The Gunas and the Seeker’s Relation to Material Objects in the Practice of the Integral Yoga

The action of the three gunas, qualities of nature, is often overlooked in our understanding of how things take place in the world, including in our spiritual growth; yet, these qualities permeate all activity and an appreciation of them helps the witness consciousness observing the actions of the outer being to both understand and manage these actions. Our relationship to handling material things is very much based on the gunas. When tamas, darkness or indolence, is predominant, we tend to treat material objects carelessly, and they break down or lack smooth functioning. When rajas, energy and the grasping of desire, is predominant, we tend to seek to dominate or control and utilize force to gain that control. That leads to breakdowns through over-use or through excess pressure being exerted. When sattwa is in control, there is a more balanced and harmonious approach which tries to identify the right use, at the right time, in the right way, for the right purpose. Light and harmony are the characteristics of sattwa. Applied to the yogic practice, the abandonment of the material objects and activity, as well as the seeking of them, are clearly egoistic responses dominated by tamas and rajas. Ideally a sattwic approach will be adopted and right use and relationship to material things can be established by the seeker. This involves self-control over the reactions driven by rajas and tamas in whatever specific forms they take at any particular time.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Wanton waste, careless spoiling of physical things in an incredibly short time, loose disorder, misuse of service and materials due either to vital grasping or to tamasic inertia are baneful to prosperity and tend to drive away or discourage the Wealth-Power. These things have long been rampant in the society and, if that continues, an increase in our means might well mean a proportionate increase in the wastage and disorder and neutralise the material advantage. This must be remedied if there is to be any sound progress. … Asceticism for its own sake is not the ideal of this yoga, but self-control in the vital and right order in the material are a very important part of it — and even an ascetic discipline is better for our purpose than a loose absence of true control. Mastery of the material does not mean having plenty and profusely throwing it out or spoiling it as fast as it comes in or faster. Mastery implies in it the right and careful utilisation of things and also a self-control in their use.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

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