Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Bhagavad Gita: Beyond the Three Gunas

"There are men who have no vision, and yet they speak many words. They follow the letter of the Vedas, and they say: 'There is nothing but this.'

Their soul is wrapped with selfish desires, and their heaven is a selfish desire. They have prayers for pleasure and power, the reward of which is earthly rebirth.

Those who love pleasure and power hear and follow their words: they have not the determination ever to be one with the One.

The three Gunas of Nature are the world of the Vedas. Arise beyond the three Gunas, Arjuna! Beyond gains and possessions, possess thine own soul."

-- Bhagavad Gita, II:42-45 --
In Samkhya philosophy, there are three major guṇas that serve as the fundamental operating principles or 'tendencies' of Prakṛiti (or, universal nature) which are called: sattva, rajas, and tamas. The three primary gunas are generally accepted to be associated with creation (rajas), preservation (sattva), and destruction (tamas). The entire creation and its process of evolution is carried out by these three major gunas, as explained below.
[Source: Wikipedia.]
To "be without the three gunas" is what the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called "the technique of instantaneous realization." It is, he said, "a practical way of converging the many-branched mind into the one-pointedness of the resolute intellect," and "an effective technique for bringing the mind to a state where all differences dissolve and leave the individual in the state of fulfillment."

In urging him to "arise beyond the three gunas," Krishna is (according to the Maharishi) telling Arjuna "that all influences of the outside world, and their consequences as well, will cling to him and affect him so long as he is out of himself, so long as he allows himself to remain in the sphere of relativity and under its influence, (and) that once out of that sphere, he will find fulfillment in his own Self." In this way, he will transcend his karma, and fulfill his destiny.

[Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "The Bhagavad-Gita : A New Translation and Commentary," p. 90.]

Sri Ramakrishna
In "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna," the sayings and teachings of the 19th century Indian saint, Ramakrishna observes that "(u)nder the spell of God's maya, man forgets his true nature. He forgets that he is heir to the infinite glories of of his Father."

"The mind," he points out, "is made up of  three gunas. And all three are robbers, for they rob man of all his treasures and make him forget his own nature. The three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Of these, sattva alone points the way to God, but even sattva cannot take a man to God."

To illustrate this point, Sri Ramakrishna tells the following story:
"Once a rich man was passing through a forest, when three robbers surrounded him and robbed him of everything he had. Then one of the robbers said: 'What's the good of keeping this man alive? Kill him.' He was about to strike their victim with his sword, when the second robber intervened and said: 'There's no use in killing him. Let us bind him fast and leave him here. Then he won't be able to tell the police.' Accordingly, the robbers tied him with a rope and went away."

"After a while the third robber returned to the rich man and said: 'Ah! You're badly hurt, aren't you? Come, I'm going to release you.' The robber set the man free and led him to the edge of the forest. When they came near the highway, the robber said, 'Follow this road and you will reach home easily.' 'But you must come with me too,' said the rich man. 'You have done so much for me. All my people will be happy to see you.' 'No,' said the robber, 'it is not possible for me to go there. The police will arrest me.' So saying, he left the rich man after pointing the way."

"Now," explains Ramakrishna, "the first robber, who said: What's the good of keeping the man alive? Kill him,' is tamas. It destroys. The second robber is rajas, which binds a man to the world and entangles him in a variety of activities. Rajas makes him forget God. Sattva alone shows the way to God. It produces virtues like compassion, righteousness and devotion. Again, sattva is like the last step of the stairs. Next to it the roof. The Supreme Brahman is man's own abode. One cannot attain the Knowledge of Brahman unless one transcends the three gunas."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Prakriti, "the elemental, undifferentiated stuff of mind and matter" of which the cosmos is made, is eternally inseparable from Brahman (or God, the Ultimate, the Ground of Being), and it is composed of the three gunas, or tendencies.

"In the process of evolution," Swami Prahavananda (a monk of the Ramakrishna Order) explains, "sattwa is the essence of the form which has to be realized, tamas is the inherent obstacle to its realization, and rajas is the power by which that obstacle is removed and the essential form made manifest."

"These gunas," Prabhavananda elaborates, "pass through phases of equilibrium and phases of imbalance; the nature of their relationship to each other is such that it is subject to perpetual change. As long as the gunas maintain their equilibrium, Prakriti remains undifferentiated and the universe only exists in its potential state. As soon as the balance is disturbed, a re-creation of the universe begins. The gunas enter into an enormous variety of combinations - all of them irregular, with one or the other guna predominating over the rest. Hence we have the variety of physical and psychic phenomena which make up our apparent world. Such a world continues to multiply and vary its forms until the gunas find a temporary equilibrium once more, and a new phase of undifferentiated potentiality begins."
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali," pp. 36-37.]

Thus, to be self-realized and to abide in the Godhead, one must "arise beyond the three gunas" as Krishna advises Arjuna in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, as it is only in facing and transcending the gunas that one reaches moksha, liberation or enlightenment, and finds abiding peace.

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