Transformation - New self, new life
by Suma Varughese
It is the only evolutionary step that comes with a lifetime guarantee: Total Transformation.
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly: -Richard Bach.
The delicate, iridescent butterfly emerging from the pupa shroud that claimed its former self is an abiding and haunting symbol of transformation. Of an evolutionary process, of a new life, unimaginable to the old. Of the true self, encrypted with the false, bursting out in full glory at the appointed time. Little wonder, then, that the image is a graphic metaphor for our own life and destiny.
The Chandogya Upanishad says: "In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the True, that is the Self, and thou, Svetaketu, art that." Thou art that. For centuries, these three words have been a signpost to our butterfly self. Beyond the body, beyond the emotions, beyond the mind, beyond the personality, beyond death dwells the region of our True Self, the spiritual masters tell us. Our unlimited, Universal Self, loving, compassionate, omnipresent. And the purpose of human existence is to find and be that.
Through their own self-realization, great prophets such as Krishna, the
Christ have kept this vision alive. Yet, what has always been on the
fringes of human endeavor—the preserve of saints and sages—is
today moving into the mainstream. Transformation is becoming your business
and mine. Psychology, science and other streams of knowledge are increasingly
confirming the age-old spiritual perspective that we make our own reality.
That in a world of flux, human nature is not a given. It is an infinitely
malleable compound of conditioning and impressions. That we are spirit,
not matter, and our primary drive is to realize that aspect of ourselves.
Carl Jung, Freud's brilliant and breakaway disciple, had challenged the
pessimistic Freudian understanding of human nature as essentially driven
by sexuality. He did this through the introduction of the concept of Pneuma,
an indwelling spiritual component of the Self behind our body/mind, that
is an organic part of the human psyche and experienced as the urge towards
Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology, also contributed to a
more positive, transcendent approach to psychology with his concept of
self-actualisation, a basic human drive to realize the innate potential
for goodness. Today, with New Age thought percolating into all aspects
of life, never has there been so clear an understanding of the infinite
scope of human potential, or of our own ability to realize it. Self-help
books, spiritual texts, personal growth workshops, yoga and meditation classes, spiritual gurus, all these reiterate the message that perfection
is possible and within our grasp.
Transformation is currently the hottest game in town. While almost all
transformation occurs in the context of moving from matter to spirit,
Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian seer, introduced a new twist to the process
by postulating the possibility of spirit moving into matter. His stance
is that the transformation we are heading for is the evolution of a higher
species altogether, through which the Creator can express himself perfectly,
a Godlike species.
Which is not to say that all transformation is of a spiritual nature. Maslow
divided self-actualisers into two types: non-transcenders and transcenders—those
who were clearly healthy but with little or no experience of transcending, and
those in whom transcendent experiencing was important, even crucial. He described
the first type as "practical, realistic, mundane, capable", while the other was
motivated by unity consciousness and a sense of destine, having had "illuminations
or insights or cognition which changed their view of the world and of themselves".
Without invalidating the first, we will focus on the transcendental variety.
Transformation, most thinkers, including James Redfield, author of The Celestine
Prophecy, agree, begins with restlessness. The simmering discontent will not
be appeased by the circumstances of the current life. If the restlessness converts
into a quest, either through self-inquiry, books, discourses with spiritual masters
or discussion with friends, it can often led to a revelation—that split-second
parting of the mind's veil that flashes a firsthand vision of the sought-after
But revelation is not transformation. Transformation is the slow, steady
infusion. Transformation is the slow, steady infusion of the vision into
a reality. Transformation is moving from seeing anew to being anew. Which,
to begin with, calls for a path. God does not play dice with the universe:
Albert Einstein. Fortunately, there is no dearth of paths that one could
Try Patanjali's ashtanga yoga,
where the eight processes of yama, niyama (dos and don'ts), asanas
(breathing), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (single-pointedness),
dhyan (meditation) and samadhi (merging with the divine)
from a complete, holistic guide to transformation. The Buddhists have
their own eight-fold path: right view (Perspective), right aspiration,
right speech, right conduct, right work, right effort (self-control),
right mindfulness and right meditation.
There are also the classic routes of Karma yoga, Jnana yoga,
bhakti yoga. Zen Buddhism advocates engaging with questions (koans) which
have no answer at the level of the thinking mind. The Advaitists and Taoists
have a way too—which is no way at all. We are already that, they tell us,
and the mistake is to think otherwise. Others map the journey through of consciousness.
Jacquelyn Small, author of Transformers, charts a growth graph
of seven levels, beginning with the infant's instinctive will to live,
which later generates the will to feel and the will to know. The fourth
stage of acceptance is the crucial bridge leading to the higher levels
of consciousness consisting of Love of Truth (revelation of ultimate reality),
Love of Life (universal love), and the summit, Love of Self (the revelation
of the sacred in all things). Robert S. De Ropp, author of The Master
Game, evaluates growth on the basis of the activity (game) that preoccupies
us. At the bottom are the pursuits of glory, fame and wealth.
Beyond these is aimlessness or no game. Beyond
these is aimlessness or no game. Beyond aimlessness lie the higher pursuits of
family, beauty (artistic endeavors), knowledge (science and academics), salvation
(religion) and finally, awakening—the master game. Whatever the route, the
journey remains the same. Since transformation is a complete paradigm shift in
the way we think, speak, act , relate to ourselves, to others and to life, the
changes it calls for are drastic. Which means, to even begin to effect these,
we need a sound sense of self-esteem. Only self-esteem will enable us to look
deep within ourselves and not baulk at the unpalatable sight.
is pretty much the starting block of the transformation process, without which
the path, always perilous, may well turn fatal. Self-esteem accesses for us the
tools of transformation which are two: awareness and acceptance. We can only change
what we are aware of, and we can only change it when we accept it.
cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate,
it oppresses: Carl Jung
Jacquelyn Small wasn't exaggerating when
she called acceptance the bridge that leads to the higher levels. Acceptance is
a crucial component of growth. It helps us to view all circumstances of our lives,
including our mistakes, negative character traits and damaging events as something
to learn from, enabling us to transit from resistance to actual change.
For, in actuality, once acceptance is won, awareness of our faulty tendencies
alone can effect a change, in much the same way as the sun dissolves the morning
mist. We don't need to flay ourselves, or force ourselves to change. Once the
process of growth is underway, acceptance can yield rich dividends. For one thing,
it allows us to ford duality. Good/bad, desire/desirelessness, conformist/nonconformist—acceptance
melts the division between the two, freeing us from the hold of likes and dislikes,
and bringing equanimity in its wake. This equanimity will not budge even in the
face of evil of wrongdoing. Acceptance helps us to move gracefully from protesting
against wrongdoing to doing right. From anti, we shift to pro-mode.
There are other byproducts to the growth process. As we move beyond the conditioning
that determined our thoughts, words and actions, we become increasingly aware
of being whole and perfect. We learn deep inside that that is what we are and
have always been. This realization, in turn, generates an integrated sense of
self. Freed of the need for fronts, we become who we are, regardless of whether
we are at work, at play, at home or in public. Our personality becomes honed to
utter simplicity, eventually leading us to the understanding that our personality
does not determine us it is we who determine our personality.
fear dissolves, helped by our growing sense of self, and above all, by an increasing
trust in the universe, with which we find ourselves mysteriously more and more
in alignment. Cabs appear when we want them, crowds melt when we approach the
buffet table, friends materialize at a thought. And whatever we may need for our
further growth, is instantly provided, either through thoughts, books or a stray
comment. Freedom from conditioning frees us to see life as it is, helping us to
fine-tune our sense of discrimination. Distinctions between means and ends, between
action and consequences, the individual and the universal, flower out at this
stage, giving us clarity and depth of thought.
As we take responsibility for our actions and spin away from the orbit of others'
control, we taste freedom for the first time. The freedom, that is of being our
own master controlled neither by life nor by others. Simultaneously, this generates
respect for the freedom of others, which we now see as a fundamental right given
to us at birth.
Growth occurs by our becoming more and more of who
we are, not by our trying to be someone we are not: Jacquelyn Small
Somewhere along the process of growth, as we learn to leave behind our concerns
of the self, we begin to focus on the larger world. Says Small: "I can see you-the
other-for the first time, a subject of your own life, rather than just an object
in mine." A sure sign that our growth is maturing is an ability to transcend dichotomies.
We learn to become both childlike and mature, playful and serious, loving and
detached, flexible and firm.
Freed from the conditioning that dictates
our behavior, we span the spectrum of possibilities, spontaneously responding
to the moment in hand. This spontaneity spills over into the ethical aspect, allowing
us to always be appropriate, without ever operating from external or preset rules
of right and wrong. We are now well into the transformation process.
Expect change, always tantalizingly slow, to speed up a bit, bringing
us, in time, to the domain of surrender. Here, we let go of all personal
motives and concerns. Trusting and loving life and the universe completely,
we allow life to live us, rather than the reverse. We see ourselves as
instruments of a Higher Will, whom it is our deep privilege to serve.
We are now within shouting distance of the summit, where, having penetrated
the layers of our own identity, we merge into that of the Universal identity.
This is samadhi, Satori,
turyavasta, that fabled domain we have sought so ardently and for
What is it like? This is the region of the Sat, Chit, Ananda—existence,
consciousness, bliss—the attributes of the Creator. Here is where
universal friendliness, love, mercy and detachment dwell (maitri, mudita,
karuna, upeksha). In Emerson's words: "All things are friendly and
scared, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine; for the
eye is fastened on the life and slights the circumstance." But even this
is not the end. That occurs when, letting go of even the vestiges of the
Creator's identity, we plumb the void of consciousness.
there is is consciousness," says Ramesh Balsekar, one such cosmic voyager. And
consciousness is what we return to. Here at the Source, we begin to see that the
nothing is, in fact, everything. The journey is done, what next? It is said that
the Buddha, immersed in the bliss of union, nevertheless roused himself to need
the call of the suffering multitudes. It is almost second nature for the transformed
person to take on responsibility for the world at large. Henceforth, the world's
problems are his problems, the world's happiness his. Usually, this takes the
form of teaching but there have been other outlets.
Some, like Ramesh Balsekar, write books: Masanobu
Fukuoka, author of One-Straw Revolution, took to farming: others
like Rabindranath Tagore took to the arts. Each serves life in his own
way. Merging into the universal is the final release into unique selfhood.
These are a few who are well-known, but there are numerous others who
are well into the journey of transformation. In the following pages, you
will look into the minds and share the thoughts of eleven such individuals.