When we consider the need to change, in order to establish a connection with the Divine or the True Self (the intermediary to the Divine), most solutions will offer techniques to transform the gross personality. Meditation, spiritual practice, changing one’s actions: these are all examples of such work, with the intention of creating a lasting effect. But not all agree. Some would say that working at the level of personality is a waste of time, as the personality doesn’t persist but perishes at death. To this end, I would like to flush out both approaches in a calm and rational analysis.
Working on the Personality
Ancient paths of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Gnosticism all assert that one must use new ways of thinking in order to approach enlightenment, or the Divine. The idea is that our gross (materialistic) personality is only concerned with the world around us. In order to make spiritual gain, the mind must be transformed through work and effort.
Modern approaches of magick also use this methodology. By affecting the mind, changes are made which create opportunities. The only difference in magic to mysticism is perhaps the scope of the work. The mystic seeking enlightenment, or Oneness with God and the magician seeking personal empowerment.
From this viewpoint, when the mind is transformed, reality shifts, allowing for deep spiritual connection and transformation. In other words, when the clutter is swept from the room, the Light from a window can fill the space.
Releasing the Personality
There are newer traditions that identify the approach described above as false. They claim it is misguided because the work is based on a temporary thing. Like investing thousands of dollars in a car you rented. Why would anyone do mechanical upgrades on a rental car? At the end of the week the car is given back to the rental office, and all investment is lost.
Instead of trying to clear the mind, they opt to make a relationship with their ego. The ego is brought into compliance with the idea that the only hope is to “let go” of the personality (the home of the ego), so that the Greater Personality or Greater Self may illuminate.
In practicality this is like abandoning meditation for a calmer, less reactive mind, in favor of a practice of being in the present moment. The present moment, having no ego will allow the Greater to manifest.
This view also believes that we don’t really change at all. That we can’t change. A tricky point, but one to note.
Reviewing the Two Approaches
Thinking more deeply on this, I can see a flaw with the second, but not with the first.
In order to connect with the pure Light, one must abandon anger, selfishness, desire, and so on. The work of abandoning these things will come through mental concentration, as well as spiritual effort. By clearing the mind, enlightenment follows.
How this is done can be meditating towards no-thought, or it could be directly meditating in such a way to visualize a person we are angry with and work through that by careful analysis on how the anger only harms the meditator. In Buddhism, one meditates upon the antidote of the problem at hand… meditating on patience to overcome anger. Similar approaches are found in Sufism, Hinduism and so on. Through this work the personality is cleared of imperfections, so that the Light of truth can manifest and transform the deep aspects that survive bodily death.
The modern idea of releasing the personality altogether has an allure but is perhaps playing a trick. We must recognize that we change all the time. The idea that we can’t change or don’t change is false, as a simple life review will no doubt reveal. I’m not the same person I was at 10 years old, at 18 years old, at 25, at 38, at 50, etc. We change. Our personalities change. If they change without our effort, imagine if we apply effort.
But, protests the argument, what you are investing in (the personality) is lost at death. What’s the point? You need to let go of the personality so the Greater will manifest. How one releases the personality is often through practices of listening/reading spiritual literature, putting one’s mind on the present moment and so on. Without using the word meditation, they are often describing the act of meditation.
I can recall a lecture where one such person derided the work of meditation, calling it dangerous, and then said, “to go beyond the personality we must close off our conscious thoughts. We must put our attention on the present moment. Becoming mindful we go beyond the personality…” and I asked, “but isn’t what you just described meditation?” To which I got no answer, because he knew no answer.
Without purposeful intent to change, and using a practice to evoke the change, the aspirant will fall back to the ways of the carnal world. Hence the truism, that in order to find the Truth, or the Light, we must clear out those inner cobwebs. Through meditation (on nothing, on object, on new thinking) we evoke changes in the personality and those changes open the doorways for lasting change on the element that persists.