Q.384 – Dark night of the soul

Q: Please help me.I had a temporary glimpse of reality around 15 months ago by following 8 fold path. I tried to penetrate the question of suffering and learned that everything wants to come into Equilibrium (a known chemistry fact) due to which my thought trains stopped and I got an instant realization of something called reality. After that, I experienced I am a silent witness and not mind, body, ego, etc.

This faded away after some time and now I am in mental anguish and turmoil. I don’t know what is happening in my mind but it is disturbed or in what people call the “Dark night of soul”. Every joy is lost now; I get angry easily and have feelings of despair from something. Maybe it is because I didn’t discipline my mind with ethics before starting this practice for enlightenment. Please save me now. Whatever is going on in my head, save me from it. I don’t know how to complete surrender unto reality and may be this is due to the hold of ego. Please help!

A (Dennis): The teaching tradition of Advaita is all about Self-knowledge. You listen to the teaching from a qualified teacher (ideally) or read about it and discuss it (less good). You ask questions about it to resolve your doubts. Eventually, you realize that what is being said is true and that is that. In theory!

The problem is that you need a clear, self-controlled mind and some trust in the teacher, the ability to discriminate and so on. These ‘skills’ are not really a part of Advaita – they are mostly lifted from Patanjali’s Yoga system. If you have no mental discipline along these lines, you are never going to be able to assimilate the teaching. You need at least a medium level of attainment. With that you can take on board the knowledge and then continue your practices until you reap all the other benefits (peace of mind, fearlessness and so on).

From what you say, I would advise that you forget about Self-knowledge for a while and concentrate on acquiring the mental skills. Meditation is invaluable. And, if you have no religious-type outlook (praying to a god and so on), then the practices of karma yoga are the other main route – doing what is in front of you because it needs doing, ignoring desires and not expecting any results. And so on!

I do not know anything about Buddhist methods so cannot really comment. I would forget about ‘dark nights’. The main thing to remember, even if you don’t yet believe it, is that the world is not absolutely real. Your body, mind and everything else have empirical reality only, depending ultimately on Consciousness, which is the only reality. And you are That.

Seeking – giving up pleasures? (Q. 322)

Q: I can see I need to live more austerely, and I am prepared to sacrifice much to bring about a more lucid and disciplined spiritual practice, but if I am honest, sacrificing those pleasures will have their cost and I will miss them. I would give up nearly anything to find a way forward, but I have heard that unless giving up pleasures is seen as so necessary it isn’t actually a sacrifice, it won’t produce any progress, making it pointless. I am confused. Living austerely definitely means sacrifice, and I could do it, but what’s the point in doing it if it won’t work? I hope I have been clear. If you could tell me what you think, I would be most grateful.

A (Sitara): Your emphasis on austerities and sacrifice indicates that you are influenced by a tradition other than Advaita Vedanta. While following dharma (an ethical lifestyle) has its place in Advaita Vedanta, it does not require austerities. It just means “be fair”, i.e. treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated. Also following a spiritual practice of meditation and prayer is thought of as beneficial for the seeker; but there is no need for much sacrifice here either, except for remaining with it even if sometimes inconvenient – having to get up a little earlier for example. Continue reading

How to be really, really, really happy

In the Taittiriya Upanishad we are told that 1 unit of human joy is that enjoyed by a young person described as being in the prime of life, fit and healthy, possessed of strong mental faculties, amazingly good looking and incredibly well read, spiritually disciplined and ethical, and in possession of untold wealth (not exactly the person next door). Try to imagine the effort that would be required to have untold wealth and untold wisdom. Imagine the effort required to live a highly ethical and spiritual life. It can take a whole lifetime – by which time we will have lost our youthful vigour. The other person, however, who enjoys the same level of joy is ‘a follower of the Vedas, unaffected by desire’ (which can be anyone who makes the effort).

100 times that unit of human joy is one unit of the joy of a being called a Man Gandharva in a higher loka [realm]. In this embodiment as a celestial musician there will only be the experience of subtle enjoyment and no pain. To attain this loka one needs to have accumulated a huge amount of punya [merit] from leading a value-driven and prayerful life. The other person, however, who enjoys 100 times the unit of human joy is the follower of the Vedas, unaffected by desire. Continue reading

Who do you think ‘I’ is? (Part 2)

PART 2/3: PREPARATORY STEPS
Go to beginning

Having established the principles involved in escaping from the torments of living a false identity, we can examine how traditional advaitins approach the journey.

Preparedness. Am I fit for the journey? Three essentials are needed:

1) Clarity of purpose. This is the conviction that self-knowledge is the over-riding goal of life. Of course other activities involved in day-to-day living do carry on, but the fruits of wealth and pleasures are not to be over-valued. They give a respite, no doubt, but they will never deliver peace. And, without peace, how is self-knowledge possible? We do the needful: pursue security and pleasure, in conformity with universal values, for the sake of self-knowledge. Continue reading

Spiritual Progress (Q. 305)

Q: What are some indicators of progress on the spiritual journey? Is witnessing consciousness an indicator of progress? (Oct. 2010)

A: Most people actually don’t go along with the idea of ‘gradual’ progress. The enlightenment ‘event’ if you like (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti) is rather a catastrophic reorientation of the mind (in the mathematical sense of course, rather than the emotive!)

The progress indicators are rather in terms of mental preparation, as in sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. We notice that we are less prone to emotional disturbance, avoid emotional reactions, see issues more clearly and make right decisions without selfish motive and so on. And maybe we have increasingly frequent glimpses of the unity and increasing conviction of the truth of the teaching. If, by ‘witnessing consciousness’ you mean seeing what is going on around you with a dispassionate eye, yes – that, too.