The Forms of Tamasic Equality

The transition from the normal life of desire to a life based on the spiritual consciousness and not subject thereby to the gunas, is not one that occurs generally instantaneously, but is a process of transition as each of the strands of the body, life energy, emotions, and mind are taken up and modified.

During this process, there are, for different individuals, different starting points based on their particular manifested nature, as well as the ongoing play of the gunas as long as the individual is still involved in Nature. The development of equality, therefore, is also subject to the play of the gunas until such time as the liberation of the consciousness brings about the true and complete spiritual equality.

Sri Aurobindo describes the situation, starting with what he calls “tamasic equality”: “The beginning of equality may be sattwic, rajasic or tamasic; for there is a possibility in the human nature of a tamasic equality. It may be purely tamasic, the heavy equability of a vital temperament rendered inertly irresponsive to the shocks of existence by a sort of dull insensibility undesirous of the joy of life. Or it may result from a weariness of the emotions and desires accumulated by a surfeit and satiety of the pleasure or else, on the contrary, a disappointment and a disgust and shrinking from the pain of life, a lassitude, a fear and horror and dislike of the world: it is then in its nature a mixed movement, rajaso-tamasic, but the lower quality predominates. Or, approaching the sattwic principle, it may aid itself by the intellectual perception that the desires of life cannot be satisfied, that the soul is too weak to master life, that the whole thing is nothing but sorrow and transient effort and nowhere in it is there any real truth or sanity or light or happiness; this is the sattwo-tamasic principle of equality and is not so much equality, though it may lead to that, as indifference or equal refusal. Essentially, the movement of tamasic equality is a generalisation of Nature’s principle of …self-protecting recoil extended from the shunning of particular painful effects to a shunning of the whole life of Nature itself as in sum leading to pain and self-tormenting and not to the delight which the soul demands.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pp. 183-184


The Normal Human Soul’s Delight in the Dualities of the Play of Nature

The normal human soul, immersed in the manifested world, its forms and actions, actually enjoys the play of the dualities. Even when confronted with suffering, defeat or difficulties, the soul embraces the life of desire, striving and the play of darkness and light, love and hate, achievement and loss. We frequently hear the refrain that this is what makes up the enjoyment of life and that there would not be any joy without sorrow, good times without bad, etc. etc.

This is actually an obstacle for the seeker to face and overcome, as he partakes of this same predilection for embracing the play of the Gunas of Nature (for that is what it is) and fears, in some vital part of his being, that giving up desire would mean giving up something essential and necessary to experiencing the reality of human existence.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that this remains the soul’s choice: “The ordinary human soul takes a pleasure in the customary disturbances of its nature-life; it is because it has this pleasure and because, having it, it gives a sanction to the troubled play of the lower nature that the play continues perpetually; for the Prakriti does nothing except for the pleasure and with the sanction of its lover and enjoyer, the Purusha.”

This sanction by the Purusha is the key to finding a new stance and standpoint that can go beyond enslavement to the play of the Gunas and the world of duality that this play manifests. By withdrawing the sanction, and revising the basis for the permitted action, the soul can move to the calm, tranquil and peaceful space of the divine consciousness, and act from there without being troubled by joy or suffering, gain or loss, darkness or light.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pp. 181-183

Spiritual Equality

Equality is not only a sign of the divine worker, but also represents, as Sri Aurobindo points out, a “test” for the spiritual seeker to be able to recognise the extent of work that still needs to be done. Spiritual aspirants throughout the world have used equality in one form or another as one of the key practices of their progress. Different forms of equality are based, as everything else in the manifested world, on the interplay of the Gunas of Nature. There can be an equality of resignation, through devotion or despair, founded in the principle of Tamas; there can be an equality of striving to control the response, a form of stoicism, founded in Rajas; and there can be an equality based on a philosophical acceptance or cultivated indifference, with its basis in Sattwa.

Equality is important because its absence indicates the action of desire and personal attachment. “By his equality the Karmayogin knows in the midst of his action that he is free.”

Each of these forms takes precedence at certain stages of the seeker’s development, but none of them represents the actual status of spiritual equality enjoined by the Gita. “The Gita takes them all in its large synthetic manner and weaves them into its upward soul-movement, but it gives to each a profounder root, a larger outlook, a more universal and transcendent significance. For to each it ives the values of the spirit, its power of spiritual being beyond the strain of character, beyond the difficult poise of the understanding, beyond the stress of the emotions.”

A spiritual equality goes beyond the limits of stoicism, resignation or indifference into a calm, clear, tranquil and positive acceptance and welcoming of the movements of Spirit in life, in all its forms, with a clear sense of the higher purpose and development, or at least a calm and joyful adherence to that purpose in principle.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pp. 180-181

Equality Is the Essence of the Relation of the Divine to the Manifested World

Sri Aurobindo has successively recounted the primary signs or statuses by which the divine worker can be identified. These signs are not outward signs but inner psychological states of consciousness. It is equality however that is required for the interface between spirit and manifested creation. Equality is the lynch-pin that creates the relationship of a simultaneous status or poise of the divine, infinite, free consciousness and the carrying out of action in whatever manner one is called upon to do in the world.

“Self-knowledge, desirelessness, impersonality, bliss, freedom from the modes of Nature, when withdrawn into themselves, self-absorbed, inactive, have no need of equality; for they take no cognisance of the things in which the opposition of equality and inequality arises. But the moment the spirit takes cognisance of and deals with the multiplicities, personalities, differences, inequalities of the action of Nature, it has to effectuate these other signs of its free status by this one manifesting sign of equality.”

We commonly fall into the error of the extremes that tries to do away with the validity of the opposite term. The Vedantic maxim of “One Without a Second”, which would justify a complete abandonment of all the manifested world for the divine truth, is incomplete without the other dictum “All This Is the Brahman.” These two together ensure the unity of the unmanifest and the manifest. We then must be able to see and relate to all the various and unequal forms and manifestations in the world by both recognising their inherent Oneness, while concurrently acting upon them with due recognition of their differences. Equality is the status that allows us to hold both of these conditions concurrently in balance in our awareness.

Traigunatitya, transcendence of the Gunas, is the unperturbed spirit’s superiority to that flux of action of the modes of Nature which is in its constant character perturbed and unequal; if it has to enter into relations with the conflicting and unequal activities of Nature, if the free soul is to allow its nature any action at all, it must show its superiority by an impartial equality towards all activities, results or happenings.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pp. 179-180

Equality and Inequality

Equality is a fundamental characteristic of the Oneness of the divine consciousness. Inequality is a fundamental characteristic of the manifestation of names and forms in the world by the operation of the 3 gunas of Nature. The constant motion and interchange that occurs in Nature ensures that everything is in a constant state of flux or inequality. The unchanging, immutable nature of the Divine Consciousness ensures that everything is kept in balance and equality. The two states are not in opposition to one another but rather, the immutable calm of the equal consciousness permeates everything such that it is possible to experience outwardly the variances of the gunas, while maintaining an equal status of Oneness inwardly.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issues further: “Since knowledge, desirelessness, impersonality, equality, the inner self-existent peace and bliss, freedom from or at least superiority to the tangled interlocking of the three modes of Nature are the signs of the liberated soul, they must accompany it in all activities. They are the condition of that unalterable calm which this soul preserves in all the movement, all the shock, all the clash of forces which surround it in the world. That calm reflects the equable immutability of the Brahman in the midst of all mutations, and it belongs to the indivisible and impartial Oneness which is for ever immanent in all the multiplicities of the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pg. 179

The Action of the Karmayogin

The individual immersed in the normal human state of consciousness believes he is the “actor” and has some control over his responses, but in reality he is reacting through the operation of the 3 gunas of Nature which, in their interplay, create the complex interactions we see in the world. This leads to an endless round of impulsions, first of desire, then of the rebound from the effects of the action done with desire, and then of some kind of moderation or mitigation until the next round starts up. For the most part, the natural individual does not “see” the workings of the gunas and attributes what happens to “free will” or “bad luck” or some other term for an operation he cannot see or understand.

The individual who has achieved Oneness with the Divine Consciousness recognizes the mechanical play of the gunas, can see them working in his own natural being, but he is able to separate from the impulsions of Nature; rather, he acts from the basis of the higher consciousness and sees himself, not as the actor, but as a conduit or channel for that action to play out in the world through his natural being.

Sri Aurobindo describes this state: “The Divine motives, inspires, determines the entire action; the human soul impersonal in the Brahman is the pure and silent channel of his power; that power in the Nature executes the divine movement. Such only are the works of the liberated soul, …for in nothing does he act from a personal inception; such are the actions of the accomplished Karmayogin. They rise from a free spirit and disappear without modifying it, like waves that rise and disappear on the surface of conscious immutable depths.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 177-178

Inner Renunciation, Outer Renunciation and the Divine Worker

One of the cornerstones of many traditional teachings of yoga, as well as a number of religious disciplines around the world is the renunciation of the fruits of works in the world, and even, in some instances, renunciation of those works themselves. In Sanskrit, this outer form of renunciation is called sannyasa and renunciates in the Hindu tradition are called sannyasins.

The Gita proposes a different solution. Rather than requiring outer renunciation, the Gita recommends “inner” renunciation, called tyaga, whereby the fruits of the works has been renounced inwardly even while action takes place in the world and carries out the action required for the maintenance and development of the world-manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s view of renunciation: ” ‘He should be known as the eternal Sannyasin who neither hates nor desires; free from the dualities he is happily and easily released from all bondage.’ The painful process of outward Sannyasa…is an unnecessary process. It is perfectly true that all actions, as well as the fruit of action, have to be given up, to be renounced, but inwardly, not outwardly, not into the inertia of Nature, but to the Lord in sacrifice, into the calm and joy of the Impersonal from whom all action proceeds without disturbing his peace. The true Sannyasa of action is the reposing of all works on the Brahman. ‘He who, having abandoned attachment, acts reposing (or founding) his works on the Brahman…is not stained by sin even as water clings not to the lotus-leaf.’ ”

The result of a true inward renunciation is a profound state of peace. “…he knows himself then to be the soul supreme above the instruments of Nature. Pure, infinite, inviolable, immutable, he is no longer affected; no longer does he imagine himself to be modified by her workings. By complete identification with the Impersonal he can, too, release himself from the necessity of returning by birth into her movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 175-177