Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas





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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas
From The Mahabharata,
Aswamedha Parva, Sections XXXVI to XXXIX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

[Note:Sattwa = Goodness, Rajas = Passion, Tamas = Darkness]

Brahma (the Grandsire Prajapati) said:
Darkness, Passion and Goodness–these are called the three qualities.

Darkness should be known to have the night (or obscurity) for its essence. It is otherwise called Delusion. It has unrighteousness (or sin) also for its indication, and it is always present in all sinful acts. This is the nature of Darkness and it appears also as confined with others.

Passion is said to have activity for its essence. It is the cause of successive acts. When it prevails, its indication, among all beings, is production.

Splendour, lightness and faith – these are the form, that is light, of Goodness among all creatures, as regarded by all good men.

The true nature of their characteristics will now be declared by me with reasons. These shall be stated in aggregation and separation.

Tamas (Darkness)

Complete delusion, ignorance, illiberality, indecision in respect of action, sleep, haughtiness, fear, cupidity, grief, censure of good acts, loss of memory, unripeness of judgment, absence of faith, violation of all rules of conduct, want of discrimination, blindness, vileness of behaviour, boastful assertions of performance when there has been no performance, presumption of knowledge in ignorance, unfriendliness (or hostility), evilness of disposition, absence of faith, stupid reasoning, crookedness, incapacity for association, sinful action, senselessness, stolidity, lassitude, absence of self-control, degradation, - all these qualities are known as belonging to Darkness (Tamas).

Whatever other states of mind connected with delusion exist in the world, all appertain to Darkness. Frequent ill-speaking of other people, censuring the deities and the Brahmanas (priests), illiberality, vanity, delusion, wrath, unforgiveness, hostility towards all creatures, are regarded as the characteristics of Darkness. Whatever undertakings exist that are unmeritorious (in consequence of their being vain or useless), what gifts there are that are unmeritorious (in consequence of the unworthiness of the donee, the unseasonableness of the time, the impropriety of the object, etc.), vain eating, - these also appertain to Darknesss (Tamas).

Indulgence in calumny, unforgiveness, animosity, vanity, and absence of faith are also said to be characteristics of Darkness. Whatever men there are in this world who are characterised by these and other faults of a similar kind, and who break through the restraints provided by the scriptures, are all regarded as belonging to the quality of Darkness.

I shall now declare the wombs where these men, who are always of sinful deeds, have to take their birth. Ordained to go to hell, they sink in the order of being. Indeed, they sink into the hell of ( birth in) brute creation. They become immobile entities, or animals, or beasts of burden; or carnivorous creatures, or snakes or worms, insects and birds; or creatures of the oviparous order, or quadrupeds of diverse species; or lunatics, or deaf or dumb human beings, or men that are afflicted by dreadful maladies and regarded as unclean. These men of evil conduct, always exhibiting the indications of their acts, sink in Darkness. their course (of migration) is always downwards. Appertaining to the quality of Darkness, they sink in Darkness.

I shall, after this, declare what the means are of their improvement and ascent; indeed, by what means they succeed in attaining to the regions that exist for men of pious deeds.

Those men who take birth in orders other than humanity, by growing up in view of the religious ceremonies of Brahmanas (priests) devoted to the duties of their own order and desirous of doing good to all creatures, succeed, through the aid of such purificatory rites, in ascending upwards. Indeed struggling (to improve themselves), they at last attain to the same regions with these pious Brahmanas. Verily, they go to Heaven. Even this is the Vedic audition. Born in order other than humanity and growing old in their respective acts, even thus they become human beings that are, of course, ordained to return. Coming to sinful births and becoming Chandalas, or human beings that are deaf, or that lisp indistinctly, they attain to higher and higher castes, one after another in proper turn, transcending the Sudra order, and other (consequences of) qualities that appertain to Darkness and that abide in it in course of migrations in this world.

Attachment to objects of desire is regarded as great delusion. Here Rishis and Munis (Seers and sages), and deities become deluded, desirous of pleasure. Darkness, delusion, the great delusion, the great obscurity called wrath, and death, that blinding obscurity (these are the five great afflictions). As regards wrath, that is the great obscurity (and not aversion or hatred as is sometimes included in the list).

With respect then to its colour (nature), its characteristics, and its source, I have, ye learned Brahmanas, declared to you, accurately and in due order, everything about the quality of Darkness (Tamas). Who is there that truly understands it? Who is there that truly sees it? That, indeed, is the characteristic of Darkness, viz., the beholding of reality in what is not real. The qualities of Darkness have been declared to you in various ways. Duly has Darkness, in its higher and lower forms, been described to you. That man who always bears in mind the qualities mentioned here, will surely succeed in becoming freed from all characteristics that appertain to Darkness.

Rajas (Passion)

Brahma said: I shall now declare to you accurately
what the quality of Passion (Rajas) is.

Injuring others, beauty, toil, pleasure and pain, cold and heat, lordship (or power), war, peace, arguments, dissatisfaction, endurance, might, valour, pride, wrath, exertion, quarrel, jealousy, desire, malice, battle, the sense of meum or mineness, protection of others, slaughter, bonds, and affliction, buying and selling, lopping off, cutting, piercing and cutting off the coat of mail that another has worn, fierceness, cruelty, vilifying, pointing out the faults of others, thoughts entirely devoted to worldly affairs, anxiety, animosity, reviling of others, false speech, false or vain gifts, hesitancy or doubts, boastfulness of speech, praise and criticisms, laudation, prowess, defiance, attendance (as on the weak and the sick), obedience (to the commands of preceptors and parents), service or ministrations, harbouring of thirst or desire, cleverness or dexterity of conduct, policy heedlessness, contumely, possessions, and diverse decorations that prevail in the world among men, women, animals, inanimate things, houses, grief, incredulousness, vows and regulations, actions with expectation (of good result), diverse acts of public charity, the rites in respect of Swaha salutations, rites of Swadha and Vashat, officiating at the sacrifices of others, imparting of instruction, performance of sacrifices, study, making of gifts, acceptance of gifts, rites of expiation, auspicious acts, the wish to have this and that, affection generated by the merits of the object for which or whom it is felt, treachery, deception, disrespect and respect, theft, killing, desire of concealment, vexation, wakefulness, ostentation, haughtiness, attachment, devotion, contentment, exultation, gambling, indulgence in scandal, all relations arising out of women, attachment to dancing, instrumental music and songs – all these qualities have been said to belong to the quality of Passion (Rajas).

Those men on earth who meditate on the past, present and the future, who are devoted to the aggregate of the three viz., Religion, Wealth and Pleasure, who acting from impulse of desire, exult on attaining to affluence in respect of every desire, are said to be enveloped by Passion (Rajas). These men have downward courses. Repeatedly reborn in this world, they give themselves up to pleasure. They covet what belongs to the world as also all those fruits that belong to the world hereafter. They make gifts, accept gifts, offer oblations to the Pitris, and pour libations on the sacrificial fire.

The qualities of Passion have thus been declared to you in their variety. The course of conduct also to which it leads has been properly described to you. The man, who always understands these qualities, succeeds in always freeing himself from all of them which appertain to Passion (Rajas).

Sattwa (Goodness)

Brahma (the Grandsire Prajapati) said: Sattwa is beneficial to all creatures in the world, and unblamable, and constitutes the conduct of those that are good.

Joy, satisfaction, nobility, enlightenment, and happiness, absence of stinginess, absence of fear, contentment, disposition for faith, forgiveness, courage, abstention from injuring any creature, equability, truth, straightforwardness, absence of wrath, absence of malice, purity, cleverness, prowess- these appertain to the quality of Goodness (Sattwa).

He who is devoted to the duty of Yoga, regarding knowledge to be vain, conduct to be vain, service to be vain, and mode of life to be vain, attains to what is highest in the world hereafter. Freedom from the idea of meum (mineness), freedom from egoism, freedom from expectations, looking upon all with an equal eye, and freedom from desire, - these constitute the eternal religion of the good.

Confidence, modesty, forgiveness, renunciation, purity, absence of laziness, absence of cruelty, absence of delusion, compassion to all creatures, absence of the disposition to calumniate, exultation, satisfaction, rapture, humility, good behaviour, purity in all acts having for their object the attainment of tranquillity, righteous understanding, emancipation from attachments, indifference, Brahamcharya (celibacy), complete renunciation, freedom from the idea of meum, freedom from expectations, unbroken observance of righteousness, beliefs that gifts are vain, sacrifices are vain, study is vain, vows are vain, acceptance of gifts is vain, observance of duties is vain, and penances are vain – those Brahmanas (priests) in this world, whose conduct is marked by these virtues, who adhere to righteousness, who abide in the Vedas, are said to be wise and possessed of correctness of vision.
[Note: Compare from The Mahabharata, Aswamedha Parva, Sec.XLIV:
Brahma said: The Unmenifest is the source of all the worlds as, indeed, that is the end of every thing. Days end with the sun's setting and Nights with the sun's rising. The end of pleasure is always sorrow, and the end of sorrow is always pleasure. All accumulations have exhaustion for their end, and all ascent have falls for their end. All associations have dissociations for their end, and life has death for its end. All action ends in destruction and all that is born is certain to meet with death. Every mobile and immobile thing in this world is transient. Sacrifice, gift, penances, study, vows, observances, - all these have destruction for their end. Of Knowledge, there is no end. Hence, one that is possesed of a tranquil soul, that has subjugated his senses, that is freed from the sense of meum (mineness), that is devoid of egoism, is released from all sins by pure knowledge.]

Casting off all sins and freed from grief, those men possessed of wisdom attain to Heaven and create diverse bodies for themselves. Attaining the power of governing everything, self-restraint, minuteness, these high-souled ones make operations of their own mind, like the gods themselves dwelling in Heaven. Such men are said to have their courses directed upwards. They are veritable gods capable of modifying all things. Attaining to Heaven they modify all things by their very nature. They get whatever objects they desire and enjoy them.

Thus have I, ye foremost of regenerate ones, described to you what that conduct is which appertains to the quality of Goodness (Sattwa). Understanding this duly, one acquires whatever objects one desires. The qualities that appertain to Goodness have been declared particularly. The conduct which those qualities constitute has also been properly set forth. That man who always understands these qualities, succeeds in enjoying the qualities without being attached to them.

Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas

Whatever object exists in this world, everything
in it is fraught with the three qualities.

The day should be understood as threefold

Brahma said:These qualities are incapable of being declared as completely separate from one another. Passion, and Goodness and Darkness are seen existing in a state of union. They are attached to one another. They depend on one another. They have one another for their refuge. They likewise follow one another. As long as Goodness exists, so long does Passion exist. There is no doubt in this. As long as Darkness and Goodness exist, so long does Passion exist. They make their journey together in union, and moving collectively. They, verily, move in body, when they act with cause or without cause. Of all these which act with one another, however much they may differ in their development, the manner in which their increase and diminution take place will now be declared.

There where Darkness exists in an increased measure, in the lower creatures (for example), Passion exists in smaller measure and Goodness in a measure that is still less. There where Passion exists in copious measure, in creatures of middle course, Darkness exists in a smaller measure and Goodness in a measure that is still less. There where Goodness exists in a copious measure, in creatures of upward courses, Darkness should be known to exist in a small measure and Passion in a measure that is still less.

Goodness is the spring that causes the modifications of the senses. It is the great enlightener. No duty has been laid down that is higher than Goodness. They who abide in Goodness proceed upwards. They who abide in Passion remain in the middle. They who abide in Darkness, being characterised by qualities that are low, sink downwards. Darkness occurs in the Sudra; Passion in the Kshatriya; and Goodness, which is the highest, in the Brahmana. The three qualities exist even thus in the three orders. Even from a distance (without being examined minutely), the three qualities of Darkness and Goodness and Passion, are seen to exist in a state of union and more collectively. They are never seen in a state of separation.

Beholding the sun rising, men of evil deeds become inspired with fear. Travellers on their way become afflicted with heat, and suffer distress. The Sun is Goodness developed; men of evil deeds represent Darkness; the heat which travellers on their way feel is said to be a quality of Passion. The sun representing light is Goodness; the heat is the quality of Passion, the shading (or eclipse) of the sun on Parvana days should be known to represent Darkness. Even thus, the three qualities exist in all luminous bodies. They act by turns in diverse places in diverse ways. Among immobile objects, the quality of Darkness exists in a very large measure. The qualities appertaining to Passion are those properties of theirs which undergo constant changes. Their oleaginous attributes appertain to Goodness.

The day should be understood as threefold.
[Note: Early morning hours known as Brahma-muhurt (around 4am to 6am) is Sattwic part of the day full of Goodness, conducive to the practice of meditation. As the day progresses, the quality of Passion becomes prominent. Late afternoons and evenings are predominantly of the nature of Darkness.] The night has been ordained to be threefold. So also are fortnight, months, years, seasons and conjunctions. [Conjunctions are evidently the periods joining the seasons, i.e., the close of one season and the beginning of another.] The gifts that are made are threefold. Threefold is sacrifice that flows. Threefold are the worlds; threefold the deities; threefold is knowledge; and threefold the path or end.

The Past, the Present and the Future; Religion, Wealth and Pleasure; Prana, Apana and Udana; these also are fraught with the three qualities. Whatever object exists in this world, everything in it is fraught with the three qualities.

The three qualities act by turns in all things and in all circumstances. Verily, the three qualities always act in an unmanifest form. The creation of those three, viz., Goodness, Passion and Darkness, is eternal. The unmanifest consisting of the three qualities, is said to be Darkness, unperceived, holy, constant, unborn, womb, eternal, Nature, change or modification, destruction, Pradhana, production, and absorption, undeveloped, not small (i.e.vast), unshaking, immovable, fixed, existent, and non-existent. All these names should be known by those who meditate on matters connected with the soul. That person who accurately knows the names of the unmanifest, and the qualities, as also the pure operations (of the qualities), is well conversant with the truth about all distinctions and freed from the body, becomes liberated from all qualities and enjoys absolute happiness.

Brahma (the Grandsire Prajapati) said: Darkness, Passion and Goodness – these are called the three qualities. These are coupled with one another. They exist depending on one another. They take refuge in one another, and follow one another. They are joined with one another. The five principal elements (earth, water, fire, air & space) are characterised by these three qualities. Goodness is the match of Darkness. Of Goodness that match is Passion. Goodness is also the match of Passion, and of Goodness the match is Darkness. There where Darkness is restrained, Passion is seen to flow. There where Passion is restrained, Goodness is seen to flow.

That which is unmanifest, which is indistinct, all-pervading, everlasting, immutable, should be known to become the city (or mansion) of nine portals, possessed of three qualities, and consisting of five ingredients. Encompassed by eleven including Mind which distinguishes (objects), and having understanding for the ruler, this is an aggregate of eleven. [Note: The total eleven is made up of the three qualities: Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space, the group of organs of action and organs of perception as one (five organs of action are speech (tongue),hands, legs, organ of generation, organ of evacuation; five organs of perception are tongue(tastes), nostrils (smell), eyes (sight), ears (sound0 and skin (touch)], egoism and understanding.]The three ducts that are in it support it constantly. These are the three Nadis. They run continually, and have the three qualities for their essence; Darkness, Passion and Goodness.

From Kapilopadesha, II,10
Translated by Swami Tapasyananda
Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati

Prakriti is constituted of the three Gunas of Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. It is imperceptible, not being apprehended by any organ of knowledge, but it exists eternally, as it provides the basis and substance for all objects in their causal and effectual conditions.


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