Influence of the 3 Gunas on The Process of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the qualities, known as the 3 gunas, tamas, rajas and sattwa, with the characteristics of darkness and indolence, passion and desire, and seeking for knowledge and light, respectively, each create opportunities for error to enter into the acquisition of knowledge.

The tamasic mind tends to be resistant to new information and change, and does not adapt easily to facts that do not fit into its predetermined framework. The rajasic mind becomes caught up in the passion of its knowledge and becomes an advocate rather than a judge of the information it is receiving. Additionally, it brings in a strong identifiable sense of self-interest which helps it twist, turn and manipulate the knowledge to fit its own preconceived needs and ideas and desires. The sattwic mind, while clearly more receptive and flexible in principle, can also become attached to its knowledge and sense of clarity and fail to see that it is thereby limiting and restricting the knowledge–it can become an adherent of a particular line of thought or development and artificially exclude others which may have, however, equal or even greater ultimate validity. The sattwic mind may also develop a pride in its knowledge, and it has been pointed out elsewhere by Sri Aurobindo that the sattwic ego is one of the hardest to identify and remove; and thus, it can cause deformations and error long after the more obvious impacts of tamas and rajas have been largely eliminated. Each of these provides opportunities for creating a readiness and willingness to accept wrong knowledge as true knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo also points out that since none of us is actually 100% of any one type, that we have our opportunities to display tamasic, rajasic or sattwic limitations in varying circumstances and it is this confused and complicated scene that we must unravel and solve in order to progress beyond the limitations of the gunas in the acquisition of knowledge, and thus, is a precondition for reducing and eliminating the processes that cause error in the growth of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

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