The body and mind are part of material nature which consists of three modes or gunas: satva, rajas and tamas. The gunas appear as the diversified forms that we observe through the senses and that the physical sciences investigate. The diversified objects are only the gross manifestation of the gunas. The sages Kapila and Patanjali tell us that the other three levels can only be seen with the inner vision born of meditation. They tell us that the four states of the gunas are diversified (visesa), undiversified (avisesa), indicator only (linga-matra), and without any indicator (alinga).
“The idea of the three essential modes of Nature is a creation of the ancient Indian thinkers and its truth is not at once obvious, because it was the result of long psychological experiment and profound internal experience.”
Visesa is apparent to all, the other three remain hidden. Because the intelligence looks out through the senses the gunas appear as a world of ceaseless volatile change: my mind is changing and the world is changing. My mind state changes from restlessness to dullness to clarity, and back and forth, and so it goes on.
It is the contention of Yoga that only a satvic mind can meditate. So if we want to investigate the inner universe and go beyond it then the mind must be made satvic. Ashtanga Yoga is the method given to attain a satvic mind that can go into Samadhi on the subtle objects and then realise the true nature of the Self.
Ayurveda teaches satvavajaya, the methods to cultivate satva. Each person will have a mental mode created by their past karma and activities in this life. Tamasic people will be infatuated with sense pleasures, rajasic people will go after wealth and power, satvic people will find satisfaction in virtue and charity. We need to cultivate the satvic state in ourselves and then use this as a platform to rise above the three gunas.
“Through the Satvic being and nature to that which is beyond the three gunas lies the way of the Soul to its perfection.”
The universe is permeated by the three gunas. Sattva = order, Rajas = energy, Tamas = chaos/disorder.
The body/mind is also part of this. At the microcosmic level the three gunas affect the body and mind in the following ways:
Sattva – Lightness of body, good health, mental clarity
Rajas – Energy, restlessness, fickleness, mental pain
Tamas – Heaviness, sluggishness. Mentally lack of clarity, confusion, depression
So we can observe the effect of the gunas in our surface being even though at first we cannot see the subtle causes.
Yoga believes that we can transform a person by the appropriate practices and actions. We evolve in the body/mind complex in the following order:
1) Tamas dominated
2) Rajas dominated
3) Sattva dominated
4) Samya avastha – sattva, rajas and tamas are in equilibrium.
5) Then we transcend the gunas.
Yama and niyama prevent intake of gunas from the external world. Asana reduces systemic rajas, pranayama reduces systemic tamas. Pratyahara closes the senses to the sense objects. Then the mind can be focused, dharana; move to sustained one-pointed attention, dhyanam; and then move to samadhi.
As the rajas and tamas in the mind are removed, restlessness and dullness are reduced and the mind becomes focused, peaceful and satvic. This is the indication that we are on the path to freedom.
“Only a Sattvic mind can see the true nature of the self. A rajasic or tamasic mind will not do this.” Srivatsa Ramaswami