THEOSOPHY, Vol. 39, No. 8, June, 1951
(Pages 366-369; Size: 12K)
(Number 20 of a 24-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 24 articles have the same name.]



OF all the dissertations in the Bhagavad Gita, that concerned with "Devotion by Means of Separation From the Three Qualities," in Chapter Fourteen, is the most intriguing and suggestive for students of psychology. Through all the vicissitudes of thought in Western traditions of philosophy and religion, the endlessly revolving question has been that of whether or not man can ever conceivably live "normally" in the world, using and enjoying his physical and emotional faculties, without being guilty of basic "sinfulness." The over-simplified conclusions to which we are accustomed tell us either that man must give up his body or give up his soul. Chapter Fourteen of the Gita is concerned with the same problems, but provides an analysis which affords a different solution: a synthesis of the purposes of soul and body.

The Three Qualities are listed as being "born from nature." The effect upon the soul of the grossest and least intelligent of these forces is said to be that of "darkness," or opaqueness. The quality of tamas is "the deluder of all creatures," because it is the "offspring of indifference in nature." We are all probably familiar with the aphorism that "nature unaided fails," and the theosophic basis for such a statement is suggested in Krishna's descriptions of the quality of tamas. That is, no aspiration animates those gross forms of matter not yet able even to reflect the broadening vistas of evolution which the self-conscious mind can envision. The forms of intelligence which have reached to the rajasic stage, on the other hand, have been refined to such a degree that they are capable of reflecting purposes of soul. Though there is no "purpose," per se, in any psychic intelligence of the purely rajasic sort, yet the rajasic element can be used by man in carrying out his objectives.

The first conclusion to be drawn, then, would be that all the tamasic elements of our nature need to be pushed or dragged forward until they are converted into rajasic energy. This could well be one of the first natural disciplines of the will -- a form of discipline in which all people instinctively believe. The simplest of races and tribes, for example, have always had their own particular systems for overcoming the instinctive cowardice and recalcitrance of the body. Children at an early age are bidden to rise above physical fears and to learn how to consistently muster energy for performing a difficult or dangerous task. The South Sea Islanders have insisted that their children compel themselves to become masters of the forces of the sea; in this practice, the Will must strain considerably against the reluctance of arms and legs to obey commands in the face of weariness or injury. Again, the very idea of a Kshatriya or warrior caste, wherein the dominance of the tamasic quality has been replaced by the more refined fires of rajas, is perhaps due to an intuitive perception of the necessity for such basic disciplines. The American Indians trained their warriors from earliest youth to bear pain, lack of food and water, and the arduousness of fantastically long runs; these Spartan regimes, we may think, were intended to develop an adequate supply of rajasic force. Such youths, become warriors, could be depended upon to give of their utmost when the tribe was in danger.

But this transmutation of energy from the tamasic level to the rajasic can be seen in the light of Chapter Fourteen to be only one stage in the psychological evolution of the individual. Satisfaction with a full development of rajasic power stops the progress of the Ego. Evolution must be continued beyond this point. Otherwise, although the strong warrior and man of action may be a good "initiator of works," he will face another and less desirable result, for "restlessness and inordinate desire are produced when the quality of rajas is prevalent."

There is at least a sensitivity of a higher degree in the rajasic man, however, and thus he is subject to pain -- something far better than the "senselessness" of tamas. Pain in turn is a reminder that besides the strength for carrying action to a conclusion, wisdom in choice of action is necessary, and it is from sattva that wisdom is produced.

Sattva, then, may be regarded as the third stage of the internal evolutionary program. This quality grows out of whatever "righteous acts" are performed by the man who has mastered tamasic influences sufficiently to be an "initiator of works." The sattvic man has learned to live a fairly trouble-free life, since he has mastered tamas and uses rajas with sufficient acumen to prevent surprising intrusions of "bad karma." But the sattvic man is also still susceptible to self-gratulation. He is apt to think of himself as identical with his particular accomplishments, and believes that his virtues are of themselves and in themselves sufficient.

The sattvic man is not described by Krishna as the equivalent of the "wise man," even though a certain amount of wisdom is necessary to achieve a predominantly sattvic nature. Man's involvement in, and disciplining by, the struggles of choosing between the three qualities may all proceed within the limitations of a personal or ego-centric viewpoint, since they have to do primarily with his own internal evolution. Thus, the yogi who seeks an ideal of Nirvana which is simply that of prideful isolation, is still living within the small world of his own desires -- even though these have arisen from a rajasic to a sattvic level. The purpose of Krishna, it seems, is to enable man to see that the secret meaning of human experience is to pass beyond the confinements of one's own limited psychological worlds to the recognition of his identification with other and larger cycles of general human progress. The true attainment of spiritual individuality necessitates an outgoing to others in terms of their needs, an awareness of obligations of time, place and circumstance. Yet it is at this point, also, that the devotee is enjoined to consider the world of principles and abstract ideals. The problem of avoiding the "pain" of rajas or the "senselessness" of tamas is but the first of many disciplines and -- in a psychological sense -- the most primitive.

Now, we can never comprehend a "principle" if we seek to formulate it within the limited context of our personal experience. As purely personal beings, moreover, we are not immortal. Krishna declares--

When the wise man perceiveth that the only agents of action are these qualities, and comprehends that which is superior to the qualities, he attains to my state. And when the embodied self surpasseth these three qualities of goodness, action and indifference -- which are coexistent with the body, it is released from rebirth and death, old age and pain, and drinketh of the water of immortality.
Krishna speaks of himself as "the embodiment of the supreme ruler" because he represents, to the eye of his disciple, an enlightened man who has adopted a universal perspective. The man of enlightenment has come to understand tamas through mastering it -- which is the only means by which tamas may be understood -- and, with this discipline, he has sufficient "active fire" to initiate whatever is necessary or desirable. He has come to understand rajas, through refusal to dissipate active energy without rational plan or purpose, until, in the concentration of energy and its wise expenditure, he arrives at the potentiality of full discriminative wisdom in action. Finally, this discriminative wisdom -- which may be exercised of course at first only as a form of enlightened selfishness -- extends to broader vistas, and he sees the Self of One as the Self of All.

Returning again to what has been described as the unsolved psychological problem of Western religions, we may thus infer that preoccupation with the "dangers of the senses" stems from a lack of understanding of the evolutionary processes which must be undertaken before the senses can be trusted. Indulgence in the sensual world reasserts the "absence of illumination," "heedlessness," and "delusion" of the lowest tamasic state, and blocks off that perception of continuity and purpose which the soul might otherwise bring to earth-life. But while we can understand the fears engendered by a realization that spiritual illumination may be so easily cut off by a sensual life, we lose the courage for further evolutionary efforts if any of the forces of nature are feared.

The psychology of Chapter the Fourteenth implies that since passage through the dominance of the Three Qualities is a natural evolutionary procedure, there is nothing to fear, nor to despair over. The problem is first one of control and discipline -- and, second, of extending the area of our wisdom so that control and discipline may lead to intelligent action on all planes. We are never entirely "finished" with the forces represented by rajas, nor even tamas. But it may be that we shall be able to establish those higher habits which make the wisest of men "constitutionally incapable of deviating from the right path." All the vital energies that flow to and sustain the body and psychic nature will then be immediately transformed into free force, completely subservient to the conscious will.

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