The man of Tamas, this is a very, very acute psychological observation. The firmness of the man of Tamas is the firmness with which he holds firmly to grief, pain, despair, and laziness. At first, we think, “What? Holds firmly to pain and grief?” Then we come to see that it’s true. People hold to their pain and suffering. The neurotic, as Freud says holds to the neurosis. “No one can help me. It always goes wrong. It’s no good. No good. I’ve tried before, it won’t work.” He’s holding firmly to pain. The man of Rajas comes up and says, “I’m going to help you if it kills both of us.”
The man of Tamas says, “No one can help me.” The man of Sattva sees both clearly. He is able to help in the way in which it will be effective.
These are the three Gunas. Now, Patanjali makes a great deal of the transformation of our actions from Tamas and Rajas to actions of Sattva when they begin to become transparent because they are no longer tied up with building a personality, building a prestige in the world, building a nice little comfortable circle. They’re not tied up with those. They begin to become transparent, and when they become transparent, then what is beyond, the Buddhi, the divine element, begins to shine through. This is the first point. Purification, it’s called, by Shankara. Purification of the being, of man.
The Rajas and Tamas become subservient and of minor significance. He still sleeps, and he’s still active, but they can be controlled. There are people, in everything they do, they’re ceaselessly active. They’re always looking for something. If he’s a boxer, he’s constantly on the attack, constantly waiting for chances. The funny thing is, the man who does that, in boxing or judo, always on the attack, his chess, it’s just the same. From the very beginning, get on the attack.
Then you get the other man of Tamas. Now, he waits, defends. In boxing, or judo, or chess. He also wears himself out in the boxing defense. When the man of Rajas is exhausted, the man of Tamas comes in with the counter, and it runs right through their whole lives. When they go to a meeting, a committee meeting, parents-teachers association, the man of Rajas, he’s making speeches from the very beginning and won’t support it through. The people of Tamas, they think, “Oh, now he’s getting more excited about this you know. They always try new things that maybe they won’t work. Least what we’ve got, it works a bit. Why go to all bother about it?”
There’s a man in Japan who tells old people, he says, “Don’t fret about being called an obstinate, you angry old man, or a venomous old woman. It’s the role. A nagging old woman, an obstinate, angry old man, that’s the role. Don’t bother about it if they call you that. Why not be just like an old cat? It has its milk, it doesn’t get excited about anything, it’s not worried about the mice or nothing. It just sits in the sun.” He’s telling them to go back into a state of Tamas. In the yoga, he says to transcend both these two, the tendency to inertia and the tendency to furious activity, and to be able to alternate them.
An expert in any field is able to do both. At a meeting, an important meeting, the real expert, some see him wait for an hour and a half. All the proposals and counter-proposals and rows and hobbyhorses are passed out, then he makes his speech with tremendous energy, and everybody’s so exhausted. They say, “Yes, yes, yes, pass this, this is what we want, this is what we want.” Now he can do alternating, Tamas and Rajas. He can remain still, motionless, or he can move. Now he is a man who can manipulate both.
Patanjali makes a great point about having the ability to look at our behavior, to be able to modify, not to say, “I’m like this, I’m like that,” but to be able to change, to realize that it can be changed. When we begin to realize that these things are changeable and soft, then we can alter the routes of the mind. If we have a fixed conviction, “This is me, I’m like this, we’re like that in our family.” Well now, passing on now, this is the basis which Patanjali says, unless this is done, meditation will not be possible. Unless the surface activity and the routes of the mind are partially, at least, purified, partially made Sattvic, and with this Tamasic and Rajasic convictions send it out, meditation will not be possible
Shankara lived 700AD, and he was not a great lover of the cities. At that time, India was the richest country in the world. In the Roman Empire, it was estimated that every year, a million gold pieces went out of the Roman Empire to India for the finest lace and the wooden artifacts and the ivory. Even today, on the west coast of India, they sometimes find hoards of golden coins which were buried. India was enormously rich, enormously sophisticated, that’s how the dramas of the time tell us just how, well, partially refined but also partly degraded the cities were.
Shankara intended to believe in the life of scholars living in the country, outside the cities, and the examples he gives are often from the country. He’ll give examples from farming, examples from milk-churning, things like that. These are examples which we are not too familiar with, today. Very few of us have ever churned any butter and we might have considerable difficulty in getting any butter out of milk, but in his day, it was very familiar. His examples were given like that.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Meditation 1.8.86
Part 2: Patanjali and Sattwa
Part 4: Do not think in long waves
Part 5: Intense karma fructifies quickly