it’s necessary that, while living in this life, we ourselves put the silkworm to death. I confess this latter death will require a great deal of effort, or more than that; but it has its value. Thus if you come out victorious the reward will be much greater. But there is no reason to doubt the possibility of this death any more than that of true union with the will of God. This union with God’s will is the union I have desired all my life; it is the union I ask the Lord for always and the one that is clearest and safest.

She is explaining deathlessness. To be at-one-ment with the Absolute, death itself is jettisoned—because there is no more skandhic-stranglehold! This Illumination in the spiritual sense means, “turning on the Light” of the Deathless Mind—or a preparation for the spiritual betrothal to the Unborn Lord which will take place in the Sixth Tower. For Lankavatarians, this means coming to believe, through the resolve of our Recollective Spirit, in the unseen, Illuminative Power of the Dharmakaya, restoring us to our proper affinity with the Unborn Buddha Mind.

You may have noticed in our previous blog that it did not conclude with our usual “points of Mind Training” for this series. This is because that training was meant for those early purgation’s of the restless monkey-mind. From here on, the best parallel (outside of Unborn Mind Zen) is the path of Dzogchen; for our purposes, specifically Bönpo Dzogchen. Here’s what its masters have to say on the nature of this Illuminative Union:

Lhabön Yongsu Dagpa:

“Mind is unborn. It is as boundless as the sky. Clouds and wind, light and darkness, these appear spontaneously in the sky but don’t block space. So when you concentrate and remain in the Natural State, this Nature self-appears spontaneously. There is neither subject nor object. There is no need to practise meditation in a special way or focus on anything. This Nature is called Buddha Nature or Bon-Nature. There is no way to search for it or find it, no way to focus on it, so simply leave it as it is.”

Lubön Banam:

“This Natural State is not separate from our own Nature of Mind. Once you realize this Nature it neither shifts nor changes, neither increases nor decreases. Once this is realized by itself, that is Great Dharmakaya.”

Banam Kyolpo:

The Natural State is the Nature of Bön and without focusing or meditating on anything particular you will achieve this state and find it out. If you don’t focus or use your consciousness in any particular way, you will realize this Nature. The Nature knows neither ebb nor flow; it is always with you. If you believe this Nature is the Natural State, then there is no particular way to meditate. Just leave it as it is.”

(MASTERS of the ZHANG ZHUNG NYENGYUD: Pith Instructions from the Experiential Transmission of Bonpo Dzogchen)

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