Communicating With The Holy Spirit--The Story Of Bernadette
Spoken By Supreme Master Ching Hai, Koohsiung, Formosa February 21, 1990 (Originally In Chinese)
I read a book today about the story of a French nun named Bernadette and the detailed descriptions of her visions of Mother Mary. The vision she saw did not claim to be Mother Mary; rather, it was a conclusion later reached unanimously by other Christian countries.
Before she first saw the vision, Bernadette suddenly heard the sound of the wind. At the time, the weather was cold and people wore long shawls and stockings to keep warm. Bernadette suffered from a chronic cough that often gave her sleepless nights; she was physically weak and sometimes out of breath. Therefore, her mother forbade her to go to the other side of the river. However, when she saw others cross the river, she too wanted to follow suit. As she took off one of her stockings, she heard the sound of gusty winds but the trees nearby were still. She thought she had not heard right and prepared to take off her other stocking. Again, she heard the wind but did not see the trees move or any other sign of it. There was a sudden movement in front of her and she beheld a light. From within the light, a beautiful lady emerged in great radiance. She looked very pretty, as Bernadette so described, "Her face was so beautiful that after one look at her, one would die willingly just to see her a second time!"
Bernadette's family was not well-off. She often had to go hungry when they no longer had any bread. Her family used to live within their means; however, they had treated their customers too well and saw their profits dwindle away as they gave away more than they earned. Nevertheless, the hospitable family continued to serve every customer with cheese, bread and wine. A growing imbalance in their accounts and increased losses drained the family's wealth, leaving them without food at times.
Bernadette was a sick child, her health deteriorating as she grew older because the family could not afford her medicine. She did not attend school. She had to work in order to help her parents make ends meet. However, she had great faith in God and Mother Mary. She had not seen them, but her faith was strong. Very often she felt ashamed of her illiteracy and inability to be like other girls. According to the Christian tradition, when children reach the age of twelve or fifteen, they go to church beautifully dressed for a grand baptism ceremony and become a formal Christian believer before the attendees. Bernadette saw many girls her age going to church for the ceremony, but she could not go because she did not know how to recite the verses. She felt even more ashamed. Some people tried to teach her but she seemed to be too dumb; she could not memorize a word even when she had been taught two or three times. Feeling even more humbled, she thought she was the most dumb and unworthy person. Little did she know that it was for this humility of hers that God chose her to witness Hiers manifestation in the form of Mother Mary, something that was to make her name well-known throughout the world even today.
Some of us have found the Master and a distinct path of spiritual practice, yet we do not have the faith of those whom we consider dumb. Bernadette had never seen a vision, and no one ever taught her anything; all she had was faith, and God bestowed Hiers grace upon her. Therefore, we should examine whether we have enough faith in our spiritual practice. Bernadette had not seen anything, yet she had faith and was eager to see it. Mother Mary had been her most beloved since childhood. She would pray to Her when she was in trouble or hungry, or when her family was in a predicament. She had immense faith even before she perceived any vision. Sometimes even if we have seen a manifestation of God, we do not yearn that much. Therefore, the Bible says, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. This means that God blesses those who have not seen but have great faith.
Sometimes we practice a very good method and follow a good path, but our faith is not strong enough. Subsequently, we make little progress in spiritual practice. On the other hand, some people may have received initiation, learned the method, and do not practice well probably because of their exceedingly heavy karma or lack of time. They do not see much but have faith. These are blessed people as well. We do not have to perceive higher levels or brilliant light to be blessed. Our progress can be measured by observing our life and faith. We might not have perceived wonderful visions, but if we have a humble heart and pray piously every day, God's grace will shine on us. Take Bernadette, for example, she was not learned, and no one ever told her who God is; she just prayed consistently.
Eighteen times she went to the spot where Mother Mary appeared to her, and eighteen times she saw Mother Mary. On one occasion, two persons went with her, but the vision whom we call Mother Mary told Bernadette that her companions were not allowed into the cave; they could only wait outside. Why were they barred outside? The book did not say. Perhaps their faith was not strong enough, or their aura was impure. Don't think that the saints do not discriminate. Sometimes they might accept certain people and reject others. Why? It is because people are different in their levels of attainment. To receive God's grace, we do not necessarily have to be learned, or to demonstrate our sincerity in certain ways. But we must be perfectly pure at heart. Since childhood, Bernadette had been subject to rigorous tests in the form of hunger, poverty, contempt by others, and lack of knowledge. She suffered constant repression from both people and circumstance. Most likely she no longer felt attachment for the world. Every time she fell ill, she felt the world was ephemeral. Unlike the superficial feelings we have, she realized profoundly that there was nothing to keep her in this ephemeral world. That was why her soul was so clean and pure, and she could remain undistracted and enter samadhi so easily. After a brief prayer, she could just close her eyes and go into samadhi. Though no one taught her to do so, she always prayed with her eyes closed, which is a form of meditation. When we close our eyes, direct our hearts inward, and concentrate our thoughts toward divinity, we call it "meditation!"
Many people behold visions when they pray. Of course, some are illusions, which are different from visions. Visions like what Bernadette perceived were real because she became very humble, happy and wise. Once ignorant, she changed completely after her encounter with the so-called Mother Mary. She became very fluent in speech and debate, answering people with words of great wisdom despite her former ignorance. Though humble, she carried herself with a dignity that made her a different person altogether. Sometimes, at the end of her communication with Mother Mary, she would stand up and tell everyone, "You should repent, repent, repent!" She spoke like a priest or nun who had practiced for a long time. Her confident and dignified bearing was uncommon in a young girl of fifteen or sixteen. She had never learned to behave in this way. She saw the vision eighteen times, which was proof enough that it was not an illusion or a state of being possessed.
I am not saying that Bernadette experienced the highest vision; I am citing her story just to let you know why some people experience spiritual visions and samadhi while others do not. An extremely pure person, she had had no possessions since childhood. All she had was the agonizing torment of illness, which gave her little time to think of worldly things. That is why I sometimes say, "To be ill is to be blessed." Illness makes us a little more compassionate and sympathetic toward others. It is then that it comes to mind how we have failed to extend kindness to those in suffering.
Many great spiritual practitioners come from a very humble background or a very poor and miserable environment. A small number of people receive some experience through sincere practice of asceticism. However, their attainments do not come from such practice. It is the pain they suffer in the process of their ascetic practice that awakens them to the pains of life, touches their hearts, and increases their compassion and mercy. When we are in pain, we deeply feel the pain of others. Our hearts expand; we communicate with the wisdom and compassion deep down in our hearts. Our attention turns inward so we get close to our original Nature and receive some experience. I don't mean that we have to punish ourselves to get it, but when we are in pain, our hearts open up more. However, this depends on the person; not every suffering soul is understanding. When some people are in pain, they find ways to hurt others in order to get something or to make themselves happy. Everyone is different. If we understand this logic, we will find it easier to get close to God when we are in pain. This applies to me as well. Sometimes I dare not eat the good food that you bring, and I really don't want to accept the big, expensive cars you offer. I have no desire for these things; I fear that I might get used to this kind of luxurious life and forget the people's suffering.
While in this world, we should maintain a fair, open heart and a balanced state of mind, free from prejudices and biases. If we, as spiritual practitioners, do not have humility, sincerity and divine faith, it is very difficult to receive an experience or to realize our sacred Self. We are still on the outside, just like we are scratching our itching foot with our socks on, which cannot relieve the itch within. Therefore, many differences remain among spiritual practitioners. They may have the same Master and have received the same experience at the initiation, but they will become different after some time. Each of them will go their own way and perceive different experiences, depending on their faith. You might not have experienced higher visions in meditation, have not seen much light or made much progress with sound, but as long as you have faith, you will definitely have them, sooner or later. If we are only keen about seeing visions and do not maintain our faith, then it is not very safe. Anything that strengthens our faith is good for us. Therefore, do not talk too much about inner experiences. Most people boast and want the whole world to know when they have a tiny bit of experience. Sooner or later, they become possessed. I have warned you of this long ago.
There is a story about a person who claimed that if he could have a lot of land, he would fear not even the devil. He desired for land because he was a farmer. He was still a little afraid of the devil because he did not have enough land then. Unfortunately, the devil overheard his arrogant statement and quickly terminated him. It was just for that tiny bit of arrogance. Sometimes we take pride in our beautiful clothes, or when we put on perfume, we enjoy it and feel arrogant; the devil can detect all these. There is another Chinese story about a monk (Master Wuda of the Tang dynasty) who had been a great monk for ten lifetimes. Unfortunately, he was arrogant just once, and that was enough to produce an ulcer on his leg. It is by no means easy to maintain a balanced heart in this world, so please be very cautious. Take care!