For most of human existence, there has been a deep divergence between those who seek spiritual development and those who are focused on the material life in the world. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes the two paths as ‘the refusal of the ascetic’ and ‘the materialist denial’. It would seem that either one must abandon the life in the world, and all its difficulties and imperfections, or one must give up on the attempt to gain spiritual wisdom and apply it. The ability to actually integrate the two harmoniously into a spiritual human life has been treated as somewhat of a chimera, as people view human nature as essentially fixed in deeply rooted habits of action and reaction that are virtually impossible to change.
Sri Aurobindo provides a solution to the dilemma posed by these two extremes and the inability to bridge the gap between them, as he describes ‘reality omnipresent.’ There is no necessary disconnect between the spiritual development and the material life, as they both express aspects of the reality within which we all live and grow. The key to the apparent divergence is the evolutionary expression of and development of consciousness. This approach recognises that our current formulation of human nature is not necessarily fixed for all time, but can adapt, grow and change, whether slowly through the process of nature, or more quickly through the conscious participation of the individual seeker.
Clearly there can be no real change of human nature if the seeker simply abandons the life in the world; yet we have countless examples of highly developed spiritual aspirants who, when they have to deal with the world, fall back on the old habitual patterns of mind, life and body. As the evolution of consciousness develops, the higher forces have to develop methods to transform the action of the body-life-mind complex so as to fully and accurately express the higher spiritual intention and energetic implementation. This is the process that Sri Aurobindo calls ‘transformation’ and it proceeds in three steps, the psychic transformation, the spiritual transformation and the supramental transformation.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “If one can remain always in the higher consciousness, so much the better. But why does not one remain always there? Because the lower is still part of the nature and it pulls you down towards itself. If on the other hand, the lower is transformed, it becomes of one kind with the higher and there is nothing lower to pull downward.”
“Transformation means that the higher consciousness or nature is brought down into the mind, vital and body and takes the place of the lower. There is a higher consciousness of the true self, which is spiritual, but it is above; if one rises above into it, then one is free as long as one remains there, but if one comes down into or uses mind, vital or body — and if one keeps any connection with life, one has to do so, either to come down and act from the ordinary consciousness or else to be in the self but use mind, life and body, then the imperfections of these instruments have to be faced and mended — they can only be mended by transformation.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Meaning of Transformation, pp. 201-203