Faith is sattva rajas tamas
XVII.2 Deep-seated in the nature of man is faith, which is threefold: of the nature of Light (sattva), of Passion- struggle (rajas) and of Darkness (tamas).
3 A man is what his faith is. As his faith is, so is he, undoubtedly.
Dr Shastri says: ‘This chapter starts with a description of the basic tendency in the nature of each individual, which gives rise to, and colours, his thought and action. Our mental, emotional and physical activities are actuated by this deep mystic tendency which is called Faith. It is the aggregate of the subtle impressions left by our past lives on our causal body. Man can create, control and change this tendency; it is not an unalterable fate.’
The ‘subtle impression’ is what is technically called ‘saṃskāra’. We are familiar with this in ordinary life. If we touch an electrical appliance and get a shock, we thereafter approach them with caution. If, in spite of this, we happen to get another shock from one, we may come to fear them unreasonably.
Such impressions can be constructive also. We gradually get to know the gears of a car, by repeated use, until handling them is almost automatic. We should note that skills are laid down at the beginning consciously, but tend to become less so. But many other saṃskāra-s are laid down involuntarily, and some come from past lives.
The great Sanskrit scholar Max Müller, when he was a child, saw a picture of the Brahmins of India and was overwhelmed with a feeling of familiarity; he felt that his destiny lay with India. In fact, this remarkable genius was one of the greatest influences in introducing Far Eastern culture and especially philosophy to the West. His translation of the Upaniṣad-s is still one of the best.
When the saṃskāra-s form a group, reinforcing each other (what we should now call a complex) they are often justified by reasons thought up for the purpose. Ultra-nationalists are an example. Revolutionaries often show the same thing; they can argue clearly against the present regime, but they can give no reason to show that they themselves would do any better. They are against tyranny, but so were Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and many other dictators, as can be seen from their early speeches. But they were motivated, perhaps only half- consciously, by saṃskāra-s of envy and love of power.
The yoga psychology shows that everyone worships. We feel that there is something above ourselves, which has absolute value, and we worship it. Some worship money, which for them has a greater value even than life. Periodically misers are found dead in a little room in the big house; they have died of cold because they would have only one bar of the electric fire on. Or they have starved because they would not spend money on food.
Even the most militant sceptics worship something. Djilas, a former Vice-President of Yugoslavia under Tito, who knew Stalin well, said that Stalin, though a materialist, was nevertheless a mystic; in spite of his rejection of some Hegelian doctrine, he worshipped the incarnation of Power, in himself.
The accompanying emotion may be fear. Bertrand Russell, fanatically opposed to religion, admitted (Dear Bertrand Russell, Allen & Unwin, 1969) that all his life, at times of deep emotion, he had been terrifyingly overwhelmed by what he himself called ‘a Satanic mysticism’. He believed that Joseph Conrad was familiar with the experience and this attracted him strongly to the author of Heart of Darkness.
For a view from the sidelines, there is the book by Kazuteru Hitaka (Ningen Baatorando Rasseru – The Man Bertrand Russell, 1970, Kodansha, Tokyo). Professor Hitaka, a well-known figure in Japanese intellectual circles and President of the Bertrand Russell Society of Japan, translated a number of Russell’s writings, and worked with him for various causes (noting the dislike of Japan as of the USA). He says that Russell loved humanity and was, in the Chinese phrase, ‘a seeker of the Way for men to live’. But he was furiously prejudiced against religion (especially in a robe). His gibes at the religious faith of Socrates and Galileo are instances. He had had some semi-mystical experiences, but later was haunted by a sort of demon of doom, more real to him than a bad dream. He tried to meet the attacks with courage, but Hitaka cites a number of passages showing how it could cast him into deepest depression and despair.
Dr Shastri admired some of Russell’s earlier work, but said that some of his later writings were from the standpoint of darkness.
‘The worship influenced by darkness (tamas)’, says the Gītā, ‘is of elemental spirits and terrifying forms.’ The Hitlers and Himmlers worship astrology and ill-defined racial superstitions. With his almost maniacal faith Hitler was able to capture completely the sceptical mind of Dr Goebbels, his brilliantly successful Minister of Information.
Yoga warns that there is a great danger, even for a good man, in worshipping the divine at large, so to speak. It can lead to a projection of divinity on to something little known, which hardens into fanaticism. The former Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnson, in a number of influential books and writings, exposed his desperate worship of what he called ‘the Christian spirit’, first in the Soviet Union and then in Mao’s China. He was one of the few Westerners to have a personal interview with both Stalin and Mao. He was overwhelmed with what he saw as their spirituality.
With Mao, what struck him most was ‘something no picture had ever caught, an inexpressible look of kindness and sympathy, an obvious preoccupation with the needs of others; other people’s difficulties, other people’s troubles, other people’s struggles – these formed the deep content of his thoughts and needed but a touch or a word to bring this unique look of sympathy to his face.’ This, he felt, was the true spirit of Christianity which formal Christians so often lamentably failed to practise.
After his interview with Stalin, Hewlett Johnson wrote: ‘Stalin is calm, composed, simple, not lacking in humour, direct in speech… nothing cruel or dramatic … but steady purpose and a kindly geniality.’
Even George Bernard Shaw, so sceptical and iconoclastic in other things, was taken in by Stalin. He had his own mystical vision of a Life Force determined to evolve perfection; but he had no traditionally tested forms in which to worship, so he projected his ideals on to Stalin’s Russia.
Such worshippers, some of them very sincere, were in the end worshipping forms created by their own minds. These forms had their power from illusion.
What then does the Gītā tell us about worship? What guarantee do we have that traditional forms, like Christ and Kṛṣṇa are anything more than products of mass suggestibility?
One evidence is that texts like the Gītā present us with graded practical experiments. Do these, it says, and you can have direct experience of a God who is not simply your own idea. The experience is no illusion, because it is fruitful in life; it gives not only calm inner clarity, but also inspiration and energy for action. You will come to know the divine purpose in outline, and your own proper part in it in detail.
The second thing is, that the classical forms point beyond themselves. This does not mean that they are untrue. But the Lord reveals these aspects to lead us to higher ones. The traditional forms, assumed by the Lord as an actor puts on clothes, have a lasting charm, a magic about them which attracts the mind and calms the heart. More than that – out of repeated reading of texts and meditations on the form, new things appear.
Much of yoga training is concerned with getting free of domination by saṃskāra-s which constrict the human being to identity with body, family, nation or movement, exclusively, and with hatred of others.
As Dr Shastri says, man can control and change the tendency called Faith; it is not unalterable fate. This is in opposition to a common view today that we are slaves of our ‘conditioning’. There is indeed conditioning, but it is not unchangeable. As a matter of fact, experience shows that many teenagers deliberately rebel against their so-called ‘conditioning’.
To understand the method of control it is a help to look at a simple example. We must understand the difference between mere repetition and practice. If we look at driving a car, we see that at the beginning, there has to be conscious effort to get some skill. After that the drivers simply repeat, and the process becomes semi-automatic. But they do not improve. Experts say that many drivers never learn the width of their own car, so when overtaking they drive as near the oncoming stream of traffic as they can. This can go on for forty or fifty years. Repetition there is, but not practice. Practice would mean taking the car out and actually learning the width of the car by experiment, perhaps with pegs on an open piece of ground. Mere repetition will not improve the fundamentally defective method of driving; in fact, it reinforces it, although the driver may get more used to handling the car in this wrong way.
Similarly, a two-finger typist does not gradually, ‘naturally’ as the saying goes, get on to using more fingers. By repetition, he or she gets more skilful at using the two fingers. After ten years or so, some two- finger typists are so familiar with the distances that they can copy-type without looking at the keyboard at all. They have become more skilled at the method, but the method is still a wrong one. Some computer operators today do not learn touch-typing, and it is clear that they never will.
Practice means repeating a process with an ideal before one. When this is done, the execution improves towards the ideal. The improvement is not steady, but in waves