My Dark Night of the Soul sounds so much cooler than My Dukkha
Life is hard, shit happens. If shit is not happening now, you know sooner or later it will. Often when a series of difficulties arises, you will hear people say they are going through the Dark Night of the Soul. This is not true.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a mystical journey. It unfolds over time and has little to do with shitty periods of life.
Dukkha on the other hand, is exactly what you mean.
The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is ‘Life is Dukkha’. This is translated on the street as ‘Life is Suffering’.
The actual definition is closer to ‘Life is being Stuck’. The second Noble Truth is that you are stuck, because you get attached to things and don’t want them to change. Welcome to the human condition. All God’s children got the Dukkha.
You do yourself no favor by mis-labeling your troubles. If you read the Dark Night of the Soul you would know that declaring being on the journey, while actually not doing the work is an issue of righteousness which falls under the Sin of Pride and therefore is taking you farther from relief.
Both Zen practice or one guided by the Dark Night of the Soul are designed to help you live with the human condition. There is no conflict between the two, only practices, vocabulary and language differ. I will try to do both life long journeys justice in a few short paragraphs.
In St John’s words, the journey begins with a ‘privation of desires and senses’, which is very Buddhist. Basically the whole point of meditation in the beginning is to ‘see through’ desires and the senses. From the Heart Sutra, ‘Avalokiteshvara, doing deep prajna paramita … clearly saw emptiness of the five conditions’
In Zen practice ‘seeing through’ goes on until you have a decent experience of Emptiness or the Non-dual or No-Self, whichever language you prefer. St John says the same thing, “the darkness of night, which is naught else than an emptiness within itself of all things”, this is the first Dark Night.
The use of the words ‘dark night’ is because when the ‘night’ occurs, the experience is that of not-knowing. The self/soul has no faculties to experience this and therefore all is dark to it. Yet some part of you experiences this.
If you are tenacious and make it through this contemplative period and have a deep experience of Emptiness, you can then continue on to the second Dark Night.
The active portion, practice phase, of the second Dark Night can be summed up with the word ‘Aridity’. You are drying up like a log put on a fire waiting to burst into flame. (St. John has another very readable treatise called The Living Flame, which I highly recommend) St John describes the work to be done at this phase in terms of the Seven Deadly sins. The idea is to see your habits around each sin, transform them and embody their associated graces, for example expunging Pride and expressing Humility.
The second Dark Night then comes, as expressed by St John, as union with God. In Zen we express it as the great awakening.
It should be mentioned that you can only do the practice. Being brought into either Dark Night is a favor from God. ‘Oh, happy chance’ as the poem says. A similar modern saying is, ‘enlightenment is an accident and meditation makes you accident prone’.
All of that said and done, you get no dispensation from the Dukkha of everyday human life. The most you can say is that you are not as stressed about it, you can respond fluidly. After the journey that allowed St John this great understanding, he still lived out his days being chased around by the Spanish Inquisition.
May your life go well …
Dark Night Of The Soul
by St John of the Cross
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings-oh, happy chance!
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happychance!
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.