Sattva Rajas Tamas – the threefold universal principle

Life is govered and run by three gunas or essential qualities.

Sattva. Rajas. Tamas.

These three gunas maintain and run the whole Prakriti or visible universe.

Sattva guna represents creation, creativity, harmony and such qualities.

Rajas guna represents the maintainance, and tamas is the representation of the end, the destruction of the creation.

After this, tamas gets absorbed in Sattva from where it had originally spun out. Life of human being, nature and the whole cosmos is run by these three gunas.
All emotions coming in our heart are influenced by these three gunas.
Rivers, trees, stars, planets etc, all are affected by these three gunas. These three gunas are fundamentally responsible for the evolution and motion of the universe. But these three gunas are also responsible for confusing and deluding anybody’s mind.

Rishis recommend that one should always hold on to Sattva guna for spiritual evolution. But for an ordinary person it is very difficult to walk the path of Sattva.
In such case, Rishis and munis recommned that one should follow the Rajasic path dharma and progress spiritually. Rajas is activity, change, passion and generation.
But even Rajas path has the possibility of diverting and falling from the path.

Therefore, who are almost zero in spiritual plane are recommended the path of Tamas. Tamas represents death, destruction, laziness, disease and sloth.

When Rishis and munis recommeded way of life for maximum spiritual progress they emphasised that Sattva path is the supreme and laid out rules and norms to live accordingly. But as time changed, people found it very difficult to live by such codes and started protesting against such traditions.

Then it was concluded that the middle path is the best and thus all sadhanas, all spritual practices consider Rajas path to be the best and more spritual techniques were developed with Rajas as prime focus.

If somebody engrossed in Tamas and associated lifestyle moves ahead to rajas guna and does sadhana and progresses to sattva guna and achieves liberation then the journey of this person would be considered complete.

But such a journey is not easy.

Hindu dharma fundamentally is one but as spiritual evolution diversified, trilogy of gods – Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra  and many Matrikas or Devi worship developed. At one end the path of worshiping distinct form or manifestation of Divinity and at the other end sadhana of the unmanifested, void, of “Nirakar”  SadaShiva or Hiranyagarbh or ParaBrahma started gaining importance.

As Dharma diversified in such a way across time, three distinct groups based on gunas emerged.

Some became tamasic, vamachari tantra acharya – following the left hand path of spirituality. Some primarily became Rajasic tantra-acharya, and some became sattvic tantra-acharya. Similarly spiritual practices are also divided in satvic sadhana, rajasic sadhana and tamasic sadhana.

With so much distinction in sadhana path based on gunas, now we have a situation where sattvic sadhak cannot stand a tamasic sadhak.

Such distinction and discriminatino arose obviously in ignorance of the guiding principles behind this system.

At times, even the vamachar sadhana which at the outside looks very tamasic can actually be purely sattvic. But this deeper detail is not apparent to ordinary sadhaka. Similarly in sattva path, at some deeper level inside there is tamas but an ordinary sadhak does not have the eye to discern it and is beyond imagination of such sadhaka.

Fundamentally, from the single ParaBrahma SadaShiva, one  MahaMaya with all three gunas are distinguished. Since at root all three gunas are one, there will inevitably be some overlap and similarity between different paths of each guna. Just like a tree having three branches is fundamentally one tree.
But for ordinary sadhaka it is difficult to understand this concept since Dharma is usually super-imposed in the mind of such sadhaka. As the sadhak reads or hears or learns in early stages, that’s what he or she believes Dharma to be. When some facts are presented to already conditioned sadhak, a fact which doesn’t resonate with his or her set ideas, then that sadhak either runs away or shuts off the mental faculties and blocks out further teachings.

In fact all three gunas are same. Like a long stick with one end representing Sattva, the other end representing tamas with rajas the middle portion of the same stick.

The whole fight between different paths of of sadhana based on gunas is just this much.

Sattva guna based practicioner would claim that animal sacrifice in spiritual practice is bad and is a grave sin. And tamas guna based sadhaka would claim it is okay to have tradition of animal sacrifice. Rajas guna based sadhaka would agree to have sacrifice tradition but instead of sacrificing innocent animals, rajasic sadhaka would use coconut as sacrificial offering.

As a side note, an interesting fact is that coconut is used as sacrifice primarily because it is not a creation of Brahma. By that I mean it was not created naturally. Rather it was created by BrahmaRishi Vishwamitra, perhaps using some high-tech genetic engineering of that time.  When Brahma Rishi Vishwamitra was angry at creation of Brahma, Brahma ji replied rather sarcastically to Rishi Vishwamitra that if he is so good then he should create his own world. So went Brahma Rishi Vishwamitra creating many life-forms including dinosaurs. Perhaps the big animals of his creation reflected his big ambition! More on that perhaps in a later post. Let us return to three gunas for now…

So, sattvic sadhaka would aspire to be all pure and trying very hard to always abide in the higher plane of conscious and would vehemently deny the  materialistic world, by always being in the supreme reality of consciousness everywhere and all the time.
Rajasic sadhaka would claim that even the world is made by the same supreme consciousness and by denying the gross materialistic world, one is negating one’s own essential “beingness” and that would be  like fooling one’s own self.
Tamasic sadhaka on the other hand would chose all those things that sattvic sadhak would consider bad and avoidable. A tamasic sadhaka would rather go through all kinds of “bhog” and enjoyments and different emotions and experiences before rejecting them all.

The difference is only in the approach to spirituality.

One can start the spiritual journey from any guna. But instead we keep fighting about Dharma and religion and the best path- which is utterly ridiculous.

Now we have sects and tradition holding on to one path based on guna and not ready to even consider or accept the validity of the other.

However, Rishis of different tradition gave path and knowledge accordingly. Like Rishi Vatsayan who talked and wrote on Kaam Shastra – Kama Sutra.  The principles of sensuality and physical expressions of love and love making. And we have Rishi Patanjali talking about strict and unique hatha yoga to directly ascending to highest goal.  A hardcore follower of Patanjali’s yoga would not be ready to accept Kaam Shastra of Vatsayaan. And a follower of Vatsayaan tradition will never be ready to abide by harsh rules of Patanjali’s yoga. Though both  are  invented for welfare of human kind, for spiritual development.

Rajas path therefore comes as middle ground and the best since it takes from sattvic path and also from tamasic path and using right balance will lead to a beautiful and balanced spiritual life.
It is not to say that a person cannot achieve completeness by going to extreme with Satvic or through tamasic path. But rajasic path is good for all kinds of dispositions.
But saying one should only stick to rajasic path for liberation is also not correct.

Gunas and different sadhana paths are steps like staircases.

Irrespective of the path chosen as per individual’s liking, one must try to understand the balance of all three gunas.

And after “knowing” all the  gunas, one must rise above the three gunas for reaching the supreme state.

Alakh Niranjan Aadesh!!

Sthanumalayan Brahma Vishnu and Shiva


One thought on “Sattva Rajas Tamas – the threefold universal principle

  1. Pingback: The Ashvattha Tree Chapter 15 | 21st Century Bhagavad Gita

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