Spiritual Despair

By Rudra Shivananda

Spiritual practitioners will sooner or later have to face a dramatic situation that has been highlighted by the opening chapter of the Bhagavadgita – the unwillingness to go forward to destroy our ignorance and negativities. This is not a platitude and is a tremendous test for the sincere seeker on the path and occurs only after considerable amount of prior effort.

GitaTo recap the scene, the hero Arjuna after 13 years of trials and tribulations has been guided by the Divine Lord Krishna to a great battle against the forces of darkness. Unfortunately, these forces of darkness arrayed before the hero happen to be his own kinsmen, some of whom he has great love and affection for. At this critical juncture,
Arjuna decides that he would rather not fight and have to kill this own kith and kin. He throws down his weapons in despair.

This can be interpreted as a spiritual allegory – Arjuna is the sincere spiritual seeker who has been guided along the path by his teacher for many years. All his effort has been to annihilate the dark forces within his psyche. He had tried to live with them. He had tried
to appease them by giving in to their demands constantly, but to not avail. They want to take over totally and will not even allow the seeker a sliver of light, love and joy. Finally, the seeker is led by his inner teacher to declare war and fight the inner darkness of desire, fear, pride and so on. However, when he confronts them he loses his motivation
because they are also part of him and he has lived with them all his life – does he really want to rid himself of them? What will be become without them? Is it worth this  personality surgery?

In fact, this is the stage when the practitioner finally has to face the reality that he or she has to destroy his ego and personality!

Most spiritual seekers do not really think very hard on what it means to achieve Self-Realization. It is only a theoretical consideration, if even that, when once in a while we are reminded that it is our ego, sensory mind and
the personality that we’ve developed throughout our life that is the enemy standing between us and our True Self.

We operate in the fuzzy view that everything will be fine and that we can just become better, stronger and more aware – that the ego will become subservient and our personality will become better because the negative aspects will disappear and we will have the ideal personality. Unfortunately, such a rosy picture does not reflect the reality of our karmic nature – the ego, sensory mind, and personality will not go away quietly.
When one realizes that state and faces that battle in earnest, it is almost universal that the seeker withdraws into despondency and even despair. In many cases, this happens even without the seeker being conscious of the reasons for these feelings – it happens to
the practitioner who has been on the path for some years.

This is a state of spiritual despair and should not be confused with lesser emotional problems or clinical depression. It can last for weeks or even years depending on the
awareness of the seeker and the guidance of the teacher. In the case of Arjuna, it only lasted an hour or so because of the intervention of Lord Krishna, but this is exceptional.

There is another example set forth in the famous Yoga Vashishtha – in that case, it was Lord Rama himself, a divine incarnation who in his youth became despondent and required the intervention of his family teacher, the Rishi Vashishtha to provide the guidance to overcome the lack of interest in human activity. This illustrates another
spiritual barrier that advanced souls will face.

We can also find spiritual despair in the gospel of Lord Jesus when in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was temporarily overcome with despair which he resolved by power of will and surrender to his Father in heaven. It was the spiritual barrier of self-sacrifice.

It is probably not necessary for us to consider the state of a Lord Rama or Lord Jesus at this time, but we should keep in mind the experience of Arjuna who represents the sincere soul embarked on the path. Keep this in mind also when you or a friend on the path falls into spiritual despair. The symptoms can be as mild as a lack of motivation and decrease in practice time or as severe as a total departure from the path. It is necessary
to have a competent guide to help get back on the field of battle.


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