“All who enter the spiritual path have to face the difficulties and ordeals of the path, those which rise from their own nature and those which come in from the outside. The difficulties in the nature always rise again and again till you overcome them; they must be faced with strength and patience. But the vital part is prone to depression when ordeals and difficulties rise. This is not peculiar to you, but comes to all sadhaks—it does not imply an unfitness for the sadhana or justify a sense of helplessness. But you must train yourself to overcome this reaction to depression, calling in the Mother’s Force to aid you.
All who cleave to the path steadfastly can be sure of their spiritual destiny. If anyone fails to reach it, it can only be for one of the two reasons, either because they leave the path or because for some lure of ambition, vanity, desire, etc. they go astray from the sincere dependence on the Divine.”
– Sri Aurobindo
One of the most popular contemporary illusions on the path to spiritual growth and refinement is the idea of avoiding pain or challenges. We hear over and over the New Age infantile “you create your own reality” propaganda and see endless displays of weakness by so-called “occultists” lamenting the inability to navigate the most basic day-to-day engagements while claiming to have obtained high states of spiritual experience.
When one enters upon a true spiritual path, challenges and pain should be expected and accepted without regret. More often than not, the individual who experience more challenges is typically doing more serious spiritual work.
Aurobindo brings up many important points in the aforementioned quote, the first being the concept of “the difficulties and ordeals of the path.” This idea must be taken deeply to heart by all spiritual aspirants. I am reminded of the contemporary attempts to brand meditation as “dangerous” due to the potential stirring up of repressed mental states and / or emotions. Meditation or Dhyana was never intended to cultivate happiness. Rather the process of Dhyana is a ruthless deconditioning process. This is a truly alchemical process and is by no means easy or blissful.
As stated by Aleister Crowley: “I work on gold, and gold must be cleansed with acid.” The Soul or Atman, while not “worked on” from a yogic perspective, is a radioactive force which cares not for mundane concerns or desires. In Jyotish / Vedic Astrology, the Sun or Surya is considered the ultimate source of Cosmic Prana and a powerful radiating revelation of the Atman; interestingly it is also considered malefic.
There are no New Age pleasantries guaranteed by Surya rather the location of Surya will most likely reveal areas of radical challenge! From a Vaidika perspective, we do not “work on” or “heal” the Atman. What is sought is a yogic deconditioning process whereby the mind and perception is cleared of the fog of tamasic illusion to allow the rays of the Soul to shine into mundane reality.
This means shining the light into areas of our lives which need to be exposed or changed. This process is not happy, easy or blissful in most cases. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary part of the alchemy of self-transformation. Aurobindo asks us to accept this and to forge ahead on the “difficulties and ordeals of the path.”
These difficulties and ordeals can arise from our own nature or from outside of us. This means that many of these challenges will be the illusions and mirages of our emotional and mental creations. I have covered this in-depth in my work “Entering the Desert” ( Anathema Publishing). This is the area in which the contemporary mind screams dangerous warnings for meditation.
If one truly wishes to embark on a spiritual path, they must be ready to encounter the ghosts and shadows of their preconceived emotional mirages and societal conditionings. If not, then perhaps another path should be chosen. The difficulties and ordeals can also come from outside of us. This does not have to be supernatural in origin. In most cases this is friends, family, or basic social environments which are being challenged by the spiritual and psychological transformation of the aspirant.
There will never be a lack of environments or individuals ( friends and foes) who will seek to hinder the pace of our spiritual journey. We must forge ahead and laugh at such temporary issues. As stated by Crowley: “You can only accomplish your object in life by complete disregard of the opinions of people.”
As stated by Aurobindo, these challenge, both inner and outer, must be faced with “strength and patience.” These two attributes are crucial weapons on the alchemical path to self-transformation. We must cultivate strength on all levels: mental, emotional, and physical. We can see the concept of strength marketed as dangerous by the contemporary zeitgeist. We are told strength is toxic, weakness is admirable, and forced equality is the rule.
The spiritual kshatriya refuses to accept such modern myths and constantly seeks to discover his / her areas of weakness and transform these into areas of strength! This could mean becoming physically fit, learning a new trade or improving one’s ability to read and write. The spiritual path does not have safe spaces; we must cultivate inner and outer strength to go the distance.
Balanced with strength is the concept of patience. This concept is also seen as pejorative to the contemporary mind. There is no quick-fix or “life-hack” on the spiritual path. Each aspirant must face individual karmic challenges head on. No amount of hacking will allow the individual to escape karmic responsibility. Attempting to quickly side-step karma will only create more and more shadowy realms of illusion.
Aurobindo also reminds us that these issues are not unique. There is nothing special about depression, sadness, or life-challenges. Everyone has them, everyone will suffer and celebrate according to their karmic maturation. Wallowing in sadness, malaise or self-pity is shirking the responsibility of our lives!
Krishna calls us to “arise Arjuna!” on the battleground of our life and forge ahead utilizing the weapons of strength and patience. If we persist in our efforts, slowly and surely over time we will make progress. This progress may be invisible at times but it IS occurring. This illuminates the important role of the guide, mentor or respected teacher and the importance of right association in our spiritual paths. We must surround ourselves with people who challenge us and inspire us. This right association can often be the most important facet of self-transformation. Within a field of supportive social / spiritual environment, the weapons of strength and patience are always sharp and ready for implementation.
Aurobindo reminds us that we must train ourselves to overcome depression. This is not easy and takes time, strength and patience. But if we truly grasp this concept, then we can weather the inevitable storms of life with grace and self-respect. In this particular line of the quote, Aurobindo calls upon the aid of the Mother, the universal Shakti which can descend and bring grace and protection to us along the paths of our lives. This concept is pregnant with meaning.
Aspirants on the path to self-transformation must often call upon the Unknown for help and protection and the Mother is perhaps the most powerful Cosmic Intelligence along the path to the Soul. How dangerous is this concept to the contemporary secular humanist ideal??? This mysterious Shakti must always be considered when facing the difficulties and ordeals of the path.
Aurobindo finishes his important quote by stating that all will surely have success on their journey of their own unique “spiritual destiny” IF one stays strong to the path. If one quits, then failure is guaranteed. Instead of looking for magical secrets and hacks, simply manifest strength, patience, and stay the course!
If one is led astray due to confusion, worldly desires, ego, etc., then do not blame the system or the path! The path of our spiritual destiny is always open if we have the eyes to see. Once we have cleared the sleep from our eyes and visualize the path, we must embark on the journey with strength, patience, and devotion to the Divine.
This is not complicated or impossible, yet few will take this journey to the end.
What choices will you make?