The Nature of Human Nature

Gunas for a good person and faithful inner worship

According to the Sankya philosophy, Gunas are states or qualities of being. The Sankhya philosophy believes that the universe consists of two realities; puruṣa(consciousness) and prakriti(phenomenal realm of matter). Scientists call it energy and matter. Jivais that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha. It sounds complex but all physical bodies are bound to pass through this process. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable through other agencies, above any experience by mind or senses and beyond any words or explanations. Puruṣa is neither produced nor does it produce.

Prakriti is the manifestation of the material universe. Prakriti accounts for whatever is physical, both mind and matter-cum-energy or force. However, the physical is composed of three essential characteristics, known as the three ‘Gunas’. These are:

  • Sattva– poise, fineness, lightness, illumination, and joy;
  • Rajas– dynamism, activity, excitation, and pain;
  • Tamas– inertia, coarseness, heaviness, obstruction, and sloth

They are also known as the three modes of material nature: sattva-guna, rajo-gunaand tamo-guna. By nature the mind is restless, sometimes accepting one thing, and again rejecting it – sankalpa-vikalpa. This is the quality of the mind or nature of the mind. Sometimes, the mind is jumping over sattva-guna, sometimes over the rajo-guna, and sometimes over the tamo-guna. Such mind swapping produces different types of attitudes and behavior during a single day.

The state of mind under which gossips are made is a combination of Rajasic-Tamasic; the state of mind under which a crime is committed is Rajasic. The state of mind under which love and compassion is given to others is Sattvic.

A stateman’s desire to rule his country eternally displays Rajo-guna. A well paid but unproductive employee, who displays inertia, is said to manifest Tamo-guna. A person who feeds the needy and animals every morning exhibits Sattva-guna.

Excitement on account of pride and based on other’s work, conditional effort to support a husband or wife, family member or friend, continuous desire to achieve fame at any cost, craving, power that causes unfairness, are all attributes of Rajo-Guna. Similarly, continuous and unnecessary quarrel, anger, greed, untruthfulness, hypocrisy and violence (even in places of worship) are all elements of Rajo-guna.

The same Sankya philosophy explains that the mind is constantly trained in a physical body until it realizes more Sattvic actions; and so it goes during the transmigration process of the soul into another body, until the self is realized.

There is no doubt that devotion and faith to the Supreme God help the devotee to gear the mind more towards Sattvic realization. Ultimately, the true worship of God is realized under a pure Sattvic mind. But to achieve this, it requires guidance. This is spiritual progress and development.

The fasting period that a devotee would undergo as part of his or her religious faith will create a Sattvic mind, translated into good thoughts and actions. This becomes a real test case to control the gunas. But many of us are not able to sustain the sattva-guna for long. After the fasting period, we are back to worldly pleasures and desires, and the mind and ego take over. Our predominated negative gunas are back to display.

A Sattvic mentality for God worship requires the development of the following:

  1. A Sattvic diet – simply because ‘you are what you eat’. Your behavior is influenced by what you eat. A Sattvic diet during fasting contributes towards a Sattva-guna.
  2. Respectfulness, performing Tapas, control of the senses, absence of greed and arrogance, contentment and truthfulness are pure attributes of Sattva.
  • Compassion for our counterparts, as well as taking delight in the ‘self’ are attributes that devotees are required to develop.

The Thirumantiram, a Tamil holy text, written by Tirumular (1000 BC) stated that,

Sattvic is Guna inche Waking State,Rajas in Dream State,

Tamas in Deep Sleep State,

Nirvana, that other three Gunas destroys,

Is attribute of Turiya State Pure. 

Tirumular further added,

A sattvic he is;

His thoughts centered on FiniteTruth;

His vision clear through conflicting faiths; Abhorrent of recurring cycle of births; Straight in Dharma’s path he easy walks;

He, sure, is disciple good and true.

If we are to achieve spiritual progress, the Rajas and Tamas gunas are to be reduced or avoided.   If we are to experience peace, love and compassion in this world, a shift is required from Rajas to Satva. We can avoid hurting anyone’s heart by simply speaking the truth, i.e adopting a sattvic mind. How would you develop a sattvic state of mind? This can be achieved by controlling your negative impulse, remaining calm, joy, happiness, honesty, humility, flexibility, moderation, balance, gratitude and inner silence. But this look to be more of the outcomes!

However, the Kali yuga era is getting darker. The magnet to sin is getting more powerful. It is advised to dedicate some time to practice how to balance the ‘gunas’. Yoga offers tremendous possibilities to cultivate a balance of the three gunas. But we still need a little dose of tamas to remain grounded to the earth, so that simultaneously we remain ‘rajasically’ passionate and motivated about our goal in life but ensure that we reach ‘sattvically’ our goal by fair and honest means. Through this, we are on the right path towards self-realisation. The result will be a life relativelyfree from hurt, jealousy crime and sin. This is a continuous daily battle that many of us are embarking on, but dozens or hundreds of life time would be required to achieve the full sattva-guna. Several soul transmigration processes would be also required, but at least if you embark on it, as early as possible, you have an edge to shorten the process. The life experience will end. Moksha becomes attainable.

Nanda Narrainen

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