Whatever spiritual path you are on, there are three universal journeys that almost everyone has to go through
Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic Spirituality | Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa
(Understanding this can be a great help on the spiritual journey, my comments are in red)
Question. What is the difference between the Sattvic, the Rajasic and the Tamasic ways of worship?
The man who worships from the very depth of his heart without the least ostentation or vanity is a Sattvic worshipper.
Tom: the sattvic (peaceful) worshiper is the highest form of worshiper, pure of heart and of intent. They do not make a great grand show of their spirituality and care not for outer forms, unlike the rajasic one:
The man who gives much attention to decorating his house, makes much fuss about music and dancing, and makes all costly and elaborate arrangements for a rich feast when celebrating the worship of the Deity, is a Rajasic worshipper.
Tom: the rajasic (passionate) worshipper tends to be concerned more about appearances, pleasure and activity. They may pay great attention to decoration, dress, ceremony, outward appearance and what others think of them. They may tend to wear spiritual-looking clothes and have spiritual-looking paraphenalia and accesories and make a show of spiritual-looking rituals. They may look and sound more spiritual than they actually are. Still lower than them is the tamasic one:
The man who immolates hundreds of innocent goats and sheep on the altar, has dishes of meat and wine for offerings, and is absorbed only in dancing and singing while conducting worship, is a Tamasic worshipper.
Tom: The tamasic (dull) one here is essentially shows to be a hedonist, one who is interested in sense-pleasures and, for this end, they are willing to abuse their own body (eg. with excessive food and wine) and engage in immoral activity (eg. the unnecessary slaughtering of animals) in order to satisfy their wants and apetites.
~ Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna no. 239
Tom: whilst the above may perhaps sound judgemental, I think it is better not to think of it in this way: we can instead see them as descriptions of stages of spiritual growth that many of us often go though, and each stage often has a role to play:
eg. in the tamasic stage, we are often dealing with supressed emotional pain and trauma, in the rajasic stage we are often developing self-esteem and self-worth, and in the sattvic stage we are learning to be more peaceful and pure, perhaps having already healed ourself of many of our psychological traumas and developed a healthy sense of self-esteem.
We can also use this as a way to guage where spiritual teachers/groups/teachings themselves are – are they sharing a tamasic, rajasic or sattvic type of spirituality?
These 3 (sattva, rajas and sattva) are known as the 3 energies of Maya or the 3 gunas.
Have you found this teaching to be helpful for you? Please leave a comment to let me know…
The three energies (three Gunas)
A True Teacher Doesn’t Foster Dependence | The Three Gunas | Shedding Negative Self-Concepts
Q. I genuinely understand the teachings but still egoic tendencies arise. What can I do?
Ramana Maharshi: The path to Self Realisation (includes teachings on the Self, the mind, rajas and tamas, vasanas and Samadhi)
Pure sattva is the Self | Ramana Maharshi
Since sattva-guna [the constituent of prakriti which makes for purity, intelligence, etc.] is the nature of mind, and since the mind is pure and undefiled like ether, what is called mind is, in truth, of the nature of knowledge.
Tom: Often the Self is said to be beyond the three gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva). Here Sri Ramana tells us that pure sattva, or pure mind, which is the utterly and totally peaceful mind in its natural state, is actually the Self.
When it stays in that natural [i.e. pure] state, it has not even the name “mind”. It is only the erroneous knowledge which mistakes one for another that is called mind.
Tom: This pure sattva, unlike mixed sattva, is completely devoid of any rajas and tamas, and so is beyond all the gunas.
What was originally the pure sattva mind, of the nature of pure knowledge, forgets its knowledge-nature on account of nescience, gets transformed into the world under the influence of tamo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for dullness, inertness, etc.], being under the influence of rajo-guna [i.e. the constituent of prakriti which makes for activity, passions, etc.], imagines “I am the body, etc.; the world is real”, it acquires the consequent merit and demerit through attachment, aversion, etc., and, through the residual impressions [vasanas] thereof, attains birth and death.
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Vichara Sangraham (Self Enquiry), Question 11
The Path Summarised
The Path is first to replace negativity with positivity,
To replace negative self-esteem with positive self-esteem,
To replace dullness and depression with happiness and vitality.
To become calm and at Peace,
Tranquil and Still.
To go beyond both positivity and negativity,
To that which transcends all,
And is beyond all,
Where sorrow and suffering, ego and ignorance are no longer.
This is liberation.
This is what we truly seek.
The path, the seeker, the teacher,
All are seen to be illusory,
Born of ignorance.
From Negative to Positive to Peace, to Transcendent*,
In general this is the way.
*In terms of the gunas this would be from Tamas to Rajas to Sattva to Jnana/Moksha
To learn more about this path and the Gunas see these links:
The three energies (three Gunas)
Q. I genuinely understand the teachings but still egoic tendencies arise. What can I do?
My mind is sometimes restless, sometimes peaceful, what should I do? (Ramana Maharshi)
A man from Cocanada [Kakinada] asked:
‘My mind remains clear for two or three days and turns dull for the next two or three days; and so it alternates. What is it due to?’
Sri Ramana Maharshi:
It is quite natural; it is the play of brightness (sattva), activity (rajas) and darkness (tamas) alternating. Do not regret the tamas; but when sattva [peace] comes into play, hold on to it fast and make the best of it.
Taken from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk number 52
Tom: here the advice is clear; when you are peaceful, take advantage of this peace and make the most of it – abide in this peace and know yourself to be beyond all.
Why do some people like to listen to ‘sad music’ emo songs? A lovely clue to liberation… :-)
Here you will find a lovely clue to guide you to liberation 🙂
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Q. I’ve had an awakening but now I often feel anxious, overwhelmed or disorientated about there being ‘no me’. What can I do?
Pulling the rug out from under the ego
In my article Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices I discuss the inter-relationship between insight and purification and liberation, so I won’t go into that here – please see that article for more information on this, but I would like to comment on one thing I often see in people who attend my meetings or who contact me for 1 to 1 meetings. It’s when the ego has the rug pulled out from underneath it but it still trying to regain its balance, tottering from left to right, sometimes disorientated, sometimes overwhelmed, lacking stability – in short – suffering.
This occurs when the mind is exposed to non-dual insight/knowledge teachings, ie. the radical teachings on no-self/no-person/no-free will, before the mind has achieved a degree of sattva (peace) and stability. When this happens, freedom is seen but the mind’s tendencies are now unleashed as if the ‘foot has been taken off the brake’. All the pre-existing egoic tendencies, previously held in check somewhat by notions of the ego, are now left to roam free, sometimes with riotous consequences.
Now, in a fundamental sense there is no problem in this, but from the point of view of the ego, which is still actually functioning out of habit (ie. the vasanas or egoic habitual tendencies are still at play), this is quite troubling and can be very tumultuous. It can lead to much suffering – both for the seeker and for those around them.
If the ego-mind is stable and sattvic (peaceful) with a health positive self-concept prior to being exposed to the radical non-dual teachings, when the teachings are seen, the sattvic qualities are naturally allowed to express themselves, namely love, peace, happiness, compassion, intelligence, clear thinking, clear seeing.
This was in essence what happened to me. I was lucky in that I had unwittingly spent many years purifying my mind through a combination of spiritual practices from a young age, readings spiritual books, being in a loving relationship and various forms of self-help to name a few factors. Awakening for me was not a difficult or tumultuous process. In retrospect I can see this was the case as my mind was already for the most part sattvic. The awakening was peaceful and gradual, permeated by love and light, so gradual I did not even realise it was happening. It was only when I started sharing this teaching with others that I realised how difficult the awakening process can sometimes be, when I saw how it affected others. Because I had read and studied traditional texts that spoke about about the energies whilst I was seeking, I was able to utilise these teachings for the benefit of those who came to me and my meetings.
If the mind is riddled with tamasic (negative) and rajasic (passionate) energy, addictive vasanas (habitual tendencies) and a negative self-concept, these aspects of the mind can flourish. Depending on the vasanas present, this can sometime cause much suffering. It can result in family/relationship problems, divorce, panic attacks and career and financial issues. Unconscious psychological insecurities that were not previously known can all surface at once leading to a crisis of confidence, disorientation and feeling overwhelmed. Tamasic impulses can increase, rajasic tendencies can increase, addictive tendencies can increase.
The general advice here is to not worry, remain calm and at peace, something that is easier to do if a degree of sattva has already been cultivated and most of the rajasic and tamasic energies have already been somewhat subdued. In time, these vasanas (tendencies) will naturally express themselves. If they are allowed to rise up, be experienced and felt (ie. not suppressed) withoutacting them out, then they will naturally purify themselves in time and the balance of sattva will naturally arise. However, if the vasanas are indulged in, then they may continue indefinitely, and the freedom-realisation may even be lost (apparently). Just knowing this information can make a huge difference (apparently).
It is for this very reason that most traditional approaches stress a period of purification prior to being introduced to the ‘higher’ non-dual teachings. Shankara often advised that seekers purify themselves with devotion to God and developing certain qualities prior to reading/listening to the higher teachings of Vedanta.
But what seeking ego wants to wait? And why should it, right! Most teachings are no longer guarded behind the secret screens of a religious patriarchy and are freely available on YouTube and Facebook, something which is largely good as far as I can see, but it is useful to be aware of the downsides and potential negative consequences.
This article is an excerpt taken from a longer article, click here to read it.
Abuse, Crazy Wisdom and Asshole teachers
Teachings/teachers which do not stress purification prior to or after awakening tend to be the ones in which you get the abuse scandals and the crazy-wisdom teachings in the worst cases. In better cases the teacher may just be a bit of an asshole at times, which is not the worst thing in the world, and to be honest, who isn’t an asshole at times? We are all human, after all (apparently), but it is a matter of degrees. With sattva, the chances of being rude, ignorant, abrasive and uncompassionate vastly decreases, but of course can occur from time to time, usually without the teacher intending to be offensive. When tamas and rajas predominate in a teacher, the distortion will be apparent in the teaching and its energy, and the teacher will likely act out their egoic vasanas from time to time and cause suffering to themselves and others accordingly.
You can often sense the energy of a particular teaching from energy the group of long-term seekers who are keyed into that particular teaching. Some teachers attract tamasic seekers, others attract rajasic ones, and others sattvic ones. Of course it doesn’t always work exactly like this – these are just general rules.
Take in these teachings, and see if they are true for you.
The above text was taken from a longer article which explains this in more detail.
The three energies (three Gunas)
There is a school of ‘Hinduism’ called Sankya, which is a yogic school, and it classifies the energies into three basic types. These are known as the three gunas. This teaching was later incorporated into other schools such as vedanta and taught in scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita. Despite its apparent overly simple nature – there are only three energies – this classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!
This classification can be incredibly useful for the seeker – do not underestimate it!
The three energies/gunas are:
1. Tamas (dull/negative)
2. Rajas (passionate/active)
3. Sattva (peaceful/intelligent)
1. If your energy is predominantly tamasic, you will, generally, feel negative, tired, and low. Your motivation and energy levels may be low, you may be lazy and lack direction. You may find it hard to understand things clearly, be confused, and lack clear On the positive side of tamasic energy, you may find it easier to rest, relax and sleep. Tamas is the lowest of the three energies.
2. If your energy is predominantly rajasic, then you will tend to be more active, eg. constantly doing things and achieving things, be much quicker at thinking, but you may perhaps have too many thoughts. (2a) On the positive side of rajasic energy you may achieve many things and do much good in your environment, whatever that may be. You may be dynamic, social, extroverted and a ‘mover and shaker’. (2b) On the negative side of rajasic energy, there can be much anxiety and stress, your mind may become exhausted from-over thinking, and your body may be exhausted too. You may find it difficult to find peace of mind, rest, calm and contentment. Rajas is the second lowest of the three energies.
3. If your energy is predominantly sattvic, then your mind is happy and calm, not low in energy, but not phrenetic like rajas. The mind is calm and clear, and gives rise to seeing things clearly, with less bias. Both tamasic and rajasic energies distort perceptions, which in turn leads to poor judgement and greater suffering, but sattva is pure, clear, harmonious and intelligent. Sattva is the highest of the three energies.
What does this have to do with spiritual practice, you may ask? Well, knowing what energy predominates can help you understand what spiritual practice you need and vastly speed up your spiritual journey. It can also help you understand why different people are attracted to different paths at different times, and accordingly help you be more open and compassionate towards others on their path, as well as be more open and understanding towards other spiritual paths in general.
If you would like to learn more, see this article here.
How does Namaskaram lead to moksha (liberation)?
In response to this post here about how Namaskaram can lead to moksha (liberation), I received the following question:
Q. How does namaskaram cleanse the energy? How will it lead to moksha?
Tom: regular practice of Namaskaram with heartfelt devotion and feeling purifies the mind, transforming rajas (passionate energy) and tamas (dull or negative energy) to sattva (peaceful energy).
Then it sacrifices the ego in the depth of silence so that all that remains is the pristine pure reality.
Om Tat Sat