THE THREEFOLD NATURE OF PRAKRITI
Brahman is the Reality. Maya is the illusion power of Brahman and it is dependent on Brahman. Maya is also said as mulaprakriti or primordial nature or the original principle. Maya has three constituent gunas. When the three gunas was in equilibrium in maya, it was in the unmanifested state, which is said in vedanta as avyakta. When the three gunas was in equilibrium there was no creation. Slowly by passage of time the three gunas lost equilibrium. When they lost equilibrium the three gunas became clear or manifested (vyakta) as sattva, rajas and tamas. This stage where the three gunas manifested is called prakriti. prakriti underwent various modifications and it became the infinite universe. All the objects in the universe are the modification of prakriti. Hence the three gunas are inherent in each and every object of the universe. The outline shown below explains the evolution of the universe in a nutshell.
Brahman – maya (three gunas in the unmanifested stage) – prakriti (three gunas manifested) – sukshma pancha bhutas (the five basic elements in the subtle form) – after undergoing panchikarana the subtle elements became sthula pancha bhutas ( the five basic elements in the gross form) – they combined to form brahmanda ( very crude form of combination of the five gross basic elements, not fit for beings to live) – bhuvanam (existing universe, fit for beings to live) – sarira ( after creating bhuvana the five elements combine to form gross bodies of various creatures).
We can very well read from the outline description that the three gunas are inherent in every object of the universe. In fact, life itself is the play of these three gunas. One has to become a gunaita, who surpass the three gunas, to know the Reality. To become a gunaita it is imperative to know the qualities of the three gunas, the way they influence a person to worldly life and to get freedom from its influence. This article is the answer to these basic points.
THE THREE BASIC GUNAS
Sattva or sattvic guna is said as the jnana shakti. It gives the power of knowledge. The nature of sattva is brightness. It denotes the sharpness of the mind, clear thought, gentleness, kindness and anything which is refined is said to be sattva. It gives peace, purity, calmness and thus binds us to this world. The thirst for knowledge binds us to this world and makes us limited. The readiness to gain more and more knowledge is the characteristics of sattva. When sattva shines in a person he understands situations correctly and he has right judgment. When sattva becomes very prominent in a person he becomes a gunaita (surpasses the three gunas).
Rajas or rajasic guna is said as the kriya shakti. It gives the power of action. Rajas influences one to greediness, high activity, anger, impatience, anxiety, and relentless desires. Rajas makes one dependent. Rajas binds one to action. Rajas influences one to expect result and by this way it gives anxiety, worry and depression. It makes the mind disturbed by giving expectations. Over activity, anger and impatience are the characteristic of rajas. Desire for action and expectation of result binds one to the world. When the desire is for knowledge it is sattva. When the desire is for worldly objects and material gains it is rajas. When rajas rules in a person he is a non-content, shows anger, selfish attitude, praising himself, hurting others by rude words or actions etc.
Tamas or tamasic guna is said as the jada shakti. It makes one inactive and inertia exists in him. Tamas is said as darkness and tamas always hides the Reality. It makes one misunderstand the Truth. Misunderstanding, wrong thinking, inertia, laziness, giving more value for a meager thing (moha), carelessness, excess sleep and ignorance are all the characteristics of tamas. Ignorance which is the main characteristics of tamas binds one to the world. It will not allow a person to know the Reality. Tamas makes one to have strong belief in their misunderstanding. Tamas makes one a totally confused person giving him misery, worry, irresponsible and careless nature
A person is a combination of these three gunas; however only one guna will be dominant in a person for the majority of the time and he is said to have that dominant guna. No one will have a pure sattva or rajas or tamo guna. It will always be a combination of three gunas with one guna dominating at a time. If the majority of the time a particular guna dominates then that person is said to have that guna. The three gunas are absolutely needed for worldy life; else his life will be imperfect. Without sattva he cannot gain knowledge. Without rajas he cannot perform any activity and without tamas he cannot rest.
Sattva gives chitta shuddhi (purity of mind) which helps to attain brahma jnana. Due to its nature of purity, sattva is considered as the highest guna, next comes rajas and tamas respectively. When a person has rajas or tamo guna he always has a chance to upgrade his guna to the next higher level by constant practice of that higher guna. When a person has tamas dominant in him he must upgrade it to rajas by performing actions atleast for material gains. When rajas is dominant in a person he must upgrade it to sattva by performing selfless service (karma yoga). When a person has sattva dominant in him he must strive to attain knowledge by shravana (reading scriptures with pure devotion), manana (rethinking about it), and nididhyasana (deep contemplation on the facts) so that he can become a gunaita and attain Brahma jnana.
The influence of the three gunas in our daily life
The impressions in the subconscious mind of a person determine the guna of the person. If the majority of the impressions are sattvic, then the nature of the person is sattvic. If the majority of the impressions are rajasic then the nature of the person is rajasic. If the majority of the impressions are tamasic then the nature of the person is tamasic. As said earlier, the nature of the person can be upgraded by personal effort. However, if sattva dominates in a person, then he is fit to attain jnana; else jnana will not be established in him permanently.
Gunas have a great impact in the attitude of a person towards his life. Now we can see how our attitude and thoughts are influenced by the gunas and how a single concept has a threefold nature based on gunas. These concepts are given in Baghavad gita and it helps a person to judge his own nature and upgrade his guna to the next higher level.
Threefold nature of Faith (shraddha)
Faith is the main factor which moves life. A person’s life depends on his faith in his attained knowledge. If the attained knowledge is good then he will excel in his life; else the opposite happens. In fact, a man is his faith. Faith transforms words to knowledge; else words will be only a sound without any purpose. Faith transforms words to jnana vritti (thoughts). Hence, knowledge and faith always go together. All the thoughts that arise from the mind cannot be knowledge. Thoughts must have some proof before it becomes knowledge; either it must be proven by sastra (scriptures) or by our experience through the five senses. Faith is an attitude and we can feel its expression in our daily life. For example, we can see its expression even in the way we worship God.
Sattvic faith leads to salvation and peace of mind. Faith in dharma elevates us to a higher level. Sastra says, any energy is divine and it is said as devata. We worship the multiple expressions of the undivided universal power by different names and forms. A people who worships God with this concept in mind and by subtle ways like japa, meditation, chanting, silent pooja, offering sattvic food to God and the people who have faith in the higher concepts of life are said to have sattvic faith.
Faith in the very vibrant way of life with many activities and aggressiveness is said to be rajasic. Faith in the worship of the yakshas, rakshasas and the devatas with rajasic power by a very vibrant way of poojas like tantric poojas to destroy enemies, poojas which hurt their own bodies and very aggressive way of doing tapas like standing in the middle of the fire etc are said to be rajasic.
Faith in the ideal way of life, faith in enjoying the tamasic pleasure like eating and sleeping without performing physical work are said to be tamasic. Faith in the worship of the disembodied spirits and ghosts by giving them tamasic food like toddy, cigars, meat and pacifying them to get the things done are said to be tamasic. Tamas will lead one to darkness.
Threefold nature of food (annam)
Chandogya upanishad says that the gross part of the food we intake goes out as waste. The subtle part becomes blood, flesh and bone. The subtlest part of the food we intake influence the mind. Therefore to a large extend the food we intake influence our body and mind. The quantity of the food we intake is also important. Half of the stomach should be filled with gross food, quarter should be filled with water and the rest to be left free for the circulation of air, so that it is easy to digest and supply the food to the respective organs.
The food that are pleasing to the mind, while eating they must give pleasure, food that is not too hot or too hard, easy to digest, food that is not dry, that have pleasing smell and subtle in appearance, food which increase life, gives strength for the body and mind, pure and savory are said to be sattvic. For example milk, butter, fresh ripe fruits, almonds, green dal, barley, banana etc.
The food that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning, food which gives pain and grief after consumption, which causes diseases by non-digestion or in any other way are said to be rajasic. Example: red chilies, mustard, garlic, cloves, pungent pickles, brinjal, meat, fish, eggs, onions, coffee, betel leaves, tobacco etc.
Food that are stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, impure are tamasic food. Example: all stale and putrid food, food which is kept overnight, leftover food in the plate, liquor, fermented toddy, ganja, opium, cocain etc are tamasic food.
Threefold nature of sacrifice (yagna)
Sacrifice is a way of worship. The type of energy we worship and the way we worship that energy are very important.
Sacrifices done with all sattvic rites, faith and devotion, following scriptural practices without any desire for worldly material gains are said to be sattvic. Sattvic sacrifices purify the mind to attain self-knowledge. It gives maturity to accept the result of our action. An action done without any expectation of reward and done as an offering to God is said to be sattvic.
Sacrifices done for seeking a reward are said to be rajasic. Sacrifices in the karma kanda of the vedas are done with the target of a worldly gain like begetting a child, wealth, name and fame, position, attaining heaven etc. The performer of rajasic sacrifice seeks for self importance. He wants to exhibit his glory to the world. He has no aspiration to attain self knowledge.
The sacrifices which are contrary to the ordinances of the scriptures, sacrifices devoid of any charity or mantras, without faith and devotion performed in a careless way are said to be tamasic. Such sacrifices do not get any merit.
Threefold nature of austerity (tapas)
Austerity (tapas) brings the body, mind and senses under control and this helps one to evolve better. Tapas can be done in three ways. They are vak tapas (control of speech), kayika tapas (control of actions) and manasa tapas (control of the mind).
Austerity done with the body
Any selfless action done with right attitude is said as tapas done with the body. Actions done with straight forwardness in the thought, words and action, celibacy, non-injury to others, cleanliness, worship of God are the austerity done with the body.
Austerity done by speech
Words are used to convey our thoughts and ideas to others. It must be used in the most appropriate way else our ideas will not be conveyed in a correct manner. Maximum sins are committed by a person by his inappropriate selection of words. Speech must be limited, useful, should not cause mental injury to others, must have clarity, and must be truthful. One must speak in the most pleasant manner. Arrogance in speech and ordering others by words are the most uncultured way of conveying our thoughts to others. One should speak in the manner which is pleasing and good for others. Even mistakes need be corrected using proper words and in a matured manner. One must not often argue while speaking to others because argument is imposing our views on others. It disturbs the understanding power in others. By this, people will try to avoid a person who argues often. One must think before speaking else they will lose respect. Chanting veda mantras help to control the speech.
Austerity of the mind
Feeling of rejection disturbs a person in the most aggressive way. Therefore, practicing calmness of mind in all situations is a great austerity. Forgiveness, soft heartedness, treating others with respect and dignity, not insulting others by self talk or by thoughts are considered to be austerity of the mind. One must use the mind to attain the highest. Austerity in totality means austerity by body, speech and mind.
Austerity done with complete faith in God, with full concentration, desiring no material or worldly rewards and done without disturbing ourselves or others are said to be sattvic.
Austerity practiced with the object of gaining good reception, expectation of honour and worship from others, done with hypocrisy are said to be rajasic. They cannot perform such austerity for a long time. They will leave it midway.
Austerity practiced out of foolish notion with self-torture, for the purpose of destroying another person, austerity done without any scriptural knowledge, done without viveka are said to be tamasic. Such austerities will not give any knowledge of the self and it will destroy the person.
Threefold nature of charity (dhanam)
Charity removes the selfish attitude in a person. It gives the mentality of sharing. Some people may not have sharing or giving attitude, which means giving good new things to others. Therefore, such people must practice charity initially by giving atleast the used things to others. Initially there may be expectation in giving, like doing charity for name and fame. At this stage, one must continue charity atleast for name and fame. Gradually these expectations will fade of and at one stage they will have the mentality to do right charity without any expectation. Selfless charity gives chitta shuddi. There are three types of charity based on the attitude of the giver.
Charity done without any expectation, done as a duty, given to the worthy person at the right time and place are said to be sattvic. The mentality of sharing good new things with others, and treating the receiver with respect and dignity are said to be sattvic.
Charity done with some expectation like reaping its results in the future, with the expectation of name and fame, expectation of public praise or some reward in the future are said to be rajasic. A person doing charity with the expectation of removal of sins by giving it to sanyasis or brahmana or doing it as a part of the ritual or grieves later about the charity are considered as rajasic.
Charity given at a wrong place and wrong time, to unworthy persons, without respect or with insult are said to be tamasic. If charity is given to unworthy people then it will make them lazy and the charity will go as waste. Unworthy people demand gifts from others and they have a rude behaviour and selfish motive.
Threefold nature of renunciation (vairagya)
Renunciation is considered as a great step towards the Truth and renunciation is threefold.
Renunciation done with viveka and vairagya, done with the knowledge of the temporary status of the material world, renunciation done with maturity and not in a haphazard way are considered as sattvic. One should not repent later about the renunciation. Renouncing any type of pleasure by knowing its temporary nature, by knowing its defects and doing karma yoga are considered as sattvic renunciation. Sattvic renunciation gives chitta shuddhi.
Renunciation done due to fear, seen as a scapegoat from difficulty and responsibility, renouncing to receive name and fame, renouncing due to compulsion, or expectation of some reward or position are considered to be rajasic. Many people take renunciation without knowing the meaning of renunciation in the right context. Many people consider renunciation as a relief from responsibilities and they think they can enjoy life after taking sanyasa. It is an absurd idea and it will not give chitta shuddi and make them land in many unexpected problems.
Renouncing due to laziness to discharge duties, without any real interest, due to ignorance and confusion or just acting like a renounced person is considered as tamasic. Such sanyasis do not get any benefit from their renunciation life.
Threefold nature of knowledge (jnana)
Knowledge is the base for our beliefs and actions. Knowledge leads one to puniya (virtue) and lack of knowledge or wrong knowledge leads one to papa (sin). Therefore attaining knowledge is very important in life and Knowledge is threefold.
Knowledge that tells about the unity in all objects is considered as pure and sattvic. By this knowledge the perceiver sees the divine Atma, the essence of life in the seemingly diverse universe. The perceiver sees the one Conscious principle rooted in the diverse objects and by this knowledge he understands that the Conscious principle cannot be destroyed.
The knowledge which sees each entity as separate and distinct, at the same time accepts that each entity has Atma as their core and it is eternal are said to be rajasic jhana. The idea of separateness is rajasic jhana. Knowledge which sees multiplicity in created objects and differentiates them as being small or big, according to their attributes are due to rajasic nature. Rajasic knowledge sees diversity everywhere.
Tamasic knowledge sees each and every object as a combination of atoms. They assume the whole body as Atma and thus there are many Atmas. They consider God as a piece of stone and exist only in the designated place like temples. It tells that when body perishes the Atma also perishes with it. Tamasic jhana makes one very limited in their views and ideas and is not all comprehensive. Tamasic knowledge does not have the power of discrimination.
Threefold nature of action (karma)
The action (karma) we do largely depends on our knowledge and beliefs. Our thoughts and actions are based on our knowledge and beliefs. The actions we do are threefold.
An action which is performed as a duty, which is free from attachment, which is done without love or hatred, and done without desire for any reward are said to be sattvic action. Such type of karma is called pure karma. He performs action as an offering to God and he does action in accordance with the dictates of the scriptures. Sattvic karma is otherwise known as karma yoga. They are actions done without any personal ego.
Actions done with an attitude of expecting reward, appreciation and laurels are said to be rajasic. Actions done with egoism and for receiving recognition from public are said to be rajasic. Actions done with arrogance, without enjoying the work and over activity are said to be rajasic in nature. A workaholic is said to be rajasic and he destroys his health and his peace of mind by his work.
Actions done in delusion without any regard for the consequences, loss or injury to others and actions done more than one’s own ability are said to be tamasic. Actions done with wrong understanding, causing difficulty to others, doing uninterested actions, doing actions which cause mental and body pain are said to be tamasic. Actions done without any discrimination between the good and bad are said to be tamasic.
Threefold nature of the doer of the action (karta)
A person always has a choice to perform an action; however he does not have the choice while accepting the consequences of the action. Sattvic actions always give sattvic result. Rajasic actions give rajasic consequences and tamasic action gives tamasic consequences respectively. Based on the actions done, doer of the action (karta) are threefold.
Karma yogi is said as a saatvic karta. He performs action without any attachment, non-egoism, does action with firmness and enthusiasm. He is unaffected by success or failure. He attains chitta shuddhi (purity of mind) by his actions. Sattvik karta is always on the spiritual path.
Rajasic karta is a passionate person, desiring rewards for his action. A person who does his action in greediness, with cruelty and impurity in mind is said to be rajasic. He is easily influenced by joy and sorrow. He will not have a sharing mentality and is unconcerned about the difficulty of others. He is unconcerned about the chitta shuddhi or the higher aspect of life.
A person whose intensions are not straight forward, who does actions due to instinct and without proper understanding, performing actions contradicting to sastras is said as tamasic karta. A person who disrespects sastras, Guru and elders, hides his capacity to escape from duty, does actions to spoil the future of others, always sorrowful without enthusiasm, very slow in performing an action, unsteady in his action, lazy, vulgar, malicious and cheating others is said to be a tamasic karta.
Threefold nature of the intellect (bhuddhi)
Bhuddhi is the intellectual capacity to understand the world. Bhuddhi understands and takes decisions based on the attained knowledge. Right knowledge gives power for the bhuddhi to discriminate between the Atma and the anatma. Wrong understanding is the base for all the sins and miseries in the world. Our thoughts and actions largely influence the bhuddhi. The nature of the bhuddhi (intellect) is threefold.
Sattvic intellect gives sattvic jnana which leads to liberation. Sattvic intellect understands the intention correctly. It understands matter in the right sense. Intellect which has discrimination power, fearless nature, and an attitude for liberation is said to be sattvic.
Intellect which cannot discriminate between dharma and adharma, which pretends as knowing everything, and which always doubts is said to be rajasic intellect.
Intellect which wrongly interprets dharma as adharma and vice versa, which sees all things as perverted, complete wrong understanding of everything is said to be tamasic intellect.
Threefold nature of the firmness of the mind (dhrudatha)
When we move forward towards a goal there will be many obstacles on the way. In spite of these obstacles, the mind which holds on to the goal with confidence is said as the firmness of the mind. Some people by seeing the obstacles their mind wavers, diverts from the goal, the obstacles weakens their mind, weakens the enthusiasm by making them wait and so on. The mind which holds on to the goal without wavering is said as a firm mind. The firmness of the mind is threefold.
Firmness of the mind in dharmic matters is said as sattvic firmness. Yoga controls the mind, the life force (prana), and the senses from being affected by the external influences so that the firmness of the mind is not affected.
Firmness in adharmic and selfish matters, firmness in pleasure seeking experiences, attachment and desire for recognition and reward are said to be rajasic firmness.
Firmness in sleep, not taking enough action to dispel fear, grief, despair, firmness in cheating others are said to be tamasic firmness. Firmness in wrong understanding inspite of explanation is also said as tamasic firmness.
Threefold nature of pleasure (sukam)
Pleasures we experience in life are due to the virtue of our past actions and our practice of dharma. The nature of the pleasure we experience are threefold.
That which gives much difficulty and pain in the beginning and by passage of time gives pleasure and happiness are said to be sattvic. For example practicing yoga, japa, certain austerities, practicing any form of art are difficult in the beginning and by passage of time it gives pleasure.
That which gives pleasure and happiness in the beginning and by passage of time gives pain and grief are said to be rajasic. Rajasic pleasure arises from the contact of the sense organs with the objects. Involving in adharmic sense pleasure activities are said to be rajasic.
That which gives pain and grief in the beginning as well as by the passage of time are said to be tamasic pleasure. Pleasure in evil habits like eating worthless things namely opium, ganja, drinking liquor, pleasure arising from excessive sleep, indolence etc are said to be tamasic. All these pleasures make the mind delusive.
All the matters and concepts in this world are threefold in nature because the entire universe is the expansion of prakriti, which has three gunas namely sattva, rajas and tamas. Only Atma is free from the clutches of the three gunas.