Over the course of the last 20 years I have had some practical experience of the way evil operates and how it tries to bring down good. When I lived my semi-monastic existence between 1979 and 2000 my knowledge of this was largely theoretical but going back into the world has given me greater insight into the modus operandi of evil. Particularly, my encounters with certain individuals have taught me quite a bit about the way it goes about its business. I write this piece for others who may find themselves caught up in similar situations because such things happen to many of us on our spiritual journey.
The individuals I am referring to could not be called evil in themselves but they had sufficient spiritual and psychological flaws to be used by evil. They were open to influence because of their misconceptions and personality defects. In saying that, I realise I may sound as if I am claiming the moral high ground for myself which, of course, would make me a typical Pharisee, puffed up with pride, self-importance and self-delusion. But I am not making any such claim. I know full well I have numerous flaws but I am, at least, aware that I have them. The people I am talking about think they are good people and would not accept that they have need of improvement in any radical sense. And this, I have noticed, is a major difference between the genuinely religious person and the non-religious. We are all sinners but the religious person recognises this about himself. He doesn't think he is a good person.
The Masters told me that the more progress an individual makes upon the spiritual path, the more he will be attacked by the dark powers. I have observed this to be true. If you are serious about spirituality or religion you are very likely to have to face something of this kind. The attacks may take place inwardly in the form of temptation to some sort of sin, pride, despair, anger or whatever it may be, wherever you are weakest. Or they may occur in the form of attacks by people you come into contact with, even close contact, even family members.
Here's a list of some of the ways evil seeks to undermine the good and bring down someone who follows the spiritual path. It may seek to do this either directly or by causing that person to react in some way. In conversation it accuses, it abuses, it argues and it shouts. It changes the subject when shown to be wrong and interrupts when countered. It may say that the person who is the object of its attention is mentally ill or morally bad. And, of course, it either lies outright or, more cunningly, subtly distorts reality. I'm sure you get the picture. All of this in the attempt to overwhelm and crush or else provoke some reaction which will drag the person attacked down to its own level. And don't forget that evil always has this advantage over good. It recognises no limit on its behaviour so will always do whatever it takes to get what it wants.
Being subjected to this kind of thing can be most unpleasant but the spiritual powers allow it because there are lessons to be learnt. It is a test of self-control under duress and an opportunity to acquire the ability to rise above personal reactions. It helps one gain a certain detachment and distance from emotion. At least, it can if you respond to it in the way you should which is far from easy. The point is that a person who really is serious about spirituality has to learn to conquer their lower self. The only way to do this for the great majority of people, especially perhaps men, is through the fire.
In the book of Revelation there is an interesting passage which describes Satan and his angels, in effect, the dark powers, as the accusers of the brethren. The brethren are firstly the saints and whole company of heaven, and secondly, and more pertinently, those seeking to join that company but who are not yet worthy in that they have character flaws to iron out. That's you and me. As we journey towards God we must purify ourselves of, putting it in traditional terms, sin. You could also say that we must build a greater spiritual awareness and a deeper love into ourselves. This is a hard task. You may have been told that you only have to believe in God and your salvation is assured. It's not that simple. Belief without inner transformation is nothing. After all, as James famously says in his 2nd epistle, even the devils believe. You have to convert that belief, which can be likened to an architect's blueprint for a house, into the actual building and you must construct that yourself. So, belief is something that must be constantly tended and deepened. The Indian saint Ramakrishna was once asked if it was true that if you bathed in the river Ganges all your sins were washed away. Perfectly true, he replied. Unfortunately when you come out of the river they all fall down from the branches of the trees right back onto you. The point being that belief to be spiritually efficacious must be completely internalised and built into character.
So we are the brethren and the devil and his angels are the accusers. They accuse us of sins we have and sins we don't have because their aim is to disrupt us and cause us to lose hope, succumbing to these sins in the face of relentless attack. But we must stand firm which we can do if we put our faith in God and let go of our attachment to our standing in the world and good reputation in the eyes of others. All those who are intent on treading the spiritual path to its conclusion have to be prepared to face the accusers of the brethren. But in dealing correctly with this experience you will develop the inner poise that God requires of his children and show him that your heart truly is with him and not the world. In fact, this is sometimes the only way you learn to give him your full inner attention. We have always known that the road to heaven is a thorny one but it is these thorns that tear off our self-concern and pride.