Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Consolation, desolation, and the four noble truths

In the Jesuit tradition, consolation refers to the feeling of moving closer to God and desolation refers to the feeling of moving further from God. Consolation is generally associated with a lowering of suffering and desolation with an increase in suffering. However, both can be seen as good in that are both feedback about our spiritual state. In Buddhism, ignorance of the Dharma (i.e., truth about reality) causes suffering. The term enlightenment is usually meant to refer to the state of being of a fully realized buddha but, in terms of process, the word enlightenment refers to a decrease in ignorance. The first Noble Truth is that suffering happens, the third Noble Truth is that suffering ceases. In my opinion desolation can be thought of as the feeling accompanying the occurrence of suffering (the first noble truth). It is not the initial suffering but can be thought of as an additional suffering laid on top of it. For example, if you learn that your child is seriously ill you will experience suffering because you love them. Desolation occurs on top of that, when you despair, when you curse God or the universe, when you think there is no hope. This is the heaping of ignorant reactions on top of a compassionate response. It is the feeling of moving in the direction of increasing ignorance. Contemplative or mediative spirituality is based, in part, on a belief that humans have a seventh sense, a way of sensing the truth about the universe or God’s will. But this sense is often buried and therefore difficult to detect. Desolation is not simply despair, it involves a sense that we are acting in ignorant or sinful ways. Consolation, or the process of enlightenment, comes when we cease acting ignorantly (the third noble truth). Further consolation can occur if we replace it with something that is good for us. In both Buddhism and Christianity there is a belief that we can detect or discern movement in either direction - desolation is the feeling of moving toward greater ignorance, and consolation is the feeling of moving toward less ignorance

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