Wisdom of Ancient Rishis
According to the ancient spiritual teachers, all that exists in nature is divided into three qualities (gunas) – tamas, rajas, and sattva. The rajasic quality is in the centre with tamasic on one side and sattvic on the other side. Rajas means desire and tamas means laziness or stupor, absence of activity and lethargy. Sattva means wisdom, knowledge, brightness and light. We have to rise up from the tamas to the rajas and from the rajas to the sattva. When we become primarily sattvic, life becomes joyful.
Students of Yoga might be aware of the importance of the three gunas in yogic practice. There is the deeper understanding that a Vedic perspective brings to them. In the ancient philosophy, all matter in the universe is reducible to one primary substance, which is said to be a composite of three prime qualities as sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is the power of harmony, balance, light and intelligence – the higher or spiritual potential. Rajas is the power of energy, action, change and movement – the intermediate or life potential. Tamas is the power of darkness, inertia form and materiality – the lower or material potential.
The Bhagavad Gita speaks of the gunas in detail in Chapter 14. This chapter reflects much older, established Vedic teachings. It’s a short chapter and gives good overview and context. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reiterates teachings from the much older texts such as the Upanishads. The gunas are mentioned in sutra 17, 18, 19 in chapter one and again in chapter four, sutras 13, 32, 34. None of these are especially definitive but only reference information Patanjali expects the reader to be already familiar with.
The sattvic state of mind is clear, peaceful, joyful, loving and harmonious. The person may feel fresh and create zen type of spaces, may prefer simple clothing, fosters significant spiritual evolution. Type: spiritual seeker.
The rajasic state of mind is restless, competitive, egotistical, greedy, attached to material things, result-driven, pleasure-seeking, complaining that people didn’t perform to his / her standards, often compares self to others, has extreme mood swings, driven by desires and when unfulfilled unhappy and aggressive. The person may feel stimulated to take action to fulfill his / her selfish desire, may create cluttered spaces, may prefer flashy clothes, spiritual evolution is triggered by an unfulfilled desire. Type: corporate executive.
The tamasic state of mind is unethical, procrastinating, lazy, depressed, irritable, lacks self-control, impulsive, arrogant, hostile, deceitful and cruel. The person may feel heavy and sluggish and create dirty spaces, may prefer unwashed clothes, no spiritual evolution. Type: drug or alcohol addict, thief.
It’s better working on fulfilment of worldly desires than spending time sleeping most of the time, eating, drinking and being lazy. People who contribute the most to the society are those who are active and work not only to fulfill their desires but to help others and who are peaceful and happy. Beyond the three gunas is our true and pure existence. Then there comes into life what is known as serenity. One is not plagued by feelings of gloom, pleasure, liking or disliking.
Belief systems, based on the states of the mind:
Sattvic: no attachment to a particular belief system, but open to explore the truth from various angles.
Rajasic: example- Law of Attraction, which is a desire-driven and result-driven belief system, and can be based on numerous selfish and egotistical desires, which foster no spiritual evolution and could be contrary to person’s highest good.
Tamasic: example- Fatalistic system, in which humans have no free will. This gives justification to be lazy, and do nothing, as everything in one’s life would be already predetermined. If a person is in an abusive relationship, he or she would believe that it’s his or her faith, and would not take action to leave. Here would be also various cults and sects, which form rigid belief systems, and ask its members to worship the cult leader and not to question beliefs validity. Another example- promoting non-virtuous life and cruelty.Â
The belief system is rational and irrational. We know that if people believe that a placebo pill would heal them, in many cases it truly does. There is however a higher reality, which exists above our belief systems, and is not dependent on it. As an example, almost all humans in ancient times believed that the Earth was flat, and this didn’t make the Earth flat. Whether we believe it or not, the Sun will come out tomorrow morning. While we can affect our personal situation with our belief system, the higher reality remains unaffected. Changing our belief system is a natural process, as our awareness evolves. Only when we achieve the sattvic state of mind, do we get to see the higher reality.
People tend to make their nutrition choices based on their state of mind. In today’s civilization, the following foods could correlate to the various states of mind:
Sattvic: whole-food plant based nutrition, prepared with love (mostly organic). Whole-food plant based diet includes vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
Rajasic: cheese and other dairy products, coffee, sugar (under 100 different names), sugar-based chocolate, cakes with flour, oils, fried foods, meat from organic farms. This diet eventually leads to health imbalances and excess of weight.
Tamasic: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, genetically engineered food, irradiated, chemicalized with pesticides, sweeteners, preservatives, artificial colors, processed food, microwaved food, meat and dairy products from supermarkets, food from animal-based and processed food restaurants. This diet quickly leads to chronic and degenerative disease.
When the quality of the mind depends upon the quality of the food taken, it’s natural for spiritual seekers to navigate towards sattvic nutrition. Every person has a sattvic potential within and the ability to transform.
Nourrissez tout ce qui vous entoure d’amour inconditionnel,
puisque que cet amour est l’origine et la destination.
Nurture everyone with unconditional love,
as it is the origin and the destination. – GM Brana
The ancient Vedas and Upanishads say, “Yatha pinde, tatha Brahmande”, translated as: “As is the atom, so is the universe. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.” In other words, if our body is pure, our mind will be pure and vice versa. People who have a rajasic or tamasic state of mind have a distorted image of reality, as they are looking through the misted or dirty window.
The Yajur Veda (12:32) states: “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures whether a human, animal, or whatever.”
Chandogya Upanishad, VII-xxvi-2: “When food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.”
“Of all the restrictive rules, that relating to the taking of sattvic food in moderate quantities is the best; by observing this rule, the sattvic quality of mind will increase, and that will be helpful to Self-inquiry.”– Ramana Maharshi
The Manusmirti (5.49), an ancient law code of Hindu society, states, “Having well considered the origin of flesh foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of sentient beings, a person should abstain from eating flesh.” It also states (6.60), “By not killing any living being one becomes fit for liberation.”
We could see similar ideas in other traditions too.
In the Surangama Sutra, a Bodhi scripture, it is written that Buddha said: “After my parinirvana (enlightenment) in the final kalpa (time era), different kinds of ghosts were encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment. How can a bhikshu (seeker) who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?”
In the book Ahimsa written by Nathaniel Altman, the Buddha is quoted saying, “Him I call Brahman who is free from anger, who gladly endures reproach and even stripes and bonds inflicted upon him without cause. Him I call Brahman who slays no creatures, who does not kill, or cause to be killed, any living thing.”
At the beginning of Torah in Genesis 1:29: “The God said, I give you every seed-baring plant on the face of the whole Earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” One of the commandments is “Thou shalt not kill.”
According to advaita vedanta the goal of life is to discover our true nature. It’s usually called self-realization. An evolved person is balanced, has attained self-mastery and true wisdom, and lives in harmony with nature and people. To reach that balance we need to develop four faculties, which ancient spiritual teachers described as four yoga- karma, bhakti, raja and jnana:
Evolution: good action, doing good in a humble, unselfish way without expectations, doing your best with good intents, choosing healthy nutrition, purifying cause-effect matrix.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty” – Bhagavad Gita 2.47
Devolution: harming self or others (people, animals, nature) with intents, thoughts, words or actions;
Evolution: Loving-kindness, becoming a channel of unconditional love and compassion towards all beings- people, animals and nature, aligning with the Divine will, chanting Divine songs, prayer.
“Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water – that, so offered devotedly by the pure-minded, I accept” – Bhagavad Gita 9.26
Devolution: emotions such as hate, fear, anger etc.
Evolution: Self-mastery, spiritual energy is directed by concentrated thoughts and mental energy, purifying our mind with meditation.
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy” – Bhagavad Gita 6.
Devolution: negative thoughts about self, others, universe;
4-Jnana (Primordial Energy)
Evolution: Wisdom, path of knowledge, introspection, uses will and discernment to cut through the veil of ignorance and attain the truth, shedding of belief systems, allows to distinguish between reality and unreality. This is the last step after a student has integrated the last 3 paths.
“When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha [Arjuna], and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence” – Bhagavad Gita 2.55
Devolution: attachment to dogma, static belief system, which does not allow anything else to be explored or even considered as truth;
At the Academy, we teach many ancient paths, in different classes and events, which are appropriate and relevant to the current civilization. Just because we have chosen a certain path, it does not mean that our path is the only one or better than the others.