Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mother Theresa's Inner Darkness

A new work is out, from Mother Theresa's proculator (petitioner for her sainthood), that reveals Theresa lived in a state of spiritual dryness, aridity, and separation (of feeling) from God for the last 40 plus years of her life.

Article from Time. The book (Come Be My Light) is a series of letters and personal meditations from Theresa.

From the article:
That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"
Her words are powerful and her suffering immense.

So what is going here? Christopher Hitchens of course (so pathetically ignorant) chimes in that Theresa knew, like the rest of us, religion is a fraud.

There is a more subtle answer, to say the least.

Theresa realized spiritual union in a famous vision of total rapture and conversation with Christ on the Cross prior to her leaving to work with the poor. When she did, Christ vanished from her interior world. He entered into the face of the poor.

She had reached the climax of interior connection to the Divine on the relative plane.

Her dryness was due in part, I would argue, to the fact that she was never taught there was another plane of (non)spiritual realization: The Nondual.

The article mentions St. Paul of the Cross, famous early modern saint, who for 40 years himself was in aridity, only towards the end of his life to have been raised from the Causal (John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila's Mystical Marriage) to the Nondual Indistinct Union (Meister Eckhart's Gottheit).

If Teresa had known this path, the path of inquiry, the aridity might have been less. She was searching in the realm of the soul-God when she had already exhausted everything capable in that realm.

The Soul in Mystical Marriage is fired so that it might burn through life (in love)--as she did so wonderfully. Eventually (a la Bernadette Roberts) meant to burn out completely. On the far side of the annihilation of the Soul, lies the realization of the Witness/Godhead and from there to the dropping of the Witness, to Isness Alone.

On the far side of Isness (Sahaj Samahdi) lies a new Burning, without selfhood--Bhava Samadhi. An evolutionary-Pentecostal burning. God and creation burn together in that place.
Melt, like liquid fire.

Theresa, could have asked, "Who is it that is Aware of this Dryness/Absence of God?" That one is free of the pain/torment of the Absence.

To ask that question is to take the red pill and go down the rabbit hole.

This is why the work of Indistinct Union, bringing back the awareness and the practice--without the fear of heresy labels--is so important for Christianity.

Siddhis who are free to participate (or not participate) in whatever states and reality emerge. From the perception of Isness, Absence and Presence (of God, of anyone, of anything) is equally the manifestation of the Ultimate.

God's Presence and God's Absence are only two sides of the same Godhead-minted coin.

Update I: Vince has a good post on the subject referencing Bernadette Roberts as well. I have a comment in the comment section.

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At 6:29 PM, Blogger ~C4Chaos said...

thanks for the heads up on this. sounds like dear Mother Teresa had an extreme case of Dark Night of the Soul. if this is true, then i admire her some more because she continued with her "mission" giving comfort to people even when her life felt like "hell." that's a more saintly quality in my book.


At 7:55 PM, Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

Hey CJ,

Too bad Mother Teresa couldn't discern that the reason for her conclusions about the Christian god is because he doesn't exist. In fact, the gods professed by all three so-called faiths of Abraham are purposeful deceptions, hence the darkness she felt.

On the other hand, in spite of her inability to discern the existence of Jesus or God, she persisted in doing good, by her own strength.

I am deeply sorry for her suffering while greatly admiring her decades of good works. After all, no true saint would ever claim that faith is more important than good works.

Revelation 10:7
But within the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as She has declared to Her servants the prophets.

Here is Wisdom !!

At 1:43 AM, Blogger . . . said...

Thanks for an interesting topic. You have some good points, but in my own experience it is not quite that simple...

The period of aridity and darkness, which not all experience, has no way out. That is the whole point of it.

For me, I had several years in partly a oneness and partly a nondual state before the dark night, and none of the things I had seen and discovered and practiced earlier helped one bit at that point, and from what I hear and read that is quite common.

As you mention, the dark night is a burning through of a lot of stuff, and it has its own schedule. Nothing "I" can do has any impact on it, because this "I" is one of the things that is burned through (in addition to a large number of different patterns at different levels created by it).

St. Theresa said that the only thing she found that gave her some relief was engagement in the world, especially through work that directly benefits others, and it seems that Mother Theresa discovered the same. (And in some small way, that was also my experience.)

That said, 40 years of aridity seems a pretty long time. Typically, it only last a few years. For Douglas Harding it apparently only lasted a couple of weeks...!

At 8:43 AM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

Thanks for all the comments guys.


You're right. What I was writing was (largely) hypothetical. Although in my own life, certain forms of inquiry did "speed up" (for lack of a better term) my move through certain forms of suffering.

Teresa of the Little Flower had a similar another "dark night" after having already gone through John of Cross' dark Night of Soul, at the end of her life. She was confused because it wasn't in the writings of JoC and Teresa of Avila.

I think Teresa of Calcutta was going through the same thing.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous MoE said...

Hi CJ,

Seems that there are many forms of the dark night, and they can come at different times and different strengths, or not at all.

I guess hat they all have in common is a wearing away of beliefs and identities, and patterns created by these, which happens outside of (and sometimes in spite of!) any effort made by who we take ourselves to be.

Would be interesting to study this and see how it shows up in people's paths, and what the common patterns are.

St John of the Cross mentions the dark nights of the senses and soul.

In my limited understanding, it seems that the dark night of the senses is a stripping away of beliefs and identities enough to be in a relatively stable state of oneness with God. A direct experience of all as God (consciousness, Spirit, Buddha Mind), and a hint of sense of a separate self one with God.

And the dark night of the soul is a stripping away of remaining beliefs and identities, so I goes away and only God remains, as Meister Eckhart put it, revealing all as God without an I with an Other.

But in real life, it is usually more messy than this, and we have previews and glimpses and longer periods of more stable awakenings, and then periods where it all seems to go away, yet there is still processes going on below the surface.

I guess the main characteristic of a dark night is a sense of loss. "I had this awakening, this oneness with God, this nondual realization, and it went away. Poor me."

And it all comes back to this sense of "I" having something and then losing it. Which just means the process of wearing away of beliefs and identities is still not quite done yet.

If there is no sense of a separate self, then aridity and anything else is fine. There is no dark night there then, even if the content of awareness have all the signs of a typical dark night.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Baron_Corvo said...

I wonder to what extent being regarded as a living saint by millions of people became a prison for her?

I believe she's in a better place now anyway.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Agreed--on both counts. Peace.


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