By Satish Kumar
The author explains the meaning of the three gunas and places them in the context of our daily life
• I love eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
• I am very peaceful by nature and it takes a lot to disturb my calm.
• I love to take care of children, elderly people, wounded animals.
• I am extremely sensitive to nature and harm done to nature hurts me.
• Most of my thoughts are positive and compassionate whether it is about myself or others.
• I am ambitious and think big. I want to own a big car, big house and a big business.
• I seek stimulation constantly in people, places, books.
• I love eating spicy, flavored, rich foods.
• I am extremely goal-driven and most of my thoughts consist of meeting objectives, making achievements.
• I admire celebrities and people with tremendous power.
• I am extremely lazy as a person and I work only if I have to.
• Most of my thoughts are negative whether it is about the self or others.
• I am unmoved by the distress of others.
• My idea of a good time is to get drunk and/or eat a lot.
• I am not interested in self-improvement. It’s too difficult to change myself.
The sattvic way of life is available to everyone. It is authentic, ordinary; it is everyday and does not require a great deal of money and resources. It is simple, sincere, unassuming and sublime. The sattvic life derives its sustenance from the sun, moon and stars, from oceans, mountain peaks and forests. Sattvic quality is related to culture, community and innate human creativity. It is spiritual and subtle; it is easy and self-organizing. It does not make heavy demands on natural resources. It has only a small footprint on the earth. It is sustaining and sustainable. It is fulfilling and healing.
People with a sattvic bent of mind get on with the business of life in small steps, trusting the process of the universe and believing that things will work out. People living a sattvic way of life may not consider themselves or claim to be sattvic. Cooking fresh food at home, taking care of children and guests, growing vegetables and fruits in their gardens, maintaining small farms, workshops, crafts, mending and repairing – all fall within the sattvic way of life.
To quote from an ancient Indian text, Shilpa Shastra, “A sattvic person is a good human being, generous in spirit, not given to anger, holy, learned, self-controlled, devout, charitable and taking delight in the care of the self and the care of the earth.”
This idea of sattva is comparable to the Wabi-Sabi of Japan, the Zen of Buddhism, the Tao of China, the Sufi way of Islam and the ways of the Shakers and the Amish. Sattva seeks synthesis, integrity and diversity. It is about being rather than having, it values stillness and silence, it celebrates less and minimal, it is appreciative and affirmative.
The sattvic person embodies firmness, courage, self-command, good sense, magnanimity and wisdom. The sattvic mind leads to inner and outer freedom, freedom for self as well as for others.
There is a Sanskrit verse which Mahatma Gandhi recited every day during morning and evening prayers which encapsulated the sattvic spirit:
“I do not desire kingdom, heaven, paradise or even nirvana. I only desire the end of suffering of all beings upon this earth.”
… A rajasic person wanders from temple to temple, from book to book, from one spiritual teaching to another, resorts to drugs, psychotherapy or some other method, searching, seeking and longing for nirvana or enlightenment for him or herself. Yet such self- seeking is no help in attaining nirvana. Sattva is a state of effortless being and rajas, a state of active seeking. Sattva find miracles in the ordinary, magic in every moment; everyday is a fine day, every breath is a breath of the universe, every river a sacred river and every mountain a holy mountain. Tamas shows up a destructive mind. It seeks pleasure by inflicting suffering on others. It attacks to defend itself. It destroys the interest of others to serve self-interest.
The rajasic way of life is the way of the elite. It is slick and analytical. It impresses and makes an impact; it celebrates speed, the grand and the extravagant. It likes big projects, big dams, big buildings, big power stations, big bridges, big stadiums and big shows. It concentrates on achievement, on outcome and on success. It admires celebrities, the prestigious and the powerful. It likes display, decorations and extravaganzas. Rajas does not mind waste; indeed it often pays lip service to fairness and justice but then moves on to serve self-interest. It loves technological solutions and elaborate plans to conquer space. It claims to seek freedom but believes that it can be imposed or achieved through domination and control. It believes that the rajasic path is superior and that it will be possible for everyone to be on it. The rajasic way of life is dependent on excessive use of natural resources and values nature only in terms of her usefulness to humans. It believes in scientific progress, technological development and economic growth. Rajas relishes power, money and the military. It hungers for comfort and convenience.
The tamasic tendency relates to the forces of darkness. It is dictatorial, cunning, fearful and secretive. It produces depression, dullness, apathy and inertia. It is associated with casinos, the underworlds, the black market, brothels, crime, drugs, prison and torture. The tamasic way leads to factory farming, to huge slaughterhouses, to genetic engineering and to large-scale mining. Sometimes, what starts off as sattva grows into rajas and degenerates into tamas. For example, fishing on a small scale as a source of sattvic livelihood to feed a community can grow into a rajasic business where it still maintains a certain social responsibility and some environmental concern, but when it grows into a fleet of factory ships, spreading miles of nets, depleting fish stocks, exporting fish around the world and destroying the small-boat fishing culture along with its dependant communities, it is tamasic.
When the economy provides livelihood to individuals and families it is a sattvic economy. When the economy grows large but still serves humanity and the earth then it is rajasic economy. But when humans and the earth are used to serve the economy; then it turns into a tamasic economy. Most multinational corporations operate in a tamasic way, in what Joel Bakan calls the ‘pathological pursuit of profit and power’.
Political power is always rajasic, but it can turn easily from rajas to tamas. The rulers managing, maintaining and organizing the affairs of their own countries are rajasic, but when they colonise, build empires, wage wars of conquest and destroy cultures, then rajasic politics becomes tamasic; the queen in her kingdom, or the president of a republic, ruling with consent of their people is rajasic but when the kingdom becomes an empire or a democracy turns into a dictatorship, then it is tamasic.
Likewise when soldiers defend the weak or their own country against invasions while acting with appropriate force then they are within the rajasic realm. But when armies bomb other countries, indiscriminately killing civilians under the disguise of ‘collateral damage’, using disproportionate force backed by nuclear weapons, then that army has become a tamasic force. Abuse and torture are intrinsically part of tamasic action.
Thus the sattvic tendency is always towards minimum impact. The sattvic approach to economics and politics is a quest for simple, longlasting benefits and non-violent means.
Excerpted from The Three Qualities of Life, by Satish Kumar Published by The Viveka Foundation, India@vivekafoundation.org
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