Sponsored By: Infinity Foundation

Essentials Of Transformative Psychology

Essentials Of Transformative Psychology
by Ananda Reddy, PhD

A proposal to formulate the discipline of Indian Psychology, presented at a Conference in Pondicherry,
September 30th – October 3rd, 2002. This event was sponsored by The Infinity Foundation.


After hearing the different speakers in the last two sessions of this conference ‘On Yoga and Approaches to Indian Psychology’, I see that there are principally two bottlenecks in forming a definition of Indian Psychology. Is psychology a science in the ordinary sense? If we insist that it is so and that we must bring into psychology all the tools and instrumentation required to prove the subjective experiences or the inner being of man, then it would be quite impossible to accommodate the experience of Indian psychological thought and findings.

I am afraid that we have to redefine the word “Psychology” itself if we have to formulate Indian Psychology. Moreover, why should we the play game according to the rules defined by Western psychologists? Can we not have our own definitions and rules to suit our own requirements and our ancient experience in the field? Most of us seem to complain that Indian Psychology is not accepted in the West because it does not conform to the rules drawn by Western Psychology. If we follow this argument we shall never be able to do justice to our own psychology, especially as a great majority of the Western psychologists suffer some very fundamental errors. Sri Aurobindo had noted these in the early part of the last century but they seem to be more or less still applicable, so I quote him:

  1. ” the materialistic error which bases the study of the mind upon the study of the body;
  2. ” the skeptical error which prevents any bold and clear-eyed investigation of the hidden profundities of our subjective existence;
  3. ” the error of conservative distrust and recoil which regards any subjective state or experience that departs from the ordinary operations of our mental and psychical nature as a morbidity or a hallucination;
  4. ” finally, the error of objectivity which leads the psychologist to study others from outside instead of seeing his true field of knowledge and laboratory of experiment in himself. Psychology is necessarily a subjective science and one must proceed in it from the knowledge of oneself to the knowledge of others.” (SABCL 16: 258)

Indian Psychology or to that matter any Psychology has to be subjective for it deals with subjective elements and experiences. Moreover, even modern science has accepted, more or less, that there is nothing as pure observation and pure objective experience for in everything one observes there is the influence of the observer. So, if science as such is moving more and more towards a subjective approach, then why should we insist that Psychology must be an objective science?

This leads us to the second bottleneck: the very definition of the word ‘Psychology”. When we talk of Biology, we speak of body, when we speak of Indology, we focus on Indian culture etc. But, when we speak of ‘Psychology’ why is that we do not speak at all of the Psyche? We seem to be speaking of all the outer symptoms of behaviour, cognition etc but not about the real self, the psyche behind these experiences. Or, may be, you will say that we do speak of the psyche but as understood and defined in the Western Psychologists. But is Indian experience of the psyche the same as the one defined by the Western thinkers? Obviously, it is not. So all the more we need to redefine ‘Psychology’ in its true sense keeping in mind the needs of present times so that it could be useful to our day to day life.

It is only in Sri Aurobindo that we find full justification of this subjective science of Psychology, for all his psychological thought centres around the psychic being. He treats it as the centre of all our life, the central solution to all our external problems, be they mental, emotional or mental. It is in this light that I shall now take up my topic for this Conference: ” Essentials of Transformative Psychology”.

A Definition

Transformative Psychology is fundamentally an inner psychology that provides man a basis for total transformation and integral self-perfection. It is a science of consciousness that does not stop with the knowledge of consciousness in its varied levels of operation in the external nature of man, but, it attempts at transforming it. And the fulcrum of this process of transformation is the inmost consciousness – the psychic being.

Transformative psychology is not per se a therapy; it is not meant to be used to cure or to treat the sick and the wasted, though they are also included in its process. It is more a way of living that fulfils the different parts of our being by raising them to their highest consciousness and potential. It is a manner of widening, deepening and uplifting the different states of our consciousness – states of which we are aware as well as those of which we are not yet conscious. Such a heightening of consciousness inevitably results in an integral harmony of the being bringing in a total and stable health, of course.

What we mean by the different states of our consciousness is that normally “our observable consciousness, that which we call ourselves,” writes Sri Aurobindo, “is only the little visible part of our being. It is a small field below which are depths and farther depths and widths and ever wider widths which support and supply it but to which it has no visible access. All that is our self, our being; what we see at the top is only our ego and its visible nature”. (SABCL 17: 21)

The Integral Personality of Man

The basic approach of Transformative Psychology is that unless the whole is known, the parts cannot be gauged; until we know all that is below and behind and beyond, the outer surface nature can neither be known nor changed nor transformed. And such a change includes also the transformation of the external nature. “Because we do not know ourselves,” emphasizes Sri Aurobindo, “therefore we are unable to ameliorate radically our subjective life or develop with mastery, with rapidity, with a sure science the hidden possibilities of our mental capacity and our moral nature”. (Ibid : 258) Let us explore ourselves beyond the limits of outer evidence set before us by science and its instruments of measuring and its ” calculations and crucibles”.

This self-exploration carried far enough reveals that there lies something below our conscient nature, something behind it, and something beyond or above it. Below is the vast Inconscient – “inconscient to us, to our surface view, but not inconscient in itself or to itself, it is a sovereign guide, worker, determinant, creator”. (Ibid : 21)

“And when one goes into the inconscient, at the other end,” describes the Mother, “one falls back into a sort of unity that’s unconscious of itself, in which the diversity is as unexpressed as it is in the origin.

“At both ends [the superconscient and the inconscient] there is the same absence of diversity. In one case it is through a supreme consciousness of unity, in the other through a perfect unconsciousness of unity.” (CWM 9: 48)

Between the inconscient and the conscious mind, life and body lies the subconscient – it is that ”submerged part of our being” which “receives obscurely the impressions of all things and stores them up in itself and from it too all sorts of stimuli, of persistent habitual movements, crudely repeated or disguised in strange forms can surge up into dream or into the waking nature. For if these impressions rise up most in dream in an incoherent and disorganized manner, they can also and do rise up into our waking consciousness as a mechanical repetition of old thoughts, old mental, vital and physical habits or an obscure stimulus to sensations, actions, emotions which do not originate in or from our conscious thought or will and are even often opposed to its perceptions, choice or dictates…. It is largely responsible for our illness; chronic or repeated illness is indeed mainly due to the subconscient and its obstinate memory and habit of repetition of whatever has impressed itself upon the body-consciousness.” (SABCL 22 : 353)

What lies behind our surface consciousness is the subliminal, the role of which “cannot be said to be small, since from there come all the greater aspirations, ideals, strivings towards a better self and better humanity without which man would be only a thinking animal – as also almost most of the art, poetry, philosophy, thirst for knowledge which relieve … the ignorance.” (Ibid : 360) It consists of the inner mental, inner vital, inner physical and then deeper down there are the Annamaya Purusha , the Pranamaya Purusha and the Manomaya Purusha, and, in the deepest part is the Chaitya Purusha. This subliminal being is very open to the forces of the universal and thereby connects the individual to the cosmic dimension of reality.

Above us are the superconscient levels. There are, as writes Sri Aurobindo, “…successive states, levels or graded powers of being overtopping our normal mind, hidden in our superconscient parts, higher ranges of Mind, degrees of spiritual consciousness and experience; without them there would be no links, no helpful intervening spaces to make the immense ascension possible.” (SABCL 19 : 933)

Around us is the circumconscient universal or the environmental consciousness. It is something “that each man carries around him, outside his body, even when he is not aware of it, – by which he is in touch with others and with the universal forces. It is through this that the thoughts, feelings, etc. of others pass to enter into one – it is through this also that waves of the universal force – desire, sex, etc. come in and take possession of the mind, vital or body.” (SABCL 24 : 1602)

Around us is also “a universal Mind of which our mind is a formation and our thoughts, feelings, will, impulses are continually little more than a personally modified reception and transcription of its thought waves, its force-currents, its foam of emotion and sensation, its billows of impulse.

“Around us is a permanent universal Life of which our petty flow of life-formation that begins and ceases is only a small dynamic wave.” (SABCL 17 : 22)

The Sevenfold Ignorance of Man

This is the integral personality of man that is taken into account by Transformative Psychology. This wholeness of the human dimensions is what gives it the possibility of transforming human nature. Unfortunately, we are steeped in a sevenfold ignorance and we are almost totally unaware of our own occult sources. The sevenfold ignorance in which man is lost is described by Sri Aurobindo as:

  1. the original (ignorant of our source and support of the universal around us),
  2. the constitutional (a self-restriction to the material-vital existence),
  3. the psychological (‘a limitation of our self-knowledge to our superficial stream of our being’ ),
  4. the temporal (a limitation of knowledge to the present life only),
  5. the egoistic (a ‘limiting self-identification with this life’, this mind and this body),
  6. the cosmic (the ignorance of our timeless immutable self beyond cosmos), and lastly
  7. the practical (the suffering, error and falsehood – the cause of all life’s confusions and discords).

When we come out of this sevenfold ignorance we realise that in reality we are a finite replica of the transcendental, universal and individual poises of the Infinite.

Applicability of Transformative Psychology

The challenging task in front of a practitioner of Transformative Psychology is to translate its experiential knowledge of the totality of man into an applicable process. And, in this process, one has to be very conscious of one of its fundamental tenets – that of the process of evolution. Basically, the subconscient is the past, the outer awareness is the present and the superconscient holds the future possibilities of man. And all evolution is a movement of consciousness from the past to the future, from the inconscient to the superconscient. This evolutionary process is evident not only in the cosmic evolution but also in each individual. It is this fundamental tenet which gives Transformative Psychology all the strength in its conviction that man can be transformed and perfected in his mind, life and body.

A self-disciplined introspection of one’s inner self, and not just the sensorial or perceptual experiences of the surface or outer consciousness, leading to a self-awareness of the different parts of one’s being is the very first step of Transformative Psychology.

This kind of self-awareness brings an understanding of the ” contradiction between the inner consciousness and certain outer movements.” ( CWM 7: pp 1-2 ) One becomes aware of the disharmony, “of what is not in tune”. “And then, when you have seen what does not harmonise, you must gather the will and aspiration to change it and begin with the easiest part….Then from there, gradually, you will go to the more difficult and more central things.” ( Ibid )

This includes the process of bringing in quietude and calmness – full of “light and peace from above” – into the mind and the vital. ” Even this should be done with care, not prematurely or rashly, following a higher guidance, keeping always the right attitude; for otherwise the force that is drawn down may be too strong for an obscure and weak frame of nature… afterwards one can open up or even dive into the subconscious with more safety and some chance of a rapid and successful change.” ( SABCL 24: 1606).

A change and a working on the subconscious becomes necessary at a subsequent stage because it is “the main support of all habitual movements, especially the physical and lower vital movements. When something is thrown out of the vital or physical, it very usually goes down into the subconscient and remains there as if in seed and comes up again when it can. That is the reason why it is so difficult to get rid of habitual vital movements or to change the character; for, supported or refreshed from this source, preserved in this matrix your vital movements, even when suppressed or repressed, surge up again and recur. The action of the subconscient is irrational, mechanical, repetitive.” (SABCL 22 : 357)

The process of changing this mechanical and repetitive subconscient is to bring light and strength and a higher transformative consciousness, called the supramental consciousness by Sri Aurobindo, “down into the body, it can penetrate the subconscient also and convert its obscurity and resistance.” (Ibid) The first effects of the penetration of this light and consciousness into the subconscient are seen as follows:

  1. “The subconscient begins to show more easily what is in it.”
  2. “Things rising from there come to the awareness of the mind before they can touch or affect the consciouness.”
  3. “The subconscient becomes less the refuge of the ignorant and the obscure movements and more an automatic response of the material to the higher consciousness.”
  4. “It gives less covert and less passage to the suggestions of the hostile forces.”
  5. “It is more easy to be conscious in sleep and to have higher forms of dream experience….”
  6. “A waking will put on the dream state before sleeping becomes more and more effective.” (SABCL 24: 1595)

Other Influences Upon Man

Apart from the resistance that comes from the subconscient which keeps bringing back ” the inertia, weakness, obscurity,…which afflict the physical mind,” (SABCL 22: 356) there are other influences on our mind and the vital and the physical which at present seem to be outside the purview of the psychotherapist. Nevertheless, this aspect of cosmic reality cannot be neglected by Transformative Psychology, for otherwise the transformative process may be hindered. Moreover, how long shall we shy away from the scrutinizing eye of the Western critics and keep the total truth found in our psychology trimmed to suit them or to appease them? We have to mention in clear terms the specific experience and expression of our country’s soul and not tailor it to the demands from the West. This statement of our soul’s expressions in different fields will be helpful also in reviving India from its helpless imitation of the West in every possible manner.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother explain that all the lower movements such as anger, lusts, fears. desires etc are also caused by the universal lower Nature or the forces of the vital world which are basically against the spiritual progress of man. “This terrestrial world, explains the Mother, this human world is constantly invaded by the forces of the neighbouring world, that is, of the vital world, …and this vital world is…essentially a world of ill-will, of disorder, disequilibrium, indeed of all the most anti-divine things one could imagine. This vital world is constantly penetrating the physical world, and being much more subtle than the physical, it is very often quite imperceptible except to a few rare individuals. There are entities, beings, wills, various kinds of individualities in that world, who have all kinds of intentions and make use of every opportunity either to amuse themselves if they are small beings or to do harm and create disorder if they are beings with a greater capacity….

“Besides, they are very thirsty or hungry for certain human vital vibrations which for them are a rare dish they love to feed upon; and so their game lies in exciting pernicious movements in man so that man may emanate these forces and they are able to feed on them just as they please. All movements of anger, violence, passion, desire, all these things which make you abruptly throw off certain energies from yourself, project them from yourself, are exactly what these entities of the vital world like best, for, as I said, they enjoy them like a sumptuous dish. Now, their tactics are simple: they send you a little suggestion, a little impulse, a small vibration which enters deep into you and through contagion or sympathy awakens in you the vibration necessary to make you throw off the force they want to absorb. (CWM 8 : 392-93)

For example, “If you give expression to anger, you prolong or confirm the habit of the recurrence of anger; you do not diminish or get rid of the habit,” notes Sri Aurobindo. ” The very first step towards weakening the power of anger in the nature and afterwards getting rid of it altogether is to refuse all expression to it in act or speech. Afterwards one can go on with more likelihood of success to throw it out from the thought and feeling also. And so with all other wrong movements.

“All these movements come from outside, from the universal lower Nature, or are suggested or thrown upon you by adverse forces – adverse to your spiritual progress. Your method of taking them as your own is again a wrong method; for by doing that you increase their power to recur and take hold of you. If you take them as your own, that gives them a kind of right to be there. If you feel them as not your own, then they have no right, and the will can develop more power to send them away. What you must always have and feel as yours is this will, the power to refuse assent, to refuse admission to a wrong movement. Or if it comes in, the power to send it away, without expressing it.” ( SABCL 24 : 1410 )

To quote from another letter of Sri Aurobindo:

“In fact all these ignorant vital movements originate from outside in the ignorant universal Nature; the human being forms in his superficial parts of being, mental, vital, physical, a habit of certain responses to these waves from outside. It is these responses that he takes as his own character (anger, desire, sex etc.) and thinks he cannot be otherwise. But that is not so; he can change.” (Ibid : 1409)

The best way to get away from these adverse influences could be to refuse to accept them as our own. As the Mother puts it: ” ‘No, it is my shadow, it is the being I must throw out of myself’, one puts on it the light of the other part, one tries to bring them face to face; and with the knowledge and light of the other, one doesn’t try so much to convince – because that is very difficult – but one compels it to remain quiet… first to stand farther away, then one flings it very far away so that it can no longer return – putting a great light on it. These are instances in which one can put upon this being – or this shadow – put upon it such an intense light that it transforms it, and it changes into what is the truth of your being…..by dint of insisting and driving it away, finally one separates oneself from it…

“One is quite accustomed to contradictions; one doesn’t pay attention to this and that is why all these things live comfortably together as neighbours. One must first discover them and prevent them from intermingling in one’s consciousness: decide between them, separate the shadow from the light. Later one can get rid of the shadow. (CWM, 6, pp.263-64)

Apart from these outer forces which invade the individual, there are other numerous suggestions and influences coming from the collective consciousness of the environment of the country one is born in. The parents, the society, the country, the culture, the religion have a collective construction of their own which acts on the mental, vital and physical formations of an individual. This forms the subconscious basis of one’s nature and one is more imprisoned in it than protected by it.

Last, but not less powerful, is the influence of the people one lives with. For example, the parents , friends, brothers and sisters and other close members of the family have all of them their own feelings and ideas and expect something from us, if not openly but in a subtle manner. All these expectations we absorb and we too without our conscious knowledge begin to act in the same manner trying to fulfill these expectations.

The Solution

Trapped under these influences of the subconscient, bombarded by the universal forces from the environment and the occult planes, man is like a cork ball thrown on the waves of a turbulent ocean. He is more like a rag-doll twisted by the raging forces all around him. So, how can he be at peace with himself or with his fellow beings; how can he be happy with himself and others?

It is only when one has resisted all these outer influences that one is completely individualised. “First one must become a conscious, well-knit, individualised being, who exists in himself, by himself, independently of all his surroundings, who can hear anything, read anything, see anything without changing. He receives from outside only what he wants to receive; he automatically refuses all that is not in conformity with his plan and nothing can leave an imprint on him unless he agrees to receive the imprint. Then one begins to become an individuality!” ( CWM : 6: 257 )

Till this stage ego is the helper but later it becomes the bar. ” The ego turn, the separative turn of the being, is the fulcrum of the whole embarrassed labour of the ignorance and the bondage. So long as one is not free from the ego sense, there can be no real freedom.” ( SABCL 21: 650 ) At the same time it is not easy to throw away the ego-sense nor is it enough to do so. If it is done by any process it may be replaced by another form of a “certain passive inert quietude”. “The ego must be replaced by a oneness with the transcendental Divine and the universal being.” ( Ibid )

Through a constant process of detachment from the outer ordinary impulses as well as the egoistic attachments, through a self-detachment from all that we feel and think to be ours, through the practice of unselfishness and narrow-mindedness, and by giving up preferences, desires and mental opinion that we can reach the deeper layers of our personality. Coupled with this effort if one can “develop a personal relation with the Divine, a relation of Bhakti, love, reliance, self giving, rejection of the insistences of the separating and self-asserting mental, vital and physical ego,” ( SABCL 22: 341-42 ) then we can contact the psychic being, the true subliminal soul. It is in such a combination of personal effort and Divine Grace that bring we come closer to our inner being, the psychic. It is this contact with our psychic that liberates us from the confusions, conflicts, disorders of the outer personality.

This liberating contact with our inmost central spiritual consciousness, the psychic being, is not just a cure and a correction of the outer difficulties and disorder. It is the very process of identifying ourselves with the Divine’s will in the world and for the world and thereby become a willing and fitting instrument of the Divine in the transformation of the earth. We would no more live exclusively for ourselves – for our own good or liberation – but for the health, peace and harmony of the collective-consciousness.

Essentially, this is the goal of Transformative Psychology: to reach a divine self-perfection both on the individual and collective levels. That is to say, it “is a conversion of the human into a likeness of and a fundamental oneness with the divine nature, a rapid shaping of the image of God in man and filling in of its ideal outlines. It is what is ordinarily termed sadrsya-mukti, a liberation into the divine resemblance out of the bondage of the human seeming, or, to use the expression of the Gita, sadharmya-gati, a coming to be one in law of being with the supreme, universal and indwelling Divine.” (SABCL 21 : 597)

In this process of liberation in nature and from nature into the Divine nature, the Divine is the fulcrum, the Divine is the strength, the Divine is the Guide. There is therefore no therapist as such in Transformative Psychology. Each is one’s own guide, one’s own self-healer depending upon one’s own sincerity and capacity to receive. May be the present trends in different healing system which encourage self-healings are pointers to this ultimate process of self-healing!

If at all there is an interim need of a guide in this Transformative Psychology, it has to be spiritual master, a yogi and not one who passes exams in the corridors of the universities and claims a Doctor’s degree. A guide of Transformative Psychology has to instill spiritual values of life while insisting upon the centrality of the Divine in our daily life. Of course he or she must himself or herself be an ardent practitioner of these spiritual values. “You cannot ask anyone to do what you don’t do yourself” emphasized the Mother while speaking about an ideal teacher. I suppose this rule applies as much to the guide of Transformative Psychology. By the very fact that he/she is aware of the Divine self within and without, he/she radiates to others health, peace, joy, harmony and draws them closer to their own inner self.

Thus the process of self-transformation or self-perfection is set into motion in others by the guide. The techniques to be utilized by the guides of Transformative Psychology cannot be fixed, for that would go contrary to the very spirit and principles of this approach. Each guide is guided by his/her own inner Guide and the exact manner of guidance shall be varied – as varied as the divine multiplicity itself.

Transformative Psychology in its process of self-perfection includes the triple transformation – psychicisation, spiritualisation and supramentalisation . It may be a long process but it all begins with the first step of finding one’s psychic being and harmonizing the whole being around it.

Contemporary psychology may find it difficult to accept this central idea of replacing the rule of the ego with the rule of the psychic. But, if Indian Psychology does not come to its own truth, and reveal its innermost and ancient wisdom of the Spirit, – without having to look constantly for the sanction of the West, – then it can never deliver the true message for which the more sensitive souls of humanity seem to be waiting in the wings. The hesitation and the imitation of the western concepts may not only harm India but also in the process delay the emergence of the soul of human unity. As other countries have attempted to express the genius of their souls without trying to market it to other countries, so we too must express ourselves without looking into the exportability of such ideas even in the name of internationalism. If we stand on our inner truth, the world also will gain.

For such a time to delve into the inner psyche and to accept and practice Transformative Psychology has come not only for India, but mankind itself in its present evolutionary stage. As the Mother put it in simple forceful words:

“When humanity was first created, the ego was the unifying element. It was around the ego that the different states of being were grouped; but now that the birth of superhumanity is being prepared, the ego has to disappear and give way to the psychic being, which has slowly been formed by divine intervention in order to manifest the Divine in the human being.” (CWM 16 : 432)

Can we take up this challenge and invite the future? That is the question in front of all who have taken up Transformative Psychology as a way of life in different parts of the world.