Spiritual aspirants, just as all others in the world, are impacted by the play of the three Gunas the qualities of Nature. These qualities are always in movement, constantly combining, jostling one another, becoming predominant, and then being suppressed as the next movement arises. We can see this play in the spiritual sadhana quite clearly. When there are constant spiritual experiences and a feeling of progress, the vital being in the seeker has enthusiasm, energy and joy. We see here a predominant strain of rajas, tempered by sattwa. When various forms of obstacles arise, however, the rajas is thwarted and there is a tendency to fall into tamas, with the rise of discouragement, lack of energy, depression and a lack of motivation. In these moments, the seeker can feel like there is no way forward, and identifies the difficulty with himself and feels unprepared, unqualified, and weak. If the seeker perseveres, and particularly if he is able to maintain a certain amount of calm, clear sattwic energy, eventually the tamasic phase passes and the sense of forward movement in the sadhana can be regained. The eventual success is assured if one rises above the play of the gunas and recognises them for what they are, short-term modulations that do not truly affect the longer-term direction or eventual reaching of the objective. The seeker is encouraged not to give up through tamasic discouragement, nor to get caught up in a rajasic phase of ambition or self-seeking or self-aggrandisement. The sattwic receptivity, clarity, and lucidity provides an initial basis for allowing the higher force to work in the being, eventually moving the seeker to a psychological space that observes the play of the Gunas without being overwhelmed by them.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “All who enter the spiritual path have to face the difficulties and ordeals of the path, those which rise from their own nature and those which come in from outside. The difficulties in the nature always rise again and again till you overcome them; they must be faced with both strength and patience. But the vital part is prone to depression when ordeals and difficulties rise. This is not peculiar to you, but comes to all sadhaks — it does not imply an unfitness for the sadhana or justify a sense of helplessness. But you must train yourself to overcome this reaction of depression, calling in the Mother’s Force to aid you.”
“All who cleave to the path steadfastly can be sure of their spiritual destiny. If anyone fails to reach it, it can only be for one of the two reasons, either because they leave the path or because for some lure of ambition, vanity, desire, etc. they go astray from the sincere dependence on the Divine.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Difficulties and Depression, pp. 273-275
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