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.