The Intense Opposition of Basic Human Nature to Any Attempt to Change or Grow into a New Status and the Need to Persevere

Until an individual takes up the issue of inner growth and development, whether this is for spiritual progress, mental development, emotional growth, vital discipline or some kind of physical control, he tends to take very little notice of any inner conflict or struggle. He just acts ‘naturally’ according to his own idea of what his life is about. This all changes when an individual attempts to undertake any manner of change in some part of his being. This may be a very physical activity, such as an attempt to lose weight, to carry out a resolution to exercise, to overcome an addiction such as to drugs, alcohol or caffeine, or it may be on the vital level, for instance, to resolve to overcome a tendency to anger, or restrain impulses of desire in some form; or it may be an attempt to remain calm under provocation or restrain impulsive thinking or behavior. The individual immediately begins to recognise the difficulty as the old habits try to assert themselves, or the reactive nature simply responds contrary to the will. The dieter will find himself bingeing and a struggle to restrain the impulse to eat ensues. Addictions create psychological dependency as well as physical dependency and thus, there is an intense internal conflict from any attempt to stop the addiction.

For the spiritual seeker, the situation becomes more acute as he begins to actively witness these actions from a viewpoint that rejects them and desires to embody a new consciousness that seems to run counter to the basic embedded instincts and habits of human nature. Thus, the spiritual seeker finds himself in a constant struggle as each element of basic human nature, so freely accepted as part of the human situation, comes up for review and change within the context of the evolution of consciousness and the shifting of the basic standpoint from which human behavior derives.

The constant and overwhelming nature of this multifarious opposition to the spiritual growth makes the seeker believe, in many cases, that he is destined to fail, when in actuality what is taking place is that he has a more precise view and insight into the human condition and has taken on a challenge that goes far beyond any individual aspect addressed in the course of ordinary life. The need to observe, deny support of the will, and shift the focus to the spiritual aim are the method to be employed. While the struggle may be continuous and involve all the elements of human life, it is only taken up by those who are called to this path, and they are individuals who inherently have the inner fortitude and the support of the Divine Grace to succeed, as long as they do not give in to the despair or depression and simply persevere.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… the experience which so alarms you, of states of consciousness in which you say and do things contrary to your true will, is not a reason for despair. It is a common experience in one form or another of all who try to rise above their ordinary nature. Not only those who practice yoga, but religious men and even those who seek only a moral control and self-improvement are confronted with this difficulty. And here again it is not the yoga or the effort after perfection that creates this condition, — there are contradictory elements in human nature and in every human being through which he is made to act in a way which his better mind disapproves. This happens to everybody, to the most ordinary men in the most ordinary life. It only becomes marked and obvious to our minds when we try to rise above our ordinary external selves, because then we can see that it is the lower elements which are being made to revolt consciously against the higher will. There then seems to be for a time a division in the nature, because the true being and all that supports it stand back and separate from these lower elements. At one time the true being occupies the field of the nature, at another the lower nature used by some contrary Force pushes it back and seizes the ground…. If there is the firm will to progress, this division is overpassed and in the unified nature, unified around that will, there may be other difficulties, but this kind of discord and struggle will disappear.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 113-114


How to Change Human Nature

Many people are skeptical about the possibility of true change to human nature. This skepticism is supported by the long experience humanity has had in trying various ways of changing and overcoming habits, atavisms and what are considered to be the ‘natural’ forms of expression and action of the body, the life-force and the mind. Humanity has tried suppression, self-torture, extreme pressure exerted from outside or inwardly, as well as attempts at isolation and abandonment of active involvement in the external life. Humanity has tried development of moral codes, religious doctrines, education, socialization and many other forms of developing a ‘civilizing’ effect on the individual’s nature and relationship to the world. All of these attempts have provided some amount of insight into the difficulty of the task, but at some point, each of them has failed to effectuate radical change, although some of the mechanisms or processes developed may wind up having a positive, even necessary, role in farther reaching attempts at human development. Some have wound up disguising the deeper instinctual actions with a veneer of civilization, through a process that psychologists call ‘sublimation’. Suppression of the natural urges and pathways of expression lead to either various forms of internal breakdown or imbalance, or in some cases, explosive release that overwhelms the inner control mechanisms. Some deny it is even possible and recommend ‘eat, drink and be merry’ as the purpose of life.

There are several common themes that can be gleaned from these past attempts and their noted results. Changing human nature is not something that occurs overnight. Countless millennia were needed to develop the evolution of life, and eventually the evolution of mind into the physical world. During this time-span, instincts, habits and automatic reactions were developed which underpin life today, even for those who are most highly advanced in the mental evolution.

The first step is to become the witness of the nature, so that one can observe and separate oneself from those actions and reactions that need to be changed as part of the development to the next evolutionary stage of consciousness beyond the mind. The next step is to recognise that everything moves based on attention and energy, and thus, one should begin to shift the focus away from the obsessions, goals and desires of the external being and refocus the attention on the soul’s aspiration and the higher evolutionary principles. The more one is able to refocus and not support those older aims and objectives, the weaker they become. It is not a matter of violently suppressing or actively fighting with these drives, but more a matter of growing out of them by shifting the attention, just as a child grows out of playing with certain toys and takes up new interests as he grows and develops.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The difficulty is that in everyone there are two people (to say the least) — one in the outer vital and physical clinging to the past self and trying to get or retain the consent of the mind and the inner being, the other which is the soul asking for a new birth. That which has spoken in you and made the prayer is the psychic being expressing itself through the aid of the mind and the higher vital, and it is this which should always arise in you through prayer and through turning to the Mother and give you the right idea and the right impulse.”

“It is true that if you refuse always the action suggested by the old Adam, it will be a great step forward. the struggle is then transferred to the psychological plane, where it will be much easier to fight the matter out. I do not deny that there will be difficulty for some time; but if there is the control of the action, the control of thought and feeling is bound to come. If there is yielding, on the contrary, a fresh lease is given to the old self.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 112-113