Transfiguration: Seeing Beyond the Form of any Form
Transfiguration is a very important part of Tantric rituals because it represents the quintessence of the Tantric vision–seeing the Divine in any form. Transfiguration is deeply profound and requires a daily spiritual practice that gradually leads to this new, intimate view, rooted in the Heart.
Definition and Etymology
The Oxford English Dictionary defines transfiguration as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” It comes from the Latin transfigurare (trans, “across,” and figura, “figure”). As its etymology suggests, in transfiguration we go from perceiving form to experiencing that which is beyond the formal. We can also understand that only by being in a transfigured state can we see the world in a transfigured way. “It is only a god that can adore a god,” says the Tantric tradition.
Seeing Everyday Life as a Mandala
This way of seeing appears mostly by a perseverant practice of meditation and by constant vigilance in the post-meditation phase. This requires cultivating the sacred vision that is revealed through Self-Inquiry meditation in daily life. As you do so, you begin to see life in a transfigured way. But, this is only possible when your mind and heart are purified of all mundane concerns (gain-loss, pleasure-pain, praise-defamation, fame-obscurity). This means training yourself to see life as being permeated by the Divine. It means cultivating the Tantric vision by honoring and worshipping life in whatever form it takes.
Dilgo Kyhentse Rinpoche speaks about this pure radiance of being: “We should learn to see everyday life as mandala–the luminous fringes of experience, which radiate spontaneously from the empty nature of our being.”
Kali, the Divine Mother Hidden in a Cat
Ramakrishna gives a beautiful example of the real meaning of transfiguration:
“The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kali temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of Consciousness. The image was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water-vessels were Consciousness, the doorsill was Consciousness, the marble floor was Consciousness–all was Consciousness. I found everything inside the room soaked, as it were, in Bliss–the Bliss of God. I saw a wicked man in front of the Kali temple; but in him also I saw the power of the Divine Mother vibrating. That was why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that all this was the Divine Mother–even the cat. The manager of the temple garden wrote to Mathur Babu saying that I was feeding the cat with the offering intended for the Divine Mother. But Mathur Babu had insight into the state of my mind. He wrote back to the manager: ‘Let him do whatever he likes. You must not say anything to him.’” –from The Gospel of Ramakrishna
Shodashipuja–The Adoration of Beauty
“One day–known as the Phalaharini Kalipuja day–Ramakrishna made all the preparations for the worship of Shodashi (an exquisitely beautiful aspect of the Divine Mother), installed Sarada Devi on the consecrated wooden seat meant for the goddess, and worshipped her with all the ingredients and ritualistic procedures.
Almost from the start of the worship, she was in a superconscious state. When at the end, Ramakrishna offered his rosary at her feet, symbolizing the total surrender of all his spiritual attainments, she was in deep samadhi, which lasted for quite a long time. After coming down to the normal plane of consciousness, she walked out of the room majestically with extreme grace.
This event, now well-known as the ‘Shodashipuja’ in the annals of the Ramakrishna Order, marks a very significant stage in her life.” –Swami Harshananda, Sri Sarada Devi: The Great Wonder
How can you train yourself for transfiguration in daily life? In particular, in a couple relationship? By simply and constantly worshipping and adoring the Shiva and Shakti principles. By deeply understanding that behind the diversity of men and women there are two fundamental forces of creation–masculine and feminine, solar and lunar, yin and yang–which continuously interplay, creating the cosmic dance, lila. But, this journey starts with the noble recognition of beauty inside.
How Can You See the Beauty of Your Soul?
The great philosopher and mystic Plotin was the promoter of “the Religion of Beauty,” in which Beauty in itself is an Absolute Principle–incomprehensible and supernatural–that can only be experienced in spiritual ecstasy. He offers practical advice on opening to such beauty:
“For this you have to go deep into your heart and contemplate what is there. If you still cannot see the beauty in yourself, then act just like the sculptor that carves a beautiful statue. He successively removes different parts of the marble, then rectifies and polishes it again and again until the very beautiful lines of the statue appear from the original rough stone. Like him, take away what is superfluous in your mind, correct what is crooked, cleanse and purify what is dirty or ugly, until you make all your heart shine.
Do not cease, even for one day to ‘carve’ your own ‘statue’ until the divine light of beauty will manifest in it, and you will see how the perfection of God and the supreme Good will sit in it as on a holy throne. Have you come to this state?
Do you see this in you? Do you feel this ecstatic state of union with God? Are you totally a true divine light–not a light of measurable dimensions, that can sometimes diminish, sometimes grow–but absolute light, without measure, for it is superior to any measure and any quantity?
Do you really perceive yourself like this? If so, then you have already become what you aspired to become. You have full confidence in yourself, for behold, even as you remain here in this ephemeral world, you have already ascended to heaven.
You no longer need any guide. Just fix your awareness in God and see both in yourself and everywhere around you!”
How to Practice Transfiguration
Ideally, the practice described below is done with your Lover, but it can be equally inspiring when performed with a friend or anyone who is searching for the higher meaning of life. It can even be done in front of an object you perceive as beautiful–a rose or a stunning landscape, for example.
- Start by placing yourself in a meditation posture, sitting close to your partner. You can use cushions so that, ideally, your eyes are at the same level. Couples may choose to sit in the yab-yum position (a renowned Tibetan contemplative posture that is in itself a symbol of the union between wisdom and compassion and a metaphor for transcending duality). In yab-yum (literally father-mother), the man is in a meditation posture while the woman sits on his lap with her legs and arms wrapped around him.
Once seated, begin with 5-10 minutes of Hridaya Meditation, reconnecting with the Spiritual Heart.
- Slowly open the eyes and start looking into each other’s eyes. This state of contemplation, like any spiritual act, should be accompanied by a deeper forgetfulness of your concerns, thoughts, fears, projections, expectations, etc. In such forgetfulness of the limited “I,” you are free to admire, to be present in wonderment and love for the person in front of you.
Constantly maintain eye contact without strain, without any idea of a competition over who can focus more or who can keep from blinking longest. Blinking is allowed, as the naturalness of such intimacy is what is emphasized.
It is said that the eyes are the mirrors of the soul. When practicing transfiguration, you start realizing that the beauty of sight comes from a light that radiates from the depth of your Being. In yoga, this mysterious light is called taraka, the guiding inner star.
- Gradually, you go beyond the common way of looking. You realize that true beauty is actually the consciousness of beauty and the longing for it. While the eyes are still open, it is as if you are seeing with the chest, from the throne of the heart. In this way, you allow another kind of perception in which all the memories and knowledge about the other start having a different meaning, they melt in Beauty and Love. You abandon yourself in a dreamlike perception, with a piety and devotion similar to what you experience in prayer. This gives rise to transparency to yourself and your partner, in which the limits of the body seem to dissolve. Remember: “It is only a god that can adore a god.”
- In this intimacy, you recognize more and more nuances of beauty. You feel an impetus towards union with this fascinating beauty. You can recognize beauty in the light of your partner’s eyes or in a small feature of the face.
“When you look at a beautiful form, bow before it.
Beauty brings Bliss
If you enjoy a beautiful form, what else is needed?
Beauty is the highest abode, beauty is the highest tapas;
Nothing can be above beauty in all times!” –Shakti Sangama Tantra, Kali Khanda (3:145-146)
(In this case, “bowing” is only an inner attitude.)
- While the magic of beauty deepens the openness of your soul, you open towards a sense of beauty-harmony that exists beyond just the physical form. It is a contact with the subtle beauty of your partner’s soul (or a way of “tasting” the overall beauty of the rose or landscape).
- Further, this contemplation becomes like a Self-Inquiry in which Beauty is a Self-reflection. You contemplate the very origin of beauty. The overwhelming sense of perfection brings the consciousness of a unique space, both inside and outside. You come to the Heart of Beauty, which is the Spiritual Heart. According to Plato, this Divine Beauty, beyond forms, is identical to supreme Goodness. Can you feel it? According to him, behind all forms animated by beauty, there is eternal love, like a subtle light which is the very source of all visible light. Open yourself to recognize this omnipresent and eternal Love of the Heart. You and your partner are no longer two different beings. There is only emptiness and beauty. No individual characteristics are perceived anymore, and, still, there is so much beauty.
- In the end, let this Beauty of the Heart guide you to express this reciprocal adoration and sense of Oneness by performing any gesture that inspires you (it may be bowing to the ground, etc.).
Let the Sea Flow through Your Veins
The recognition of Beauty is a very potent spiritual path. Persevering every day in the transfigurative practice of recognizing sacred beauty in more circumstances, you can finally exclaim, as did Thomas Traherne, a protestant priest and poet, “The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, and yet no one sees it. It is a temple of majesty, and yet no one has ever opened his eyes to see it. It is the realm of Light and Peace, which only men can disturb. It is God’s Eden…”
In Centuries of Meditations, Traherne expressed the joy of Oneness celebrated through the sense of Beauty: “You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are everyone sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in scepters, you never enjoy the world.
Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world.”
“When man sees nothing but God and nothing else, keeping the veil of Illusion becomes impossible.” –Ibn ‘Arabi