The character we exhibit today is a result of the past, whether we start from the underlying habitual patterns of human nature, or perhaps even go back farther to the patterns of the vital animal nature. Much of this is actually built into the genetic framework of the being, but layered on top of this is are the learned behaviors through socializing and through education, and then comes life experience, and the pressures exerted upon the life by the conditions of the outer world and impacts and influences from the environmental consciousness, all of which together creates the individual personality and character as we recognise it today. While this is created by the soul’s specific need of experience of a certain type, the development and functioning of the external being is very much a product of these forces. This layered complexity is a primary reason why people believe that human nature, or the basic character of the individual, cannot be realistically changed to any great degree. We may add a veneer of culture, or cultivation on the surface, but the underlying character remains what it was.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, however, have shown a way that this bedrock of character can indeed be changed. The process is painstaking, systematic and takes time. Taking the standpoint of the witness consciousness observing the nature of the being, the Purusha is able to disassociate from the outer nature, so that there is not an implicit acceptance of the framework that is in place. Then there is the exercise of a steady, patient and persistent will to change. Following up on this, specific key reactions are observed and modified over time.
There is an ancient legend about a great sage who was supposedly a dacoit, a highwayman or thief. At one point, to escape detection, he pretended to be a renunciate sage, living in the forest and practicing meditation and other spiritual disciplines. He did this for so long, that he lost all his motivation and urge to be a thief, and transformed his nature into that of an enlightened wise soul. This may or may not be a historical fact, but it does speak to something that we can relate to; namely, that awareness, focused attention and consistent action can change one’s life. In today’s world, we see cases where individuals who have been extremely obese and out of shape decided to change their lives, and took up a program of diet, exercise and positive affirmations and succeeded in transforming their body, their vital energy and their mental focus.
The Mother observes: “First of all one must be conscious, then control, and by continuing the mastery one changes one’s character. Changing the character is what comes last. One must control bad habits, the old habits, for a very long time for them to drop off and the character to change.”
“We may take the example of someone who has frequent depressions. When things are not exactly as he would like them to be, he becomes depressed. So, to begin with, he must become aware of his depression — not only of the depression but of the causes of depression, why he gets depressed so easily. Then, once he has become conscious, he must master the depressions, must stop being depressed even when the cause of depression is there — he must master his depression, stop it from coming. And finally, after this work has been done for a sufficiently long time, the nature loses the habit of having depressions and no longer reacts the same way, the nature is changed.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Subconscient, Subconscient Habits, pp. 110-111