The Triple Power and the Triple Bondage of the Gunas

The human tendency to categorize and define leads us to look at individuals and designate them as being “sattwic”, “rajasic” or “tamasic” individuals. It is important, however, to recognize that no person is completely one or the other, and further that the Gunas are always in flux. We each have a combination of all three Gunas operative, and based on whichever one predominates in a particular circumstance, we get a commensurate result. Those individuals who characteristically have one or another Guna predominant are so designated; it is important to remember that due to the ever-changing relationship, no one, however well established in a habitual response, will always have that predominant quality in the forefront.

Sri Aurobindo reviews the Gunas: “The three qualities are a triple power which by their interaction determine the character and disposition and through that and its various motions the actions of the natural man. But this triple power is at the same time a triple cord of bondage….In a certain sense we can see at once that there must be this bondage in following the action of the Gunas; for they are all limited by their finite of quality and operation and cause limitation.”

“Tamas is on both its sides an incapacity and therefore very obviously binds to limitation. Rajasic desire as an initiator of action is a more positive power, but still we can see well enough that desire with its limiting and engrossing hold on man must always be a bondage.”

Sattwa, although a quality of light and intelligence, also acts as a bondage: “It so becomes because it is a principle of mental nature, a principle of limited and limiting knowledge and of a happiness which depends upon right following or attainment of this or that object or else on particular states of the mentality, on a light of mind which can be only a more or less clear twilight. Its pleasure can only be a passing intensity or a qualified ease. Other is the infinite spiritual knowledge and the free self-existent delight of our spiritual being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 416-417