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