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

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