Patanjali and Sattva
In the Yoga system of Patanjali, the Guna to be cultivated is Sattva; and Rajas and Tamas have to be controlled. I’ll give one or two examples. The Indian princes, they are men of Rajas, of tremendous courage, or they were. They used to send their sons to a British school in India, a school for princes, which was run by a British headmaster. One of the things they admired and said that they admired about the British system then was that there was a capacity to rise above into Sattva. Our sense of humour is a manifestation of Sattva. We can rise above the humiliation. Rise above the anger and laugh. One of Oscar Wilde’s plays was total flop. He was asked afterwards, that it must have been a very bitter experience for him, “How did the play go?” He said, “Oh, the play was a success, but the audience was a failure.” Now, this is very much admired in India, Japan, and China, this capacity to rise above the personal situation completely. The truth of having risen above it, is the ability to make a brave joke like that, even in the failure and humiliation.
I knew the headmaster of that school, and he told me that one of the princes of a kingdom, Tiwari, turned up at school and said, “Right, father.” After he had been there about a week, they were to write an essay and he made a very slipshod job of this essay. The headmaster told me, “I looked at this thing and I said to him in front of the whole class, ‘Oh, this is a very poor piece of work, you’ll have to do much better than this’.” He handed it back to the boy, and said “Do it again.” He said afterwards that this young boy of about 14 asked to see him. The headmaster saw him in his study and he said, “He looked at me and he said, ‘Of course, you don’t know, but we of the Royal House of Tiwari are never reprimanded in front of other people. Never. I’ve done a bad piece of work. I’ll take any punishment you give me. Tell me to put my hand in the fire and I’ll do it’.” The headmaster told me, “He would’ve done it.” He said, “I told him. ‘No. Your father has sent you here to learn independence and freedom from this tremendous pride of yours which can’t admit to a failure in front of other people. This is what he’s sent you to learn.'” The boy accepted that.
Now, that was an example of Rajas. The young prince was pure Rajas and he was prepared to accept any consequence of that Rajas, but he wasn’t able to rise to something beyond it, to be able to say, “Yes, I’ve done a bad piece of work and it’s right that I should be reprimanded in front of the others.” Sometimes, Rajas tries to imitate Sattva, imitate that rising above.
Now, another example, I gave an example from princes because they were very good examples of the best kind of Rajas. They were very brave, and they had tremendous sense of honour. There were always, of course, petty little points of etiquette and so on coming up. One of them was insulted or thought he’d been insulted, by another Raja. This was a full, mature Raja. He thought he’d been insulted by another Raja and he was talking about this to Sir Maurice Gwyer, who was then the Chief Justice of India and who told me this. He said that this Raja said, “You’ve heard, of course, of what happened. What Abar said about me?” He said, “Well, yes.” The Raja said, “This is a matter of complete indifference to me, what Abar may say.” “Certainly,” Sir Maurice said. “It’s no more than I should have expected Your Royal Highness to say.” He said, “Now, supposing I’m sitting in my palace. My wife is reading Persian poems to me, she’s beautiful, and then some dog barks in the street. Am I to get up and rush to the balcony and shout, shut up? No, of course not. I simply sit there, I go on calmly listening to my wife.” Sir Maurice said, “No, that’s no more I would have expected”. “Am I to take notice if a washerwoman in the palace happens to shout at another one and I happen to overhear it? Am I to be disturbed by that? I’m quite indifferent to these remarks that Abar mentioned, but I must say, he has behaved as no gentleman would behave.” That was an attempt to imitate the Sattva by a man who was purely of Rajas.
Now in the Gita, it gives a number of very vivid illustrations of these three Gunas. How they apply to the same action, for instance, say, action of giving. The gift made by a man of Tamas is made contemptuously and it’s made at an inappropriate time and place, and it’s made without any sort of proper style of gift, it’s just given. The man of Rajas gives in order to get something back, or he gives under pressure. “They’re all giving, I’ve got to give something. I don’t want to, but I have to.” The man of Sattva gives because he sees that this is right to give. He doesn’t expect any return at all and he hides the fact that he’s made the gift. This is the same action as seen through these three Gunas.
Now one more illustration: firmness. The firmness of the man of Sattva is the firmness by which a man of meditation is able to control his body and his senses and his mind by yoga and meditation. This is the firmness of Sattva, and Shankara says without yoga or meditation, he will not always be able to control them. The firmness of a man of Rajas is the firmness with which he does actions expecting to get the return from them. When he gives in charity, he makes sure his name goes up. He makes sure people know about it, he makes sure that there’ll be some sort of return, and he firmly holds to that. His virtue, which he firmly holds to, is always for gain.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: The gunas
Part 2: Patanjali and Sattva
Part 5: Intense karma fructifies quickly
Part 6: Patanjali and meditation on God