Man is a dynamo for the cosmic work Nature does most in him.
God the high rest.
– Sri Aurobindo
One of the ideals of Integral Yoga is to progressively shift our more or less unconscious acceptance or consent to Nature in the form of identification and slavery to her rajasic, tamasic or sattwic impulses, to a more and more conscious consent to the divine Force of God (1). For a novice in the path, this process can only be progressive in various stages, done through Nature and not by rejecting Nature. An occupation in harmony with the natural temperament and capacities of the individual, done in the spirit of Karma Yoga, can be a part of the first stage, which can perhaps lead to a certain amount of spiritual sublimation of the gunas of Nature. A relatively stable sattwic mastery over our tamasic and rajasic impulses is perhaps an indispensible stage before rising above to the divine self beyond Sattwa.
A Sattwic man is identified with his sattwic intelligence and will and thinks feels or says: “I discriminate with my sattwic intelligence rajasic and tamasic impulses and subjugate them with my sattwic will.” But a yogi who is on the threshold of rising beyond sattwa says, impersonally “I watch rajas rising and subjugating tamas and sattwa raising, correcting, rejecting or mastering rajas. But I am not involved in it. I was this tangle of gunas acting over gunas as a witness and wait for the divine impulsion from above”. However this can be done safely and effectively only by someone who has first attained a settled and habitual sattwic mastery over his rajasic and tamasic nature and then cutting off his identification with Sattwa, attained inner detachment over his sattwic impulses. Otherwise, imagining we are beyond sattwa when we are still subject to rajasic and tamaisc impulses or sattwic attachments or preferences, may lead to self-deception like the one which Sri Aurobindo describes in the following poem:
He said, “I am egoless, spiritual, free,”
Then swore because his dinner was not ready.
I asked him why. He said, “It is not me,
But the belly’s hungry god who gets unsteady.”
I asked him why. He said, “It is his play.
I am unmoved within, desireless, pure.
I care not what may happen day by day.”
I questioned him, “Are you so very sure?”
He answered, “I can understand your doubt.
But to be free is all. It does not matter
How you may kick and howl and rage and shout,
Making a row over your daily platter.
To be aware of self is liberty.
Self I have got and, having self, am free.”
At a higher level, Mahatma Gandhi is a sattwic man who has probably attained a sattwic mastery over his rajasic and tamisic impulses. He may not slip into the kind of delusion of the yogi in the above poem. But he seemed to be identified with his sattwic self and had sattwic attachments like non–violence. As long as we have this kind of sattwic attachment to some fixed moral principle, we may not be able to rise beyond sattwa.
This brings us to the question what happens to Nature and her gunas when it is replaced by the divine Force? According to Sri Aurobindo, they are transformed. When the Divine Force descends into our nature and begins to act directly on it and through it, gunas are transformed into their divine equivalents. Sattwa is transformed into pure light of the spirit. Rajas becomes a spiritual dynamism of the divine Force. Tamas is transformed into dense, stable and luminous substances of the spirit. But this belongs to a very advanced stage of transformation in integral yoga.
- For a more detailed discussion on the meaning of Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa, readers may see the following articles in this blog in the category on “Foundations”
1. Soul and Nature
2. The triple Qualities of Nature and the Indian Vision of Human Development