The Play of the Gunas and the Difficulty of Effecting True Change in Human Nature

We do not generally recognise that it is virtually impossible to hold one thought, one idea, one form of concentration, one energetic status for long periods of time. As time goes on, the balance of the Gunas changes and we lose the intensity, shift our focus to something else, and we find that the fear, the anger, the desire, the despair, or the concentration or aspiration we held earlier has attenuated or disappeared for the time being.

The theory that indulgence in a particular movement or reaction will eventually lead to its demise has been unfortunately proven to be incorrect. While it is true that after indulgence a period of distaste may occur (rajas giving way to tamas), when the energy recovers, the individual finds that the indulgence has actually strengthened the propensity by smoothing out the energetic and neural pathways for that particular action or reaction to occur. This same mechanism is operative when we study a subject, or undertake physical training of any sort, and through repetition, we increase the ease of understanding the subject and create what is called “muscle memory” that makes it easier to repeat. We thus cannot rely on indulgence which is the mechanism of learning and training, to magically remove the unwanted reaction.

On the other extreme is the attempt to suppress the undesired action. If the suppression is done with intensity of force, it is under the impulsion of Rajas. When the rajasic energy recedes, the individual usually has an uprising of Tamas, which is the perfect opportunity for the energy to re-emerge. In fact, suppression tends, as with the compression of a spring, to actually store the energy in a more concentrated form, so that once the pressure is released, a more energetic result will tend to emerge.

The Mother writes: “You aspire for a change, perhaps for a specific change; but the answer to your aspiration will not come immediately and in the meantime your nature will resist. Things happen like this: at a given moment the nature seems to have yielded and you think you have got the desired result. Your aspiration diminishes in intensity because you think you have the desired result. But the other fellow, who is very cunning and is waiting quietly in his corner, when you are off your guard, he springs up like a jack-in-the-box, and then you must begin all over again.”

A disciple asks: “But if one can tear out completely the root of the thing?”

The Mother continues: “Ah! one must not be so sure of that. I have known people who wanted to save the world by reducing it so much that there was no longer a world left! This is the ascetic way — you want to do away with the problem by doing away with the possibility of the problem. But this will never change anything.”

“No, there is a method — a sure one — but your method must be very clear-sighted and you must have a wide-awake consciousness of your person and of what goes on there and the way in which things happen. Let us take the instance of a person subject to outbursts of rage and violence. According to one method he would be told: ‘Get as angry as you like, you will suffer the consequences of your anger and this will cure you.’ This could be discussed. According to another method he would be told: ‘Sit upon your anger and it will disappear.’ This too could be discussed. In any case, you will have to sit upon it all the time, for if ever you should get up for a minute you will see immediately, what happens! Then, what is to be done?”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 114-115