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The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

J. M. Cohen (Translator)

316 pages, paperback
Penguin USA, 1988

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself
 

Saint Teresa of AvilaSaint Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582) was a 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, as well as a doctor of the Church, and a beloved friend to another great Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. Written at the command of her confessors, St. Teresa's books remain classics of Christian mysticism, and contain much that is useful to beginners in any tradition of spiritual practice. Less abstract and theoretical than her friend, Teresa's works are no less noteworthy for the brilliance of their ability to convey with both warmth and rigor some flavor of this most extraordinary experience: union with God. Her autobiography may well be the best entry point into her work and into the mystical literature of the Christian church. Here she describes her early life and education, the conflicts and crisis she underwent, culminating in her determination to enter fully into the path of prayer. Following a description of the contemplative life, which she explores in four stages, she returns to her own life in order to describe (in erotic language reminiscent of the Song of Songs) the ecstatic experiences given to her by God.

We are so mean-spirited that we imagine the earth would slide from beneath our feet if for one moment we were slightly to turn our attention from the body and give it to the spirit. Since worldly anxieties disturb our prayer, we think that to have abundance of all that we require is a help to recollection. It distresses me that we have so little trust in God and so much self-love as to be troubled by such things. The fact is that when the spirit is making such small progress, a few trifles give us as much anxiety as great and important matters give to others. Yet in our minds we think of ourselves as spiritual!

Now this kind of life seems to me an attempt to reconcile soul and body, so that we may not lose our comfort in this world or the enjoyment of God in the next. We shall do all right . . . but we shall advance at a snail's pace. Freedom of spirit is not to be had in that way. . . . I tried it myself, and should have been practising it to this day if the Lord had not shown me a shortcut.

Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

 

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The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross

Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Translators)

216 pages, paperback
ICS Publications, 2001

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
 

Chogyam TrungpaSaint John of the Cross (1542 - 1591) is one of the most famous mystics in the Catholic Church, as well as the world. He was a Carmelite priest, and lived (and suffered imprisonment) in sixteenth century Spain, along with the equally famous mystic, St. Teresa of Avila; the two knew and had great admiration for each other. He left behind a body of work that is classic in mystical literature: maxims on the spiritual life, instructions as to preparation, purification and ascent to God (The Ascent of Mount Carmel), the perils and trials of the spiritual life (The Dark Night of the Soul), and depth of union with God (The Living Flame of Love and The Spiritual Canticle). The profundity of his knowledge of God and the beauty of his poetic writings rank him as a master in the mystical life. He uses, at times, difficult and deep (sometimes verbose) descriptions. This should not frighten off someone interested in discovering the realities and pitfalls of genuine spiritual practice. One must also appreciate the fact that each saint has their own language on these matters, and that it is filtered through their personality. He is a master teacher and model in spiritual matters, which go from leading a "right" life, to purification (by God) of one's life, to trials (the "dark night") that purify us, strengthen our faith, and instruct us, to union with God, always stating that no two people can expect exactly the same experiences. Concerning this, he gives advice, warning, and illumination as to temptations, dangers, and expectations.

Since their motivation in their spiritual works and exercises is the consolation and satisfaction they experience in them, and since they have not been conditioned by the arduous struggle of practicing virtue, [spiritual beginners] possess many faults and imperfections in the discharge of their spiritual activities. Assuredly, since everyone's actions are in direct conformity with the habit of perfection that has been acquired, and since these persons have not had time to acquire those firm habits, their work must of necessity be feeble, like that of weak children. For a clearer understanding of this and of how truly imperfect beginners are, insofar as they practice virtue readily because of the satisfaction attached to it, we will describe, using the seven capital vices as our basis, some of the numerous imperfections beginners commit. Thus we will clearly see how very similar their deeds are to those of children. The benefits of the dark night will become evident, since it cleanses and purifies the soul of all these imperfections.

John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul


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Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
Chogyam Trungpa


250 pages, paperback
Shambhala Publications, 1987

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
 

Chogyam TrungpaThe contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940 - 1987), has often been referred to as one of the few lamas who truly understood the Western mind; he is certainly one of the most influential Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the West. In this classic, he examines some of the self-deceptions, distortions, and sidetracks that imperil the spiritual journey as well as the awareness and fearlessness of a genuine spiritual practice. Trungpa's book is a reality check for wide-eyed spiritualists, mystics and "believers" of all kinds. He makes a clever, back door assault on the ego and its overwhelming tendency to hijack the spiritual process. I would especially recommend it to anyone who suspects themselves of turning a genuine spiritual practice into a form of self-development and self-fulfillment. This book is aimed at destroying many common, but incorrect assumptions made by beginning spiritual practitioners (particularly, those raised in Western civilization), and pointing out the necessity of a genuine Spiritual Master.

Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can delude ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

 

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