Operation of the Three Gunas in the World

Sri Aurobindo has provided us a very succinct and powerful description of the three Gunas and their interactions in the world of Nature. “Tamas, the principle of inertia, is a passive and inert nescience which suffers all shocks and contacts without any effort of mastering response and by itself would lead to a disintegration of the whole action of the energy and a radical dispersion of substance.” The operative principles here are darkness and inaction. Because of the inter-workings of the three with each other, however, the quality of Rajas creates motion, energy, kinesis, while the quality of Sattwa brings light and consciousness to balance the action of Tamas. These two prevent the kind of disintegration that would occur if Tamas ruled solely.

Rajas, the principle of creative endeavor and motion and impulsion in Prakriti, kinesis, …, appears more evidently as a conscious or half-conscious passion of seeking and desire and action in the dominant character of Life,–for that passion is the nature of all vital existence. And it would lead by itself in its own nature to a persistent but always mutable and unstable life and activity and creation without any settled result.” But since it does not operate alone, on the one side it is beset by death, incapacity and limitation, and on the other supported and guided by an ever-increasing power of Sattwa as we ascend the scale of conscious life.

Sattwa, the principle of understanding knowledge and of according assimilation, measure and equilibrium, which by itself would lead only to some lasting concord of fixed and luminous harmonies, is in the motions of this world impelled to follow the mutable strife and action of the eternal kinesis and constantly overpowered or hedged in by the forces of inertia and nescience.”

“This is the appearance of a world governed by the interlocked and mutually limited play of the three qualitative modes of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 413-414