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dark night, death
12/16/18 9:56 PM
Sometimes people meditate diligently and are nonetheless filled with despair. I don't believe meditation is the problem. People are dissatisfied with their lives, and meditation is touted as a way to liberate oneself from suffering and unhappiness. Of course it doesn't work, in isolation. The problem is not a lack of meditation. It is our "defilements" that cause attachment and attendant suffering. These are not necessarily immoral or socially deplored. What primarily defiles us is insincerity, hypocrisy and conformity, all of which are approved of if not required by society.
One of the best descriptions in literature of this condition is leo tolstoy's "the death of ivan ilych," from which I would like to quote, since he expresses these ideas better than I could:
"It was true, as the doctor said, that Ivan Ilych's physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings, which were his chief torture.
"His mental sufferings were due to the fact that that night, as he looked at Gerasim's sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: "What if my whole life has really been wrong?"
"It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend.
"'But if that is so,' he said to himself, 'and I am leaving this life with the consciousness that I have lost all that was given me and it is impossible to rectify it - what then?.'
"He lay on his back and began to pass his life in review in quite a new way. In the morning when he saw first his footman, then his wife, then his daughter, and then the doctor, their every word and movement confirmed to him the awful truth that had been revealed to him during the night. In them he saw himself - all that for which he had lived - and saw clearly that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death. This consciousness intensified his physical suffering tenfold. He groaned and tossed about, and pulled at his clothing which choked and stifled him. And he hated them on that account...
"His wife came in to congratulate him after his communion, and when uttering the usual conventional words she added:
'You feel better, don't you?'
"Without looking at her he said 'Yes.'
"Her dress, her figure, the expression of her face, the tone of her voice, all revealed the same thing. 'This is wrong, it is not as it should be. All you have lived for and still live for is falsehood and deception, hiding life and death from you.' And as soon as he admitted that thought, his hatred and his agonizing physical suffering again sprang up, and with that suffering a consciousness of the unavoidable, approaching end. And to this was added a new sensation of grinding shooting pain and a feeling of suffocation....
"For three whole days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force. He struggled as a man condemned to death struggles in the hands of the executioner, knowing that he cannot save himself. And every moment he felt that despite all his efforts he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him. He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it. He was hindered from getting into it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very justification of his life held him fast and prevented his moving forward, and it caused him most torment of all.
"Suddenly some force struck him in the chest and side, making it still harder to breathe, and he fell through the hole and there at the bottom was a light. What had happened to him was like the sensation one sometimes experiences in a railway carriage when one thinks one is going backwards while one is really going forwards and suddenly becomes aware of the real direction.
"'Yes, it was all not the right thing,' he said to himself, 'but that's no matter. It can be done. But what is the right thing?' he asked himself, and suddenly grew quiet. This occurred at the end of the third day, two hours before his death. Just then his schoolboy son had crept softly in and gone up to the bedside. The dying man was still screaming desperately and waving his arms. His hand fell on the boy's head, and the boy caught it, pressed it to his lips, and began to cry.
"At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that though his life had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, "What is the right thing?" and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes, looked at his son, and felt sorry for him. His wife came up to him and he glanced at her. She was gazing at him open-mouthed, with undried tears on her nose and cheek and a despairing look on her face. He felt sorry for her too.
"'Yes, I am making them wretched,' he thought. 'They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die.' He wished to say this but had not the strength to utter it. 'Besides, why speak? I must act,' he thought. With a look at his wife he indicated his son and said: 'Take him away . . . sorry for him . . . sorry for you too. . . .' He tried to add, 'forgive me,' but said 'forgo' and waved his hand, knowing that He whose understanding mattered would understand.
"And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides. He was sorry for them, he must act so as not to hurt them: release them and free himself from these sufferings. 'How good and how simple!' he thought. 'And the pain?' he asked himself. 'What has become of it? Where are you, pain?'
"He turned his attention to it.
"'Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be.' 'And death . . . where is it?'
"He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. 'Where is it? What death?' There was no fear because there was no death.
"In place of death there was light.
"'So that's what it is!' he suddenly exclaimed aloud. 'What joy!'
"To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that instant did not change. For those present his agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, his emaciated body twitched, then the gasping and rattle became less and less frequent.
"'It is finished!' said someone near him.
"He heard these words and repeated them in his soul. 'Death is finished,' he said.to himself. 'It is no morel' He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out, and died."
Tolstoy writes of ivan ilytch, but he means every person who wakes up to their conformist life and realizes it is not the character they were meant to be, the individual they might have been if they had followed the original impulses of the heart and became themselves. Ivan ilych realizes that this can be "rectified" even in the last moments of a wasted life. His joyous realization is continuous with his death. Blake says, "Some are born to Sweet Delight; Some are born to Endless Night." Most of us are caught in between, and must choose. To choose life is to choose death. The dead suffer no more. A rock band took their name from the egyptian book of the dead, which says, "In the time of darkness the ship of light will be driven by the grateful dead."
What causes the frustrated meditator to experience a "dark night"? The desire to escape creates the demons we need to escape from. Dogen says that flowers only fall when we love them, and weeds only grow when we dislike them. There is a zen koan that speaks of an animal passing through a gate: the horns go through, the head goes through, the body goes through, so why does the tail not go through? We can sacrifice anything but that last vestige of ego, the fear of death. We keep looking for a way out, a way to save the individual ego. You can cut off a person's arms, legs, ears, flay their skin, remove organs, and the ego will remain completely intact. The ego is baffled, how can it give up itself? Round and round it goes until pop! goes the weasel. Death is inevitable, whatever our doubts and despair. When the ego dies the spirit is set free. Better sooner than later, to die and be reborn in this life instead of the next.
How can we deal with our maras, our demons? Milarepa's 100,000 songs speak frequently of him meeting demons, and in typical buddhist fashion he converts them to the dharma. It turns out that all demons, even the most ferocious, are really looking for love and kind treatment.
If we can relax our grip on what we desire we can relax our clutching of our demons, lay down the burden and let them go, with love nd respect. Bye demons; be well. Pain is only pain, not a monster. Loneliness is only loneliness, and much company is just as bad. Accepting our lot with humility, "merging with dust," we begin to wake up to the perfection of things, beyond good and evil. Once the light is seen, darkness vanishes forever. However burdensome life may become, we no longer despair. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Even the rod and the staff are a comfort.
from idries shah's 'the way of the sufi':
How the Search for Knowledge is Frustrated
It is frustrated by pretence.
There is that which man knows within himself. He does not recognize it for what it is. He pretends that he can, or cannot, understand it. He does not know that he needs a certain preparation.
There is what man thinks he knows, but does not. He only knows about a part of the things which he knows. This partial knowledge is in some ways worse than no knowledge at all.
There is also what man does not know, and cannot know at any given stage. This, however, he believes he must know. He seeks it, or something that will seem to him to be this thing. Since he has no real measuring-stick, he starts to pretend.
Study theme of the Azamia Dervishes
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