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Gunas and Vasanas
Piro: Dear James, I’m still a little confused about the relationship between the gunas, the vasanas and self-inquiry, but the question is not clear enough yet to be succinct. No doubt it will be cleared up as I continue to watch the Vivekachoodamani videos (which are extremely helpful).
James: The vasanas are tendencies to act. They are located in the causal body and are not available for perception. The causal body is composed of the three gunas. The vasanas arise out of the causal body, so a particular vasana is colored by the guna from which it arises. Desire, for instance, comes from rajoguna. It appears in the subtle body as the thought “I want.” It causes action. “I hate you” is a thought born of tamoguna. It doesn’t motivate action, as it is just a mood. It has to pair with rajas to motivate action. “I know the tree” is a thought born of sattva. Etc.
Piro: Your explanation of the vasanas and the gunas is helpful in getting more clear about the question that has been brewing for several days. If I may, I’d like to explore this further with you.
I know I am awareness, ordinary, always present and complete. Vedanta has revealed that and I know it’s my true identity. However, certain thoughts/feelings will arise and I am suddenly acting and believing that I’m the doer again. As a person, I’m back in a time-oriented, object-oriented perspective acting out what is clearly a vasana. It’s clear because it’s familiar, like an old pair of jeans, the result of past actions manifesting as a known pattern, i.e. some old idea of limitation, such as lack of worth or the need to control. Eventually the knowledge that I am awareness “returns” (I know I haven’t gone anywhere in reality), and that pattern, which may be very subtle, weakens or dissolves completely. Looking at the vasanas, I often see a cause-and-effect relationship, and it seems practical to try to modify the behavior or at least to see it as karma yoga; however, sometimes this cause-and-effect relationship is not obvious. As a jiva seeking a steady knowledge of my true identity, what is the best way to inquire into these unperceived vasanas?
James: It seems like you already have a good way, Piro. A vasana is just a tendency, and you have a (common) tendency to think you are unworthy, which you know isn’t true. So all that’s left is to identify it when it arises, negate it as untrue, take a stand as awareness and wait with the karma yoga attitude until the emotion associated with it disappears. Finally, appreciate the fact that it’s not a constant thought and you’re not on meds. Be patient; it takes time to remove bad thoughts.
Piro: The gunas each have a distinct quality, a “smell,” so to speak, that distinguishes one from another. A vasana such as low self-esteem is colored by the tamoguna, for example (at least that’s my conclusion).
James: That’s correct.
Piro: My question is, if one understands and recognizes the character, the energies, of rajoguna and tamoguna manifesting in the subtle body, would it be a more effective means of knowledge to examine one’s experience from the guna “point of view” instead of from the vasana “point of view”?
James: Absolutely. Looking at experience from the guna/nirguna point of view is called triguna vibhava yoga. Gunas subsume vasanas, so if you can manipulate the gunas, the proportions of rajas and tamas with reference to sattva are reduced and corresponding rajasic and tamasic thoughts are reduced. Transforming the mind with this yoga involves creating a disciplined lifestyle that conforms to dharma in every way.
Piro: Part of my confusion around the gunas in general is the idea that they cloud or mask the sattvic mind and “reinforce” ignorance, and yet these are the energies flowing in everything. Added to this idea that they have the power to confuse me is the recognition that rajas and tamas are necessary for action in this life, and that without rajas I wouldn’t bother finishing building the house, for example.
James: They may obscure sattva, but they don’t obscure you, awareness. Yes, rajas is necessary. Speaking as a jiva, I have a fair amount of rajas but I dedicate the work to Isvara, so there is no stress and the experience of the self – the sattvic peace – remains undisturbed as I act. Building Isvara’s house is as valuable as practicing self-inquiry. In this way when you saw a board or pound a nail you are Isvara sawing and pounding Isvara. I did manual labor to support myself as recently as seven years ago (I’m 75) and I enjoyed it. In fact it sattva-ized my mind.
Piro: I hope this makes sense and that I’m not making it overly complicated. In any case, I trust the continued study of Vedanta and the application of inquiry will answer all questions but I look forward to your response.
James: Yes, indeed. Don’t change a thing. Renew your commitment to the teaching every day by studying scripture and soldier on. Moksa is freedom in spite of samsara.
If you commit yourself to karma yoga and jnana yoga you already have the basis for a high sense of self-esteem, Piro. Be proud of yourself for your commitment to self-inquiry. Understand that Isvara would not have revealed Vedanta if you were not qualified, and thank yourself for following your svadharma.
Piro: James, thank you very much for your response. It is extremely helpful and has clarified several questions. I especially appreciate your experience with Isvara’s house! ☺ “Moksa is freedom in spite of samsara” says it all. These are the teachings I’ve been waiting for my whole life. The self-esteem issue is falling away like autumn leaves off the tree. God bless you!