amritayoga.com_28-Oct_Bhakti Talks_Teresa of Avila-The Example of A Devoted Saint

Teresa of Jesus, born in Avila, Spain in 1515, comes to us after five centuries as a messenger with an incredible love story with God, a precious gift given to her in the realm of her intimacy, which she shares with all of us.

Teresa is prayer. That is the key point of her life. She is a loving, friendly prayer that rises and addresses us within—that world so close to us and yet so unknown, where our greatness and divinity exist. This prayer is placed in the center of her existance, mixed up with the “pots” of the daily life.

She said: “Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” It is a humble itinerary within, to recognize our own reality and to discover the loving gaze of God in all things.”

We are not hollow. God dwells within and speaks to us with a different and unique voice.

Teresa wrote many books and inspirational letters throughout her whole life. Through her prolific work, she describes her intimate relation with God, giving us valuable clues for our own spiritual path. Sharing the precious guidance of her experiences, she invites us to walk by her side in our personal relation with the divine.

It does not matter our creed or religion. The truths she is talking about are universal, intemporal, eternal…like Sanatana Dharma.

Teresa of Avila is Teresa of Jesus. Her magic, her love, her strength… all come from her intimate relation with Jesus Christ and her loving relationship with God. The experience of this loving God of Teresa, a God aiming to communicate with us and love us, can lead us to permanent joy and plenitude.

There are different paths for reaching the same goal. Teresa followed Christian mysticism, surrendering, through the figure of Jesus to her own Christ consciousness within. She motivates us to do the same, thanks to her ability of communicating the most profound aspirations of the soul.

“Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.”

~ Teresa of Avila

 

In one of her books, The Interior Castle, also called The mansions, she compares the soul with a castle, with many mansions through which we are progressively crossing, from the outside to the inside, along the different stages of our spiritual path.

“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”

She affirms, “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very crystal in which there are many rooms just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” ~ Teresa of Avila

When quoting the Christian gospel and referring to the “Mansions in Heaven”, she is alluding also to the different worlds or planes of existence: physical, astral and causal, as they are known in the Vedic scriptures.

She insists that, as we grow in our spiritual life, we are able to maintain our focus in love. “I only want you to be warned that, if you would progress a long way on this road and ascent to the Mansions of your desire, the important things is not to think much, but to love much; do, then, whatever most arouses you to love. Perhaps we do not know what love is: it would not surprise me a great deal to learn this, for love consists, not in the extent of our happiness, but in the firmness of our determination to try to please God in everything, and to endeavor, in all possible ways, not to offend Him, and to pray Him ever to advance the honor and glory of His Son.” ~ Teresa of Avila

In her literature, in the book of her life, she refers to our mind as a garden that needs to be watered, describing the different ways for watering this garden mainly through prayer, right action and meditation.

From constant effort at the very beginning of our spiritual practices we move through different stages till actually having mystical experiences. At that point, our effort is not needed as much, but the “watering” is done efficiently by the grace of God.

One of her most famous quotes is a summary of her teachings about focusing our mind in God:

“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.”

~ Teresa of Avila

Teresa wrote: “This Beloved of ours is merciful and good. Besides, he so deeply longs for our love that he keeps calling us to come closer. This voice of his is so sweet that the poor soul falls apart in the face of her own inability to instantly do whatever he asks of her. And so you can see, hearing him hurts much more than not being able to hear him… For now, his voice reaches us through words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks, and reading sacred literature. God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how half-hearted such insights may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what He is trying to teach us.”

In her words, we can find a similarity with the different paths of yoga: bhakti, jnana, karma and raja. We are talking about the same thing, with different words. She was also fond of singing the glories of God, just as the hindus sing bhajana or kirtan to praise Him.

As an expression of her Bhakti or devotion, she stated:

“All things fail; but Thou, Lord of all, never failest! They who love Thee, oh, how little they have to suffer! oh, how gently, how tenderly, how sweetly Thou, O my Lord, dealest with them! Oh, that no one had ever been occupied with any other love than Thine! It seems as if Thou didst subject those who love Thee to a severe trial: but it is in order that they may learn, in the depths of that trial, the depths of Thy love.”

The motherly love showed by Teresa reminds me, in many aspects, of our most beloved Amma. The message is made of the same substance, of the same essence.

Amma says her religion is love.  Teresa said that love alone gives worth to all things.

Tersa also advises us: “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”

Amma is devoted to Her children, to the spiritual growth and welfare of humanity, and serves them with love and affection. “Selfless service is the soap that purifies the mind,” she insists, and also says, “One should see any opportunity to serve as a rare and precious gift…and never waste such an opportunity.”

In the words of Teresa:

“Always think of yourself as everyone’s servant; look for Christ Our Lord in everyone and you will then have respect and reverence for them all.”

Both mothers find humility as the essential way to holiness.

Amma says: “Only humility will help us grow. The feeling of I and mine obstructs any possibility of inner growth.”

“In a cyclone, large trees and buildings are uprooted, but no matter how strong the cyclone is, it cannot harm the grass – that is the greatness of humility.”

“A true devotee or disciple will have great humility and, because of this, will also possess a certain spiritual beauty. The beauty of spirituality lies in humility.”

In the words of Teresa: “Humility must always be doing its work like a bee making its honey in the hive: without humility all will be lost […]

As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God. Let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.

There are two advantages to this:  first, it is clear that anything white looks very much whiter against something black, just as the black looks blacker against the white.

Secondly, if we turn from self toward God, our understanding and our will, become nobler and readier to embrace all that is good. If we never rise above the slough of our own miseries, we do ourselves a great disservice.”

Detachment is another virtue praised by both of them.

Detachment is one of the main topics in the life of Teresa, as she was always having in mind that everything is a gift of God and accepting, with gratitude, what may come or go.

Amma says: “Live in this world like butter floating on the surface of water. Though it is in the water, it remains separate – detached.”

Teresa of Avila says: “The people and objects that we are attached to must leave us one day. They cannot be with us forever. In due course they will disappear from our life. Our wife and children, our home and car, and everything that we are attached to will change or disappear. And when each thing or person disappears we are again overcome by agony and fear. This will continue until we surrender to God and develop faith in the eternal nature of our real Self.”

Amma’s devotion was exalted by association with an avatar, Lord Krishna, as well as the Divine Mother, in the same way as Teresa was devoted to Lord Jesus Christ.

Personally, getting closer to Teresa has given me many insights in my spiritual journey. It has also made me closer to the figure of Christ, to whom she is so devoted.

This year of the five-hundredth anniversary, I have recently made a pilgrimage to her hometown, Avila, and visited the main places where she used to be, including a church constructed in the place where she was born and lived as a child and “La encarnación”, the monastery of the order of carmelites where she was living her religious life around thirty years, before starting her foundations of the reformed feminine order around the Spanish territory.

She was a contemporary of Saint John of the Cross, being himself appointed by her to be the leader of the same reformation of the masculine carmelite order.  The reformation implied a more austere religious life, centered mostly in contemplation.

Quoting Teresa: “Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”

During my visit, I could feel the sacred energy of these places impregnated by her mysticism: Her cell in the monastery, the chapel where she prayed during so many years, the confessional where she used to talk with Saint John of the Cross, etc. Even the city of Avila, with an astonishing battlement surrounding it all, felt like a magical place, transporting me to ancient times.

In summary, I may say that approaching the life and works of Saint Teresa has been very enriching for my soul and my spiritual path. I have and am still learning a lot from her, taking her life and message as an ideal example of a devoted life to God, serving others and praying with the clear goal of merging with Him.

“May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.”

~ Teresa of Jesus

May the message from Teresa of Jesus accompany us not only during this year, but through all our lives, as an expression of an incarnation of motherly love.

May all of us be able to live, like Teresa, a love story with God.

 

Author: Silvia Hidalgo Daya