We are conscious beings. But the current of consciousness that flows through our mind-bodies is distorted by our ego.
If this distortion results in activity, passion, desire, movement, greed, and ambition then these tendencies are known as Rajas.
If on the other hand it leads to inertia, dullness, inactivity, negativity, heaviness, darkness, obstruction, and ignorance then the tendency is known as Tamas.
Between the tendency of Rajas and Tamas there is another tendency that is related to contentment, gratitude, balance, light, illumination, truth, and spiritual knowledge. This tendency is known as Sattva.
Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva are known as “Gunas”. But Gunas are not just tendencies that drive conscious beings. The entire world is woven together with the strand of these three threads. However it is only conscious beings who can try and alter the composition of their gunas in a more favorable direction.
So we have a choice. We can live our lives as captives of our inherent tendencies or we can change these. The question then arises: How can we change the three gunas and what does the movement look like?
The purpose of Yoga is to help us move away from our inherent tendencies by detaching our consciousness away from the ego. But yoga cannot magically lift us out of the ego overnight. Usually the process takes us out of Rajas and Tamas and moves us towards Sattva. So while we are still rooted in our ego, our consciousness is expressed in more balanced way. We feel more inclined towards spiritual truth and selfless activity. As we make progress in Sattva then we eventually reach a state where our consciousness is freed from all distortions of the ego. We now transcend Sattva, the final frontier, and become completely absorbed and established in the Self.
The great Yogi Sanyal Mahasaya said, “In Rajasic and Tamasic nature there is restlessness and distraction, but in Sattvic state there is concentration. Through concentration, the mind is peaceful and there is the perception of divinity in that state.”
How does the person who has gone beyond all the three states look like? This question came to Arjuna and he posed it to Krishna. The exchange is recorded in the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna’s reply (14.24-26) is as follows (Inspired by the translation by Stephen Mitchell, Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation):
He who is equally self-contained-
in pain or pleasure,
in happiness or sorrow,
content with whatever happens.
Who sees dirt, rocks, and gold as equal,
unperturbed amid praise or blame of himself,
indifferent to honor and to disgrace.
Serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to ego’s action.
That being has gone beyond the three gunas.
Who faithfully serves God
with the yoga of devotion,
going beyond the three gunas,
is ready to attain the Ultimate Freedom.