The weather can definitely color the way you view the world. On a bright, sunny day you might feel optimistic; ready to handle any challenge. When an unexpected thunderstorm causes the cancellation of your golf or tennis game, you can easily become perturbed. In the cold, dark days of winter when the sky remains a constant shade of gray, you may become despondent.
But the weather reported on the evening news isn’t the only form of meteorology you have to deal with every day. In fact, there are more subtle and complex weather patterns you interact with constantly, and these have far more influence over your daily life than the occasional snow, rain or fog. While impossible to forecast, these ever-changing weather patterns have real power to influence what you think, what you say, what you do and ultimately, even the destiny you experience.
Sound like science fiction? Actually, it’s Yoga Science non-fiction. And with your health and happiness hanging in the balance, it’s critically important you learn how to deal with these powerful forces.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, the entire phenomenal universe evolved and continues to manifest from One Divine source through the influences of three dynamic forces called gunas. Each of the three gunas possesses its own distinct qualities that express themselves through observable changes in energy, matter and mind. For example, all three gunas are present in the physical body, energy levels, emotions and thinking of each human being, in continually varying proportions. When the predominant guna changes, we are influenced physically, mentally and emotionally in certain predictable ways that reflect the unique quality or tendency of that specific guna.
Defining the Gunas:
Different Levels of Consciousness
The three gunas constantly influence the manifested world of mind and matter known as prakriti. The gunas are called tamas, rajas and sattva. Each guna creates certain physical, mental and emotional inclinations, rather than any particular action.
Tamas is the tendency to be unmoving and heavy like a stagnant, dense cloud cover that darkens the sky. Tamas is sloth, inertia, lethargy, or, in modern parlance, “couch-potatoism.” Human beings habitually influenced by the tamas guna tend to become apathetic, self-involved, fearful and depressed.
Rajas is the quality of restlessness, energy and activity––in meteorological terms, rajas like a fast moving Alberta clipper. Under the influence of rajas guna, the untrained mind becomes attached to desiring, worrying, resenting, scheming, competing, frustrating and getting frustrated.
Sattva is clarity, peace, balance, order, and illumination. Its quality is similar to that of a clear, mild, sunny day. Sattva guna represents the so-called higher mind––detached, unruffled and responsive. This is not a state of repressive regulation, but the natural harmony that comes with the unity of purpose, character, and desire.
Every state of matter and mind (the physical and the mental) is influenced by these ever-changing weather patterns: tamas (inertia), rajas (activity) and sattva (serenity). From tamas arises ignorance, from rajas is born desire and from sattva comes knowledge. For human beings, tamas can be the hypnotic obstacle that enslaves us to the delusion that objects and relationships have some power to make us happy or eliminate our pain. Rajas represents the creative energy that can be harnessed to experience fulfillment, and sattva is considered the doorway to unity, security and happiness; the metaphoric “land of milk and honey.”
The three gunas operate in concert with our personal karmas (relationships that arise as consequences of our previous actions). Joined in tandem with the quality of a particular guna, every relationship we have provides us an opportunity to transform the debilitating habits of fear, anger or self-willed desire that arise from the unconscious mind. To understand how this transformation occurs, however, requires some basic understanding of physics.
First, as you probably remember from grade school, energy cannot be created nor destroyed but it can be transformed. Second, as Albert Einstein discovered, matter can be transformed into energy, and conversely, energy can be transformed into matter. This knowledge of physics not only applies to the three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas, but also helps us understand the nature of the gunas and the methods by which these forces can be transformed.
Tamas is frozen energy, the resistance of inertia. A block of ice has a substantial amount of latent energy in the chemical bonds that hold it together, but the energy is locked up, bound, rigid. When the ice melts, some of that energy is released as the water flows and rajas (activity) predominates. We know what power a swollen river has in the spring when the snow and ice melt upstream; that is an expression of rajas. And the power of sattva can be compared with that of steam, when its energy is harnessed.
Transforming Tamas into Rajas
In the practice of Yoga Science, we are asked to identify which guna is predominant, and then to transform tamas into rajas and rajas into sattva––the way solid material can be transformed into liquid and eventually into gas. For example, when we are feeling apathetic, insensitive or depressed, it’s a clear indication that a dark, heavy tamas guna weather pattern has descended into our lives and is influencing our perceptions and actions. If we remain physically, mentally and emotionally mesmerized by its force––like a couch potato mindlessly watching TV––we ensure future bondage and a life filled with dissatisfaction.
In order to be free of the debilitating, self-indulgent quality of the tamas guna, we must employ the rajas guna of activity. In other words, we must take an action; we must get off the couch. But simply getting up from the couch does not assure us freedom, security, happiness and fulfillment. When we sacrifice a tamasic tendency, it is critical to remember that we have two possible kinds of action from which to choose. One can lead to continued slavery, but the other will lead to freedom.
If the action we take while still under the influence of the tamas guna is a selfish action, one that conflicts with our inner intuitive wisdom, we are activating the rajas guna merely to self-medicate away the personality’s tamasic sense of lack and insecurity. In other words, if we get off the couch and walk to the refrigerator for a bowl of ice cream to compensate ourselves with some passing pleasure, we wind up feeling worse. In the absence of detachment, discrimination and will power, the self-centered and dispersed raw energy of the rajas guna only enslaves us to future tamasic and rajasic weather cycles of sloth and of restless activity. We may become the metaphoric mouse running on a treadmill. Instead of experiencing real health and happiness, we become depressed, unhealthy and unable to reach our intended goal of life.
Transforming Rajas into Sattva
But the passionate force of the rajas guna can free us from tamasic lethargy and can be transformed into sattva if the action we take is selfless; if our thoughts, words and deeds are in service to, and not in conflict with, our inner intuitive wisdom. By getting off the couch and simply brushing our teeth or engaging in any other form of selfless service toward ourselves or others, the restless nature of ragas is automatically channeled toward the equanimity and peace of the sattva guna. Once firmly established in the equanimity of sattva, the mind becomes calm, clear, stressless, filled with abundant vitality and the concentration that characterizes genius. The influence of sattva guna is already present within us in some degree, manifesting as true friendship, kindness and forgiveness. In order to give the sattva guna greater influence in our lives, we need a philosophy of life that provides us the motivating tools and skills to give away the fruits of our actions to an increasing circle of relationships.
Going Beyond the Gunas
All three gunas are present in each of us throughout the day, and their movements influence our personalities, actions and destiny. We might start the day full of energy, but by late afternoon we may be lethargic and incapable of accomplishing much at all. At other times, we may find that no matter how challenging a situation is, we can employ detachment and discrimination quite easily. But even though transforming tamas into rajas and rajas into sattva is possible with the aid of a daily meditation practice, it is not the end goal. As long as we remain under the influences of the three gunas, we will inevitably define ourselves and others as separate individuals with conflicting interests. The goal of evolution and of meditation, therefore, is to go beyond the gunas altogether. As an individual becomes more established in a sattvic life, a broader perspective arises. Because the sattva guna represents equanimity and light, its energy naturally leads upward to a higher state of consciousness. Spiritual aspirants (sadhakas) established in a sattvic state tend to contemplate the essential questions of their existence: Who am I? From where have I come? Why am I here? What is to be Done? Where will I go? With a nature of stillness, the sattvic person becomes a seer––seeing the spiritual Truth of the universe within while the body-mind-sense complex becomes an instrument of that Truth in the world through selfless service.
Transcending the three gunas means realizing that the true, eternal Self is not subject to the gunas. It is beyond time, space, and causality; beyond the limitations of the body and personality, and even beyond the power of death. The body goes on functioning in the world because of the gunas and the imperative of previous karmas, but the sage has become free from identification with body consciousness. He or she has already attained immortality. At that auspicious moment, the Bhagavad Gita promises, the sage rests in pure, unitary consciousness––a state of permanent joy (Sat, Chit, Ananda). As Krishna (the Lord) teaches Arjuna (the personality) in the Gita, “He lives in wisdom who sees himself in all and all in him, whose identification with the Supreme Reality has consumed every selfish desire and sense-craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, he lives free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, he is not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer.”