In the next verses we learn how we get stuck in ignorance (non-enlightenment) based on the effect each guna has on us. In the last post we found that it is the gunas that bind us to our bodies and the physical-material world. In these next verses, we will look more closely at the gunas to better understand the states we get into — states of mind, emotional states, states of being in general — and the role the gunas play in these states, and how they bind us to continuing cycles of death and rebirth.
Among these, sattva is pleasant, pure and illuminating. It binds by attachment to happiness and knowledge.
“Among these” refers to the three gunas (modes of action) of Nature.
The guna called sattva is easy-going and pleasant, and satisfies our desire to feel good. It is illuminating, meaning that it is enlightening, intellectually or spiritually. Sattva is the guna closest to the characteristics of our True Selves.
In several places throughout the Gita, I have commented on seekers who require that their spirituality make them feel good. Now we know why this is inappropriate — their attachment to this guna keeps them in bondage, and there’s nothing pleasant about bondage (except for its familiarity).
There is nothing wrong with feeling good. Feeling good is not the enemy. The enemy is the attachment to feeling good.
The nature of bondage is that it keeps you in the Relative Realm where everything, including feeling good, is temporary. A siddha guru will lead you to the Real, where Goodness is Absolute and unending, and will bring you to liberation from bondage.
Under the influence of sattva, the illusion of happiness and the safety of living from the ‘mind’, fool the seeker into believing that the mind is the key to enlightenment. But enlightenment happens when the mind has switched off!
Know that rajas is passion, which arises from desire and binds the embodied one through attachment to actions that bear fruit.
- Passion: Intensity. Think of it as very compelling.
- Desire: The Sanskrit word for ‘desire’ also means ‘thirst’. This suggests desires that feel more like needs (but aren’t).
Under the influence of rajas, actions that bear fruit are passionately pursued in order to fulfill desires. This keeps one’s sense of doing (ego) in tact, thus stifling enlightenment, Divine Union and liberation.
Know that tamas is responsible for ignorance in all embodied beings. It binds them through lack of knowledge, illusion and lassitude.
The guna called tamas makes it impossible to grasp Truth because of the state of being identified with the body. This identification is normal. It is how all humans, with very few exceptions, go through their entire lives and remain in bondage lifetime after lifetime. When there is no interest or willingness to rise above this, one is under the control of tamas.
Tamas is usually translated as ‘ignorance’ or ‘darkness’ because it causes mental delusion, illusion and error due to apathy and laziness, especially where Knowledge is concerned — one doesn’t see well in the dark. This state of ignorance stifles Divine Union and nips liberation in the bud.
Sattva binds one to happiness, rajas binds one to fruit-bearing action, and tamas binds one to ignorance through lack of knowledge.
In all three cases, the word ‘binds’ also means ‘captured, ensnared, and overpowered’. As an unconscious response to being completely controlled by the gunas, one to tries to control everything else, including other people. This demonstrates how and why our entire world seems be out of control and under the control of something else: it is. What it is, is the gunas.
Sattva binds one to happiness. Happiness is a state, a state we all like. We either want it or, if we already have it, we want to keep it. In other words, happiness ensnares us. The trap is Attachment.
The Sanskrit word for happiness actually means ‘a well-oiled axel wheel’. In other words, we get snared by the comfort of everything going smoothly. This word for ‘happy’ also means: ‘pleasant, comfortable, prosperous and virtuous’. All these things we see as being good things, can be a trap … if we let them. Remember that the key to getting out from under this, is to not be attached to them, or to the states they produce within us.
It is not happiness that binds, but our attachment to having or keeping it.
Rajas binds us to fruit-bearing action, actions we do in order to get something we want. When the action is successful, we keep doing it. We’re captivated by doing things and getting the results we want. So we remain in bondage and lose our opportunity for freedom, liberation.
Tamas binds one to ignorance, the absence of correct Knowledge and enlightenment. This suggests an attachment to the status quo and the reluctance to do the work of changing this situation. But we get complacent and remain captured, ensnared and overpowered by our own lack of enthusiasm for the Knowledge that would set us free.
The implication is that we have the power to obtain the Highest Knowledge mentioned in verses 1 and 2, and that there is a way out of this trap. We can either go for the gold, or remain trapped in an illusory world of phenomena and wait it out while everyone else does all the work. Then we can cash in at the end — that point at which enough of us have moved forward and achieved liberation that everyone else is also freed.
The question is, are you the former or the latter? Are you satisfied to just cruise along, do nothing about advancing yourself and letting everyone else do all the dirty work? Or are you interested enough in getting to the bottom of this God business to get off your duff, do the work, and be a part of the trend toward self-improvement and conscious evolution? If this is you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Namaste (I bow to the divine one that you really are),
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