The Tamasic Intelligence and Will

The Gita adopts the basic psychological framework of the Sankhya, which includes a higher intelligence, buddhi that becomes active in the human being and which provides the power of reasoning. Sri Aurobindo describes this power of buddhi: “It is the understanding power of his nature, buddhi, that chooses the work for him or, more often, approves and sets its sanction on one or other among the many suggestions of his complex instincts, impulsions, ideas and desires. It is that which determines for him what is right or wrong, to be done or not to be done, Dharma or Adharma. And the persistence of the will is that continuous force of mental Nature which sustains the work and gives it consistence and persistence.”

When we ordinarily speak about the higher intelligence or the power of Reason, we tend to look upon it as some kind of “unified” power that works similarly in all people. The Gita reminds us, however, that here, once again, the three Gunas are involved in the actual application of this power in any human individual. There is thus a “tamasic intelligence”, as well as a “rajasic intelligence” and a “sattwic intelligence.”. It should be remembered that the Gunas are constantly acting in all of us, and thus, at any point in time, any individual may be under the influence of one or another of these Gunas in any situation.

Sri Aurobindo describes the characteristics of these systematically, starting with the tamasic form: “The tamasic reason is a false, ignorant and darkened instrument which chains us to see all things in a dull and wrong light, a cloud of misconceptions, a stupid ignoring of the values of things and people. This reason calls light darkness and darkness light, takes what is not the true law and upholds it as the law, persists in the thing which ought not to be done and holds it up to us as the one right thing to be done. Its ignorance is invincible and its persistence of will is a persistence in the satisfaction and dull pride of its ignorance. That is on its side of blind action; but it is pursued also by a heavy stress of inertia and impotence, a persistence in dullness and sleep, an aversion to mental change and progress, a dwelling on the fears and pains and depressions of mind which deter us in our path or keep us to base, weak and cowardly ways. Timidity, shirking, evasion, indolence, the justification by the mind of its fears and false doubts and cautions and refusals of duty and its lapses and turnings from the call of our higher nature, a safe following of the line of least resistance so that there may be the least trouble and effort and peril in the winning of the fruit of our labour…these are characteristics of the tamasic will and intelligence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 485-486

The Doer of Works and the Three Gunas

The doer of works is the nexus of action. The consciousness of the ego creates the sense of separateness of the doer. Depending on the characteristics of the individual and the predominant action of any of the three Gunas, the sense of the doer takes on differing characteristics that reflect the Gunas.

Sri Aurobindo describes the action of the Gunas in relation to the “doer” of works: “The tamasic doer of action is one who does not put himself really into the work, but acts with a mechanical mind, or obeys the most vulgar thought of the herd, follows the common routine or is wedded to a blind error and prejudice. He is obstinate in stupidity, stubborn in error and takes a foolish pride in his ignorant doing; a narrow and evasive cunning replaces true intelligence; he has a stupid and insolent contempt for those with whom he has to deal, especially for wiser men and his betters. A dull laziness, slowness, procrastination, looseness, want of vigour or of sincerity mark his action. The tamasic man is ordinarily slow to act, dilatory in his steps, easily depressed, ready soon to give up his task if it taxes his strength, his diligence or his patience.”

The character of the rajasic doer is defined by the qualities of desire and greed, seeking of the fruit, whether it be wealth, fame or power of some sort or another, and characterized by violence and cruelty without regard to the needs or feelings of others in his seeking for satisfaction of his egoistic claims. “He is full of an incontinent joy in success and bitterly grieved and stricken by failure.”

“The sattwic doer is free from all this attachment, this egoism, this violent strength or passionate weakness; his is a mind and will unelated by success, undepressed by failure, full of a fixed impersonal resolution, a calm rectitude of zeal or a high and pure and selfless enthusiasm in the work that has to be done.”

There is also a status beyond that of Sattwa where the quality and nature of the doer becomes simply a point of focus for the divine Master to carry out his Will in the development of the world and its manifestation. “At and beyond the culmination of Sattwa this resolution, zeal, enthusiasm become the spontaneous working of the spiritual Tapas and at last a highest soul-force, the direct God-Power, the mighty and steadfast movement of a divine energy in the human instrument, the self-assured steps of the seer-will, the gnostic intelligence and with it the wide delight of the free spirit in the works of the liberated nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 484-485

The Three Gunas and Action

The importance of the three Gunas lies in their influence on the goal, the motive-force and the instrumentality of action in the world. Sri Aurobindo explores this subject in depth: “There are again three things, the doer, the instrument and the work done, that hold the action together and make it possible.” He points out that each of these is colored by the influence of the Gunas. “The sattwic mind that seeks always for a right harmony and right knowledge is the governing instrument of the sattwic man and moves all the rest of the machine. An egoistic will of desire supported by the desire-soul is the dominant instrument of the rajasic worker. An ignorant instinct or unenlightened impulsion of the physical mind and the crude vital nature is the chief instrumental force of the tamasic doer of action. The instrument of the liberated man is a greater spiritual light and power, far higher than the highest sattwic intelligence, and it works in him by an enveloping descent from a supraphysical centre and uses as a clear channel of its force a purified and receptive mind, life and body.”

Similarly, the qualities of each Guna define the type of action that is taking place: “Tamasic action is that done with a confused, deluded, ignorant mind, in mechanical obedience to the instincts, impulsions and unseeing ideas, without regarding the strength or capacity or the waste and loss of blind misapplied effort or the antecedent and consequence and right conditions of the impulse, effort or labour. Rajasic action is that which a man undertakes under the dominion of desire, with his eyes fixed on the work and its hoped-for fruit and nothing else, or with an egoistic sense of his own personality in the action, and it is done with inordinate effort, with a passionate labour, with a great heaving and straining of the personal will to get at the object of its desire. Sattwic action is that which a man does calmly in the clear light of reason and knowledge and with an impersonal sense of right or duty or the demand of an ideal, as the thing that ought to be done whatever may be the result to himself in this world or another, a work performed without attachment, without liking or disliking for its spur or its drag, for the sole satisfaction of his reason and sense of right, of the lucid intelligence and the enlightened will and the pure disinterested mind and the high contented spirit.”

The transcendence of the three Gunas in action comes when the standpoint and motive force of the action no longer comes from the ego-centre of the individual but from the higher divine Spirit working through the nexus of the individual’s mind, life and body.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 483-484

Understanding the Mental Impulsion To Works

Doing the “work to be done” in the right spirit and attitude requires an understanding which is conditioned by what Sri Aurobindo calls the “mental impulsion to works”. “There are three things, says the Gita, which go to constitute the mental impulsion to works, and they are the knowledge in our will, the object of knowledge and the knower; and into the knowledge there comes always the working of the three Gunas.”

Each of the 3 Gunas provides its characteristic aspects to the knowledge that an individual applies to his works, and the significance he attributes to them. “The tamasic ignorant knowledge is a small and narrow, a lazy or dully obstinate way of looking at things which has no eye for the real nature of the world or of the thing done or its field or the act or its conditions. The tamasic mind does not look for real cause and effect, but absorbs itself in one movement or one routine with an obstinate attachment to it, can see nothing but the little section of personal activity before its eyes and does not know in fact what it is doing but blindly lets natural impulsion work out through its deed results of which it has no conception, foresight or comprehending intelligence.”

“The rajasic knowledge is that which sees the multiplicity of things only in their separateness and variety of operation in all these existences and is unable to discover a true principle of unity or rightly co-ordinate its will and action, but follows the bent of ego and desire, the activity of its many-branching egoistic will and various and mixed motive in response to the solicitation of internal and environing impulsions and forces….Or else it is a restless kinetic multiple action with no firm governing higher ideal and self-possessed law of true light and power within it.”

“The sattwic knowledge, on the contrary, sees existence as one indivisible whole in all these divisions, one imperishable being in all becomings; it masters the principle of its action and the relation of the particular action to the total purpose of existence; it puts in the right place each step of the complete process.”

This vision of unity and Oneness sees “…the forces of cosmos as expressions of the Godhead and of the work itself as the operation of his supreme will and wisdom in man and his life and essential nature. The personal will has come to be entirely conscious, illumined, spiritually awake, and it lives and works in the One, obeys more and more perfectly his supreme mandate and grows more and more a faultless instrument of his light and power in the human person. The supreme liberated action arrives through this culmination of the sattwic knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 482-483

The Works of the Liberated Individual

The central premise around which the Gita was framed was an understanding that the ego-self with which we normally identify is not the true doer of works, and thus, when this has been realised, the work to be done, no matter how abhorrent it appears, takes place without binding the individual. Sri Aurobindo explains: “The ego is the ostensible doer, but the ego and its will are creations and instruments of Nature with which the ignorant understanding wrongly identifies our self and they are not the only determinants even of human action, much less of its turn and consequence.”

The Gita systematically leads Arjuna to the status of liberation from bondage to the ego-consciousness. “When we are liberated from ego, our real self behind comes forward, impersonal and universal, and it sees in its self-vision of unity with the universal Spirit universal Nature as the doer of the work and the Divine Will behind as the master of universal Nature.”

“The liberated man does his appointed work as the living instrument one in spirit with the universal Spirit. And knowing that all this must be and looking beyond the outward appearance he acts not for self but for God and man and the human and cosmic order, not in fact himself acting, but conscious of the presence and power of the divine Force in his deeds and their issue. he knows that the supreme Shakti is doing in his mental, vital and physical body,…as the sole doer the thing appointed by a Fate which is truth not Fate, not a mechanical dispensation, but the wise and all-seeing Will that is at work behind human Karma.”

The example provided by the Gita, the cataclysm of a battle of the age in a great civil war, with massive death, suffering and destruction for beloved relatives, friends and respected elders and teachers, is intended to drive home the point in an extreme fashion. “Impersonally has it to be done by the divinely appointed man for the holding together of the world purpose…without personal aim or desire, because it is the appointed service.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 481-482

The Five Requisite Causes of Works

We rarely give much thought to the forces that shape action, that is, works, in the world. Many people believe that they simply think of something and then they “do” it, and that is that. This sets up the illusion of the independent doer who is not conditioned by or controlled by any externalities. A truer understanding of action can aid the seeker in finding the right relationship to works and the manifested universe within which they take place.

Philosophers, of course, have examined the issue much more deeply and actually developed frameworks for the various “types” of causes that bring about a specific work or action. Sankhya philosophy has itself set forth its understanding of works, and the Gita takes the opportunity to review these at this point.

First a quick overview as itemized by Sri Aurobindo: “The Gita then speaks of the five causes or indispensable requisites for the accomplishment of works as laid down by the Sankhya. These five are, first, the frame of body, life and ind which are the basis or standing-ground of the soul in Nature, adhisthana, next, the doer, karta, third the various instrumentation of Nature, karana, fourth, the many kinds of effort which make up the force of action, cestah, and last, Fate, daivam, that is to say, the influence of the Power or powers other than the human factors, other than the visible mechanism of Nature, that stand behind these and modify the work and dispose its fruits in the steps of act and consequence. These five elements make up among them all the efficient causes, karana, that determine the shaping and outcome of whatever work man undertakes with mind and speech and body.”

There is much more to be learned by exploring each of these in more depth. Eventually we begin to see the inter-connected web of existence that both conditions and determines our action, and we begin to recognize that forces and powers greater than ourselves influence or even control the action that we undertake. By this exploration we loosen the hold of the egoistic view that we are the “doers” in some kind of ultimate or independent sense.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pg. 480

Sattwic Renunciation and Works

The type of inner renunciation recommended by the Gita starts from the basis of the application of Sattwa in the understanding and approach taken. Sattwic renunciation develops an inner freedom from bondage while the individual undertakes whatever work needs to be done. Sri Aurobindo describes the characteristics of sattwic renunciation: “The sattwic principle of renunciation is to withdraw not from action, but from the personal demand, the ego factor behind it. It is to do works not dictated by desire but by the law of right living or by the essential nature, its knowledge, its ideal, its faith in itself and the Truth it sees, its sraddha. Or else, on a higher spiritual plane, they are dictated by the will of the Master and done with the mind in Yoga, without any personal attachment either to the action or to the fruit of the action.”

From this perspective there is “…no attachment to pleasant, desireable, lucrative or successful work…”

“There must be no aversion to unpleasant, undesirable or ungratifying action or work that brings or is likely to bring with it suffering, danger, harsh conditions, inauspicious consequences; for that too has to be accepted, totally, selflessly, with a deep understanding of its need and meaning, when it is the work that should be done, kartavyam karma.

To give up the desire for the fruit also encompasses rewards that we expect in some future life or location. The idea of attaining a place in heaven, for instance, incorporates a “reward” that is not part of the sattwic form of renunciation. Only such a poise can liberate the individual from the bondage of the chain of cause and effect, karma. “Action he will do, for some kind of action, less or more, small or great, is inevitable, natural, right for the embodied soul,–action is part of the divine law of living, it is the high dynamics of the Spirit. The essence of renunciation, the true Tyaga, the true Sannyasa, is not any rule of thumb of inaction but a disinterested soul, a selfless mind, the transition from ego to the free impersonal and spiritual nature. The spirit of this inner renunciation is the first mental condition of the highest culminating sattwic discipline.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pp. 479-480