Strategies for Transcending the Action of the Three Gunas

Armed with the knowledge of the action and characteristics of the three Gunas of Nature, the seeker is left with something of a dilemma when it comes to putting this knowledge into action. The first thing that can be easily grasped is that the action of Tamas, with its ignorance and inertia, cannot lead to the liberation he seeks. Similarly, the action of Rajas, with its passion, desire and unenlightened energy, cannot solve the problem. This has led countless individuals to determine that it is to the third Guna, Sattwa, that they must turn. The light, the knowledge and the clarity of Sattwa certainly are a more desirable foundation for the spiritual quest than either of the other two; however, the three Gunas are inextricably intertwined.

Sri Aurobindo illustrates the issue: “If, envisaging the quality of desire and passion as the cause of disturbance, suffering, sin and sorrow, we strain and labour to quell and subdue it, Rajas sinks but Tamas rises. For, the principle of activity dulled, inertia takes its place. A quiet peace, happiness, knowledge, love, right sentiment can be provided by the principle of light, but, if Rajas is absent or completely suppressed, the quiet in the soul tends to become a tranquility of inaction, not the firm ground of a dynamic change.”

“If we call in Rajas again to correct this error and bid it ally itself to Sattwa and by their united agency endeavour to get rid of the dark principle, we find that we have elevated our action, but that there is again subjection to rajasic eagerness, passion, disappointment, suffering, anger. These movements may be more exalted in their scope and spirit and action than before, but they are not the peace, the freedom, the power, the self-mastery at which we long to arrive.”

“And if we see a compromise between the three modes, Sattwa leading, the others subordinate, still we have only arrived at a more temperate action of the play of Nature. A new poise has been reached, but a spiritual freedom and mastery are not in sight or else are still only a far-off prospect.”

Sri Aurobindo thus guides us to the solution provided by the Bhagavad Gita in this regard: “The error that accepts the action of the modes of Nature must cease; for as long as it is accepted, the soul is involved in their operations and subjected to their law. Sattwa must be transcended as well as Rajas and Tamas, the golden chain must be broken no less than the leaden fetters and the bond-ornaments of a mixed alloy. The Gita prescribes to this end a new method of self-discipline. It is to stand back in oneself from the action of the modes and observe this unsteady flux as the Witness seated above the surge of the forces of Nature. he is one who watches but is impartial and indifferent, aloof fro them on their own level and in his native posture high above them. As they rise and fall in their waves, the Witness looks, observes, but neither accepts nor for the moment interferes with their course. First there must be freedom of the impersonal Witness; afterwards there can be the control of the Master, the Ishwara.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 10, The Three Modes of Nature, pp. 224-226

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