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