Spiritual tests for advanced practioners
by Mihai Stoian
The tests that mark our spiritual evolution on the path of self becoming are inevitable. It is said that even Jesus experienced them, therefore all of us have spiritual tests. However, we usually hear about situations that test the beginner aspirants and we rarely hear about the tests of those who have been walking the spiritual path for some time.
The regression of the apprentice,the occultation of the teacher
Tests that appear in the first stages are much more obvious and they affect many practitioners, selecting those who are truly ready to continue. A discussion about such tests is generally better understood because it refers to the beginning stages, which are widely accessible. Nevertheless, the spiritual tests of aspirants with experience on the spiritual path are just as interesting. Due to the fact that they appear in more advanced stages of practice, they are subtler and more difficult to decode.
“When the disciple is ready, the master appears,” is a saying for those who’ve begun their inner evolution and sometimes express their worry about the way they will be guided further. Triumph over the first subtle tests represents the criteria upon which the aspirants’ selection is based. Therefore, the master only appears to those who have succeeded, as confirmation that they have passed the test and are ready for the next stages. For a while, everything flows within the new frame, the aspirant learns to see things from a new perspective and discovers the value of the truth of this expression, but its reverse can equally manifest: when the disciple fails some major spiritual tests, he regresses; therefore, he stops being ready and the master “disappears”, becoming occult. Of course, this is not only about concretely withdrawing from the life of the aspirant, due to an “apparently objective” situation (he either leaves the physical level, or he moves to another city or another country, or he is stopped from seeing his disciples). The most frequent situation is the one in which he is close to the aspirants, but some of them begin to regress and, by completely changing their point of view, they can no longer perceive him as a master.
The disciple sees differently, the master is the same
This bizarre phenomenon of “becoming occult”, which is specific to the spiritual teacher, is only due to the fact that the aspirant completely changes his inner point of view, and it is not because the master has changed. The one who is in such a dramatic situation begins to make strange and mean projections, he begins to find all kind of unreal justifications and he says that “the master is not as he was in the beginning”, even if – paradoxically – the master proves to be the same for the others, giving them the same divine help and being the same unpredictable enemy of the ego, when necessary.
How does such a distortion of the perception take place? A disciple who practices controlling the sexual energy, for example, will soon face serious tests in this direction. If he fails the spiritual test, he has the tendency to “lower his standards as an instinctive protective mechanism, hoping that in this way he will be protected from the risk of future disappointments. Without realizing it, the disciple narrows his inner horizon, and the master’s impulses and actions appear in another perspective – a darker and duller one. When the master gives him the impulse to mobilize all his forces in order to succeed to control the sexual energies, the aspirant will be less enthusiastic, he will even be ironic or joke about these impulses, sometimes manifesting impertinence or even a de-transfigurative familiarity. If the master advises him to let go of prejudices and enjoy lovemaking with his lover in order to develop control over the sexual energy, the aspirant may have the impression that he is pushed and forced towards something he no longer values, therefore he may consider that the action of the spiritual guide is an exaggeration, an intrusion into his personal life.
There is a risk for all of these aspects to appear as a result of the regression that follows the failed spiritual test. The aspirant no longer understands the importance of re-using sexual energy on the spiritual path and he now looks at things from a more “relaxed” point of view, imagining that the systematic use of the sexual energies on the path of transmutation and sublimation is a secondary, optional choice. Another example is that of a disciple who wants to explore the secrets of meditation. In the beginning he makes a daily effort, inspired also by the master’s words and by the example he gives. After a while he becomes looser and stops practicing so intensively, even if his spiritual results do not give him the right to slow down. Now he is tempted to give greater importance to some common aspects of life which he previously considered ephemeral. If in such a moment he has the possibility to choose between spiritual practice and a certain tempting social position that offers him financial satisfaction, but takes away all his time and energy, it is almost certain he will choose the social position.
Tricked by the vision which has once again become profane, the aspirant chooses the social position, convinced that after he makes a career and a bank account he will also find time for meditation. After failing this test, the aspirant considers that his action was correct and he imagines that his master’s advice regarding detachment from material aspects of life are strange and exaggerated. This is why he can even begin to intensely criticize some of his spiritual guide’s advice and also to convince others to act as he did. This attitude makes him go even deeper into the mistake marked by failing that spiritual test. In such a situation, the distance between aspirant and spiritual guide increases more and more, without any changes in the attitude of the master.
Playing the statue
For the advanced practitioners, one of the most difficult tests is that of their position and importance on the spiritual path. As one advances in his acquiring of knowledge, part of the spiritual training of a disciple is to share this knowledge with the practitioners from the same school of evolution. They are in the beginning, and he helps them to move on. Self-giving in order to give an impulse and to support the others offers a new depth to spiritual becoming; this is why it is embraced by most of those who reach a certain level of spiritual practice. However, in the significant and detached work through which he helps the others to evolve, a particular amplified “self-importance” can appear, in a very subtle way, without obvious signs. In this way, the spiritual ego awakens and becomes amplified. When the consciousness of self-importance is connected to strictly individual accomplishments or situations, especially very worldly ones, it can be noticed and removed more easily. However, when it is about what the aspirant does in order to serve the others spiritually, the state is insidious and it sneaks into his soul at a more subtle level and is often an important test on the path of inner perfection.
“The graveyards are full of irreplaceable people” – is a saying for those who need to understand that they are too full of themselves. When you truly do very good and important things for the others, you can easily forget that you are not the one who acts, but that God acts through you and He constantly does what is necessary. This is why advanced aspirants must be careful to apply the Karma Yoga principles with great mastership, and to practice humbleness intensely, attentively and consciously. It is not by chance that communities of monks insist on having a state of humbleness –the ally of monks and especially of those who have already had some spiritual realizations. Behind this self-importance, the germ of deviating from the spiritual path can appear very fast. How does this happen? The colleagues that the aspirant helps have the natural tendency to ‘erect a statue in his honour’. The advanced aspirant must be very lucid and avoid identifying himself with this image, in order to break that statue that they built of his image and with which he tends to identify his soul.
The disciple can consider these things as simple, harmless games, but when they crystallize as inner attitudes it is already too late because they lead to serious contradictions, big inner crises and painful errors. These mistakes are not made as a result of a lack of knowledge, but because he had already lost his inner freedom when he became the statue he was playing before.
Candle is the result of the burning flame
Another important test for advanced practitioners is that of “taking out insurance” against the reactions of the master. Any authentic spiritual guide has a crushing effect on the nature of the ego. Therefore, from the first steps on the path of inner becoming, the action of the master scares the disciples who still cling to the ego. As the transcendence of this illusory structure appears later on the path of evolution, it is possible that the aspirant will have a kind of deep subconscious terror that the master will “strike” again one day, hitting him in the core of his being, where the last piece of ego is hiding.
This is how, once he has gained a certain “importance” in the structure of the spiritual group, the aspirant will have subconscious hopes that the “gained” position will ensure him a kind of protection in front of the objective and uncompromised eye of his guide. The test he has to go through now is about the way in which he deals with the tendency to rely on his so-called illusory position to which he gives imaginary weightiness. This tendency appears because today’s society teaches us that one must prove to be useful in order to survive. The ego reacts in the same way in its desperate attempt to strengthen or even to regenerate its last pieces, after the aspirant had gradually reclaimed almost all his inner territories from of its claws.
“For the one who is still ignorant, the flame is the result of the burning candle; for the one who became wise, the candle is the result of the burning flame.” This is the test of successful individual practice. If we see things from a limited perspective, after the euphoria of the results of the beginning passes, a major inner conflict tends to appear between what we understood partially and what the master sees from a universal perspective and what he shows us with lucidity and detachment. If we do not aim to “raise” ourselves to the level at which we should be, according to the things we learned so far, it is possible to gradually lose the overview that is open to us in the first stages of the spiritual path, because we trust our master “no matter what”.
In this way, a feeling of being astray from the master appears. This feeling manifests as apparently “fair” criticism, phantasmagorical discontent, and a mean and exaggerated selectiveness towards what the master does. In this situation, his actions start to appear to increasingly lack the real divine meaning we used to perceive at the beginning of the spiritual path. Why is that? It is because now we no longer have the same vision. We live with the false impression that the flame appears now due to the candle and we consider it absurd to act upon it if we want to change the shape of the candle.
The image in the broken mirror is a distorted one
These aspects seem unimaginable for those who are in the first stages of the spiritual path (this is because in the beginning the inner vision is borrowed from the master to a great extent, and it represents part of the grace we receive in order to be able to move on). Yet, in the case of advanced aspirants who have a natural tendency to clearly understand this and to form their own spiritual vision, it is possible – if this crystallization does not take place at the highest spiritual coordinates that have been shown – that the aspirant can gradually lose contact with his master through an obvious alienation of ideas.
If the aspirant has the revelation in the beginning (transmitted by the spiritual guide) that everything in the Universe is love and he allows this new perspective to give him an impulse, it is nevertheless possible that over time he can no longer validate this understanding through personal experiences in meditation and in daily life. Scepticism, doubt, regression and various difficulties appear once again in the heart of the disciple, but now he has other “certain” perspectives and nobody sounds the alarm bells. In his subconscious, the regressing aspirant builds the conviction that not everything is quite like that, that there is not only love in the Universe and for him things become “different” and much more nuanced. He even has the tendency to be ironic, as if he is joking, about this revelation “for the beginners”; gradually, he will start to live further and further away from that principle, returning, without even noticing, to a profane vision, hidden behind the imaginary behavior of a “saint”, of a great “wise man” or even (why not) proudly claiming he is a master, (and, ridiculously enough, having the impertinence to give lessons to the spiritual guide from which he learned the little that he knows).
Even so, the master will continue to manifest in a detached manner and to apply this principle everywhere. If he interacts with the disciple and corrects him, the disciple will have the tendency to judge the actions of his spiritual guide according to his own perversity, according to abject and limited human interests, and not according to the universal principal of love, which he abandoned without noticing when he passed from the master’s direct support to the results obtained through individual practice. It is especially then that he imagines that the master acts out of certain personal interests and he interprets the master’s intention and action of correction in a distorted and mean way. This is only a part of the most famous tests that the advanced aspirants face on the spiritual path. Usually these situations are hard to understand as long as we do not have the inner point of view; they are especially hard for those who are not yet at that level of spiritual practice and realization to understand.
Originally published in Yoga Magazin number 66, 2007
taken from mihaistoian.net: http://www.mihaistoian.net/category/latest-news/spiritual-tests-ad-advanced-practioners