The Four Life Transformations
There is change, and then there is an obliteration into change
It has long been understood that this is a causal universe, and the fundamental law of nature is change. Just like any living system, a baby caterpillar growing into an adult is a process of constant change. Then something remarkable happens; metamorphosis. This is an obliteration into change and the entire perception of reality changes. It is impossible for a butterfly to go back to being a caterpillar.
Can we as individuals, and as a collective, undergo such experientially dramatic transformations? If so, what would these transformations be?
A recent UN report has warned that in twelve years, the effects of climate change will be catastrophic. This is currently just one of several dangerous global situations. It has become an urgent calling of our times, for us as individuals and as a collective, to undergo massive transformations for all species to avoid tremendous suffering.
The transformations that are being called for are inherent in all that compels us to act, our desires. The ancient yogis realized that there are essentially four desires:
1. Artha (Desire for Material Things)
Material possessions add a great deal to the quality of our lives. Food, water, shelter, clothing, access to conveniences like transport, energy, and technology clearly makes our lives easier to live. It is interesting that the wise founders of language chose the same root for the word ‘possession’ as for the word ‘possessed’. They realized that notion of possessing something is really a form of madness! After all, we enter into life empty-handed, leave life empty-handed. For the time in between, things come, we look after them for a while and they go. The sense of ownership brings with it an undercurrent of ‘clinging-ness’, a craving to possess, fear of loss and the depression of inevitable loss (either you go or the things go).
Artha Transformation: From Clinging to Thriving
HH the 14th Dalai Lama said, “It’s okay to be selfish, just be wise-selfish. How can you be happy and enjoy life if there is fire all around you? Help put out that fire, then you can enjoy”. Being wise-selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone.
The Artha Transformation that is being called upon here is going from an insular scarcity based living to a much broader and richer sense of belonging. We play ourselves so small with petty clinging. What if I am audacious enough to live in a way where every touch point of my awareness is thriving?
2. Kama (Desire for Pleasure)
Between birth and death, all we have are experiences. One measure of success would be a life lived predominantly in pleasure. This is perfectly valid. We are born with the laws of nature, and nature is constantly playful and creative. What is the point of having so many different kinds of flowers? Just a rose would have been enough. Yet we enjoy countless extraordinary varieties of flowers, plants, birds, insects, and animals. What is the point of so many galaxies and stars? Yet the skies are limitlessly full. Nature is a celebration of abundance! We have been taught not to notice this. Instead, we are taught to live in pursuit of happiness. A constant seeking of an ever-elusive holy grail.
Kama Transformation: From Seeking to Presence
The Kama Transformation is a sudden realization that, what we have been seeking for, is where we are seeking from. That life is best lived as an expression of happiness rather than a seeking of it. That this present moment is filled with pleasant sensations, if we only stopped to notice. All the abundance of lights, colors, shapes, scent, taste, and touch that are offered right now, for pure enjoyment. The tremendous variety of sensations that exist within the body right now if we know how to drop in. The ability to think, imagine, remember, create, communicate are such precious and impermanent gifts! Just truly sitting with the breath can lead to awe. The in-breath so light and recharging; the out-breath, heavy and releasing, and that sublime moment of suspended stillness in between.
3. Dharma (Desire for Purpose)
From a very young age, most of us trained to achieve. The competition starts when we barely begin to eat solid food. Entrance exams, top grades, trophies, respectable degrees, a senior position in a successful company, raise, promotion, awards, accolades, honors! Just writing that felt exhausting. No wonder so many of us at the peak of ‘respectability’ feel so empty and hollow.
Dharma Transformation: From Ambition to Meaning
Dr. Wayne Dyer expressed this beautifully in his film, ‘The Shift’. It is a radical transformation into the realization that we are all born with such unique talents. It is like our eyes. If someone were to say to you, “you have such beautiful eyes”, it puts you in an awkward situation because you had nothing to do with creating them! You are just born that way. Same with our inherent knacks. We cannot take any credit for them. The only objective reason we have them is so that they are of service to others. When we play to our strengths and co-create with the unique gifts of others to uplift all, we tap into the giving field of ‘many-helping-many’. Suddenly we are no longer an isolated cell struggling to survive. We become a part of the entire living system!
Einstein is believed to have said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking that it is stupid.” It falls upon us to discover our genius, practice to mastery, and celebrate in offering this gift to directly or indirectly be of benefit to all, for now, and for the generations to follow. This is the Dharma Transformation to a meaningful life.
4. Moksha (Desire for Liberation)
This desire is unique for most of us in that, the desire for the other three tend to be so strong, they take up most of our attention, leaving very little if any, for self-curiosity. In the ‘I want’, the ‘want’ gets so much attention, the ‘I’ often gets neglected. What is this ‘I’ that wants? It would not be much of a stretch to suggest that the body is typically perceived as a ‘brain carrying machine’, and as long as it is functional and free from requiring drugs or surgery, this is good health.
Moksha Transformation: From Functional to Freedom
‘Functional’ sets the bar so low in the spectrum of our human potential. It is such a poor definition of health. This mind-body system is by far the most incredible system ever created. As the Buddha is understood to have said, “the body is our instrument for awakening. Treat it with care”. It is worthy of the highest regard and appreciation.
The Moksha Transformation happens when there is a spark of curiosity about the inner world. This journey goes from self-curiosity to self-awareness, self-acknowledgment, self-acceptance, self-worth, genuine self-confidence and all the way to Self-realization.
Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows
Let’s hit the pause button on life for a moment, take a breath and notice. These are very interesting times that we find ourselves in. The survival of the human species lies in a precarious balance. I am reminded of the wisdom of the Chinese language in writing the word ‘crisis’ as ‘Wéi-jī’, where ‘Wéi’ means ‘danger, caution’ and ‘jī’ means ‘good fortune, opportunity’. Energy will flow to whichever part we give our collective attention to. Being aware of the danger is enough. There is no point obsessing over it. Otherwise, it will create the same mindset of fear, scarcity, and hatred that got us into this mess in the first place! When recently asked, “are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?”, my response was, “I don’t know. What I do know is where the solution is, and this is what gets all my attention”.
As is the micro, so is the macro. As is true intimately, so is true globally. It is highly unlikely that a hero or a God-like being is coming to save us. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
The time for transformation is now.
Musings, insights, stories and tips on skillful living.