"Goodness," "Desire," and "Ignorance." These are the three qualities which spring from Nature and bind down the eternal embodied soul in the body. — Bhagavad Gita.
We daily meet with questions and answers in theosophical literature in which the problems of virtue and morality are discussed from very opposite points of view, resulting in differences of opinion, that could not be reconciled with each other, if it were not for the fact that a thing looks different according to the aspect we take of it, and that therefore of two opposite opinions each may be right in its own way. This goes to show that for the purpose of judging a thing correctly, it would be wise to regard it in all of its aspects and not merely in one or two. Thus, for instance, if it is said that a yogi looks with indifference upon the things of this world, one man imagines such a yogi sitting with stupid indifference in his den, being entirely ignorant of what is going on in the world and persuading himself that he did not want to know it anyhow. Another fancies such a yogi as being a person thinking himself superior to all the world and being so full of self-conceit that he really cares about nothing except his own person. A third one will in his imagination find the yogi to be a person who for fear of losing his chances in heaven, will submit to the torture of being extremely lonely in this world and will put up with a great many disagreeable situations, expecting that he will be recompensed for all his pains and worry in the next world.
Now all the speculations about such things could be avoided and the problems made easy if we would always take into consideration the fact that all the modes of thinking and all the actions of mankind spring, as it is taught in the Bhagavad Gita, from one or more of the three great Gunas or motives, and that each thought and act receives its character from them. We would then at once see that indifference in regard to the things of this world may spring either from Sattwa, "goodness," from Rajas, "desire," or from Tamas, "darkness" or "ignorance," and that such indifference may be praiseworthy, or ridiculous or foolish, according to the motive from which it springs.
Sattwa has been translated "goodness," which implies unselfishness and the recognition of truth; for without these two qualities nothing is really good. Goodness that springs from stupidity is not to be recommended, nor that which originates in a selfish desire for reward. It would therefore be perhaps better to translate sattwa as "wisdom," i. e., the recognition of truth.
Rajas means "passion," desire or greed for something that one wishes to obtain, and is therefore the product of selfishness.
Tamas means "darkness" or "ignorance." A man who does no evil because he does not know how to do it, is not to be admired on that account and deserves no merit. The cause of his inaction is "ignorance," and "ignorance" is not good. The man is good who abstains from doing evil, even when he might thereby profit, or who does good from his love of goodness, or because he recognizes the real nature of evil. It we consider human thoughts, and acts, virtues and vices under these three different aspects, we shall at once see what is to be recommended and what is not, and thus we shall avoid many difficulties that trouble the investigator.
Let us for instance consider one of the greatest motive powers in man, namely, "love," in its threefold aspect.
Tamas refers to the inability to recognize the true, the beautiful and the good. From this springs delusion, perverted judgment and folly. "Love" that springs from Tamas is therefore "love" for something that is unworthy of being loved, or for something detestable, which is mistaken to be good. If for instance, a woman marries a fool because of his bearing the title of a nobleman or on account of his wearing brass buttons on his coat, such a marriage is the result of Tamas, because she mistakes the title or the buttons for the man.
"Love" which springs from Rajas is that which springs from the desire for possession. It is the self which desires this or that object and the real end of such "love" is the self, although it may be and often is mixed up with a higher kind of "love" having a different motive. Thus, if a man marries a woman "for the sake of obtaining some one to attend to his comfort, it is because he loves his comfort above all, although he may have at the same time a certain amount of unselfish "love" for the woman, and, if he afterwards finds himself disappointed in her, he may know that there was also a good deal of Tamas which entered into his "love."
"Love" which springs from Sattwa, i. e., from the recognition of truth, is quite a different thing. If nothing else but Sattwa enters into it, the matter of possession will not come into consideration at all. Desire springs from the perception of a desirable object; pure "love" is a self-born and self existent power, needing for its existence no object besides its own self. As the sun would shine, even if there were nothing upon which to shed its light; so spiritual "love" is all sufficient in itself. An object will be required for its outward revelation, but it is the object that requires the influence of "love," and not "love" itself needing an object. "Love" that springs from the realization of truth is identical with self-knowledge, because self-knowledge is supreme wisdom. This self-knowledge requires no other object besides its own self, but that self includes everything in the universe. Thus real "love" is the love of "love" for its own divine self, which embraces everything, and there is no room in it for the presence of indifference in regard to anything, however small, that has any real existence.
Seen in this light the so-called indifference of the yogi spoken of above assumes quite a new aspect. He could not be a yogi if he were not penetrated by "love," but his "love" springs from "wisdom" and not from "ignorance" or "greed." Instead of loving nothing or being only in love with himself, he in fact loves everything that has any real existence, and cannot help loving it, because he recognizes the oneness of the eternal reality in all things and therefore the essence of every individual thing as his own Self. The yogi is indifferent to nothing except to that which is illusive and has no real existence, and he could not be otherwise than indifferent to that, because he is above it and recognizes its nothingness.
A true occultist is not indifferent to his wife, his family or his people, the human or animal kingdoms, or anything else. He is not a pious crank that sneaks about with mournful looks, whose heart is full of fear for the salvation of his beloved self, his mind full of discontent and his mouth full of sanctimonious unctuosity. He is an upright character, capable of loving objects as much as one about to be married would love his bride. The fire of his "love" is so strong in fact that it not only fills the objects toward which it is directed, but reaches beyond them, embracing heaven and earth, and even extending to the throne of the supreme.
Thus by taking into consideration the three Gunas or "qualities" from which all mental states originate, we may examine each virtue and behold it in its three different aspects, a practice which is highly instructive and which everybody may exercise for himself.
TheosophyTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE