The Initial Experiences of the Spiritual Transformation of Consciousness

For those who have not experienced it, the shifting of the center and locus of consciousness upwards, above the physical brain, is something impossible to understand or imagine.  Yet, spiritual seekers confirm that this is a real and palpable experience that seats their awareness outside the boundaries of body-life-mind, and thereby frees them from limits imposed by the framework of these members of the being.

The first time this occurs, there is frequently a considerable amount of fear that can arise, as the seeker is afraid he is going to lose himself, or even die, as the consciousness moves out of the body in this way.  This is an oft mentioned status in the recounting of spiritual growth.  The seeker must be able to overcome this fear and continue or it will pull him right back into the physical body and postpone the experience for a time when the seeker is more ready to embrace it.  For this reason, also, the mystics speak about needing to go through the experience of death to reach enlightened levels of consciousness.  This is however not just a ritual or a simulated external experience, but an inward movement of consciousness to escape the bounds of the body, vital being and the mind.

The understanding changes as one escapes the limiting frame of the physical consciousness.  One sees and experiences life as infinite, knowing and powerful beyond anything possible to an individual fixed in the body awareness.

In some cases, the experience and understanding is so different from that of the normal consciousness that it seems like the seeker is entering into a state of sleep or trance and when he returns to the body awareness, he cannot describe or transcribe the experience or the understanding, as the mind does not have words to convey it, nor is there a mental framework within which to bring an understanding.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “If the rift in the lid of mind is made, what happens is an opening of vision to something above us or a rising up towards it or a descent of its powers into our being.  What we see by the opening of vision is an Infinity above us, an eternal Presence or an infinite Existence, an infinity of consciousness, an infinity of bliss, — a boundless Self, a boundless Light, a boundless Power, a boundless Ecstasy.  It may be that for a long time all that is obtained is the occasional or frequent or constant vision of it and a longing and aspiration, but without anything further, because, although something in the mind, heart or other part of the being has opened to this experience, the lower nature as a whole is too heavy and obscure as yet for more.  But there may be, instead of this first wide awareness from below or subsequently to it, an ascension of the mind to heights above: the nature of the heights we may not know or clearly discern, but some consequence of the ascent is felt; there is often too an awareness of infinite ascension and return but no record or translation of that higher state.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 73-74

A Spiritual Transformation Continues the Process Begun with the Emergence of the Soul

The finding and subsequent emergence of the soul at the core of one’s being begins the shift away from the fixation on the body-life-mind complex that operates as the primary nexus for life in the world for most people.  This step begins to adjust the focus away from the ego toward the divine.  To continue this change, the consciousness must not only develop contact with the soul inwardly, but also shift upwards to adjust the standpoint from the ego to the divine standpoint.  This brings one into a conscious connection with the universal or cosmic existence, and one begins to see and understand life in the world and one’s own role in it from a wider and higher perspective.

In the Isha Upanishad, the Rishi declares:  “The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, O Fosterer, for the law of the Truth, for sight.”  Until the seeker can get beyond this “lid”, he is limited within the body-life-mind complex of the ego-personality.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But all this change and all this experience, though psychic and spiritual in essence and character, would still be, in its parts of life-effectuation, on the mental, vital and physical level…. A highest spiritual transformation must intervene on the psychic or psycho-spiritual change; the psychic movement inward to the inner being, the Self or Divinity within us, must be completed by an opening upward to a supreme spiritual status or a higher existence.  This can be done by our opening into what is above us, by an ascent of consciousness into the ranges of overmind and supramental nature in which the sense of Self and Spirit is ever unveiled and permanent and in which the self-luminous instrumentation of the Self and Spirit is not restricted or divided as in our mind-nature, life-nature, body-nature.  This also the psychic change makes possible; for as it opens us to the cosmic consciousness now hidden from us by many walls of limiting individuality, so also it opens us to what is now superconscient to our normality because it is hidden from us by the strong, hard and bright lid of mind, — mind constricting, dividing and separative.  The lid thins, is slit, breaks asunder or opens and disappears under the pressure of the psycho-spiritual change and the natural urge of the new spiritualised consciousness towards that of which it is an expression here.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 73

Opening of the Being to Spiritual Experiences

People generally classify any experience that falls outside the normal range of the physical-vital-mental experience as “spiritual”.  However, this is not an entirely accurate portrayal.  Many of these experiences, albeit real and palpable to the person experiencing them, are actually taking place on the physical, vital or mental plane.  We have heard of individuals, such as top athletes,  performing flawless, extraordinary feats of physical effort, who describe the sensation of being one that goes beyond “normal”.  They call this being “in the zone”, when the entire being is almost effortlessly carrying out actions in a concentrated and harmonious way.  Similarly, we know of “out of body” experiences which have been described at great length with similar terms by many individuals, where the vital being leaves the physical body and can observe it, or travel to other places and observe things outside the ken of the physical being itself.  Then there are the times when the mental clarity provides a breakthrough on some complex problem or issue being considered.  Each of these and other similar experiences can be understood as real, and accepted as such without necessarily classifying them as spiritual experiences.  They still reside within the bounds of the ego-personality and the human body-life-mind complex of the individual.  The vital ego chases after such experiences.  No doubt, the action of the soul is behind these openings, creating receptivity and faith in the workings of the universe and convincing the being of the reality of forces, powers and intentions beyond those normally available to the individual being, and actively preparing the various aspects of the individual being for a new way of seeing and working, with the spiritual force behind and informing the action.

The category of spiritual experiences encompasses those that shift the standpoint of the being from the individual human to the divine standpoint.  These may or may not yield specific immediate results in the world, but they carry a veracity and a conviction of truth to the being that can refocus the entire life of the individual.  They bring with them a sense of oneness, a sense of a vast peace, a sense of an infinite power, a sense of a larger will in creation, a sense of understanding the pattern and process of the universal creation, a sense of the divinity in all of existence.  Spiritual experiences cannot be forced; rather, they are experienced as an act of Grace.

Sri Aurobindo explains in The Life Divine:  “This is the first result, but the second is a free inflow of all kinds of spiritual experience, experience of the Self, experience of the Ishwra and the Divine Shakti, experience of cosmic consciousness, a direct touch with cosmic forces and with the occult movements of universal Nature, a psychic sympathy and unity and inner communication and interchanges of all kinds with other beings and with Nature, illuminations of the mind by knowledge, illuminations of the heart by love and devotion and spiritual joy and ecstasy, illuminations of the sense and the body by higher experience, illuminations of dynamic action in the truth and largeness of a purified mind and heart and soul, the certitudes of the divine light and guidance, the joy and power of the diving force working in the will and the conduct.  These experiences are the result of an opening outward of the inner and inmost being and nature; for then there comes into play the soul’s power of unerring inherent consciousness, its vision, its touch on things which is superior to any mental cognition; there is there, native to the psychic consciousness in its pure working, an immediate sense of the world and its beings, a direct inner contact with them and a direct contact with the Self and with the Divine, — a direct knowledge, a direct sight of Truth and of all truths, a direct penetrating spiritual emotion and feeling, a direct intuition of right will and right action, a power to rule and to create an order of the being not by the gropings of the superficial self, but from within, from the inner truth of self and things and the occult realities of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 72

First Result of the Psychic Transformation: the Central Role of the Soul

The soul is aligned with the divine purpose and intention in the universe.  For most of us, the soul remains concealed and our lives are dominated by our physical needs and wants, our vital desires and reactions, and our mental activity, whether utilized to support the physical and vital aspects of our lives, or focused on the native action of the mind in its seeking for knowledge and insight.  When the soul comes forward it brings with it a clear direction of carrying out the higher divine intention, and it is able to observe and understand the various ways of the body, life and mind.

What we normally call introspection is very much a vital and mental process of observation.  This is already a step forward from the unreflecting active life of the world, but it is limited because it acts within a frame defined by the mental and emotional life of the individual in the society within which he exists, and because the mind is subject to being co-opted by the vital desire-soul into justifying what the ego in the vital wants to achieve on its own behalf.  It is a first step towards a more awakened life, but falls short of the ultimate need.

Even the promptings of conscience are very much a mental-emotional process based on a moral or ethical code instilled in the individual through the growth process.

The soul, when it finally emerges, is able to observe and distinguish all the subtle motives and the deviations that occur through the influence of the desire-soul and its wishes.  Where the moral code is frequently invoked as a touchstone for righteousness in life, in fact, it frequently masks ulterior designs and motives that the person rarely even acknowledges to himself.  The soul, on the other hand, is not misled and does not get caught up in specific codes of action; rather, it focuses on the divine purpose and bringing the body, life and mind into harmony with that purpose.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “As the crust of the outer nature cracks, as the walls of inner separation break down, the inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart, the substance of the nature and the stuff of consciousness refine to a greater subtlety and purity, and the deeper psychic experiences, those which are not solely of an inner mental or inner vital character, become possible in this subtler, purer, finer substance; the soul begins to unveil itself, the psychic personality reaches its full stature.  The soul, the psychic entity, then manifests itself as the central being which upholds mind and life and body and supports all the other powers and functions of the Spirit; it takes up its greater function as the guide and ruler of the nature.  A guidance, a governance begins from within which exposes every movement to the light of Truth, repels what is false, obscure, opposed to the divine realisation: every region of the being, every nook and corner of it, every movement, formation, direction, inclination of thought, will, emotion, sensation, action, reaction, motive, disposition, propensity, desire, habit of the conscious or subconscious physical, even the most concealed, camouflaged, mute, recondite, is lighted up with the unerring psychic light, their confusions dissipated, their tangles disentangled, their obscurities, deceptions, self-deceptions precisely indicated and removed; all is purified, set right, the whole nature harmonised, modulated in the psychic key, put in spiritual order.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 71-72

Methods to Aid the Finding and Emergence of the Soul

Throughout human existence, seekers have recognised that the external life of body, vital force and mind is not the entirety of our being and does not provide us either information about the origin of our lives nor the significance and purpose of our lives.  This has led many to seek for God, to seek for the soul, to seek for our meaning of life.  Many methods have been adopted and tried as these individuals recognised specific obstacles or difficulties they were facing in turning their focus and attention away from the worldly life to the life of the Spirit.  This led to the development of a number of paths, tried and true methods that aided seekers along the way, each method tailored to address a specific aspect of the human condition and overcome specific types of difficulties.

A seeker may find that he may need to adopt one or another method depending on his own unique situation and the conditions under which he is working out the issues.  These may vary from one stage of life to another as different issues come to the fore and demand attention.

Many spiritual texts, from traditions around the world, describe various of these methods and their application.  The Bhagavad Gita not only touched on these lines of action, but also provided what Sri Krishna called the ultimate method, a complete surrender of the human will to the Divine Will in all ways and acts of the being.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “For this penetration into the luminous crypt of the soul one has to get through all the intervening vital stuff to the psychic centre within us, however long, tedious or difficult may be the process.  The method of detachment from the insistence of all mental and vital and physical claims and calls and impulsions, a concentration in the heart, austerity, self-purification and rejection of the old mind-movements and life-movements, rejection of the ego of desire, rejection of false needs and false habits, are all useful aids to this difficult passage: but the strongest, most central way is to found all such or other methods on a self-offering and surrender of ourselves and of our parts of nature to the Divine Being, the Ishwara.  A strict obedience to the wise and intuitive leading of a Guide is also normal and necessary for all but a few specially gifted seekers.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 71

The Necessity to Shift the Standpoint of the Being from the Surface Personality to the Inner Self

The usual life of humanity is based in what Sri Aurobindo calls the “surface personality”.  This is a construct centered around the ego consciousness, which interacts with and constantly reacts to the impressions and impulsions of the world.  We take on the color of the reactions and become enmeshed in them.  We become angry and react.  We experience everything on the surface of our being and our consciousnes is focused outward.

The psychic transformation, the emergence of the soul at the center of our existence, and the connection of the soul with the universal and transcendent aspects of the divine, involves a shift of standpoint from this outer ego-centric personality to a deeper soul-essence that finds its basis and reference in the Oneness of the creation.  This “true soul” (as contrasted with the “desire-soul” of the surface being), experiences a deep sense of calm, peace and equality which permeates the life and maintains a separation from the reactions of the surface personality, which can now be observed, as by a witness consciousness.  Sri Aurobindo once said “live within, be not shaken by outward happenings”.  This represents the shift of standpoint, for example, as we do not “become” anger, when it arises, but we “observe” the anger rising, and eventually, we can look on its rise dispassionately, and adjust our response to the situation for the soul’s perspective.  This change takes place progressively over time and with practice, and as it takes hold, we are no longer limited by the reactions of the outer being.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “But, for this change to arrive at its widest totality and profound completeness, the consciousness has to shift its centre and its static and dynamic position from the surface to the inner being; it is there that we must find the foundation for our thought, life and action.  For to stand outside on our surface and to receive from the inner being and follow its intimations is not a sufficient transformation; one must cease to be the surface personality and become the inner Person, the Purusha…. It then becomes possible to pass through to the depths of our being and from the depths so reached a new consciousness can be formed, both behind the exterior self and in it, joining the depths to the surface.  There must grow up within us or there must manifest a consciousness more and more open to the deeper and the higher being, more and more laid bare to the cosmic Self and Power and to what comes down from the Transcendence, turned to a higher Peace, permeable to a greater light, force and ecstasy, a consciousness that exceeds the small personality and surpasses the limited light and experience of the surface mind, the limited force and aspiration of the normal life-consciousness, the obscure and limited responsiveness of the body.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 70

The Triple Path of Knowledge, Devotion and Works Prepares the Being Integrally for the Spiritual Change

Human beings are complex, with differing focus and needs for the differing parts of our being, which also speak to various interactions between us and the world around us.  The evolutionary force in the universal creation works through all of these parts and levels and interactions to create its progressive manifestation.  Focusing on any one aspect, therefore, while it may bring about individual progress for that part of the being, nevertheless does so at the expense of the other aspects of our lives.

It is therefore eventually important, whether through sequential development, or concurrent efforts, for each primary aspect of the human individuality to develop and reach its spiritual fulfillment.   Eventually there must be mental, emotional and vital progress whereby each part of our being achieves its spiritual state of Oneness, not through exclusive concentration that denies the need or right of the other parts, but through an integral development that brings about spiritual change throughout the entire being, both inwardly and in its relations with others and in the world-movement.

The Yoga of knowledge, the Yoga of love and devotion, and the Yoga of works represent the development, respectively of the mental power, the emotional power, and the vital will in action.  They prepare the being for the spiritual transformation as the hold of the outer being and the desire-soul is loosened and the ego-sense diminishes so that the true soul can guide the development in the next phase of the evolution of the universal creation.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “A combination of all these three approaches, the approach of the mind, the approach of the will, the approach of the heart, creates a spiritual or psychic condition of the surface being and nature in which there is a larger and more complex openness to the psychic light within us and to the spiritual Self or the Ishwara, to the Reality now felt above and enveloping and penetrating us.  In the nature there is a more powerful and many-sided change, a spiritual building and self-creation, the appearance of a composite perfection of the saint, the selfless worker and the man of spiritual knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 70

The Method of the Soul’s Emergence Through the Field of Action in the World

Emergence of the soul in the individual’s life and actions in the world requires more than just the mental experiences or even the heart’s devotion: the effectuating will in action must be harnessed to the truth that the seeker sees and feels inwardly.  This may begin with a feeling of consecration of action, but eventually, the ego-sense and the motivation of the force of desire must be replaced by the sense that the work comes from the divine, is guided and directed by the divine, and carries out the divine purpose in the world.  Those who practice this harnessing of the vital force in life practice what is commonly known as Karma Yoga, the Yoga of works.

This consecration is not strictly limited to actions of the mind or the heart’s devotional turn; rather it encompasses eventually all actions that an individual can take up in the world.  There is no distinction to be made, in the inner attitude, between sacred activities and secular activities:  in this process all activities eventually are fulfillment of the divine Will in the world and thus, aligned with divine purpose.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “This larger change can be partly attained by adding to the experiences of the heart a consecration of the pragmatic will which must succeed in carrying with it — for otherwise it cannot be effective, — the adhesion of the dynamic vital part which supports the mental dynamis and is our first instrument of outer action.  This consecration of the will in works proceeds by a gradual elimination of the ego-will and its motive-power of desire; the ego subjects itself to some higher law and finally effaces itself, seems not to exist or exists only to serve a higher Power or a higher Truth or to offer its will and acts to the Divine Being as an instrument.  The law of being and action or the light of Truth which then guides the seeker, may be a clarity or power or principle which he perceives on the highest height of which his mind is capable; or it may be a truth of the divine Will which he feels present and working within him or guiding him by a Light or a Voice or a Force or a Divine Person or Presence.  In the end by this way one arrives at a consciousness in which one feels the Force or Presence acting within and moving or governing all the actions and the personal will is entirely surrendered or identified with that greater Truth-Will, Truth-Power or Truth-Presence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 69

Soul-Contact With the Divine Through the Way of the Heart

The heart knows what the mind does not grasp.  Too often, those with strong development of their mental capacities become fixated on a specific line of approach or development and limit their understanding to the framework so defined.  As the proverb goes, they then “cannot see the forest for the trees”.  A high mental development, focused on spiritual attainment can indeed bring about an opening to the Reality in the form of a vast impersonal Absolute; yet it often leads to abandonment of interest in or active participation in the life of the world.  Additionally not every one is suited to the arduous path of knowledge.

Another approach to the Divine takes place by harnessing the heart’s emotional capacity, which brings with it a deep devotional force and a potential for the ecstatic joy of union with the personal form of the Divine.  The devotee loses himself in the love for the Divine and can experience states of bliss and union.  Not for the devotee is the dry, isolated and abstract seeking of those following the path of knowledge.  The devotee revels in the love, the joy, the ecstasy, the feeling of Oneness with a Personality that meets the devotee where he is, as a mother, a father, a friend, a child, a lover.

This path too has its limitations and does not bring about the complete transformation of all parts of the being and the relationship to the outer world.  Frequently the mind is disregarded, or the vital force is channeled into purely devotional pastimes and the outer world is left to its own devices without significant opportunity to evolve.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “A second approach made by the soul to the direct contact is through the heart: this is its own more close and rapid way because its occult seat is there, just behind in the heart-centre, in close contact with the emotional being in us; it is consequently through the emotions that it can act best at the beginning with its native power, with its living force of concrete experience.  It is through a love and adoration of the All-beautiful and All-blissful, the All-Good, the True, the spiritual Reality of love, that the approach is made; the aesthetic and emotional parts join together to offer the soul, the life, the whole nature to that which they worship.  This approach through adoration can get its full power and impetus only when the mind goes beyond impersonality to the awareness of a supreme Personal Being: then all becomes intensive, vivid, concrete; the heart’s emotion, feeling, spiritualised sense reach their absolute; an entire self-giving becomes possible, imperative.  The nascent spiritual man makes his appearance in the emotional nature as the devotee, the bhakta; if, in addition, he becomes directly aware of his soul and its dictates, unites his emotional with his psychic personality and changes his life and vital parts by purity, God-ecstasy, the love of God and men and all creatures into a thing of spiritual beauty, full of divine light and good, he develops into the saint and reaches the highest inner experience and most considerable change of nature proper to this way of approach to the Divine Being.  But for the purpose of an integral transformation this too is not enough; there must be a transmutation of the thinking mind and all the vital and physical parts of consciousness in their own character.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 68-69

The Heights of the Spiritualised Mind

Historically, the way of the ascetic, the Yogi, the renunciate, has been revered as a high and difficult path, leading away from the world and its distractions, and bringing the seeker to the heights of spiritual realisation of the Infinite, the Absolute.  There is no doubt that this path presents many difficulties for anyone who takes it up out of a mental, emotional or vital conviction, or through a sense of weakness in facing the obstacles of the worldly life.  It is not easy to overcome the promptings of hunger and thirst, the pressures of cold, heat and wind, the urging of desires, and all of the arguments for continued action in the world!  This path is certainly not suited for all people.  Those who follow it achieve a unique realisation.

Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that the evolutionary process of Nature is not intended solely to lead to the renunciation of the natural life; rather, there is an intended spiritual transformation that represents the next stage in evolution.  Thus, a spiritual realisation, no matter how high and how difficult to achieve, is not the end of the path, but in a certain sense, the beginning.  Once one achieves the spiritual realisation, there is still the change to be brought to the outer life in the world.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “A higher endeavour through the mind does not change this balance; for the tendency of the spiritualised mind is to go on upwards and, since above itself the mind loses its hold on forms, it is into a vast formless and featureless impersonality that it enters.  It becomes aware of the unchanging Self, the sheer Spirit, the pure bareness of an essential Existence, the formless Infinite and the nameless Absolute.  This culmination can be arrived at more directly by tending immediately beyond all forms and figures, beyond all ideas of good or evil or true or false or beautiful or unbeautiful to That which exceeds all dualities, to the experience of a supreme oneness, infinity, eternity or other ineffable sublimation of the mind’s ultimate and extreme percept of Self or Spirit.  A spiritualised consciousness is achieved and the life falls quiet, the body ceases to need and to clamour, the soul itself merges into the spiritual silence.  But this transformation through the mind does not give us the integral transformation; the psychic transmutation is replaced by a spiritual change on the rare and high summits, but this is not the complete divine dynamisation of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 67-68