Purusha Limited By the Nature Of the Three Gunas

The three Gunas of Nature provide a key that we can use to understand the evolutionary development of the soul as it begins to awaken to self-consciousness and grows in its identification with the Jiva, the divine portion of the immortal Purusha.

We gain a clear insight into the obstacles as well as the opportunities presented to the soul at each stage. While it is clear that no individual is fixed in the status of one Guna and that they both interact and tend to move from one to the other being predominant, we may nevertheless be able to see certain characteristics of the systematic growth in consciousness and energy as the individual moves through a stage controlled by one or another of these Gunas.  

Sri Aurobindo describes these stages:.”…the tamasic man inertly obeys in a customary mechanical action the suggestions and impulses, the round of will of his material and his half-intellectualised vital and sensational nature.”

“In the middle intervenes the kinetic law or Dharma; the rajasic man, vital, dynamic, active, attempts to impose himself on his world and environment, but only increases the wounding weight and tyrant yoke of his turbulent passions, desires and egoisms, the burden of his restless self-will, the yoke of his rajasic nature.”

“At the top presses down upon life the harmonic regulative law or Dharma; the sattwic man attempts to erect and follow his limited personal standards of reasoning knowledge, enlightened utility or mechanised virtue, his religions and philosophies and ethical formulas, mental systems and constructions, fixed channels of idea and conduct which do not agree with the totality of the meaning of life and are constantly being broken in the movement of the wider universal purpose.”


To achieve the full identification with the Supreme, eventually all three of the Gunas must be overpassed.


Sri Aurobindo, <a href=”http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990205&#8243; title=”Essays on the Gita”>Essays on the Gita</a>, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 22, The Supreme Secret, pg. 525

The Ego and the Jiva

The central difficulty faced by the seeker comes down to the understanding of “who am I?”. The great sage Ramana Maharshi used this question as the basis for distinguishing the true self from the apparent self. The Gita poses this as the central question that must be resolved. The human being starts by identification with the surface personality based in the ego. We experience ourselves as separated and different from everyone and everything else. We experience a wall of separation and we act as if we are independent of the rest of the manifestation. We either treat the world as a field of self-aggrandisement or else, as a place of fear when we realize the immensity and power of the forms and beings and our own small individuality.

The Gita tells us that there is a true self, the Jiva, which is not this weak, fragmented, fearful or desire-filled ego-personality, but a portion of the supreme Divine which has taken shape here to fulfill the potential of the manifestation and carry out the Divine Purpose. This Jiva is not fragmented, weak and separate, but until we distinguish it and identify with it, it remains hidden and obscure to the surface individuality.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The life of the ego is founded on a construction of the apparent mental, vital and physical truth of existence, on a nexus of pragmatic relations between the individual soul and Nature, on an intellectual, emotional and sensational interpretation of things used by the little limited I in us to maintain and satisfy the ideas and desires of its bounded separate personality amid the vast action of the universe. All our Dharmas, all the ordinary standards by which we determine our view of things and our knowledge and our action, proceed upon this narrow and limiting basis, and to follow them even in the widest wheelings round our ego centre does not carry us out of this petty circle. It is a circle in which the soul is a contented or struggling prisoner, orever subject to the mixed compulsions of Nature.”

The experience of the Jiva is quite different: “On the other are the vast spiritual reaches of immortal fullness, bliss and knowledge into which we are admitted through union with the divine Being, of whom we are then a manifestation and expression in the eternal light and no longer a disguise in the darkness of the ego-nature.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad makes the distinction between the two states of consciousness quite clear: “…for when the Spirit that is within us findeth his refuge and firm foundation in the Invisible, Bodiless, Undefinable and Unhoused Eternal, then he hat passed beyond the reach of Fear. But when the Spirit that is within us maketh for himself even a little difference in the Eternal, then he hath fear, yea, the Eternal himself becometh a terror to such a knower who thinketh not.” (Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 7, translated by Sri Aurobindo in The Upanishads, pg. 271)

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 22, The Supreme Secret, pp. 524-525