Tamasic Sacrifice

The Gunas pervade all of Nature and thus, impact all our actions. Each of the three Gunas has a characteristic action and effect, and this must be seen and understood also in the actions enjoined by the Gita, including the concept described by the term “sacrifice”. Thus, there is sacrifice that is of the nature of Tamas, as Sri Aurobindo describes it:

“The tamasic sacrifice is work which is done without faith, without, that is to say, any full conscious idea and acceptance and will towards the thing Nature yet compels us to execute. It is done mechanically, because the act of living demands it, because it comes in our way, because others do it, to avoid some other greater difficulty which may arise from not doing it, or from any other tamasic motive.”

Tamasic sacrifice however determines not only the motive for the action, but the means of carrying it out: “And it is apt to be done, if we have in the full this kind of temperament, carelessly, perfunctorily, in the wrong way. It will not be performed by the vidhi or right rule of the Shastra, will not be led in its steps according to the right method laid down by the art and science of life and the true science of the thing to be done. There will be no giving of food in the sacrifice,–and that act in the Indian ritual is symbolic of the element of helpful giving inherent in every action that is real sacrifice, the indispensable giving to others, the fruitful help to others, to the world, without which our action becomes a wholly self-regarding thing and a violation of the true universal law of solidarity and interchange.”

Also missing from the tamasic sacrifice is the offering to those who lead the action, whether an outer guide or guru, or the “veiled or manifest godhead within us.” The empowering thought, in the form of the Mantra, will also not be present, so that the action will look more mechanical than alive in terms of its focus and impact.

“The tamasic man does not offer his sacrifice to the gods, but to inferior elemental powers or to those grosser spirits behind the veil who feed upon his works and dominate his life with their darkness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 469-470


The Three Gunas and the Food We Eat

The Gita lays considerable emphasis on the three Gunas or qualities of Nature and their action. Understanding of the Gunas is certainly helpful both to reduce the sense of the ego, which believes it has totally free will and controls how it responds to life circumstances, and to aid the individual in effectively acting in the world. Having previously provided a general description of the nature of each of the three Gunas, the Gita then begins to enlarge upon this by providing detailed analysis of the action of the Gunas in a variety of forms and circumstances. Since the Gunas are involved in the entire manifested creation, we find their influence in all material forms, life energies and mental characteristics.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gunas as follows as they impact the food we eat: “Our food, for example, the Gita tells us, is either sattwic, rajasic or tamasic according to its character and effect on the body. The sattwic temperament in the mental and physical body turns naturally to the things that increase the life, increase the inner and outer strength, nourish at once the mental, vital and physical force and increase the pleasure and satisfaction and happy condition of mind and life and body, all that is succulent and soft and firm and satisfying. The rajasic temperament prefers naturally food that is violently sour, pungent, hot, acrid, rough and strong and burning, the aliments that increase ill-health and the distempers of the mind and body. The tamasic temperament takes a perverse pleasure in cold, impure, stale, rotten or tasteless food or even accepts like the animals the remnants half-eaten by others.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 468-469

Faith, Action and the Gunas

It is the usual tendency of our mentality to separate things into different categories and erect walls around them. Thus, when we consider the practice of yoga, or the elements of action prescribed by the Gita—faith, giving and askesis—we generally separate these from our daily lives; however, as Sri Aurobindo points out, all action in the world incorporates these elements, conditioned by the Guna that predominates for any specific individual in any of these acts.

“When we live, when we are and do according to our desires, that is a persistent act of sraddha belonging mostly to our vital and physical, our tamasic and rajasic nature. And when we try to be, to live and to do according to the Shastra, we proceed by a persistent act of sraddha which belongs, supposing it to be not a routine faith, to a sattwic tendency that is constantly labouring to impose itself on our rajasic and tamasic parts. When we leave both these things and try to be, to live and to do according to some ideal or novel conception of truth of our own finding or our own individual acceptance, that too is a persistent act of sraddha which may be dominated by any one of these three qualities that constantly govern our every thought, will, feeling and act. And again when we try to be, to live and to do according to the divine nature, then too we must proceed by a persistent act of sraddha, which must be according to the Gita the faith of the sattwic nature when it culminates and is preparing to exceed its own clear cut limits.

The three types of action enjoined by the Gita, rather than being special acts separated from life, are actually elements of all action. “All dynamic action may be reduced in its essential parts to these three elements (n.b. faith, giving and askesis). For all dynamic action, all kinesis of the nature involves a voluntary or an involuntary Tapasya or askesis, an energism and concentration of our forces or capacities or of some capacity which helps us to achieve, to acquire or to become something, tapas. All action involves a giving of what we are or have, an expenditure which is the price of that achievement, acquisition or becoming, dana. All action involves too a sacrifice to element or to universal powers or to the supreme Master of our works.”

Each of these elements is subjected to the Gunas and can thus take on either a sattwic, rajasic or tamasic quality and corresponding result. The action of the Yoga becomes a conscious implementation of what otherwise we are doing unconsciously or ignorantly, with the direction, focus and form of activity brought to a new level of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 467-468

To Become the Divine

To Become the Divine

Sri Aurobindo took exception to the conclusion that the individual’s faith or will, creating his karma, determines what he is. While certainly true from a certain point of view, there are still other factors to be considered in order to truly understand the process of evolutionary development of the individual. Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue: “Truth is not merely whatever our own personality is or creates; that is only the truth of our becoming, one point or line of emphasis in a movement of widest volume.”

The individual manifestation still needs to interact with and relate to the universal and the transcendent aspects. “Beyond our personality there is, first, a universal being as well as a universal becoming of which ours is a little movement; and beyond that too there is the eternal Being out of which all becoming derives and to which it owes its potentialities, elements, original and final motives.”

There are those in fact who hold that the only reality is the Eternal and that the entire Becoming is an illusion created by the power of the Supreme; thus negating the validity of the individual role entirely, except for the practical need of the individual to negotiate through the illusory reality of the world! The Gita takes a somewhat different view however: “But for the Gita absolute Brahman is also supreme Purusha, and Purusha is always conscious Soul, though its highest consciousness, its superconsciousness, if we will,–as, one may add, its lowest which we call the Inconscient,–is something very different from our mind consciousness to which alone we are accustomed to give the name.”

The supreme Purusha has his own supreme Nature and the fact that we are a manifestation of that Supreme Truth raises for us the possibility of attaining to that consciousness and nature. “That eternal way of existence and divine manner of being exists already in the eternity of the Purushottama, but we are attempting to create it here too in our becoming by Yoga; our endeavor is to become the Divine, to be as He, madbhava. That also depends on sraddha. It is by an act of our conscious substance and a belief in its truth, an inmost will to live it or be it that we come to it; but this does not mean that it does not already exist beyond us. Though it may not exist for our outward mind until we see and create ourselves anew into it, it is still there in the Eternal and we may say even that it is already there in our own secret self; for in us also, in our depths the Purushottama always is.

We can conceive in the possibility, and grow into the possibility because we already are a creation that partakes of that larger reality and we thus, have the potentiality within us as the oak tree has its potentiality already contained within the acorn. The inner faith that we hold is an affirmation of the secret truth of our future possibilities.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 466-467

Faith, Karma and Self-Creation

The faith which an individual experiences inwardly, which guides him to forsake both the impulsion of desire and the established framework of the social order within which he lives, is an expression of the “will to become” and is a creative force that helps humanity go beyond its existing framework and limitations.

This inner faith is an expression of the evolutionary potential that takes us beyond the working of mechanical law and instinct, as well as the limited framework created by the developed mental capacity. As with everything else, it takes on the hue of the Gunas and depending on whether it is tamasic, rajasic or sattwic, there will be a different end result.

Sri Aurobindo explores this question as defined by the Gita: “…this Purusha, this soul in man, is, as it were, made of sraddha, a faith, a will to be, a belief in itself and existence, and whatever is that will, faith or constituting belief in him, he is that and that is he….”

The concept of karma is that one’s current actions create circumstances in one’s future, just as past actions have created circumstances in one’s present. The role of the inner faith of the soul appears to be the motive force that, when put into action, focuses and impels the karmic force. “He is what he is today by some past will of his nature sustained and continued by a present will to know, to believe and to be in his intelligence and vital force, and whatever new turn is taken by this will and faith active in his very substance, that he will tend to become in the future. We create our own truth of existence in our own action of mind and life, which is another way of saying that we create our own selves, are our own makers.”

Sri Aurobindo is quick to point out that this only takes up one aspect of existence and is thus, not a complete statement. Nevertheless, this represents a powerful concept worthy of consideration and deep reflection.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 465-466

Faith Guides the Spiritual Development

There are those who oppose faith to science and try to create an artificial conflict between them. The argument goes, from the side of science, that faith has no basis in fact and therefore cannot be true or actual; while from the side of faith, science is too bound to a rigid factual reality that misses the greater sense and significance of life and all its manifestations.

Underlying this division however is a deeper reality in which both aspects are important and play their role. They are not so much opposites as complements. Knowledge, facts and science rule the world of the mind, and the viewpoint, seeing and action of the mental being in the world of life and matter. We build thereupon various edifices and create for ourselves laws of action, laws of ethics and morality, and laws of right action, which we call Dharma. This provides us a firm footing in life to overcome the wild, unruly impulsions of desire which is the first law of life before the evolution of the mental power.

Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that to pass beyond the limits and boundaries of the mental laws, and to act upon an impulse that is neither the expression of desire, nor the following of the dictates of the society’s framework of understanding, there is only one power that can provide the guidance, and that is the inner sense of “rightness”, of necessity, and this is guided by the faith within the individual that charts out a new path, a new direction, a new sense and meaning.

There is a danger in this approach, because as with everything else in this world, a man’s faith is ruled by the action of the Gunas. Sri Aurobindo explains: “If he is tamasic, obscure, clouded, if he has an ignorant faith and inapt will, he will reach nothing true and fall away to his lower nature. If he is lured by false rajasic lights, he can be carried away by self-will into bypaths that may lead to morass or precipice. In either case his only chance of salvation lies in a return of Sattwa upon him to impose a new enlightened order and rule upon his members which will liberate him from the violent error of his self-will or the dull error of his clouded ignorance. If, on the other hand, he has the sattwic nature and a sattwic faith and direction for his steps, he will arrive in sight of a higher yet unachieved ideal rule which may lead him even in rare instances beyond the sattwic light some way at least towards a high divine illumination and divine way of being and living.”

“In all effort at self-finding these possibilities are there; they are the conditions of this spiritual adventure.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 464-465

Learning To Live In the Liberty of the Spirit

Evolutionary progress tends to follow certain defined stages. There is first an ascent to the new knowledge that needs to be brought into our lives. This stage is accomplished by individuals who, for whatever reason, experience either dissatisfaction with the limitations of the existing framework in society, or else, who have an extraordinary experience which guides them to a new order of knowledge, or some combination of the two. The next stage is one of assimilation, both by the individual and by the society, and the third is one of consolidation, in which the knowledge is organized, disseminated, and solidified in society. At some point, the formulation tends to become ossified and a new cycle of ascent begins, which helps to advance the progress and remove the limitations of the current stage.

By the nature of the process, the ascent is carried out by individuals. The societal framework represents the conservative principle and is subject to slower change after the new principle has been tested and vetted by numerous individuals. Thus we see each new religion based on the experience and teaching of an inspired individual, Christ, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, etc., each of whom tries to communicate the essence of the experience and the realisation that uplifts and transforms the codified systems of belief that preceded them.

Whenever an individual departs from the strictures of the societal framework of the Law, the previously recognized and formulated expression of an earlier truth, there is the possibility that the individual is a forerunner bringing out the higher light that needs to be experienced and implemented; there is also the danger that this departure represents an aggrandisement of the ego, of course. Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that this danger is better than a rigid, tamasic adherence to a form that has lost its inner life and vibrancy. Rajas at least has the possibility of development.

“And in effect this movement is usually an attempt to lay hold on some forgotten truth or to move on to a yet undiscovered or unlived truth of our being. It is not a mere licentious movement of the unregulated nature; it has its spiritual justification and is a necessity of our spiritual progress. And even if the Shastra is still a living thing and the best rule for the human average, the exceptional man, spiritual, inwardly developed, is not bound by that standard. he is called upon to go beyond the fixed line of the Shastra. For this is a rule for the guidance, control and relative perfection of the normal imperfect man and he has to go on to a more absolute perfection: this is a system of fixed Dharmas and he has to learn to live in the liberty of the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 463-464

The Human Seeking for the Dynamic, Evolving, True Law of Living

It is a limitation of the human mental awareness that we tend to look at things primarily from a static sense and thus, tend to treat them as “fixed” and “unchanging” even though everything is in fact dynamic and subject to change. The same thing occurs with respect to our view of the various teachings, Shastras, laws of life, that we tend to adopt. As humanity evolves and matures, the teachings by which we orient our lives also tend to grow, evolve and modify. Since this does not occur all at once, simultaneously, we then see a number of different “competing” principles holding their ground in a dynamic evolutionary process.

As a result of the maturation process, we find that eventually a teaching or law of life loses the support and focus it heretofore had. Individuals begin to challenge the tenets, or they simply find that their current concerns and issues are not being fully addressed. New requirements, brought about in some cases through changes in the social order, pressures of the environment or individual personal growth, bring about a need for new guidance and direction.

Sometimes a particular religion or philosophy simply becomes rigid over time and becomes institutionalized, rather than remaining a living, breathing, evolving guideline. In such cases, we find reformers coming forward to try to tap into the inner spirit of the teaching and revivify it, making it relevant for the time.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the options: “…a new truth, a more perfect law of living has become imperative. If that does not exist, it has to be discovered by the effort of the race or by some great and illumined individual mind who embodies the desire and seeking of the race.”

The dynamic aspect implies “…that there is an ideal, an eternal Dharma which religion, philosophy, ethics and all other powers in man that strive after truth and perfection are constantly endeavoring to embody in new statements of the science and art of the inner and outer life, a new Shastra.”

“And the human search does not stop there, but leaves these formulations too, goes back to some past truth it had rejected or breaks forward to some new truth and power, but is always in search of the same thing, the law of its perfection, its rule of right living, its complete, highest and essential self and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 462-463

Developing a Sattwic Standard To Overcome Enslavement To the Life of Desire

The Gita proposes that life lived according to the normal impulsion of desire and personal gratification has no opportunity to break out of the fixed results of the bondage to the action of the Gunas, primarily, in this case Rajas and Tamas. It is a virtually universal experience of humanity that those who become aware of some larger meaning or purpose to life tend to develop and follow a series of precepts or guidelines that have, as one of the basic tenets, the submergence of the ego and its desires to a larger, higher or wider aim. To this end, we have seen a large array of religions, philosophies, creeds and beliefs, all of which set forth some definition or set of ethical concepts to be followed to allow the individual to free himself from the enslavement to the life of desire. These paths all share, not only this common aspiration, but also a basis in attempting to uplift and govern the raw force of Rajas or the darkness of Tamas with a principle that is founded on the application of the Guna of Sattwa.

The Gita suggests that the individual totally enslaved to passions, desires, or even simple pleasures satisfying to the ego, does not have a platform with which to lift himself into a new diviner sphere. The application of a more or less disinterested, wider rule or principle, representing the influence of Sattwa into the process, is the first step toward achieving the liberation being sought.

Sri Aurobindo describes the situation: “This greater rule the individual finds usually outside himself in some more or less fixed outcome of the experience and wisdom of the race, which he accepts, to which his mind and the leading parts of his being give their assent or sanction and which he tries to make his own by living it in his mind, will and action.”

It is this standard which the Gita calls the faith held by the individual. Faith is not solely limited to a religious context. Whether it is a religion, a philosophy, an ethical standard, a moral law, or simply a developed belief, “…in proportion as I have a sincerity and completeness of faith in it and an intensity of will to live according to that faith, I can become what it proposes to me, I can shape myself into an image of that right or an exemplar of that perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 461-462

Escaping From Bondage to Rajasic and Tamasic Domination

For those individuals who seek to understand the meaning of their lives and find a positive solution, it is relatively easy to observe the results of various types of life strategies and focus for the powers of mind, life and body that have been given to us. The Asuric temperament represents an extreme formulation of the principle of action of the quality of Rajas, and if we study the results of Rajas taken to the extreme, we can understand where such a line of approach takes the individual who chooses to follow that path. Sri Aurobindo describes this very clearly: “The Asuric Prakriti is the rajasic at its height; it leads to the slavery of the soul in Nature, to desire, wrath and greed, the three powers of the rajasic ego, and these are the threefold doors of Hell, the Hell into which the natural being falls when it indulges the impurity and evil and error of its lower or perverted instincts. These three are again the doors of a great darkness, they fold back into Tamas, the characteristic power of the original Ignorance; for the unbridled force of the rajasic nature, when exhausted, falls back into the weakness, collapse, darkness, incapacity of the worst tamasic soul-status.”

The escape from this pattern requires the application of the principle of Sattwa. “To follow the law of desire is not the true rule of our nature; there is a higher and juster standard of its works.”

Development of Sattwa in the nature moves the spring of action from personal desire or pleasure to an independent standard of conduct, sometimes called a code of ethics, sometimes a religious doctrine, sometimes a “dharma”, embodied in a “shastra”, essentially a codified set of principles that embody truth, right relation and right action. “Shastra is the knowledge and teaching laid down by intuition, experience and wisdom, the science and art and ethic of life, the best standards available to the race.”

Once the individual has made this sattwic approach the foundation for his life and action, he readies himself for the eventual step of moving beyond all specific shastras or dharmas, as these are means to the end, not the end itself. “The supreme end is the freedom of the spirit when abandoning all Dharmas the soul turns to God for its sole law of action, acts straight from the divine will and lives in the freedom of the divine nature, not in the Law but in the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 459-460