There is such a thing as mystical work, but there is no such thing as mystical transformation—as far as people are concerned, this is always a spiritual process. Man is limited in his abilities, and he is unable to surpass himself. Whatever assistance he receives over and above this, any change that takes place within a person is a change in the spirit, revealing its potential, which is traditionally called spiritual. In the past, spirit also referred to properties and abilities that are unrelated to the physical plane of Reality, but which manifest themselves in the inner being of mystics.
Though a person’s potential for growth is limited, it is still very great in comparison to a simple existence within the three lower bodies. Next to the infinite nature of Reality, this potential is very small, but everything is relative, and in comparison to the limitations of the physical plane, a person’s spiritual potential is almost infinite. Spiritual potential compensates for the person’s physical limitations—in terms of both the length and quality of that person’s life.
Spiritual transformation is typically described as a death or a new birth. In ancient India, the enlightened were known as twice-born (the acquisition of this name later became a common ritual). This implies that a person dies in the physical world in order to be born in the spiritual world. Birth in the spirit and letting go of one’s desires and attachments—or, more precisely, dying in every earthly sense—is, according to the descriptions, the main essence of the process of transfiguration. And of course, every seeker has the impression that death and new birth happen once, and then afterwards the transfigured person remains in a stable and unchanging state for the rest of their life. Stability is one of the most alluring things to the human mind, and yet it totally contradicts the laws by which the world exists. The world’s stability is always dynamic, the world is always in motion—one thing is born as another thing dies and fades away. It should be understood that this law extends to everything—and in this instance the enlightened are no exception. In fact, owing to the strength of their sensitivity, enlightened mystics will change slightly before fundamental movements in the world’s development or the other people in it. It is also possible for changes to come about through the mystics. It is possible that mystics may at a given moment become the hands of God. Familiarize yourself with the life stories of your favorite mystics—any of them—and you will see how their working methods and means of communicating messages change over time, and also the impact that their work has on the world... although this does not happen immediately, of course. The physical world moves and changes much more slowly than the spiritual world, which is to say, the Higher Levels of Reality. Even in comparison to the world of ideas—i.e. the world of the third body (the lower mind)—the physical world changes much more slowly. But it does change, and these changes are a part of the necessary condition of its existence.
It is important to bear in mind that destruction is the only thing that happens quickly. The transfiguration of both the world and of man is a slow process, whatever anyone might think. To the mind, consumed with desire for an easy and simple way out, it seems like the important thing is to attain that very death in life, to undergo transfiguration and become the way an enlightened person is typically imagined—virtuous, all-knowing and in possession of great powers. Man seeks simple solutions—one single extraordinary effort that would lead him to a magical transformation. But magic only exists in fairy tales—in reality everything is a manifestation of the laws and forces that are visibly or invisibly present in the world.
It is possible that you have already picked up some idea from the preceding chapters of how complex the design of the external and internal world really is. It will then be that much clearer to you that the transfiguration of man is a long process that includes a series of necessary steps, without which it will either not be complete or will not come about at all. This is man’s reality—in order to change, he must rebuild the whole system of energy currents within himself. Just as a country’s abilities are limited by the size of its budget, so the possibilities of man’s progress are limited by the amount of energy he is able to spend on his own development. Development, that is, and not some escape beyond the confines of the mind or other such simplistic schemes for enlightenment that many seekers now seem to entertain. Although, of course, development in and of itself implies an escape beyond the confines of the mind, since the mind is needed to settle things from the outside, but has no way to take care of the internal work, and an attachment to it always becomes an impediment to growth.
Transfiguration or enlightenment—call it what you will—cannot take place so long as a person’s energy flows outward and so long as he remains a conductor and a hostage to his own feelings. If you look closely, every religion, even in its esoteric aspects intended for all believers, calls for people to stop expending energy on indulging their own desires. Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, and so on, on superficial examination seem like good commandments, calling for people not to behave as cattle; almost every one of them is directed against his desires. This is the Truth: all religions that lead people to God enable their believers to transition from the Downward to the Upward Stream. In other words, all true religions are directed against life on Earth. Returning to the Source is impossible, as long as you are alive.
So-called modern esotericism attempts to justify man’s desires, teaching him to change the world as he sees fit. The new teachings justify desires, calling on everyone to become magicians and with the right commitment to make their lives more complete and more gratifying. Esotericism is nowadays in thrall to the Downward Stream and tears man away from God, convincing seekers of unfortunate truth that every one of us is a god in his own right. Thus all meaning goes out the window and all energy dissipates; the force of the Downward Stream of Creation is preserved. And of course, what is now called esotericism is nothing of the sort. The collection of magical incantations and ways of maintaining all these different illusions has nothing whatsoever to do with either Truth, or hidden knowledge. Figuratively speaking, Satan has gained a victory, in directing seekers upon the easy path and leaving them in the current of the energies of the Downward Stream, in which this world also finds itself. By following his own desires, man can never escape the confines of this world and goes within, to where the doors open up to another level of his being. Animals are bound by their instincts, people are enslaved by their desires, and only by refusing to obey them is man given the chance to realize the inwardly suppressed powers of the Downward Stream of Creation.
The balance of the two Streams at the level of the physical world is secured by the laws according to which that world exists. The Downward Stream of Creation pervades all planes of Being; it creates them, in fact, and imbues them with life. Through this Stream, Consciousness of God dissolves into matter and is lost in it. With the Upward Stream, Consciousness wants to somehow go backward, to the Source, while the physical matter that the active consciousness was connected to then loses its previous form, and in some sense returns to the source itself, which for it is a state of chaos. In the harmony of influences from the Upward and Downward Streams, which may manifest themselves only within the framework of the laws of that plane of Reality, there also forms what mystics call the law of three forces, where the active principle is normally the Downward Stream, the negative or passive the Upward Stream, and the laws of existence of the physical world represent a neutralizing force.
The main influence that the Downward Stream has on people is in the life force that takes the form of desires. All mystics work under the canopy of influences of the Upward Stream, and for this reason one of the principal stages of transfiguration becomes the transition from one set of influences to another. This transition is generally brought about through the practice of awareness, where the person starts using the power of their own concentration for the disengagement and separation of the energy of consciousness both from the world and from desires. Actually, the practice of awareness repeats the basic processes that occur in the Upward Stream of Creation—this is where the image of death comes from, through which the mystic must pass to liberate himself from the path of the world—the path of dependency and the ego, held captive to desires. The more aware the mystic becomes, the more separated he is from the world of desires and, by extension, the closer he is to the higher world, the celestial world. The practice of awareness is the key to transitioning to the influence of the Upward Stream of Creation and returning home.
There is not one genuine seeker that feels at home on this plane of Reality. In fact, it is by virtue of this sense that he is not where he should be that he becomes a seeker. The motivation for this search is not always clear even to the seeker himself (let alone his family and friends), but at fundamentally it always lies in the feeling that this world is foreign to you, and even more so that you are foreign to it. This feeling occurs at least once in the life of every person, even the most unconscious, and in order to get rid of it people will build their own little worlds and try to make them as comfortable as they can for themselves. But however cozy the world he has created may be, it only partly helps, as man’s troubles are not on the outside but within. No compensation can change anything in its entirety. Imagine you lived in a perfect country with a wonderful, mild climate, with good people and just laws, and then you ended up... let us say in Russia. Of course, you try to arrange your life so that you do not fall into total, irreversible depression, but no amount of compensation will bring back what you had before. The stories of a lost paradise did not emerge in a vacuum—they have a direct relationship to human reality. Even the most powerful people of this world occasionally sense that they are not where they should be, and not doing what they should be. And this is not some glitch of the mind—this a flash of insight into the true state of things.
The seeker searches for that lost connection, he searches for the kind of self-identification that would bring him satisfaction. The seeker attempts to figure out the meaning of his own existence here in a world he feels he does not belong to. It is for this reason alone that the true seeker is able to scorn this whole world and set out on the Path, by which he may return to the Source, not after an unconscious death, but fully conscious of the process of transfiguration.
As we know, there are two paths that lead to spiritual transformation. One is the path of awareness and meditation; the other is the path of prayer and worshipping God. In practice, every mystical tradition is a combination of the two. By itself, awareness can resolve all the seeker’s problems and lead him to transfiguration, but without prayer and dhikr—the modes of interaction with God—this path becomes much longer and more difficult. On the other hand, mystical practices that are not backed up with a sufficient level of self-awareness may lead to madness and the birth of new chimeras—a person can then no longer clearly distinguish between reality and the hallucinations of his own mind, now broken by the impact of a higher force. What is needed is balance, and this is why the journey is often compared to walking on a knife edge. I have written a lot already about the path of awareness; we will discuss some features of the path of communicating and interacting with God a little later on.
The process of transformation is multifaceted. The main substance of it is in changing the quality of energy that a person can take on and give off, but this change happens in different ways at the level of each of his bodies. The physical body, frankly, does not change very much—in the process of transformation it changes least of all, although you could not say that no change at all takes place. Sensitivity increases—but this relates to all the bodies, because a high level of awareness raises the level of perception of all the sensory organs, including the physical ones, to their highest. The rest—for example, the level of stamina, the appearance of powers and the ability to produce particular kinds of energy—has no direct relation to the physical body. It is nothing more than a conductor in that situation.
The ethereal body or the body of the emotions changes somewhat more intensely. Being liberated from suppressed emotional energy and having stopped spasmodically giving off anger and sorrow, it becomes capable of perceiving subtle energies like, for example, the energy of the Divine Presence and grace, which comes through the heart channel.
The body of the lower mind changes most of all and is the one you have to play around with longest of all. Our mind is designed in such a way that every impression leaves a mark upon it, and the stronger the impression, the more profound will be the mark. For instance, a childhood psychological trauma will leave such profound traces on the mind that the rest of the person’s life will be permanently linked to the reactions that came out as a result of that trauma. All our psychological and emotional reactions are the fruits of such marks or an indication that such a mark is being formed right now. All the mechanicalness of a person’s behavior is connected to the reactions that have been fixed in the mind as a result of impressions received and the subsequent desire to either repeat them or otherwise avoid them. In the process of awareness and the penetration of light issuing from a person’s Consciousness, all these impressions melt and the mind is cleansed and to some degree emptied. The power of the energy of Consciousness melts the mind as though it were wax, cleansing these marks, and the person simultaneously rids himself of all the neurotic reactions associated with them. The memory may retain recollections of the events, but they will not cause any internal reaction. This is how to gain freedom and it is how we rid ourselves of dependence, but this process is also multi-faceted. Many different things happen in parallel with growing awareness. The centers interlock with one another, and begin working more intensively, the activation of the fourth—mental—body takes place, through disengagement the abilities of spiritual vision are opened up, and of themselves such changes and the pressure of energies sometimes spills over so that the circumstances of one’s external life also change, and sometimes quite drastically.
Hindus and Zen Buddhists, and everyone who echoes them, write about instantaneous transformation and the experience of enlightenment changing a person irreversibly. I cannot claim that this is entirely false, as all sorts of things happen on the mystic path, but instantaneous enlightenment without advance preparation would eject a person from their physical body, and that is all that would happen. Transfiguration is a gradual process, and every significant change upon this path constitutes a minor death. I maintain that the seeker will pass through many deaths with varying degrees of depth and painfulness and each one will change and transfigure him. Every step towards transformation, every change in one’s capacity for action and the transformation of energy is accompanied by a state in which the mystic—or some part of him—well and truly dies. Quite often it is accompanied by physical deterioration, although not always. It is individual and depends on the heritage and overall strength of the physical body. The most difficult thing—if not the most painful—is to go through your first death, because it is impossible to prepare yourself for that. However much I stress to pupils the need for endurance, however much I try somehow to prepare and strengthen their spirits, being borne away by that first death is always very painful. Given that this state may last anything from several hours to several days, of course, this test of a person’s endurance and preparedness moves further. It is almost impossible not to get into self-pity and not let your fears run wild, appearing as they do at a time of incomprehension as to what is happening to you. The mind grows dim and, depending on what dies within and what kind of transformation takes place, it is filled with thoughts relating to this and a sense of despair. Physically, this is also accompanied by pain and a sensation of the energies filling you and flowing through your body—in my own case this has normally been an ice-cold sensation.
It must be said that many stages of transformation are initially preceded by extraordinary efforts in one’s work on the self. The Heart, for example, will not open up without extraordinary efforts. However, we should not forget that passing through an inner death is itself a form of extraordinary effort, albeit one that is not performed willingly.
It is natural that when the latest period of transformation is over, the person experiences relief. Other than that, he gets the feeling that he has come back to life. This is a fact, I do not exaggerate. And he realizes almost immediately that he has become something new. The details and the nuances of his new state are revealed to him over time, but the sensation of a different self comes almost instantaneously. The next deaths are more straightforward, if not easier. When you have experience and understanding of what happens, you may stay calm and endure it. It is tension and internal opposition that slows down and draws out the process of transformation. But at first there is no other around it.
I remember very well how at one time I wanted to find a step-by-step description of the process of transfiguration and a detailed exposition of the stages of the spiritual or mystic Path. For good or ill, this does not exist. What I am writing here is set out in plenty of detail, but there is no way to describe the process of transformation in any more detail, as it is a very individual, almost intimate process. It is something that happens only between you and God, through direct, purely mystical interaction. And all the mysteries, as well as the wonderful and terrible miracles that occur on the Path remain only between you. A master is a conductor who should help you come to this interaction, relying on the Will and its vision, but all the sometimes crazy beauty of the Path home happens between you and God only. Indeed it is indescribable in words.
Nevertheless, Sufis have a description of the stations on the Path, which at least may construct some idea of where it leads to. True, there is almost never any one idea that matches the reality, but there is nothing you can do about that. I say this: transfiguration is a series of processes that happen in alongside one another, where one set of energies and states is substituted for another that is higher. To begin with, the ego dies little by little, and at the same time awareness and spiritual vision grow, then desires taper off, the Heart opens and the possibility for Surrender surfaces... But be that as it may, all this happens essentially on one’s own, and actually it is very individual, with its own peculiar characteristics in every distinct case. Therefore, the transfigured are not all alike, in fact their individuality forms and flourishes on that Path, and the singularity of experience gained through it allows them not to repeat the words of others, but to find their own. In this, we also see the beauty and limitlessness of Truth, wherein every person that has attained it may transmit it in his own unique way, though without repeating its great essence, but simplifying it so that other people may at least take something away from it.