Transformation: A Loser’s Game

I am continuing to suffer from what the French call “esprit d’escalier” or staircase wit. This phase has its origins in the apartment blocks of France in which residents would pass each other on the stairs and exchange remarks only to think of a clever reply after the moment had passed and they were further up the stairs.

My two-and-a-half hour conversation with Dr John Demartini fits this description. As he described his conceptual model of life – that life is a continual process of transformation – in my mind I heard him describing what is called in Vedanta “Parinamvada” – the theory of transformation. Dr Demartini says that life is an ever-continuing movement between being and becoming. He says that as soon as you sort out your problems and see the balance, more come along, knock you off balance and motivate you to continue growing.

As far as life appears, I consider this to be an accurate theory. However, I told Dr Demartini that I considered it to be a loser’s game. It’s a game you cannot win. My afterthought to illustrate my point is the old carrot and stick. You are always enticed by the carrot and encouraged by the stick. The carrot represents our belief that life will somehow be better with change – ie in the future. But just because life has transformed, doesn’t mean that it is better.

Dr Demartini realised that as a chiropractor he was not taking people’s pain go away. He was just shifting the pain from their spine to their finances or to some responsibility that their injury had freed them from. Life doesn’t get better, it just transforms and positives and negatives are always balanced.

Let me ask you, if you owned a business that had $100 million in revenue and $100 million in losses – how would you feel about it? You’d feel elated if you only saw the gains or depressed if you overstated the losses. If your perceptions show anything other than perfect balance then you enter a lie – and corresponding emotions follow.

According to Dr Demartini when we balance our perceptions and see that losses and gains are equal, then we get promoted to a new level of problems. Eventually we get a business that is making $200 million profit and $200 million in losses. Are you better off? Has all the work and effort been worth it? Is life better, or just transformed?

In my mind, there is little difference. It is like asking which is worth more: $1000 worth of gold or $1000 worth of toothpaste.

In the Vedanta school, once we have become disillusioned with ceaseless, profitless, treadmill transformation, then we open ourselves to the opposite, balancing view: that life is not fulfilled by transformation, but by knowing its origin – the changeless Self.

This direct view is called Vivartavada in Vedanta. I described it in an essay I did at university. [The snake and the string analogy is this: imagine walking into a room and out the corner of your eye you see a snake, but on closer inspection it is only a piece of string and the snake was only a mistaken perception.]

This process of creation, of transformation and evolution, is called Parinamvad. It is the theory that Reality is found by growing from a lower level of awareness to a greater level of awareness. Parinamvad is a principle that is true from the point of view of an individual with a “localized, partial memory.”

Parinamvad is superseded by Vivartvad. “Vivartvad is the principle of seeing the reality.” In the famous Vedic analogy of the snake and the string, Parinamvad declares that the snake is real and it emerged from the string in a sequential and scientific way. Virartvad says that the snake is entirely unreal and at no time did it ever exist.

The statement “Manifest diversity is unmanifest – there is nothing else” is explained by the theory of Vivartvad. It is equivalent to saying, “The snake is not real – there is nothing but a rope.”

One may object and say that reality is different at different levels of consciousness. But this is as true as the snake. All the theories and proofs in the world declaring the reality of the relative aspect of creation are equivalent to declarations that the snake is real and has its own independent reality. All such theories belong to Parinamvad. Parinamvad has an infinitude of truths that validate it, each according to the innumerable contexts that they may presented in. But Vivartvad is ultimately the real truth and is not dependent on any context. Ultimately, there is one truth and one state of consciousness – Brahman Consciousness.

The kicker is that most people are not fit to look directly at the snake – they’re so convinced that it is real and that the fear and anxiety are justified. For such people, therapy is recommended: mantra, meditation, exercise etc to purify the mind enough so they have the presence of mind to look directly at the “snake”.

Anyway, back to Dr Demartini. The problem with eternal transformation is that there is no real rest and no realisation that life is ever-unstarted.

After Dr Demartini described his ever-changing model of existence, I asked him where the ever-unchanging was. He is a smart man and pointed to the fact that the transforming nature of life doesn’t change (ie everything changes except the fact that it is changing). I’d heard this point before – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi pointed it out to a depressed existentialist. It wasn’t until I was further up the staircase did I find words to rebut Dr Demartini’s observation.

Yes, there is the ever-changeless aspect of the ever-changing world, but this is more like an adjective than a noun – it is like a principle that describes an actuality. I was pointing at opposite to the actuality. The opposite to the actuality of ever-transforming life (and its dynamic play between the manifest and unmanifest) is the never transformed, never started, never related, unknowable Nirguna Brahman as described by the sage Ashtavakra in his final verse:

“There is no being or non-being, no unity or dualism. What more is there to say? There is nothing outside of me.” 20.14

The advantage of knowing the changeless outside of the changing is freedom from the changing. This is the winner’s game. If you don’t know the unchanging, then you remain bound to the changing. This is a kind of infatuation – a belief that it has something to offer you – a dependency if you will. It is a dependency on the Matrix, divine order and on God.

Nirguna Brahman is freedom from everything. But that doesn’t mean life goes away – you still have to brush your teeth and eat your porridge. It’s just that life is viewed from an entirely different perspective.


5 Responses to Transformation: A Loser’s Game

  1. Obi Wan says:

    But do you brush your teeth before or after eating the porridge?

    About the snake and the rope, a good acronym from F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. In the Toltec Warriors Path Fear is one of the Four Natural Enemies which needs to be overcome if one is to succeed in becoming a Man or Woman of Knowledge. This is achieved through developing the qualities termed Sobriety and Strength. Sobriety is seeing things as they are free from psycho-emotional projection and fixation. Strength is having the confidence to act with impeccability upon ones own knowledge.

    Sobriety is still within the context of ordinary awareness and is but a stepping stone to heightened levels of perception. I know that you were using the analogy in a more far reaching sense (i.e. creation does not exisit) but you also posited the mistaken perception as the root of fear and anxiety. Fear, in the sense of the natural instinct for self-preservation, is an important aspect of the Warriors Shield in that it keeps us alert, but irrational fear is banished by seeing clearly and gaining confidence through experience in our own abilities to handle what ever life throws at us.

    In the Toltec view Existence is seen as being predatory in the sense that Life or Power is always challenging us to grow and evolve our level of awareness but there also comes a time in a Warriors life where he learns to Dance with Death and gains the Command of the Eagle. That is to say that the Warrior has become a totally fluid being (without internal resistance) and has come into full alignment with Universal Law. In such a case the Warrior will be like the still centre within the storm no matter how fiercely it rages.

    In the end an Impeccable Warrior of the Spirit is able to give his all in life and yet remains free and clear. Having actualized his potential as a Magical Being of the Universe he fully upholds the interrelationship and equality of all life. He is at once both cosmic and individual; both fully established in Being as well as being a frictionless instrument through which life can express its ongoing tendency towards Becoming.

    I know that in my own case I was always seeking refuge in Being as a way to avoid the relentless onslaughts of Becoming. What I now see is that it is only by meeting my challenges in life and overcoming my internal impediments that it becomes possible to remain naturally resting in Being under all circumstances and at all times.

    Then the Becoming becomes an exciting adventure rather than a painful imposition. Wholeness playing with Wholeness for the sake of Wholeness. My philosophy is to enjoy the ride because the One has gone to a lot of trouble to have this experience of you, as you and for you; becoming your own natural self; a totally free and fluid being.

  2. Kiwi Yogi says:

    Yes, it seems like a natural part of the path for people to go through a period of rejecting Becoming to find Being only to later return to Becoming but with a new and more integrated perspective. At least that’s been my experience.

  3. Kiwi Yogi,

    I am reminded of the story of the ancient sage Bhringi when I read your blog post.. Like you, he has also thought of knowing the changeless outside of the changing and that it would be freedom from the changing.

    In Sāmkhya terms, the changeless is denoted by Purusha and the changing by Prakriti. When both are viewed in their static and inertial aspect (tāmas guna) where mind can fixate easily, they represent the divine figures Shiva and Shakti (or Parvati) respectively.

    Bhringi wanted to circumambulate Shiva, but not Parvati. He requested Shiva to be separated from his consort Parvati, so Shiva refused. So Bhringi turned himself into a bee and tried to wade his way through between the two. But lo, the body of Parvati got merged with Shiva, turning Shiva into Ardha-narisvara (half-purusha and half-prakriti). Startled by this, but undeterred, Bhringi turned himself into a worm and tried to bore his way through the body of Ardha-narisvara.

    It was then that he was cursed by Parvati that he shall lose every part of himself that was given to him by his mother. And all the soft parts of his body (muscles and nerves) disappeared leaving him with just his skeleton. And the skeleton was unable to stand by itself on two legs, let alone circumambulate Shiva. But Shiva took pity on him and provided him with a stick, making Bhringi stand like a tripod.

    This is the price one has to pay if one ignores the ever-changing Prakriti and worship only the changeless Purusha. Brahmān is Prakriti and Purusha put together. It is both changing and changeless at the same time. Conceptualizing such a thing mentally is impossible by all means.

    What is possible is the merging of the finite with the infinite. And that may happen through one of the 4 paths of yoga. And one should be ready to accept the mental state one is in. Just by fooling oneself into believing that one is at a higher state would not help oneself. What really helps (and what is possible) is critical analysis of exactly which state oneself is in. This lucidity is what is offered by the Sattva guna of Sāmkhya. After this is perfected and one’s form becomes completely Sattva, purely divine grace will lead oneself to a higher state. And it goes on and on until one is ready to sacrifice one’s ego completely.

  4. Kiwi Yogi says:

    This idea of discriminating the changeless from the changing is central to Vedanta, but obviously not Samkhya as your tale illustrates.

    Adi Shankara says in Laghu Vakya Vritti verse 3, “The supreme purpose in life lies in the effort to discriminate the pure consciousness from its reflection (ie the Jiva)”

    Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutra, “4.25. For one who has cognized the distinctness of purusha, reflection about the nature of the Self ceases” and “3.49. Solely from perception of the distinction between buddhi and purusha comes all-knowingness and supremacy over all that exists.”

    Purusha cannot be separated out from manifest life so you can’t walk around it, but since you are already Purusha, you can know this aspect as distinct to Prakriti by being it.

    Also, if Purusha could not be distinguished, then we could not talk of it. But Purusha is distinguishable by discarding (through discrimination) what it is not (ie the tattvas). What remains is Purusha – ie you, as the seer of the tattvas.

    In my mind this distinguishing of Purusha from Prakriti is still in the domain of Samkhya, because one can realize one’s self as distinct from Prakriti but still think that Prakriti is real. In Vedanta this is called enlightened ignorance.

    Also, from the point of view of Vedanta, the Samkhya suggestion that the changeless somehow changes into the changing makes no sense.

    The Vedantic view is that the Shiva/Shakti Ardha-narisvara is ultimately not real, even though it appears to be.

    The Katha Upanishad says, “Neha nanasti kinchana” which may be translated as “manifest diversity is unmanifest – there is nothing else.” No distinctions, no Shiva/Parvati, no unity, no duality. Something does not come out of nothing. No growth. No transformation, despite appearances.

    However, given that the manifest seems to exist as an appearance (mithya – not actually real) I was told by a trusted swami to always respect the feminine (Prakriti) “or you will suffer.”

    I agree that the cultivation of sattva is good and necessary for developing the required spiritual insight. The practice of discriminating the self from the non-self as prescribed in Vedanta is in itself such a practice. The cultivation of such discriminative ability through Samkhya seems to me to be an indirect, and more worldly, way of achieving this. Since Samkhya obviously has a lot to offer, I accept its value and contribution to the world, even though ultimately I consider it not to be the final reality, but a stepping-stone to it.

  5. Kiwi Yogi says:


    I just re-read your comment from 2010. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for posting it.


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