The ability to withstand hardships in the spiritual path

Most people in the initial stages of the spiritual path attain what may be called a “passive calm”.  The glow on their face lasts only as long as they are surrounded by kind and gentle people like themselves.   Faced with a protracted conflict, they either shrink from it in revulsion or unexpectedly lose their composure in exasperation.   One must strive to attain an “active calm” which doesn’t dissipate even in the midst of conflict.  The ability to handle vicissitudes in the hustle and bustle of daily life has to be developed.  It is in the darkest hour, when circumstances are the opposite of one’s spiritual ideals, that one must be able to survive solely by the power of the inner lamp.

Those who are advanced along the path find that the Divine Power is intentionally guiding them towards such arduous challenges in order to achieve  all-round perfection.  The life of the spiritual aspirant can abound with unexpected ups and downs.  Sometimes the Divine Grace, after giving a brief glimpse of its power, can veil itself to test the faith of the aspirant and compel him or her to drop the streak of idealism and self-righteousness, reappearing only after the surrender to Divine Will is complete.

In the life of Mother Mirra Alfassa, we find the incidence of such an adversity.  In 1914, she met Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry and recognized him as the guide she had seen in her visions ten years ago.   She was already an advanced spiritual practitioner at the time and naturally assumed that she would stay in Pondicherry in the proximity of the one she knew to be her Guru.  Circumstances, however, forced her to leave India for six years in the midst of World War I and, as she was to understand at the end of her odyssey, there was a greater purpose behind her travails.

Photo: Asbjørn Floden via Flickr (Creative Commons). Click image for source

In this selection of entries from her diary Prayers and Meditations, we observe how she was first despondent, then waited patiently for further Divine guidance, and gradually regained her communion with the Divine.  At the end she discovered the hidden purpose behind this unexpected six-year detour.

(March 3, 1915): Solitude, a harsh, intense solitude, and always this strong impression of having been flung headlong into a hell of darkness! Never at any moment of my life, in any circumstances, have I felt myself living in surroundings so entirely opposite to all that I am conscious of as true, so contrary to all that is the essence of my life. Sometimes when the impression and the contrast grow very intense, I cannot prevent my total submission from taking on a hue of melancholy, and the calm and mute converse with the Master within is transformed for a moment into an invocation that almost supplicates, “O Lord, what have I done that Thou hast thrown me thus into the sombre Night?” But immediately the aspiration rises, still more ardent, “Spare this being all weakness; suffer it to be the docile and clear-eyed instrument of Thy work, whatever that work may be.” For the moment the clear-sightedness is lacking; never was the future more veiled.

If we look at the last line of the next jotting, we see that even in the midst of a harsh solitude, she still sustained herself though the luminous puissance of the psychic being.

(March 4, 1915): Always the same harsh solitude… but it is not painful, on the contrary. In it more clearly than ever, is revealed the pure and infinite love in which the whole earth is immersed. By this love all lives and is animated; the darkest shadows become almost translucent to let its streams flow through, and the intensest pain is transformed into potent bliss.  Each turn of the propeller upon the deep ocean seems to drag me farther away from my true destiny, the one best expressing the divine Will; each passing hour seems to plunge me again deeper into that past with which I had broken, sure of being called to new and vaster realisations; everything seems to draw me back to a state of things totally contrary to the life of my soul which reigns uncontested over outer activities; and, despite the apparent sadness of my own situation, the consciousness is so firmly established in a world which passes beyond personal limitations on every side, that the whole being rejoices in a constant perception of power and love.

(March 7 1915): I am exiled from every spiritual happiness, and of all ordeals this, O Lord, is surely the most painful that Thou canst impose: but most of all the withdrawal of Thy will which seems to be a sign of total disapprobation. Strong is the growing sense of rejection, and it needs all the ardour of an untiring faith to keep the external consciousness thus abandoned to itself from being invaded by an irremediable sorrow….But it refuses to despair, it refuses to believe that the misfortune is irreparable; it waits with humility in an obscure and hidden effort and struggle for the breath of Thy perfect joy to penetrate it again

In the subsequent entry, we read of the state of immobility that one must aspire to.   In the words of Christ, one has to be “in the world but not of it“.

(March 8 1915) …For the most part the condition is one of calm and profound indifference; the being feels neither desire nor repulsion, neither enthusiasm nor depression, neither joy nor sorrow. It regards life as a spectacle in which it takes only a very small part; it perceives its actions and reactions, conflicts and forces as things that at once belong to its own existence which overflows the small personality on every side and yet to that personality are altogether foreign and remote.

Even as she was plunged in hardship, she was being bathed by the coruscating waters of a Higher consciousness.

(July 31 1915) …Thy power in me is like a living spring, strong and abundant, rumbling behind the rocks, gathering its energies to break down the obstacles and gush out freely in the open, pouring its waters over the plain to fertilise it. When will the hour of this emergence come? When the moment arrives, it will burst forth, and time is nothing in Eternity. But what words can describe the immensity of joy brought by this inner accumulation, this deep concentration, of all the forces that are submissive to the manifestation of Thy Will of tomorrow, preparing to break over the world, drowning in their sovereign flood all that still persists in wanting to be the expression of Thy will of yesterday, so as to take possession of the earth in Thy Name and offer it to Thee as a completer image of Thyself.

In the next jotting, she talks about how she had to adapt to the difficult situation she found herself in.

(June 7 1916) …This return to activity meant a completely new adaptation of the vital instrument, for its natural tendency is always to resume action with its old habits and methods. This period of adaptation was long, painful, sometimes obscure, though behind, the perception of Thy Presence and perfect surrender to Thy Law were immutable and quite strongly conscious for any disturbance to shake the being. Gradually the vital being grew accustomed to find harmony in the intensest action as it had in passive surrender. And once this harmony was sufficiently established, there was light again in all the parts of the being, and the consciousness of what had happened became complete. Now in the heart of action the vital being has discovered the perception of Infinity and Eternity. It can perceive Thy Supreme Beauty and live it in all sensations and all forms. Even in its every sensation, extended, active, fully developed to feel contrary sensations at the same time, always it perceives Thee.

(Jan 23, 1917) Thou didst fill my being with so complete, so intense a love and beauty and joy that it seemed impossible to me that this would not be communicated. It was like a glowing hearth whence the breath of thought wafted far many sparks which, entering the secrecy of men’s hearts, kindled other similar fires, fires of Thy divine Love, O Lord, that Love which impels and draws all human beings irresistibly to Thee. O my sweet Lord, grant that this may not be only a vision of my enrapt consciousness, but indeed a reality, effectively transforming all beings and things.

In the next item, she questions the purpose behind her unexpected  ordeal.  The Divine Grace sometimes veils itself without revealing the deeper purpose behind apparently superficial events.

(Sept 24 1917) Thou hast subjected me to a hard discipline; rung after rung, I have climbed the ladder which leads to Thee and, at the summit of the ascent, Thou hast made me taste the perfect joy of identity with Thee. Then, obedient to Thy command, rung after rung, I have descended to outer activities and external states of consciousness, re-entering into contact with these worlds that I left to discover Thee. And now that I have come back to the bottom of the ladder, all is so dull, so mediocre, so neutral, in me and around me, that I understand no more….What is it then that Thou awaitest from me, and to what use that slow long preparation, if all is to end in a result to which the majority of human beings attain without being subjected to any discipline?

As we see from the following entry, she was subjected to such adversity because she had to overcome her dread for conflict.   The exact nature of her adversity is not known but it had something to do with transforming Paul Richard, who was her husband at the time. Much like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, this experience established in her the conviction that worldly struggle too could be a basis for Divine action in the world.

(June 22, 1920) After granting me the joy which surpasses all expression, Thou hast sent me, O my beloved Lord, the struggle, the ordeal and on this too I have smiled as on one of Thy precious messengers.  Before, I dreaded the conflict, for it hurt in me the love of harmony and peace. But now, O my God, I welcome it with gladness: it is one among the forms of Thy action, one of the best means for bringing back to light some elements of the work which might otherwise have been forgotten, and it carries with it a sense of amplitude, of complexity, of power. And even as I have seen Thee, resplendent, exciting the conflict, so also it is Thou whom I see unravelling the entanglement of events and jarring tendencies and winning in the end the victory over all that strives to veil Thy light and Thy power: for out of the struggle it is a more perfect realisation of Thyself that must arise.

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12 thoughts on “The ability to withstand hardships in the spiritual path

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  4. Sandeep Post author

    Lines from Savitri pertinent to this topic

    As a star, uncompanioned, moves in heaven
    Unastonished by the immensities of Space,
    Travelling infinity by its own light,
    The great are strongest when they stand alone.
    A God-given might of being is their force,
    A ray from self’s solitude of light the guide;
    The soul that can live alone with itself meets God;
    Its lonely universe is their rendezvous.

    (Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book VI, Canto II)

  5. Sandeep Post author

    In a dialogue, the Mother acknowledged that those who are called to the spiritual path are intentionally subjected to hardships by the Divine.

    Question: In the case of some persons who turn to the Divine it happens that every material prop or everything they are fond of is removed from their life. And if they love someone, he also is taken away.
    Mother Mirra Alfassa: It is a thing that does not happen to all. It happens to those that are called.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 3, p 12)

    1. mw

      “…the gnostic individual is a consummation for the spiritual man. His whole being is governed by the vast universal spirituality. That is why Mother would always say—widen, broaden yourself before heightening yourself. We want only to limit ourselves. We are narrow , we shut ourselves in the walls of our little ego, refer everything to our own interests and live in our little world. It is God’s dispensation that Nature hits us from as many points as possible to awake us to the necessity of expanding ourselves and save ourselves this needless suffering, pain, which is our natural result of self-limitation. So, even before we can think or speak of superamental consciousness, we have to arrive at universal consciousness. The thought mould, the way of the emotions, the vital impulses, all these must be in tune with the universal movements. otherwise there are blows. These blows are more for those who are ready for the spiritual journey. Very often i hear ‘I never had these troubles before, it is only after I took to yoga that these blows are coming, misfortunes are multiplying’. It looks cruel to point out to them that they have invited these. The point is, if when your soul is ready, when sufficient indications are given to you that the time has come for you to take the staff and set out on the journey, some more windows have been opened and you have a glimpse of what is in store for you, if even after that you individualise and expropriate even the spiritual experience within your personal mould, then the super-nature or nature-in-life visits blows, misfortunes, so that you may wake up.” -Sri Pandit (Selected Works of M.P. Pandit Vol. One: Chapter, The Gnostic Being II, Pg. 142)

      “God had opened my eyes; for I saw the nobility of the vulgar, the attractiveness of the repellent, the perfection of the maimed and the beauty of the hideous”. -Sri Aurobindo (Thoughts and Aphorisms)

      1. mw

        Sri Pandit: “His whole being is governed by the vast universal spirituality.”

        Sri Aurobindo on “universal consciousness”:

        Q: “I have encountered in my life several examples of people living or trying to live in the universal consciousness and it seemed to me that it rendered them less compassionate, less humane, less tender to the sufferings of others. It seems to me that if it is necessary not to remain in the individual consciousness where it is a question of our own sufferings, it is otherwise when it is a question of sympathising with the sufferings of others. In my opinion we feel more keenly the troubles of our brothers in humanity if we remain in the individual consciousness. But I may be mistaken and ask only to be enlightened by you on this point.”

        SA: IS IT certain that such people are living in the universal consciousness? or, if they are, is it certain that they are really less humane and compassionate? May they not be exercising their humanity in another fashion than the obvious and external signs of sympathy and tenderness?

        If a man is really insensible to the experiences of others in the world, he is not living in the full universal consciousness. Either he has shut himself up in an experience of an individual peace and self-content, or he is absorbed by his contact with some universal principle in its abstract form without regard to its universal action, or he is living inwardly apart from the universe in touch with something transcendent of world-experience. All these states are useful to the soul in its progress, but they are not the universal consciousness.

        When a man lives in the cosmic self, he necessarily embraces the life of the world and his attitude towards that world struggling upward from the egoistic state must be one of compassion, of love or of helpfulness. The Buddhists held that immersion in the infinite non-ego was in itself an immersion in a sea of infinite compassion. The liberated Sannyasin is described in the Gita and in other Hindu books as one whose occupation is beneficence to all creatures. But this vast spirit of beneficence does not necessarily exercise itself by the outward forms of emotional sympathy or active charity. We must not bind down all natures or all states of the divine consciousness in man to the one form of helpfulness which seems to us the most attractive, the most beautiful or the most beneficent. There is a higher sympathy than that of the easily touched emotions, a greater beneficence than that of an obvious utility to particular individuals in their particular sufferings.

        The egoistic consciousness passes through many stages in its emotional expansion. At first it is bound within itself, callous therefore to the experiences of others. Afterwards it is sympathetic only with those who are identified in some measure with itself, indifferent to the indifferent, malignant to the hostile. When it overcomes this respect for persons, it is ready for the reception of the altruistic principle.

        But even charity and altruism are often essentially egoistic in their immediate motive. They are stirred by the discomfort of the sight of suffering to the nervous system or by the pleasurableness of others’ appreciation of our kindliness or by the egoistic self-appreciation of our own benevolence or by the need of indulgence in sympathy. There are philanthropists who would be troubled if the poor were not always with us, for they would then have no field for their charity.

        To begin to enter into the universal consciousness when, apart from all individual motive and necessity, by the mere fact of unity of our being with all others, their joy becomes our joy, their suffering our suffering. But we must not mistake this for the highest condition. After a time we are no longer overcome by any suffering, our own or others’, but are merely touched and respond in helpfulness. And there is yet another state in which the subjection to suffering is impossible to us because we live in the Beatitude, but this does not deter us from love and beneficence, — any more than it is necessary for a mother to weep or be overcome by the little childish griefs and troubles of her children in order to love, understand and soothe.

        Nor is detailed sympathy and alleviation of particular sufferings the only help that can be given to men. To cut down branches of a man’s tree of suffering is good, but they grow again; to aid him to remove its roots is a still more divine helpfulness. The gift of joy, peace, or perfection is a greater giving than the effusion of an individual benevolence and sympathy and it is the most royal outcome of unity with others in the universal consciousness.


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  7. ipi

    Difficulties come because there are possibilities in you. If in life everything was easy, then it would be a life of nothing. Because difficulties come on your way it shows you have possibilities.


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