Written by Dhanesvara Das
Consciousness is at the root of everything that we do. It is consciousness that determines whether we will establish an economy that exploits people or serves them. It is consciousness that determines whether to exploit commodity markets for profit at the cost of widespread suffering. It is consciousness that determines whether we solve our differences with violence or mutual respect and discussion. Every one of our actions is determined by our consciousness, therefore to understand consciousness and how it is affected is imperative to creating a good and proper civilization, a New Earth Nation.
Reincarnating lifetime after lifetime, for thousands and millions of incarnations has made each of us who we are. The impressions of each life, or samskaras, are carried with us from one life to the next, and thus we show our unique personalities from the beginning of infancy. Our personalities are formed by the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve been with, and the activities we’ve engaged in. We are, in one sense, the sum total of our experiences, and this is expressed as our consciousness.
As we all know our experiences make different impressions on us—some uplifting us and fostering our growth—while others bring darkness, despair and even destruction. The variety of these effects have been classified by the ancients according to their influence, under the heading of gunas, and are explained in spiritual texts of the Vedas. Guna is a Sanskrit word that I translate as “consciousness determinants” as the gunas influence our consciousness. The word itself however is translated in many ways. One translation is ‘ropes’, a word chosen for the nature of these influences. Just as a person tied with ropes is controlled by them, the gunas are unseen and unfelt influences that exert strong influences on consciousness, almost forcing us to act in predictable ways, ways that we have become accustomed to. Other translations are ‘quality’, ‘attribute’, or ‘property’ of all created things.
The gunas are a subtle action of nature that operate not on the physical aspects of nature, but on consciousness. Like electromagnetic energies, they are ever-present and imperceptible, constantly exerting their influences on our choices, behaviours, understanding and ways of thinking. Although we feel ourselves as free persons, we will respond to the stimuli of the gunas in a predictable way, as does any person who is conditioned or addicted to a particular behavior. Choice and free will are there—if we will act with volition, instead of automatically.
By classifying the influences on consciousness into three basic categories, the gunas give us a very novel and interesting way of understanding the unlimited varieties of human consciousness. Just as the three primary colors combine to create an unlimited variety of color, the three gunas combine in different ways to create an unlimited variety of influences. Thus, an unlimited number of experiences over an immense number of lives and an almost unlimited number of influences of gunas combine to create the unlimited number of personalities we find amongst human beings.
To illustrate the influences, we must look at the gunas in more detail. The three basic categories of the gunas are rajas, tamas, and sattva, which can be understood by learning of their influences. Each person will display the qualities proportionate to the degree that they have associated with them previously. We will all display these qualities to different degrees in different situations or circumstances.
Basically, rajas brings the influence of passion and action, and is indicated by intense desires, great endeavor, audacity, dissatisfaction even in gain, false pride, desiring material progress, the preoccupation with activity, the inability to disentangle the senses from their objects, an unsteady perplexity of the mind, considering oneself different and better than others, sense gratification, a rash eagerness to fight, a fondness for hearing oneself praised, the tendency to ridicule others, advertising one’s own prowess and justifying one’s actions by one’s strength.
Tamas brings the influence darkness, degradation, or destruction, and is indicated by intolerant anger, stinginess, speaking on the basis of one’s false pride and mental speculation, violent hatred, living as a parasite, hypocrisy, chronic lethargy, quarrel, lamentation, delusion, unhappiness, depression, false expectations, fear, laziness, sleeping too much, the failure to attain, or disappearance of, an awareness of one’s higher (spiritual) self, and the inability to concentrate one’s attention.
And sattva brings the influence of goodness and the maintenance of all things. It is uplifting by its nature. Sattva is indicated by truthfulness, mercy, serenity, peacefulness, tolerance, discrimination, charity, simplicity, generosity, humility, sticking to one’s duties, learning from the past and concern for the future, satisfaction in any condition, freedom from compulsive sense gratification, faith in the spiritual master, being embarrassed at improper action, mind and sense control, satisfaction within oneself and detachment of the mind and senses from matter.
The various influences of the gunas are found in all human actions such as work, actions, happiness, knowledge, understanding, motivation and determination, as well as in every aspect of the material creation such as: the times of day, foods, drinks, places, and faith.
An in-depth explanation of how the gunas influence each of these is beyond the scope of this article, but we can understand how they apply to our lives with a few examples.
The Different Qualities of Work
The essence of rajas is passion, and is characterized by activity, especially activity that increases one’s wealth and possessions. Thus a worker influenced by rajas wants to own and enjoy the results of their activities. S/he is motivated by competition, wants to demonstrate their superiority over others, and achieve recognition. This person is envious, greedy, and motivated by gain and loss, happiness and distress.
The influence of tamas brings different qualities to a person’s work. Where the influence of tamas is felt there we will find laziness, cheating, and procrastination. These people are obstinate, materialistic, and insulting to others.
Then we have the influence of sattva that brings yet different qualities to work. Sattva will inspire honesty, enthusiasm, diligence, cooperation, attention to detail, steadfastness regardless of difficulty or failure (think of Edison’s overcoming 10,000 failures in his effort to create the electric light bulb), freedom from egoistic behavior or demands (not a prima donna), and freedom from attachments.
Parents, teachers, managers, leaders, and most people (except those overly influenced by tamas) can recognize that the qualities brought by the influence of sattva are desirable, while those of tamas are unwanted. Too much rajas and you get workers who are overly-competitive, envious, self-centered, and not team players. Sattva added to rajas gives a worker who is active, focused on the goal, does their work diligently, is on time and responsible. While the combined influences of rajas and tamas results in a person who is habitually late, procrastinating, does shoddy work, makes excuses, creates friction in the workplace, etc.
It is important to understand that these influences appear across a spectrum and not in discrete aspects (analog, not digital in nature). They blend together and influence all aspects of thinking and behavior. They are also a zero-sum game (the sum always equals 100%) and as one influence increases the others will decrease.
The Varieties of Happiness
Happiness under the influence of rajas is better described as pleasure because it is sought from the contact of the senses with their objects. Under the influence of rajas people want more, and when they get more they experience not happiness, but a type of happiness—that of rajas. Getting ‘more’ means getting a new anything—car, job, house, boy or girl friend, money. . . whatever. The happiness of rajas is the driving force of consumerism, and is behind the desire by many people to “get it all.”
But the happiness of rajas is temporary and fleeting. A new and passionate romance brings the happiness of rajas—wonderful in the beginning, but then after 1-2 years the thrill is gone. What happened? Are we no longer ‘in love’? The truth is that that experience was not actual love, but the happiness of rajas. That influence creates, but does not sustain. The relationship created through the influence of rajas can only be sustained by sattva, which is a different experience of love. The happiness of rajas is wonderful in the beginning—but later fades. It becomes stale, distasteful, and even repulsive. Our ‘favorite’ song has us dancing and singing, and we play it over and over because it gives us a sense of happiness. But after some time we may come to the point where if we hear it again we may scream. The thing that we got last week or last month that so excited us no longer holds our interest. The happiness of rajas, so nice in the beginning, fades away. Therefore, influenced by rajas we always seek something new.
And for some people happiness is found in a bottle, or a needle, or by sleeping half the day, by acts of violence, theft or other kinds of degraded and licentious behavior, and “being bad”. This is the happiness of tamas. Doing as little as possible, sleeping 12 or more hours per day, being ‘laid-back’ and other forms of laziness, also bring a type of happiness for the person under the influence of tamas. The happiness of tamas is found in illusion, and in distorted consciousness, often causing people to engage in acts that they lament about later. Like the happiness of rajas, the happiness of tamas is fleeting—gone the next day, but often leaving one in pain, regret and depleted health.
Happiness in the sattva is the opposite of that of rajas. The happiness of sattva is experienced at the end of the activity, not in the beginning. Indeed, in the beginning the effort may be difficult, painful or distasteful, but gradually it becomes more and more satisfying. Hatha yoga offers a good example of this. Initially, stretching muscles that have been inactive is painful, but those who keep with it later find that the same stretch is very satisfying. Hatha yoga brings with it a sense of inner happiness and well-being. This is the happiness of sattva, and it is the effect of sattva that makes this practice an immensely popular activity all around the world. Sattvic activities also awaken one to a higher understanding of the self beyond the body. The happiness of sattva is also achieved by doing one’s duty, fulfilling one’s obligations, striving for morality, doing what is right, and in the pursuit of spiritual awakening. The happiness of sattva is experienced within, not through the senses or distorted consciousness. And in contrast to the others, the happiness of sattva is sustained; it does not disappear the next day or the next week. It is the only actual happiness of the material world.
Our modern society is characterized predominantly by rajas and tamas, and it is the influences and results of these two gunas that generate most of the problems of our modern world. If we understand and accept this explanation of human nature, the solution to society’s many problems are not difficult to find. The wholesale solution to a myriad of problems is achieved when we stop creating them—by increasing sattva and decreasing tamas.
We Become Conditioned by the Gunas
Human beings are habitual creatures. We settle into patterns of life and year after year we consume the same foods and beverages, do almost the same activities, associate with the same people, keep the same hours, and so on. Because every aspect of our life is connected with the gunas, by repeating the same activities, behaviors, etc., we continually associate with the same gunas again and again, and their influences are reinforced—with important consequences—we become conditioned by them.
The very idea of conditioning infers a predictable response. Our behavior becomes habitual, automatic or reactionary—even though we each assume that we act according to our own free will. According to our association with the gunas over the course of this life we carry this conditioning with us, and accrue it over the course of many lives.
Becoming conditioned means that we become habituated to a given pattern of thinking, understanding and behavior. As a result a particular stimulus will elicit a predictable response. According to how we associate with the material world and all of its phenomena, we will become so conditioned. Every aspect of this material world has its own quality: a unique mixture of the qualities of rajas, tamas and sattva. Just as the three primary colors of a television screen combine to generate a possible 72,000 colors, so also the three qualities of matter combine to generate innumerable influences. All of the many aspects of human activity are influenced in different degrees by the modes of nature.
Drug addiction provides a good example of conditioned behavior. Drug addicts are powerless as a result of their addiction. When such a person actually wants to kick their habit, they are enrolled in a behavior modification program in which they are expected to avoid the places and people associated with the addiction. They are encouraged to find new friends and engage in new activities. In other words they must give up contact with the qualities of nature that they are accustomed to and replace them with positive alternatives. This is not easy or automatic. The very nature of the conditioned state makes such change extremely difficult. The most common addictions are food (over-eating) and cigarette smoking. Anyone who has ever been on a diet or tried to quit smoking knows that such behavioral changes can be very difficult and that they take time to become the normal pattern of behavior. If you want to see behavioral modification in action all you have to do is attend any 12-Step meeting. It may not be clearly understood, but what these people are attempting to do is change their conditioning to become “re-conditioned,” so to speak.
Let’s take another example. People generally engage in certain types of activity at certain times of the day. The gunas have specific influences at particular times of the day. The quality of ignorance, tamas, has a major influence during the night hours, waxing and waning from about 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. The influence of sattva predominates from about around 4am until noon, and rajas from approximately noon to 8 p.m. Those who have cultivated the quality of goodness will retire from activity and will be summoned by sleep during the influence of tamas. They often like to go to bed early and get up early as well. But those who have become conditioned by tamas are just coming to life around 9 p.m. They think of themselves as “night persons” and are often active all night until sattva begins to make its influence felt around 4 a.m. When the mode of goodness begins to show its influence, these night-owls will want to retire from activity and go to sleep, while in the early morning those who have cultivated goodness are waking-up to begin their day. Sattva and tamas are actually polar opposites—what is attractive to the sattvic person is disliked by the tamasic person, and vice-versa. As these groups of people continue to behave in their respective ways, their conditioning and expected responses become more consistent and predictable. But all the while, unconscious of these influences, people generally think that they are acting on their own volition.
What about the people in rajas? Being driven by activity they often stay up late and get up early. With too much to do they are often sleep-deprived, and they take stimulants to keep going. Still, the main influence of rajas is during middle of the day when people are moved to action and work. Each of the gunas has its predominance and then wanes as another predominates.
According to how we have become conditioned by the gunas we will similarly be moved to act, and the gunas thus function both as cause and effect—the effect of the influence being dependent on both the combination of the gunas, and our particular conditioning to them.
Applying Knowledge of the Consciousness Determinants
We are experiencing problems today that didn’t exist 50 or 60 years ago. Where do they come from? For example, today we are experiencing the devastating effects of vulture and predatory capitalism. These are new expressions of destructive influences that didn’t exist half a century back. Why do we see them now? We also find increasing exploitation of people, even downright slavery that was not so prevalent in the past. Why is this not only happening, but even protected by government today, a stark contrast of an earlier era when government served and protected the citizens?
All of the degrading social trends point directly to the decreasing influence of sattva and an increasing influence of tamas. Over the past five decades, society has shifted from a predominantly sattva–rajas orientation to rajas–tamas. The divorce rate, crime, and increasing poverty, etc. are not the problem per se, and are not going to be solved by better family counseling, better police and judges, or better economic laws. These are the symptoms of the problem. The actual problem is increased tamasic activities, both individually and collectively. We cannot engage in activities of tamas and expect the results of sattva. Human life is not compartmentalized where we can behave one way in one area of life and not have it affect all areas of our lives. Tamasic sexual behavior for example, contributes to tamasic consciousness, which is then felt in other aspects of life, such as cheating economics, uncleanliness, and/or laziness. Unless the matter of tamasic activities is addressed and changed, the influence of tamas will have its result. In other words, without a just and moral citizenry, there cannot be a just and moral society.
This knowledge of the gunas can be applied to every field of human endeavor: economics, politics, sociology, law, the arts, etc. There is sattvic economics, rajarsic economics, and tamasic economics. There is sattvic, rajarsic and tamasic politics, sattvic music, rajarsic and tamasic music, etc., and each will have its corresponding effect on our consciousness. Understanding this—how the consciousness determinants affect human beings and society—gives us the tools that we need to raise consciousness, and raise society.
A New Earth Nation Requires a New Consciousness
Which bring us back to a New Earth Nation and the idea of having an enlightened and progressive society. The New Earth Nation is gathering together enlightened individuals from all over the world, individuals who demonstrate a preponderance of sattva—recognized by their efforts to create a better world not just for themselves, but for everyone. However, a few enlightened leaders do not constitute an enlightened nation. Since everything rests on consciousness, if a New Earth is not simply to be born, but to survive and flourish, it can only be accomplished on the basis of widespread higher consciousness. Therefore there must be an effort to raise up the consciousness of all the would-be participants, which means, in effect, all the people of the world.
The science of consciousness is known and has been given to us by the ancients. It does not need to be discovered or invented—it simply needs to be recognized and applied. We will continue our explanation of the consciousness determinants in a series of articles, next looking at how they influence economic behavior—and in the process learn what will be required for zero-point economics (a gift economy) to work.
This article was adapted from Dhanesvara Das’s upcoming book Spiritual Psychology—Understanding Human Nature
About the Author
Dhanesvara Das is a spiritual teacher, social healer, visionary, and futurist. Initiated into a succession of spiritual masters reaching back in antiquity, and having studied the spiritual sciences for more than 40 years, he brings the wisdom of the ancients to bear on the problems of modern society.
American-born, Dhanesvara has traveled and taught for more than 10 years throughout Europe, India, America and Russia. He has been involved in alternative and eco-spiritual community developments and their sound spiritual-sociological foundation for more than 30 years, and is currently developing the Varnashrama Cultural Academy near Madrid in Spain.
He teaches the spiritual science and speaks often on radio shows, conferences, seminars, and online. He is the author of “Spiritual Economics from the Bhagavad-gita,” “Change the Karma!” and numerous articles on spiritual wisdom.
Originally posted @ New Earth Oracle