Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas

by Swami Rama

This is an excerpt from Freedom from (Bondage of) Karma by Swami Rama, Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science & Philosophy of USA, 1973.

The knower, the known and the process of knowing comprise the three-fold nature of the drive to action. Instrument, activity and event are the three-fold components that accomplish action. Each of these three divisions is in accordance with the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The universe contains many beings. Each being is unique. Variety is the nature of the universe. In this diversity, one feels the presence of oneness; this is due to sattva-endued knowledge. The site of the undivided reality is known because of sattva. For example, the ocean has many waves and they are distinct from one another, yet they are all made from the same water. To see the same water in different waves is sattva-endued knowledge. Gold is made into various ornaments, but the presence of gold is common to them all. To see this oneness in different forms is sattva-endued knowledge. There exist in the world many religious faiths - Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc. Yet in spite of this multiplicity, one can see in them all a oneness of being and can accordingly relate in one way towards all of them. This results from sattva-endued knowledge. Human beings, birds, beasts, and insects are all different, yet they possess the one life principle in common. To regard them all as alike is due to sattva-endued knowledge alone.

Rajas-endued knowledge enables one to realize division and variety of forms. The variety of aspects in each object is seen by rajas-endued knowledge. This sort of disposition which fastens on diversity alone is due to rajas. It frustrates all efforts towards seeing unity in diversity.

Tamas-endued knowledge actually obscures the relation of causes and effect and is completely unable to reveal Truth. It is the cause of attachment to a part as if it were the whole. It is the cause of ignorance which confuses cause and effect. It is false knowledge, sheer ignorance, and impure ideas, and is contrary to enlightenment. This is the defect of tamas-endued knowledge. Tamas-endued people take a part for the whole and attach themselves to that part. They even lead themselves to destroy the whole. This level of knowledge leads to destruction and attachment.

Thus, sattva-endued knowledge sees unity in diversity, while tamas-endued knowledge sees diversity even in unity. Sattva-endued knowledge inspires one to perform actions with the goal of self-realization while tamas-endued knowledge leads to self-degradation. That action is called sattvic-endued which is done without attachment, without lust or hatred, and without a selfish desire to enjoy the fruit of one's own actions. Lust and hatred make the mind waver, and pleasure leads to self-enjoyment. They all make the mind extremely agitated. They must be renounced if one is to pursue the tranquil mind.

An action that is done with a tranquil mind is a sattvic action. But an action that is done with the desire to selfishly enjoy the fruit, with a view always to keep it for one's own enjoyment, ignoring its cost in labor and effort and with overwhelming confidence in one's own ability, that action is rajasic. Sattvic actions are performed without egoism, without thought of enjoying the fruits, without attachment, lust or hatred. Rajasic actions are permeated with all of these negative qualities. Actions done without the desire to enjoy the fruits will undoubtedly lead to greater happiness. Rajasic actions can lead only to greater misery. Tamasic action leads only to degradation. It happens without thought to what damage or injury it might cause. Therefore, one should observe oneself carefully to guard against performing tamasic actions.

The type of actions a person commits is determined by his disposition. One whose steadiness of mind remains undisturbed in doing actions and duties, is indeed a balanced human. He who is not elated with success or disappointed with failure is a sattvic man. Such a man possesses courage. No anxieties about success or failure worry him. He is neither puffed up with success nor downhearted with failure.

The characteristic of a rajasic man is that he is given to enjoyment. He has a keen desire for pleasure. At the root of all his activities lies the drive for enjoyment. He naturally seeks enjoyment from the fruits of his own action. He who is attached to pleasure is bound to be greedy. Having gotten some pleasure, he yearns for more pleasure; having lost them, his grief is beyond description. Joy and grief swing his mind one way or the other. Thus, he is perpetually agitated. Such a restless man finds it difficult to really enjoy any pleasure. On the spur of the moment he can become violent, especially if he confronts any obstacle in the way of his enjoyment, he may even react and try to destroy it. This increases the hatred and violence in a rajasic man. Violence is always accompanied by uncleanliness of body and mind. Where enjoyment, greed, and violence dwell, it is impossible to maintain the body, speech, and mind in serenity.

The characteristics of a tamasic man are ignorance and delusion, for he has no competence to do anything skillfully. A tamasic man is devoid of good conduct because of his very ignorance; only a man of good conduct can become a good human being. A tamasic man is completely devoid of true knowledge. Filled with delusions, he cannot contribute in knowledgeable discussions, nor can he perform any activity with skill, nor propagate good ideas. He remains lazy and dull in all circumstances. In the absence of inspiration, there is no possibility of self-advancement through action, work, or duty. When unable to grow through one's own actions, duties, and efforts, the mind begins to run in crooked avenues of tamas, and one always grieves over failure. Such a man begins to hate others; he never rejoices at other people's success. He is always sad, gloomy, and hateful.

Of the various functions of the mind, buddhi, or intellect, is the highest. It is buddhi which decides, discriminates and judges. This buddhi can also be classified into three categories: sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Sattvic buddhi correctly and rightly shows what one should proceed to and what one should keep away from, what causes bondage and what dispels the bondage of the aspirant. The rajasic buddhi is involved with the selfish motivations only and runs through the avenues of pleasures. The tamasic buddhi cannot discriminate between duty and non-duty, bondage and freedom, independence and dependence, and always presents false pictures. This deludes the aspirant; he forms a perverse view of things and does not see anything in its true colors at all. A tamasic man cannot decide what to do and what not to do.

Pleasures can also be classified as sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. The sattvic pleasures in the beginning seem to be painful, but their results are beneficial in the long run. They bring serenity of mind, knowledge, penance, control of the senses, and self-purification, which  purify the way of the Soul. Sattvic pleasure finds joy everywhere, in all conditions in life, in the control of the mind and in self-realization, as well as in doing actions selflessly for the sake of humanity as a worship to God. Rajasic pleasure is produced by contact of the senses with their objects. It vanishes when the object vanishes. Rajasic pleasure ends painfully. Tamasic pleasure deludes the Soul from beginning to end. Tamasic pleasure is pain which produces misery. It increases sleep, laziness, and inactivity. A tamasic man does not feel like doing anything. He feels pleasure in laziness. A rajasic man feels pleasure in balanced, tranquil, and serene conditions.

All things that appear on the face of the earth and in the universe, are endued with the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The whole universe is a play of these three qualities. These qualities are found in the subtle traces of samskaras and determine the life course here and hereafter. If anyone wants to examine one's own disposition, he can do so by examining the quality of his mind. If one starts observing himself impartially, he can find out whether his disposition is sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic, and thus determine the future course he has to take. He can also find out which rung of the spiritual ladder he stands on.

To attain freedom from the rounds of birth and death and from the bondage of karma, one should learn to do his duty whole-heartedly. A man attains perfection and achieves perfect eminence by devotion to this proper work and duty. If he gives up his own duty and does what is not his duty, he cannot rise. The question is: What is one's duty?

One's duty is that which is determined by one's inborn qualities or samskaras. For instance, if man has the quality of sattva in a dormant state, he should practice tranquility, control of the senses, etc. If he has sattva-dominated rajas, his proper duty should by to follow the path of action and practice meditation in action. In this way a man can succeed in doing his duties by studying his inborn qualities or samskaras.

Karma is inevitable; work is worship. By worshipping that Absolute One from whom all beings have sprung and by whom all this universe is pervaded, a man attains right perfection.



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