The three states of mind and energy are explained in Vedic philosophy. Vedanta is one of six schools of Hindu philosophy that reflects teachings in the Upanishads. These ancient texts are often referred to in Yogic philosophy and many sections contain very specific insights and instructions on the science of consciousness and awakening. The cosmology of Vedic science includes the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and is embraced by traditional Aryurvedic philosophy and medicine of India. It includes three principles that can be very useful in understanding states of mind and developing a formula for transforming our energy, moods and emotions, and conditioning.
In Vedic cosmology, three principles or forces (called gunas) arose in the process of creation following the ‘big bang’. Undifferentiated primordial energy differentiated into tamas, inertia; rajas, energy; and sattva, law. It is the interaction of these forces that produced countless possibilities and combinations in the evolving universe. While pure consciousness remains forever undifferentiated, mind and body are products of the gunas which interact on a personality level as they do in the material universe.
Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita explains:
“It is the three gunas born of prakriti [the universal ground of the phenomenal universe and world] – sattva, rajas, and tamas – that bind the immortal Self to the body. Sattva – pure, luminous, and free from sorrow – binds us with attachment to happiness and wisdom. Rajas is passion, arising from selfish desire and attachment. These bind the Self with compulsive action. Tamas, born of ignorance, deludes all creatures through heedlessness, indolence and sleep.
Sattva predominates when rajas and tamas are transformed. Rajas prevails when sattva is weak and tamas overcome. Tamas prevails when rajas and sattva are dormant.
When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends, driven by resltelssness and desire. When tamas is dormant, a person lives in darkness – slothful, confused, and easily infatuated.” (14:5, 10-13)
So how does this apply to us?
Tamas includes inertia, resistance and self justification, is characterised by the inner voice that says “Who cares?”, “What does it matter”, “ I can’t be bothered!”, “What does it matter if everything goes to hell!” and simply “I don’t care”. Also when we are in overwhelm and make situations and things bigger than ourselves, we often are up against our very own resistance. Tamas is the escapist in us that wants to avoid or run. Drowsiness, mental blocks and focusing on obstacles instead of solutions is another play of tamas.
Easwaran in his guide to the Gita called “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita” in explaining this cites not wanting to get up in the morning as a great warning that tamas is in ascension. He says it’s best not to weigh pro’s and con’s which plays into tamas’ hands, but flinging the covers away and leaping out of bed. It is Easwaran’s example of life consisting of small moments where we can transform inertia into energy – tamas into rajas – with decisiveness and action.
Rajas enables us to get things done. When it predominates we are energetic, goal oriented, full of drive and passion. However, rajas is also the glue of attachment that can lock us into the pursuit of temporary pleasure, profit, status or power when imbalanced. When we can’t rest and get fixated on needed outcomes, when we are neglecting our inner selves and connection to life beyond ourselves, then balance is found in transforming rajas into sattva.
If we are not engaging our values and have a higher purpose in what we are doing then the task and the outcomes can only provide temporary satisfaction and fulfilment at best, while more often we can feel a sense of emptiness, stress and lack of fulfilment. When each day has meaning and purpose our intentions, state of mind and integrity in what we do become the art and fulfilment of our time and energy rather than just the outcomes. Transforming rajas doesn’t mean changing what we do as much as redefining a meaningful how and how we are doing it. An example is turning our intentions or ‘why’s’ into loving and compassionate ones. The ‘doing’ then becomes part of our own development and inner practice rather than being just a means to an ulterior end. We transform rajas by focusing how we are applying our convictions and values into our actions and adding value to others ahead of attachment to outcomes.
In the sattvic state we are energised without being driven by time or self-centred attachments. People in this state are calm, clear, kind when under pressure, and compassionate in the face of provocation. Sattva is in play when we are of service, forgiving and moving through the bumps and bruises of relationships and life situations without being overly troubled or suffering. By stepping back from investment in outcomes and self-centred gains and focus on the quality and depth of purpose in why we are doing things. Sometimes obtaining this also requires looking at life balance.
Thus, the Gita provides a formula for transforming lower energies towards an active conscious life where forgiveness, forbearance, compassion and love come into play. In nature, the guna’s go through interconnected cycles according to natural laws without intervention of mind. As human beings we can utilise our will and higher mind to draw upon rajas to transform tamas, then transform rajas into sattva and balance. We can consciously utilise these dynamics for our own transformation. In his guide book, Easwaran clarifies Sattva is not the unified state of yogi’s but it is the foundation to move beyond guna’s into universal and unified consciousness.
The Wrap …
Each time we exercise decisiveness and will power to mobilise our inertia and refine our drives, we gain progressively ability to transform our own tamasic energy and consciousness independent of the energies and impacts around us.
Generally, we have rajasic minds – thinking a lot, working often stressed and performance oriented without conscious control of what the conditioned mind is really doing. We are planning, competing, achieving or coping and often frustrated.
In sattva we can calm the mind and gain control. The conscious inner journey shows us we don’t need to act on negative thoughts and states, nor even be affected by them. When we observe (without judgement or reaction) our resentments, jealousy, doubt and fears and not act on them, we can start to transform them into sattvic energy. Not acting on conditioned and negative thinking is definitely part of maturity.
The unconscious mind is chaos and tamasic – full of past clutter and often triggered into irrelevant or destructive tendencies. For most people, it is largely a dark unknown which is tamas. This energy keeps us swinging in cycles between the gunas and makes us fickle in loyalties and commitments. It is inner conviction, standing firm in our highest resolutions and values that steadies the mind and strengthens our ability to stand firm aside from negative inner states or difficult outer circumstances.
Conviction is a critical attribute to begin to consciously transform our energies regularly. Gradually unifying our desires and mind into a focused and harmonised energy, we can make our lives a conscious reflection of our highest truths and eventually a living work of art. Transforming tamas and rajas sets the stage for such a great accomplishment, of which sattvic mind and life is the launching pad.
Essence of the Bhagavad Gita – A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountain Center for Meditation, Canada, 2011)
Also there are many good translations of the Bhagavad Gita itself. An excellent one for serious readers is:
God talks to Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita – Royal Science of God-Realization by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realization Fellowship, Second Edition, 1999).