The Concept of Gunas
Prakriti or Universal Energy has three modes or three aspects or three different types of energies creating three distinct characteristics in all objects in nature including human personality. The idea of the three modes of nature is a creation of the ancient Indian thinkers and its truth is not at once obvious because it was the result of long psychological experiment and profound internal experiences. Therefore, without a long inner experience without intimate self –observation and intuitive perception of the nature-forces it is difficult to grasp accurately this principle. Still certain broad indications may help the seeker on the way of Truth to understand analyze and control by his assent or refusal the combination of these forces in his nature. These three modes are termed as Gunas in the Hindu philosophy and are known as:
It is the energy / force of balance and equilibrium and translates in quality as good and harmony and happiness and light.
It is force of motion, vibration and translates in quality as struggle and effort, passion and action. It is fast moving and unrythmic. All pressure, tension, stress, worry, impulsive behavior pattern are its creation.
All energy in its grossest, densest and heaviest form is tamasic energy. A dark heavy cloud is tamasic energy. It is force of ignorance and inertia and translates in quality as obscurity and incapacity and inaction. It makes the body and mind feel lazy, heavy , sleepy and dull. Ordinarily used for psychological self –analysis, these distinctions are valid in physical Nature as well. Each object and every life-form in the universe contains them and their characteristic properties are the result of the interaction of these three distinct qualitative forces. Every form, whether animate or inanimate is a constantly maintained balance of natural forces in motion and is subject to an unending stream of helpful disturbing or disintegrating contacts from other combination of forces that surround it. Our own mind is nothing else such a formative combination and balance. In the reception the environmental contacts and the reaction to them, the three modes determine the temper of the recipient and the character of the response.
Life dominated by Tamas
Inert and inept, a Tamasic man suffers the environmental influences without any responsive reaction, any motion of self-defense or any capacity of assimilation and adjustment. The stigmata of Tamas are blindness and unconsciousness and incapacity and unintelligence, sloth and indolence and inactivity and mechanical routine and the mind's torpor and body's inertia and the soul's slumber. Its effect , if uncorrected by other elements, can be nothing but disintegration of the form or the poise of the nature without any new creation or new equilibrium or force of kinetic progress. At the heart of this inert impotence is the principle of ignorance and an inability or slothful unwillingness to comprehend, seize and manage the simulating or assailing contact, the suggestion of environmental forces and their urge towards fresh experience .
Life dominated by Rajas
On the other hand, the recipient of the Nature's influences, touched and stimulated, asailed by Her forces, may react to the pressure or against it. She allows, encourages, impels him to strive, to resist, to attempt, to dominate, to assert his will to fight and create and conquer. This is the mode of the Rajas, the way of passion and action and the thirst of desire. Struggle and change and new creation, victory and defeat and joy and suffering and hope and disappointment are its children and build the many colored house of life in which it takes its pleasure. But its knowledge is an imperfect or a false knowledge and brings with it ignorant effort, error and constant maladjustments, pain of attachment, disappointed desire, grief of loss and failure. The gift of Rajas is kinetic force energy, activity, the power that creates and acts and can overcome., but its moves in the wrong lights or the half lights of the ignorance and it is perverted by the touch of the demoniac. The arrogant ignorance of the human mind an its self-satisfied perversions and presumptuous errors, the pride and vanity and ambition, the cruelty and tyranny, wrath and violence, the selfishness and baseness and hypocrisy and treachery and vile meanness, the lust and the greed and rapacity the jealousy, envy and bottomless ingratitude that disfigure the human-nature are the natural children of this indispensable but strong and dangerous power of Nature.
Life dominated by Sattwa
The human being is not limited to these two modes of Prakriti. There is a better and more enlightened way in which he can deal with surroundings impacts and the stream of Nature forces. There is possible a reception and reaction with clear comprehension and balance. In this way there is a power that understands, sympathizes, fathoms, controls and develops Nature's urges and Her ways. It has an intelligence that can penetrate into Nature's plans and intentions and can act according to Her wishes. There is a clear response that is not overpowered by, but adjusts, corrects, harmonizes, elicits the best in all things. This is the mode of Sattwa, the force of Nature that is full of light and poise, directed to good, to knowledge, to delight and beauty, to happiness, right understanding, right equilibrium, right order. Its temperament is the opulence of a bright clearness of knowledge and a lucent warmth of sympathy and closeness. A fineness and enlightenment, a governed energy, an accomplished harmony and poise of the whole being is the consummate achievement of the Sattwic nature.
Human nature a mixture of the three gunas
No existence is cast entirely in the single mould of any one of these modes of Nature. All three are present in everyone and everywhere. There is a constant combining and separation of their shifting relations and interpenetrating influences, often a conflict, a wrestling of forces, a struggle to dominate each other. All have in great or in small extent, their Sattwic states and clear understanding, tendencies of light, clarity and happiness, fine adaptation and sympathy with the environment, intelligence, poise, right mind, right will and feeling, right impulse, virtue, order. All have their Rajasic modes and impulses and turbid parts of desire and passion and struggle, perversion and falsehood and error, unbalanced joy and sorrow, aggressive push to work and eager creation and strong or bold or fierce reactions to the pressure of the environment and to life's assaults. All have their Tamasic states and constant obscure parts, their moments of unconsciousness, their long habits of weak resignation or dull acceptance, their constitutional feeblenesses or movements of fatigues, negligence and indolence and their lapses into ignorance and incapacity, depression and fear and cowardly recoil or submission to the environment and to the pressure of men and events and forces. Each one of us is Sattwic in some directions of our nature, Rajasic and Tamasic in others. According as one or other of the modes usually dominates his general temperament and type of mind and turn of action, it is said of him that he is the Sattwic, the Rajasic or the Tamasic man; but few are always of one kind and none is entirely of one kind. The wise are not always or wholly wise, the intelligent are intelligent only in patches, the saint suppresses in himself many un-saintly movements and the vile are not entirely evil. The dullest has his unexpressed or unused and undeveloped capacities, the most timorous his moments of courage, the helpless and the weakling a latent part of strength in his nature. The dominant Gunas are not the essential soul qualities of the human being but only the index of the formation he has made for this life or during his present existence and at a given moment of his evolution in Time.
Mother Nature acts and the individual ego is Her tool When the Sadhaka (Spiritual aspirant) has once stood back from the action of Prakriti within him or upon him and not interfering, not amending, not choosing or deciding, allowed its play and analyzed and watched the process, he soon discovers that Her modes are selfdependent and work, as a machine once put in action. It works, by its own structure and propelling forces. The force and the propulsion come from Prakriti and not from the individual being. Then he realizes how mistaken was his impression that his mind was the doer of his works. His mind was only a small part a creation and an instrument of Nature. Nature was acting all the while in Her own modes moving the three Gunas about, as a girl might play with her puppets. His ego was all along a tool and plaything, his character and intelligence, his moral qualities and mental powers, his creations and works and exploits, his anger and forbearance, his cruelty and mercy, his love and his hatred, his sin and his virtue, his light and his darkness, his passion of joy and his anguish of sorrow were the play of Nature to which he the Soul, was attracted and identifying with it gave its passive concurrence.
The determinism of Nature is however not everything. The Soul has a word to say in the matter, - but the Soul, the Purusha, not the mind or the ego, since these are not independent entities, they are parts of Nature. For the Soul's sanction is needed for the play and by an inner silent will as the Lord and giver of the sanction it can determine the principle of the play and intervene in its combinations, although the execution in thought and will and act and impulse must still be Nature's part and privilege. The Purusha can dictate a happy harmony for Nature to execute, not by interfering in her functions but by a conscious respectful instructions.
An escape from the action of the two inferior Gunas is very evidently indispensable if we are to transmute our present nature into a power and form of the Divine Consciousness and an instrument of its forces. Tamas obscures and prevents the light of the divine knowledge from penetrating into the dark and dull corners of our nature. Tamas incapacitates and take away the power to respond to divine impulse and the energy to change and the will to progress and make ourselves plastic to a greater Shakti. Rajas perverts knowledge, makes our reason the accomplice of falsehood and the abettor of every wrong movement, disturbs and twists our life-force and its impulses, oversets the balance and health of the body. Rajas captures all high-born ideas and high-seated movements and turns them to a false and egoistic use; even divine Truth and divine influences, when they descend into the earthly plane, cannot escape the misuse and seizure. Tamas unenlightened and Rajas unconverted, no divine change or divine life is possible.
An exclusive resort to Sattwa would seem to be the way of escape, but there is this difficulty that no one of the qualities can prevail by itself against its two companions and rivals. If, envisaging the quality of desire and passion as the cause of disturbance, suffering, sin and sorrow, we strain and labor to quell and subdue it, Rajas sinks but Tamas rises. For, the principle of activity dulled, inertia takes its place. A quiet peace, happiness, knowledge, love, right sentiment can be provided by the principle of light, but if Rajas is absent or completely suppressed, the quiet in the Soul tends to become a tranquillity of inaction, not the firm ground of a dynamic change. The Nature becomes Sattwa-Tamasic, neutral, pale-tinted, uncreative or emptied of power. Mental and moral obscurity may be absent, but so are the intense springs of action, and this is hampering limitation and another kind of incompetence. For Tamas is a double principle; it contradicts Rajas by inertia, it contradicts Sattwa by narrowness, obscurity and ignorance and, if either is depressed, it pours in to occupy its place. If we call in Rajas again to correct this error and bid it ally itself to Sattwa and by their untied agency endeavor to get rid of the dark principle, we find that we have elevated our action, but that there is again subjection to rajasic eagerness, passion, disappointment, suffering, anger. These movements may be more exalted in their scope and sprit and action than before , but they are not the peace, the freedom, the power, the self-mastery at which we long to arrive. Wherever desire and ego harbor, passion and disturbance harbor with them and share their life. And if we seek a compromise between the three modes, Sattwa leading, the others subordinate, still we have only arrived at a more temperate action of the play of Nature. A new poise has been reached, but a spiritual freedom and mastery are not in sight or else are still only a far-off prospect.
Divine Life Transcending the Gunas
A radically different method has to free us from the limiting effect of the Gunas and lift us above them. The error of identifying with the activities of the Gunas of Nature must cease; for as long as this is done the Soul is involved in their operation and subjected to their law. Sattwa must be transcended as well as Rajas and Tamas, the golden chain must be broken no less than the leaden fetters and the bond –ornaments of a mixed alloy.
The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna's teachings prescribes to this end a new method of selfdiscipline. It is to stand back in oneself from the action of the Gunas and observe their unsteady flux as the Witness seated above. The Witness is one who watches but is impartial and indifferent, aloof from them and high above them. As they rise and fall in their waves, the Witness looks, observes, but neither accepts nor for the moment interferes with their course. First there must be the freedom of the impersonal Witness, afterwards there will be the control of the Master.
The initial advantage of this process of detachment is that one begins to understand one's own nature and all Nature. The detached Witness is able to see entirely without the least blinding by egoism the play of the Gunas of Nature and to pursue it into all its ramifications, coverings and subtleties – for it is full of camouflage and disguise and treachery. Instructed by long experience, conscious of all act and condition as their interaction, made wise of their processes, he cannot any longer be overcome by their assaults, surprised in their nets or deceived by disguises. At the same time he perceives the ego to be nothing better than a device and the sustaining knot of their interaction and, perceiving it, he is delivered from the illusion of the lower egoistic nature.
He escapes from the sattwic egoism of the altruist; he shakes off from its control on his lifeimpulses the rajasic egoism of the self-seeker and ceases to be the laborious caterer of selfinterest and the pampered prisoner or toiling slave of passion and desire. He slays with the light of knowledge the tamasic egoism of the ignorant or passive being dull, unintelligent, attached to the common round of human life. Thus convinced and conscious of the essential vice of the ego-consciousness in all our personal action, he seeks no longer to find a means of self-correction and self-liberation in the rajasic or sattwic ego but looks above, beyond the instruments and the working of Nature, to the Master. The Master of Nature. There alone the being is pure and free and the activities of a Divine Truth possible.
In this progression the first step is a certain detachment from the three modes of Nature. The Soul is inwardly realized to be separated and free from the workings of Nature and not involved in its coils, indifferent and glad above it. Nature continues to act in her triple modes and her ancient habits, - desire, grief and joy attack the heart, the instruments fall into inaction and obscurity and weariness, light and peace come back into the heart and mind and body; but the Soul stands unchanged and untouched by these changes. Observing and unmoved by the grief and desire of the lower instruments, smiling at their joys and their strainings, regarding and un-overpowered by the failing and the darkness of the thought and the wildness or the weaknesses of the heart and nerves, uncompelled and unattached to the mind's illuminations and its relief and sense of ease or of power in the return of light and gladness, it throws itself into none of these things, but waits unmoved for the intimations of a higher Will and the intuitions of a greater luminous knowledge. Thus doing always, it becomes eventually free even in its activities from the strife of the three modes and their insufficient values and imprisoning limits. The old habits to which it clung receive no further sanction and begin steadily to lose their frequency and force of recurrence. At last it understands that it is called to a higher action and a better state and however slowly, however reluctantly, with whatever initial or prolonged ill-will and stumbling ignorance, it submits, turns and prepares itself for the change.
The static freedom of the Soul no longer witness only, is crowned by a dynamic power over Nature. The constant mixture, the uneven operation of the three modes acting upon each other in our three instruments ceases from its normal confused, troubled and improper action and movement. Another action becomes possible, commences, grows, a working more truly right more luminous, natural and normal to the deepest divine interplay of Purusha and Prakriti, although supernatural and supernormal to our present imperfect nature. The body conditioning the physical mind insist no longer on a tamasic inertia that repeats always the same ignorant movement, it becomes a passive field and instrument of a greater force and light, it responds to every demand of the spirit's force, supports every variety and intensity of new divine experience. Our kinetic and dynamic vital parts, our nervous and emotional and sensational and volitional being, expand in power and admit a tireless action and a blissful enjoyment of experience, but learn at the same time to stand on a foundation of wide self-possessed and self-poised calm, sublime in force, divine in rest, neither exulting nor excited nor tortured by sorrow and pain, neither harried by desire and importunate impulses nor dulled by incapacity and indolence. The intelligence, the thinking, understanding and reflective mind, renounces its sattwic limitations and opens to an essential light and peace. An infinite knowledge offers to us its splendid ranges, a knowledge not made up of mental constructions, not bound by opinion and idea or dependent on a stumbling uncertain logic and the petty support of the senses, but self-sure, authentic, all-penetrating, allcomprehending, a boundless bliss and peace, not dependent on deliverance from the hampered strenuousness of creative energy and dynamic action, not constituted by a few limited felicities but self-existent and all-including, pour into ever-enlarging fields and through ever-widening and always more numerous channels to possess the nature. A higher force, bliss and knowledge from a source beyond mind and body seize on them to remold in a Diviner image.
Here the disharmonies of the triple mode of our inferior nature are surpassed and there begins a mode of life of a superior Divine Nature. There is no obscurity of Tamas or inertia. Tamas is replaced by a divine peace and tranquil. There is no Rajasic kinesis, no desire, no joyful and sorrowful striving of action, creation and possession. Rajas is replaced by a selfpossessed power and illimitable act of force, that even in its most violent intensities does not shake the immovable poise of the Soul or stain its vast and profound sense of peace. Sattwa is replaced by an illumination and a spiritual bliss identical with the depth and infinite existence of the Soul and an intuition with a direct and authentic knowledge that springs straight from the depths of Omniscience.
This is the greater consciousness into which our inferior consciousness has to be transformed, this lower nature with its unquiet, unbalanced activity of the three modes changed into this greater luminous supernature. This state of freedom can come in the Yoga of action through renunciation of ego and desire and the total surrender of ones being to the Cosmic Self. It can come in the Yoga of Knowledge by one cessation of thought, the silence of the mind, the opening of the whole being to the Cosmic Self. It can come in the Yoga of devotion by the surrender of the heart and the whole nature into the hands of the Lord as the adored Master of our existence.
This supreme harmony cannot come except by the cessation of egoistic will and action and the quiescence of our limited intelligence. The individual ego must cease to strive, the mind fall silent, the desire-will learn not to initiate. Our personality must join its source and all thought and initiation come from above. The secret Master of our activities will be slowly unveiled to us and from the security of the supreme Will and Knowledge give the sanction to the Divine Shakti (Mother Nature) who will do all works in us. Acting it will not act and no reaction of the lower Prakriti will touch it. Our lower human nature climbs out of the pit of narrowness into the unwalled wildness of the Truth and Light above us our real Soul Nature.