I have recently been contemplating the forces described in Sankhya philosophy as the Guna’s. The three Guna’s are tamas, rajas and sattva. Quite simply, anything which is dull or lethargic is tamasic, that which is over active is rajasic and anything which is in harmony or equilibrium is sattvic. These distinctions help me to observe the three states which occur on any number of levels – the inner and outer condition of the body, mind and spirit to society and the whole of the planet.
Simply being able to define and observe these states has helped me to understand myself and the planet a little more; the ‘996’ culture where employees are encourages to work from 9am – 9pm 6 days per week is surely rajasic?
What’s more is that the three states are fluid, and knowing this can be greatly empowering. For a lot of people the mind is overactive, or rajasic. This in turn makes the body twitchy and unable to sit still. This can lead to an inability to focus and concentrate and in the end there is exhaustion. On the other hand, those who are tamasic seem frozen, bound in lethargy and unable to move forwards. Very occasionally there are those in a sattvic state; there is an equilibrium – they don’t eat, sleep, think, work or play too little or too much. They are the annoying ones who seem to breeze through life. And the worse thing is that they are not even annoying…how do they do that?
The Guna’s are featured heavily in the Bhagavad Gita which is described as ‘India’s most important gift to the world’ which ‘distils the loftiest truths of India’s ancient wisdom’ and therefore well worth a read. I have owned the translation by Eknath Easwaran for around a decade and keep coming back to it. It’s funny how these wisdom writings just keep giving, a testament to their spiritual depth. If you have tried re-reading an old newspaper, you’ll get the point…
More recently I have been reading and re-reading chapter 18 of the Gita where it describes in a very practical way the three Guna’s. There are plenty more examples, but here’s one:
‘That which seems like poison at first, but tastes like nectar in the end – this is the joy of sattva, born of a mind at peace with itself.
Pleasure from the senses seems like nectar at first, but it is bitter poison in the end. This is the kind of happiness which comes from the rajasic.
Those who are tamasic draw their pleasures from sleep, indolence and intoxication. Both in the beginning and in the end, this happiness is a delusion.’
Being able to observe where we are helps us to make choices. If I am feeling dull then going out for a walk in the fresh air helps to bring me more into a sattvic state. If I am feeling a bit manic, I practice some gentle yoga postures and meditate a little.
But I am no saint and sometimes a glass of wine to perk me up really does the trick. For me: everything in moderation.
Why not find a quiet moment, take a breath and have a look inside and out to see which of the three Guna’s is dominating your reality right now. You never know, it may just open up a new world of possibilities.