The three Gunas or qualities / modes of Nature interact with each other, always changing, and together they create the actions, reactions and basic characteristics of not just our psychological being, but also of the things of the physical world. Sri Aurobindo describes this: “In the reception of the environing contacts and the reaction to them the three modes determine the temper of the recipient and the character of the response.” It is therefore essential to understand the basic character of each of the modes in order to gain an understanding of action/reaction within our being.
Tamas represents the counter-point to both Sattva and Rajas. Tamas represents both darkness and ignorance, to counter Sattva and unresponsiveness and inertia to counter Rajas. “The stigmata of Tamas are blindness and unconsciousness and incapacity and unintelligence, sloth and indolence and inactivity and mechanical routine and the mind’s torpor and life’s sleep and the soul’s slumber. Its effect, if uncorrected by other elements, can e nothing but disintegration of the form or the poise of the nature without any new creation or new equilibrium or force of kinetic progress. At the heart of this inert impotence is the principle of ignorance and an inability or slothful unwillingness to comprehened, seize and manage the stimulating or assailing contact, the suggestion of environing forces and their urge towards fresh experience.”
It is this characteristic which, in Arjuna’s first response to the perception of the armies, filled with relatives, teachers and friends on both sides of the battlefield, led to his weakness and paralysis, resulting in his declaration that he “would not fight”. And it is this weakness of Tamas which is the first issue that Sri Krishna addresses in his teaching at that time. Tamas does not represent a foundation for spiritual progress or development and thus, must be addressed if the seeker is going to achieve the higher levels of understanding and action that is the goal of the Yoga of Works.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 10, The Three Modes of Nature, pg. 221