The term “transformation” is on everyone’s lips in our contemporary spiritual world. But the problem with terms that everyone uses so abundantly and offhandedly is that we no longer pause and ponder what they really mean. What does it mean to transform, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or energetically?
Commonly, we would say that transformation is a profound change that takes place in us to such a degree that we are no longer our previous, old selves. That is correct, but this does not tell us much about the actual process of transformation. Etymologically, trans-formation means “beyond form” or “changing the form of.” This implies that in the act of transformation, we change the present form of something into another form. This is a good hint that gets us a little closer to the actual process.
Transformation or Transcendence?
We can generally and roughly divide the range of approaches to self-development into two main categories: transformation and transcendence. In transformation, as we just said, we change the form of something in us; perhaps we even change the form of our being as a whole. In transcendence, we simply go beyond. We remove or dissolve the disturbing and limiting element, or we detach ourselves from it altogether, or we take a leap to a higher plane of reality where this element can no longer agitate and affect us.
There are many systems of meditation, like Vipassana, that adopt the way of transcendence, or at least believe that this is what they do (I will explain this point later). They practice detached, non-reactive observation of bodily sensations and, of course, passing thoughts and emotions as well. Any system that treats certain elements in you as phenomena that should either pass or be dissolved is a transcendence-based approach. These systems don’t believe that hatred or raw sexual energy or attachment have anything spiritual in them. These are hindrances, the rotten fruit that grows on the tree of ignorance.
Transformation, on the other hand, is a tantric principle. In fact, tantra and transformation are so inseparable that if you have fully grasped what transformation means, you have also understood what tantra means. But transformation isn’t only found in traditional tantric systems. When you develop the capacity to identify the fragrance of transformation, you will find it even in philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato, Nietzsche and Albert Camus, or in mystics, such as Yogananda and Jiddu Krishnamurti.
The Profound Insight Behind Transformation
Transformation is not just the technique, the “how”, of inner alchemy. There is a great philosophy behind it. At its very heart lies the deep principle that all the materials, forces and energies in the universe are already innately spiritual – regardless of their present appearance that may be extremely misleading. Put simply, if you observe a certain element and you think, “this cannot be spiritual,” it can only mean that you haven’t looked deeply enough.
The “how” of transformation derives from this simple but striking philosophy. The fact that everything is inherently spiritual implies that everything is also potentially spiritual. It can take a different form based on its fully recognized true nature. So if you work correctly with this material, it will necessarily lead you, sooner or later, to a great liberation. Here enters the “how” of transformation.
The “how” of transformation is not really like alchemy. Alchemy was the medieval forerunner of chemistry and it concerned itself with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold. Transformation, on the other hand, derives its power from the conviction that nothing in this universe is base metals. You may suppose that it is base metals, but it is already inherently gold. So you should nourish that knowing part in you that can see into any element within or outside your being and recognize its original, brilliant nature. Without this conviction, transformation, the unique art of spiritual alchemy, is not possible.
So from the viewpoint of transformation, or tantra, spirituality is always, by definition, the process of transformation of what is: bringing about a mutation in the existing materials of your life. Tantric spirituality does not take place on some other, transcendent plane of reality that has nothing to do with what is. It is a revelation of the universe from within. It is a constant penetration into the heart of the cosmos.
The Real Meaning of Going Within
In transformation, the known instruction to go within isn’t understood as moving away from the world. It is actually all about moving courageously into the core of your life’s materials. In transcendence, you aim to leave the world and all of its contents behind, but in tantric spiritually, you are far too committed to identifying the gold at the heart of things, so you can never turn your back on them.
If you are filled with anger, this is a positive condition, an opportunity. Anger is a tremendous potential energy. It has a great destiny – to lead you to your divine nature. It is irritating and explosive right now because, as a part of its role, it needs to provoke you to act. This anger is inherently and potentially spiritual. If you employ techniques of transformation, it will reveal its true nature and change its form. And when the anger in you reveals its true nature and changes its form, you are reminded of your true nature and undergo energetic and spiritual mutation.
This is true to all other energies and forces, of course: your most intense desires, depression, vengefulness. All these energies are not the opposites of good qualities. This is what conventional religions have wrongly led us to believe. All the good qualities are, in fact, your transformed anger, your transformed desire, your transformed depression, and your transformed vengefulness. These are the exact same materials that have changed their form through the conviction of your own mind and the technique of transformation. Compassion is simply transformed anger, and love is transformed vengefulness. The good qualities don’t exist elsewhere, only being borrowed from another plane of existence. They are your own energies, which reside in you in an unconscious and unrealized state.
This is why I mentioned above that even the transcendence-based approaches are, in reality, systems of transformation in disguise. They are simply unaware of the fact that they apply the very same tantric principle. When, in Vipassana, you observe your bodily sensations, they sooner or later transform and melt into a sea of spacious, vibratory presence. This transformed state of your substantial physicality is called Bhanga.
Even your worst negative memories, which have bruised your heart and body and have left in you traumatic imprints, are inherently and potentially transformative. As a matter of fact, the worst memories contain the highest degree of energy. They are explosive, because in them so much life-force has been trapped. When you transform them, it is like the Big Bang that inaugurated our expanding universe: you explode from within and become a vast being. This is why tantra is the foundation of a radical form of therapy, since it fearlessly works with your darkest materials to produce illumination.
The transformation-based philosophy of tantra is the only system that tells us that we, exactly as we are, are already spiritual beings. Tantra does not refer to some nature that is completely hidden from us or that exists apart from our surface existence. Tantra, in this sense, takes the statement that the divine resides in each and every one of us very seriously. This certainty empowers us not to fear any of our energies and, therefore, not to suppress any of them. After all, where there is fear of one’s own inner forces, there is suppression. And when you no longer fear yourself, you no longer fear life, because you know that wherever you look, even if you see monsters and demons, these are only unrealized forms of light.