One Year Course

Vedanta is an impersonal method of self inquiry. The first stage is listening with an open mind, setting aside your personal views. Listening without judgement is difficult but not impossible. If you find yourself deciding whether or not you like what you hear, you are not listening. There is nothing to like or dislike, only something to know. If you listen without prejudice, the words will make complete sense, but if you are only looking for an explanation of reality that fits your views, Vedanta is not for you. If you surrender to this process, you will succeed.

Lesson 10: The Ropes

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* Due to technical difficulties, the answers to questions 14-28 were not recorded. But the written answers to these questions are available below.

The creation behaves according to certain laws and principles. Everything is intelligently designed and constructed to serve the needs of the total. It is apparently, not actually, self aware. For the benefit of the seeming entities who take it to be real and want to be free of it we now unfold the teaching of the three gunas. The gunas were discussed on the Macrocosmic level in Chapter 7. In this chapter we will explain how they work in the human mind.

Before the creation existed, awareness, existed. A power in awareness, Maya, manifested the universe out of awareness. Maya is both the material and the intelligent cause of the manifestation. The creation is made of energy. Although energy is one, it appears in three forms or gunas. Every object, subtle and gross, is created out of these three energies. To understand our world and the nature of our experience we need to understand the gunas.

I am sorry to introduce another Sanskrit word but there are no words in any language that are adequate to describe them. The most common word in English is qualities but it is not enough. Be that as it may, the gunas cause experience. In fact they are experience itself. They cause suffering and they cause joy. Knowledge of them is the solution to suffering.

A person who knows that he or she is awareness, may or may not be interested in changing the nature of his or her samsaric experience. If he or she is not interested it is because he or she sits above the gunas dispassionately witnessing what happens, enjoying the bliss of awareness. But those who are not happy are very interested in the nature of their experience. It is dissatisfaction with experience that motivates the quest for enlightenment and most other endeavors.

Enlightenment…liberation…is for the mind. You, awareness, are already free. The bondage that you experience exists solely in the Subtle Body. The Subtle Body is the experiencing and knowing part of the self. Ignorance and knowledge reside in it. Ignorance is the belief that the self is a limited, incomplete, inadequate entity, a thinker, perceiver, doer. Knowledge is “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness.”

Direct and Indirect Cause

As far as liberation goes we do not have to focus on the Gross and Causal Bodies. The physical body should be strong and healthy and one’s environment neat, clean, quiet and secure. The Causal Body is the key to the whole riddle of existence, but nothing can be done about it directly because it is Subtler than the experiencer/doer. It is understood by inference. It is transformed indirectly through the work done by the Subtle Body. This work is called sadhana, spiritual practice, the ‘means of attainment.’ While self knowledge is the direct cause of liberation, practice is the indirect cause. It prepares the mind for self knowledge.

There is a strange notion in the spiritual world that a seeker has some kind of choice over whether or not he or she follows the direct or the indirect path. The direct path is thought to be very easy and the indirect path is a lot of work. So most seekers want to follow the direct path. But the direct path is only easy if the seeker is qualified. If you are qualified Isvara will bring you to a direct path teacher. If you are not qualified and you go to a direct path teacher you will not understand or you will get an incompetent direct path teacher. So your qualifications, not your will, determines your path.

The fear that you will not gain enlightenment or that you will lose it once it is gained is solely due to the fact that the Subtle Body has not been properly prepared. The preparation of the Subtle Body is in terms of managing and neutralizing binding likes and dislikes. If they are not managed and neutralized, neither self knowledge or self experience will be steady.

Firm self knowledge can bring about an abiding mind, one that enjoys a steady experience of the bliss of awareness as it reflects on the Subtle Body. But seekers whose knowledge is shaky often experience the ‘firefly’ phenomenon: the knowledge/experience of who you are blinks on and off as the mind changes, creating a destabilizing sense of frustration. It blinks on and off because the Subtle Body is not established in sattva guna. Seekers try frantically to ‘get it back’ when the experience of wholeness and completeness deserts them. They worry endlessly when they are experiencing wholeness because they are not in control of the experience. What is in control? The gunas control experience. When the guna changes, an individual’s experience changes. Therefore, knowledge of the gunas is essential for anyone seeking liberation through inquiry.

Not to put a fine point on it, I feel happy when sattva guna is predominant and more or less unhappy when rajas or tamas predominates. One of the meanings of guna is ‘rope.’ The gunas, like ropes chain me to experience. It never ceases to amaze me how the proponents of experiential enlightenment fail to teach karma yoga, dharma yoga or the yoga of the three gunas. It can only be due to ignorance because if enlightenment is experiential…it is and isn’t…knowledge of experience and how to control it is absolutely necessary.

When we say that enlightenment is experiential we mean that when awareness reflects on a sattvic mind it produces an assortment of experiences that are variously described as mystical, transcendental, out of body, non-dual, near death, etc. These experiences are so unlike ordinary experiences and are generally so exciting and satisfying…but always puzzling…that they usually create a vasana for more. One problem with them is that the experiencer believes he or she is experiencing something that is beyond samsara, a wonderful something that is not subject to change, and develops a desire to ‘go there’ to experience ‘it’ permanently. But all experience is in samsara and subject to change. So there is no permanent enlightenment experience, only temporary enlightenment experiences.

No Quarrel with Experience

So far we have said that enlightenment is not experiential but that does not mean that Vedanta has a quarrel with experience. Life is the self in the form of experience and Vedanta is the science of the self so Vedanta and experience are not enemies. You cannot be for or against experience because from the level of the apparent reality experience is all there is. And that we want to enjoy our lives goes without saying. In fact the whole purpose of Vedanta is not to give you a special ‘experienceless’ experience but to take the suffering out of everyday experience so the self, operating as a Subtle Body, enjoys its life. Remember, the ego, the doer/experiencer, is the self under the spell of ignorance.

We quarrel with those who think that enlightenment is a particular kind of experience different from everyday experience. The logic was presented in Chapter 2. But to refresh our memory Vedanta says that reality is non-dual. If it is non-dual everything experienced and known is only awareness, which means that what you are experiencing at any moment is the self. If you don’t like what you are experiencing then enlightenment is not going to help, except indirectly. If you don’t like it and you want it to be different, then you need to do the actions that make your experience suitable to you. If you are going to change your experience you need to understand what experience is. And if you want to understand what it is then you need to understand the gunas because experience is nothing but the three gunas.

The Flow, Stuckness, and No Movement

Before we unfold the technical aspects of the three gunas teaching we need to consider three global kinds of experience: the feeling of ‘flow’, the feeling of stuckness and a feeling of no movement whatsoever, sometimes called ‘the zone.’ These are obviously not technical Vedantic words but are terms that help to make the guna idea more accessible. The feeling that life is flowing is obviously desirable for everyone, but it is particularly desirable for predominately rajasic individuals. Rajas is the ‘mode of passion.’ It inclines one to activity. A rajasic person is goal oriented and wants results badly because his or her happiness rides on results. We already know that if the doer is in control rajas is not a problem but Isvara is in control of results and Isvara doesn’t necessarily give you what you want when you want it the way you want it. So rajasic people are by definition emotional. They are high and happy when they are getting what they want and angry and depressed when they aren’t.


Rajas is an interesting energy in that once you have operated out of this guna for a while, activity itself becomes a goal. You become attached to the idea that you ‘should’ be doing something all the time and you feel guilty if you aren’t. Sometimes the compelling desire to act is so strong you perform self insulting, silly and trivial actions simply because deliberate action or inaction is impossible. The most common justification for the state of mindless activity is ‘survival.’ You believe that your activities are responsible for your survival. It is lost on you that if you weren’t surviving, you would be unable to perform activities. This is not to say that action is ‘bad’ as far as liberation is concerned, only that excess rajas mitigates against success in so far as success depends on the appropriateness and timeliness of your actions. When your mind is agitated, you to not act deliberately and skillfully.

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” my mother used to say. Actually a busy mind is the devil’s workshop unless it is busy inquiring, assuming your ultimate goal is liberation. People controlled by this guna are often plagued by boredom and suffer because they cannot relax. In the Sixties they were called ‘uptight,’ meaning stressed. They are victims of ‘doership.’ Doership is not about doing. From womb to tomb you are active. It is not up to you. Doership is an identity issue, not an action issue. You think you are a doer. Doing happens, no doubt, but you are not doing it, either as the jiva or as the self. The gunas are the doer. If you are rajasic, you evaluate yourself in terms of what you have accomplished or failed to accomplish or want to accomplish. This leads to a psychological problem: inflation and deflation. You have an exaggerated sense of your self importance when you are getting what you want and a sense of failure and depression when you aren’t.

Usually rajasic persons think they are very clever because they accomplish so much, but much energy is wasted spinning their wheels. From a spiritual point of view they are not the sharpest knives in the drawer because they are so busy acting out their desires that they fail to dispassionately evaluate the results of their actions, which means that they make the same mistakes over and over. They tend to be stubborn and defensive. They vigorously cling to their doings and defend their wants no matter what. They find themselves in constant conflict with the world because they think their wants are more important that the wants of Isvara in the form of the wants of others. The feeling of ‘flow’ is a situation where you are getting what you want. When Isvara does not deliver the desired result, stuckness, tamas, ensues.

You can identify doership by observing your language. If you hear yourself saying you are ‘supposed to,’ ‘have to’ or ‘must’ do something, doership is alive and well. You are not compelled or obligated to do anything because you are actually free not to see yourself as a doer. Furthermore, you can consider life from the point of view of who you really are. If you do it will be clear that life is a dream and that you do not come and go because you are the ground of being on which actions take place.

If you know that you are awareness you are not concerned with being in or out of the flow of life because there is no sense of doership. If, however, you don’t know you are awareness and are identified with the doer/experiencer/enjoyer entity, then you would obviously want your life to flow. If you want it to flow you will benefit by the knowledge of the gunas and how they work.

The feeling of stuckness is caused by tamas. It is a failure to see what has to be done in a given situation and a lack of will to accomplish it. Tamas is dullness, a cloudy energy. Tamasic people are lazy. They prefer to enjoy without doing. If you find yourself sitting endlessly in front of the TV with a can of beer and a huge bag of fatty chips, you are in the grip of tamas. Criminals tend to be tamasic in their thinking, although they may very well be rajasic physically. They would rather figure out ways to beat the system than to work for a living. ‘Easy money’ is their holy mantra. This guna inclines one to sensuality and the pursuit of short-term pleasure. Alcoholics, drug addicts and gluttons are tamasic. How much effort does it take to get drunk? When you are drunk or stoned your problems seem to disappear. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Tamasic people do not want to think. Thinking is hard work. They want to follow formulas. They cannot see the value of knowledge.

People in whom tamas is predominant want to ‘feel.’ Feeling is easy. Tamasic people love sleep because it allows them to avoid unpleasant tasks. Eating large quantities of sensuous foods is an activity of choice for tamasic people. Sex is a big draw, although unfortunately it tends to involve a bit of effort. The narcotic post-coital effect is pure tamas. “Yum! Feels great.” The short-lived success in the Eighties and Nineties of the famous sex guru, Osho, was due to the power of tamas. Tamasic people are loyal to a fault. Even today, long after Osho and his ‘path’ have been completely discredited, many of his ‘devotees’ stubbornly worship him and are enthralled by the tamasic way of life he espoused.

Because tamasic people continually indulge themselves they do not accumulate good karma. In fact they collect bad karma or simply spend whatever good karma stands in their account until it is gone. They are perpetually in debt, financially and energetically. Life is a huge weight, a millstone around the neck dragging them down. They do not grow. They don’t stay the same. They devolve.

Tamas is inertia. It is the most destructive energy of the three, although rajas is a close second. To overcome it, you have to act. Rajas is about obtaining things and tamas is about keeping them. Even maintenance requires energy. You have to pay your parking tickets or your car will be impounded and sold. If you don’t brush your teeth, they rot. If you don’t love and serve your wife, she runs off with someone who does. Everything in samsara is sliding into the abyss as we speak. But when you are tamasic, you are too lazy to protect what you have. Nothing in your life lasts, so there is nothing to build on. You end up living hand to mouth. It wears you out. You become fatigued and overcome with a sense of failure. Depression sets in and your self-esteem plummets. In my day tamas was called the ‘Yuppie’ disease. This term has evidently been relegated to the dustbin because now a suitable euphemism has replaced it, ME. Tamasic people are messy, forgetful and prone to accidents and loss. They are perpetually confused. When the Subtle Body is predominately tamasic, the self, masquerading as the ego, feels totally stuck.

The third type of experience is the feeling of the ‘zone.’ It is a very positive experience. It can be confused with tamas because nothing is apparently happening. It is the experience of clarity and bliss and is the third guna, sattva. Rajas is the mode of passion, tamas the mode of inertia and dullness and sattva is the mode of knowledge and bliss. Sattva is the ‘revealing power’ an energy that reveals awareness. By ‘reveal’ I mean it makes awareness accessible as knowledge and experience. If you want to feel good all the time, produce a mind that is one hundred percent sattvic. Of course this is not possible because sattva is supplanted by rajas and tamas as the gunas cycle but with a little work an inquirer can create a predominantly sattvic mind.

Sattva is the feeling of peace and satisfaction. When you are satisfied the mind sits still. Such a mind is valuable for two reasons: it reveals the self to be non-dual and it allows you to evaluate objects as they are. Whether you are looking at (the refection of) the self or at objects, you are experiencing though the Subtle Body so the energy dominating the Subtle Body at any time is of paramount importance for an inquirer.

These two benefits are not unconnected. If you just want to feel good you need not seek enlightenment, you need to cultivate sattva. You can never get a one hundred percent feel-good flowing life, but you can get pretty close if your mind is predominately sattvic because you can be objective about your thoughts and feelings and the external things that happen to you. If you are clear about what is happening in you, you can work with your stuff and creatively remove the obstacles to your happiness as they arise.

If your Subtle Body is predominately rajasic and tamasic, it is virtually impossible gain self knowledge, or if you do it will only be a frustrating flash of insight. Even if you are predominantly sattvic you will not necessarily gain self knowledge, but you will be in a position to develop the qualifications, assuming a burning desire for freedom. So either way you have to address your experience, not to deny it or try to transcend it. You must work with it creatively using guna knowledge, not out of beliefs and opinions born of mindless desires and unexamined fears. And if you are predominately sattvic you will easily assimilate the teachings of Vedanta. If not, not.

In any case, let’s call the experience of sattva the experience of no-movement because a steady and clear mind reveals the self as unchanging awareness. A beautiful verse in the Bhagavad Gita expresses it this way, “The one who sees inaction in action is indeed wise.” You know that the changes that are taking place in you and around you are only apparent changes. Or to use a saying much in vogue in the spiritual world, “Nothing ever happened.” When the Subtle Body is sattvic you can act or not act; you are not compelled to act nor are you too lazy to act.

Although we have presented an outline of the rajasic and tamasic personalities we will not discuss the sattvic personality here. We will save it for later when we take up the topic of values. More can be said about the three personality types but Vedanta is not interested in personality analysis because the Subtle Body is not the self. We are only interested in how these energies affect the assimilation of experience and how the assimilation of experience…or lack thereof…relates to self inquiry and the assimilation of the teachings. The Assimilation of Experience

Experience is an unbroken series of inner and outer events and the reaction or response to them. The reaction of animals to experience is totally programmed. Humans have an advantage because they have the power to think. They can study their experience, extract knowledge from it and change it, freeing them to some degree from their programming.

Spiritual growth comes about through the proper assimilation of experience. Just as partially digested food inhibits the efficient functioning of the body, partially or improperly assimilated experience compromises the development of the Subtle Body. Because awareness illumines the body-mind entity, it is propelled along its life track to its ultimate destination: the realization of its non-separation from everything. As long as the meaning of life’s experiences is unknown to it, the person is little more than an animal and cannot fulfill its destiny.

Like an animal, a human infant unknowingly lives out its subconscious tendencies. It grows physically, but it does not evolve. It has no control over the direction of its life because it has insufficient experience and knowledge to make informed choices. Once its intellect develops and it assimilates certain values, it can evaluate its experiences and begin to evolve.

The longer an experience remains unassimilated, the more problems it causes. Let us say that your father was an alcoholic and abused your mother, so that she fell into a lifelong depression and was unable to raise you and your siblings properly. Because you were the eldest, you ended up parenting your younger brothers and sisters. You did it because you had no choice. You developed a deep resentment toward your father for robbing your childhood and a deep sympathy for your poor victimized mother. In reality, she was not blameless, because she never stood up to her husband; she actually enabled his alcoholism in subtle ways. Nonetheless, you saw her as a martyr and loved her for it. Your father died, but your hatred lived on. You believed a grave injustice had been done and it colored your feelings toward men in general.

One day, a nice man wanted to marry you and in the excitement of first love, you agreed. You married, but as time went on certain things your husband said or did reminded you of your father. This brought up old feelings of resentment and rage. You began to pick quarrels with him for no reason. Your fears slowly got the best of you and you incorrectly imagined that these small things he shared with your father—a certain inflection in his voice when he was stressed, for example—revealed a selfish and abusive nature. You accused him of ‘changing’ and said he did not really love you, which was not true. Your relationship deteriorated and your children started to become neurotic. You confided in one of your divorced women friends who came from a similar background and was holding a grudge against her ex. She showed so much concern for your plight that you fell in love with her, left your husband, abandoned your children and became gay. But after a while your new identity did not work, because you loved her for the wrong reason: she was not a man. Had your mother been the abuser, you may have hated women and loved men. We can make this story go on and on for fifty years or more, each tragic event unfolding out of the preceding event like clockwork, until it becomes impossible to work back to the beginning and discover the reason for the suffering and heal the wound.

Experience does not interpret or assimilate itself. The intellect interprets experience. It sits behind the mind and evaluates what happens. There is nothing wrong with it. This is what it is supposed to do. If experience conforms to the ego’s desire, it gives the thumbs up and positive feeling arise. If life delivers experience contrary to its desire, it gives the thumbs down and negative feelings arise. How it interprets experience depends on acquired knowledge and ignorance plus three factors that are normally beyond its control. Two of these factors inhibit its ability to discriminate and one facilitates it. The factors over which the intellect has limited control are rajas, tamas and sattva.

Rajas and the Assimilation of Experience

How does rajas affect the assimilation of experience? Whether the goals are worldly or spiritual, and whether or not they are realized, the rajasic intellect is not concerned with the truth of experience, only with how a particular experience relates to the fulfillment of the ego’s desires.

Rajas is always a source of frustration because everything gained is inevitably lost. An object gained causes attachment and an object lost produces grief, neither of which is conducive to happiness. Rather than accept the impermanence of life as a fact and be satisfied with what is, rajas causes the ego to continually seek fulfillment in new experiences. Even though the individual knows better, rajas can cause such a lack of discrimination that the individual will consistently repeat actions that produce suffering. It often generates so many actions in such a short time, that the intellect can never determine which action was responsible for a given result, thus preventing it from learning from its experiences.

When a pleasurable experience ends, rajas causes disappointment, because it wants the pleasure to continue, even though the intellect knows that pleasure is fleeting. If an experience is mediocre, it wants it to be better. If it is bad, it should end instantly and not happen again. If experience repeats itself over and over, as it does owing to conditioning, rajas causes boredom and produces a strong desire for variety. More-better-different is its holy mantra. It produces an endlessly active time-constrained life of loose ends.

No matter how much is accomplished, the ‘to-do’ list never shrinks. It is a closet, garage, basement and attic overflowing with a confusing assortment of neglected and unused objects. It is late tax return, a forgotten appointment, an unreturned call, a frantic search for one’s keys. Rajas’ aggressive extroverted forays into samsara are inevitably accompanied by tiredness and insomnia.

When I was young my father, who was wise in many ways, used to say, “You can’t win.” At the time I did not understand what he meant but a life well spent and the teachings of Vedanta made it clear. Life is a zero sum game, an eternal war within one’s self in which neither side prevails for long. For example, when tamas appears in a person whose predominant guna is rajas a painful experience is inevitable. You have many things on your to-do list but your mind is so dull that every action becomes painful. You are wired but tired. It is not fun. And conversely, when you need to indulge your tamas and sleep, your mind is too busy. So you suffer.

Assimilation of experience only takes place when the mind is alert and present. Therefore, when rajas dominates the Subtle Body, the innate wisdom of the self, much less common sense knowledge, is not available to help the intellect accurately determine what is happening and resolve doubts. Resolved experience leaves attention fully present, so that it is able to meet the next experience without prejudice. Because life is an unending procession of experiences in this pressurized age, it is important to lay each experience to rest as quickly as possible, preferably as it happens. When you are so rajasic that your mind is totally wrapped up dealing with an endless succession of trivial daily desires you are too busy to look at your ‘issues’ so they remain in the background and cause suffering.

Unresolved experience subliminally drains attention. Difficulty focusing on what needs to be done, and avoidance of what should or should not be done is a sign that the mind is excessively rajasic. As unresolved experience accumulates, the individual suffers existential constipation. He or she feels overwhelmed, stressed and unable to keep up with life’s demands. Growth rarely comes through the easy attainment of desires, but an extroverted person is also denied the growth enhancing benefits of assimilated unwanted experiences.

Tamas and the Assimilation of Experience

Tamas, the veiling power, inhibits the assimilation of experience as efficiently as rajas, but for different reasons. Under its influence, the Subtle Body, though seemingly quiet, is actually dull. Efficient evaluation of experience requires mental clarity, but when a torpid veil covers the Subtle Body, perception is distorted and assimilation is compromised. When the intellect is dull, it has difficulty connecting the results of its actions with the thoughts motivating them, causing uncertainty with respect to what has to be done and what should not be done. When the Subtle Body is predominately dull, you are negotiating the ocean of samsara in a rudderless ship. ‘Where should I go? What should I do? What’s going on? I don’t know. I do not want to know’ are some signature thoughts.

A tamasic mind runs unthinkingly off conditioned patterns. Unlike rajas, it hates the new. Because creative thinking takes so much energy, the tamasic mind does not value inquiry. Therefore, it cannot gain control of events and is forced to continually re-visit negative situations. Consequently, tamas is responsible for the feelings of helplessness that cause deep and lasting depressions. Tamas solves problems by denying them. When unwanted karma happens, it teams up with rajas to lay the blame elsewhere.

The undigested experiential backlog brought on by a tamasic mind, causes the ego to dither and procrastinate. If you have a rajasic lifestyle and feel constantly exhausted, know that rajas is causing tamas. When tamas is particularly heavy, even small daily duties, like brushing teeth, combing hair or taking out the garbage seem like gargantuan undertakings. Neglect is tamasic and is responsible in large part for the rampant emotional dysfunction seen in materialistic societies. Parents become so caught up in their own lives that children are neglected. Unloved children quickly develop low self esteem and are unable to properly fulfill their roles in society.

There are no experiential qualifications for enlightenment, only the right guna balance. Samadhis, satoris, nirvanas and other non-dual mind-blowing epiphanies can be as much a hindrance as a help. If the mind is predominately sattvic it can assimilate information carefully and quickly lay experiences to rest. If you have a consistent issue in your can be a love or food or recognition or power…it means you have an assimilation problem and your mind will be unfit for inquiry. Unprocessed experience can stay with you your whole life long.

I have a friend who was adopted. His mother gave him up to a good family for adoption when he was very young. He was loved and given all the advantages. But when he was told he was adopted, he developed a terrible complex. He was unable to assimilate that information properly. If he had been sattvic at that time then he would have realized that Isvara was great because an unfit mother had been eliminated and replaced with a good one. But his mind was tamasic and he took it to mean he wasn’t valuable. That idea stuck in his mind for more than fifty years. It ruined several marriages and he did not find love…until Vedanta came into this life…because of the thought that he was not worthy.

Upside to the Gunas

There is an upside as well as a downside to each guna. When it is balanced by appropriate amounts of sattva and rajas, tamas helps the psyche function smoothly. It clings to what is good and provides the patience necessary to ground ideas in reality. Finally, it is responsible for sleep. Insufficient tamas results in sleep deprivation, a major source of suffering, because the body and mind need rest. A restless mind cannot discriminate the self from objects. Rajas projects and tamas obscures, but sattva reveals things as they are. When sattva is present, the intellect is clear and experience is seen for what it is. Unlike rajas and tamas, sattva is an indirect means of enlightenment, because it reveals the self.

Sattva and the Assimilation of Experience

When rajas dominates the mind, desire interprets experience. When tamas dominates, fear interprets experience. Both obscure the truth. When sattva dominates, truth interprets experience.

Awareness, shines on each of the three energies in the Causal Body. Its light, reflected on the Subtle Body, produces three distinct conditions. If I desire to experience the self and the Subtle Body is the instrument of experience, it stands to reason that I would want to have a sattvic Causal Body. In fact the chitta, the substance of the Causal Body, is consciousness and reflects it accurately. But if it is burdened with tamasic and rajasic tendencies the reflection will be distorted and inquiry will not bear fruit. If the Causal Body is dominated by rajasic tendencies, the self appears as dynamic energy, not radiant light. If the Causal Body is tamasic, I will have no idea of the self whatsoever. The conclusion is obvious: if I want to experience the self as it is, I should cultivate a sattvic mind. Experience of the self is not enlightenment, but it can lead to enlightenment if the intellect can assimilate the knowledge—‘I am awareness’—that arises when the attention is turned within and the mind is sattvic.

Because reality is non-dual consciousness, the mind is consciousness. To gain a predominately sattvic mind, one capable of discrimination and the easy assimilation of experience, the proportions of rajas and tamas relative to sattva needs to be changed. Enough rajas needs to be retained for motivational purposes and enough tamas preserved to ground one’s ideas in reality. But the lion’s share of the mind should be sattvic. A predominately sattvic mind will gain success in any field, worldly or spiritual, because it can discriminate properly. Enlightenment…moksa…is defined as discrimination. It only takes place in a sattvic mind.

How the Ropes Bind

Finally, these three energies are called gunas or ropes because they apparently bind the self, the indweller in the body, to habitual thoughts, feelings and actions. Each binds in a different way. Rajas binds by longing and attachment. Craving for things and attachment to things pressures you to become a doer and ties you up with karma. Furthermore, desire makes rule breaking tempting. If you push against the rules, the rules push back. Continual reaction to events is bondage.

Tamas binds by ignorance and its effects. When you are dull you cannot think clearly, so you are uncertain about what needs to be done and you tend to opt not to do what you should do or to do what you should not do. In the best of all possible worlds you would not be penalized for not doing something, however life is not the best of all possible worlds. If you do not respond to life appropriately, you are blessed with suffering. Try not paying taxes or the mortgage and see what happens. Furthermore, when you are lazy you are prone to cutting corners, which does not make you a friend of dharma.

Although sattva is a necessary stepping stone to self realization, it binds through attachment to pleasure and happiness. When the mind is sattvic, you feel good. When you feel good, there is a strong tendency to identify with the feeling. Actually, there is only one ‘I’ and it does not feel good or bad, but when it is apparently ignorant of its nature, it thinks it is an enjoyer. The pleasure that one feels is always associated with an object and objects are experienced in the mind, so when rajas or tamas takes over, the pleasure disappears. By identifying with happiness, you are asking for unhappiness.

Sattva also binds by attachment to knowledge. Because sattva is responsible for knowledge and because knowledge is necessary for survival, it is easy to become attached to what you know or do not know. As we know, awareness is not a knower. It illumines the knower, knowledge and the objects of knowledge. It illumines the absence of knowledge. Therefore, attachment to sattva, not sattva itself, stands in the way of self knowledge.

This is always a problem because the world does not necessarily conform to these ideals. In reality, existence is awareness and awareness is value neutral but a mind under the spell of the gunas is not value neutral. Sattva causes the individual to interpret reality in terms of ‘higher’ or ‘spiritual’ values; goodness, truth, beauty, for example. But Isvara’s creation is not all sweetness and light. It contains everything in equal measure from pure goodness to unrepentant evil, from sublime beauty to wretched ugliness.

Incestuous Bedfellows – The Psychological Mechanism

The simple and universal psychology of the gunas obviates the need for psychoanalysis. You need not look to the past to explain your hangups and complexes. All stem from the same unconscious mechanism…denial and projection. Tamas causes denial and rajas projects. Where you find one, you will find the other. They are dynamic energies operating all the time. If you know who you are, the play of rajas and tamas rises to the level of consciousness and they lose their power to create suffering.

There are many things about ourselves that contradict our good opinion of ourselves: selfishness, arrogance, cruelty, dishonesty, envy, lust, greed, etc. We do not want to think of ourselves in this way nor do we want to be perceived in this way so tamas conceals them. Because the Causal Body is dynamic these qualities are continually seeking to express themselves. I cannot say that I am selfish or greedy so rajas projects the selfishness or greed or deceit onto someone or something else. It blames.

A Rudimentary Inquiry

There is a simple inquiry for dealing with denial and projection. When something is bothering you and it brings you into conflict with some object…the most common is another person, although you can imagine you are at war with the society, the government, the church, the corporations, the weather, the list is endless…you ask your self if it is true that one of the hooks for these projections is actually responsible for your bad feelings.

Of course your ego is going to say that it is. The ego has a vested interest in its projections. Projections protect it and keep it in business. They bolster its self esteem, its sense of rightness. It needs to think that it is innocent. Actually it is innocent in so far as it is actually self. Unfortunately, Maya has seen to it that it does not know the truth of its nature and it thinks it is a person because it is conditioned by society; nothing projects like groups of individuals. Societies have ready-made enemies at their fingertips. Hitler had the Jews, Stalin the petty bourgeois capitalists, the Christians Satan, Whites the Blacks, husbands wives and wives husbands. We need someone to blame. I cannot be the problem. But the truth is: I am the problem. There is no problem apart from me.

This method takes the ego into account and asks, “Is it really true that….” Sometimes it is true that the world is out to get you. So you need to look at the facts closely and see if it is reasonable to assume that the problem lies elsewhere. If the problem lies elsewhere then redress lies elsewhere and you need to seek it elsewhere. Or you can relax because it is not your problem. But not all problems are caused by the world. In fact, very few problems are centered on objects. Even if an object is causing the problem, is it really a problem apart from the thought that it is a problem? If it isn’t, then all problems ultimately belong to me.

In the third stage of this inquiry you go a bit deeper. You inquire into the reason you have the problem. You say, “Who would I be without this belief?” This is the hard part because this is where you discover that the problem is essential to your identity. The answer always is, “I would be happy.”

The next step should be easy…drop the problem. But it is only as easy as it is non-essential to your identity. People who once drank excessively but who have been clean and sober for thirty years stand up in AA meetings and say with a straight face, “Hi, I’m Tom. I’m an alcoholic.” Tom’s whole adult life has centered around the alcohol problem. It has provided him with an identity. And, oddly enough, “I am an alcoholic is a projection, an idea…thanks to Maya…designed to keep him from appreciating his true nature.

Dealing with your issues is a tricky business because of the projecting power. A common projection designed to protect the ego is “I am right.” When you are under the influence of rajas you do not really care about dharma. The ego needs the moral high ground, it needs to be right because it does not feel right about itself. So it makes you ‘right’ and the object ‘wrong.’ See duality in action. Actually you are not right or wrong. You are just ordinary awareness. But…again thanks to Maya…you need to enhance your sense of self esteem, which is never what it should be if you do not know who you are. Exaggeration is another problem caused by rajas, which keeps you right and the object wrong. In every institutionalized relationship, like marriage, there are always unresolved issues that lead to conflict. If your husband occasionally forgets to take out the garbage one night, he ‘never’ takes out the garbage. If your wife occasionally forgets to pick up your shirts at the cleaners, she ‘always’ forgets.

And finally, if, heaven forbid, someone accuses you of projecting and/or denying, you will, of course, deny and project. Endless indeed are the disturbances of a mind in thrall to rajas and tamas. Unless we understand the dynamics of this unconscious mechanism and gain control of it as it plays out, the Subtle Body will never become inquiry worthy because undigested experience will keep it endlessly disturbed.

Karma is Unassimilated Experience

Karma yoga is an attitude with respect to action that neutralizes the unhelpful vasanas produced by denial and projection. If the vasanas are not neutralized by karma yoga and by an understanding brought on by an analysis of the causal mechanism, unassimilated experience will produce unwanted karma and the mind will remain extroverted and disturbed. Maya will continue to conceal the self and rajas will project the frustrating idea that there is an objective solution to the desire for completeness.

The Pain Body

One of the most popular formulations of this mechanism in recent years is Eckhart Tolle’s ‘pain body.’ It is presented as a more or less organic entity that feeds on painful experiences, which is to say that pain itself becomes a vasana and then a samskara. There is no ‘entity’ living in us that it doing this. It is purely an unconscious process that seems conscious because of the proximity of the Causal Body to the Self. The self is not the Causal Body…it is always free of the structures set up by Maya that appear in it…but the Causal Body is the self in its subtlest manifestation. Separating it and its effects from the self is the subject of the next chapter, but the sense that pain is conscious and seeks to renew itself is certainly understandable.

Pain has many forms but our most fundamental pain is the pain of compulsive action because it strips us of our most precious asset: freedom to choose and act. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” As we pointed out in the first chapter, all human activity is centered around an attempt to remove the sense of limitation brought about by ignorance-inspired desires and fears. We do not pursue objects for the sake of the objects themselves; we pursue them for the sense of freedom that ensues when attaining them removes the painful desire for them. The denial/projection syndrome that we suffer produces life’s most fundamental duality, the painful feeling that I am separate from what I want all the while masking the simple fact that I am what I want. As I experience momentary freedoms and joys delivered at the hand of objects, I build a vasana load that eventually distorts the natural geometry of the Subtle Body and I am treated to the additional pain of inner conflict…which in turn motivates further vain actions that harvest additional painful experiences.

It should be clear by now that the raft of experiential solutions to this problem presented in the modern spiritual world are not going to work. How can a discrete experience of the self, a meditation technique or childishly asking ‘who am I?’ undo this built-in pain producing mechanism? It is impossible. Ignorance is hard wired in the neural networks of human beings and only consistent action based by understanding will bring it to heel over time.

How to Cultivate Sattva

The mind is a garden in which Vedanta plants the seed of self knowledge which eventually becomes a great tree. It will not grow in the toxic soil of samsaric consciousness. The logic of this chapter leads us to the conclusion that a sattvic mind is necessary for liberation. How to cultivate it? How to transform rajasic and tamasic vasanas into sattva?

Yoga practice is a commitment to adjusting the relative proportions of rajas and tamas with reference to sattva to produce an efficient, powerful and clear thinking mind. When yoga has prepared the mind, discriminating the self from the objects appearing in it, can bear fruit.

You cultivate sattva by connecting your actions with the results. This is not always easy because results have observable and unobservable effects. If you drink a bottle of wine you will feel stimulated (rajasic) and momentarily happy (sattvic). But the next day your mind will be tamasic and filled with regret. That you indulge yourself in this way shows that you are in pain. Pain motivates you and pain is the result of your actions. You cannot think clearly when you are in pain.

Discrimination is very simple. If something agitates or dulls you, it has to be renounced. You cannot just keep doing what you are doing and somehow expect your mind to become pure. And without a pure mind, the truth will not incarnate in you. At the same time you should take up activities that uplift and harmonize the mind.

But it is not easy because the ego uses its habits to manage rajas and tamas. Take away the habit and it is suddenly exposed to the very energy that is it trying to eliminate. It gets attached to things that are not good for it. It will come up with a million reasons why it can’t let go. I was once lecturing a friend about his bad habits. He heard me out and said, “Well, Jim, it may be shit, but it is warm and it is mine.” If you know very well what is not good for you and you go ahead doing it, you deserve to suffer. You are going against dharma. This is how Isvara teaches us. If you are going to grow you have to face the music. Because we have become a race of self indulgent sissies, the gurus have a field day. They say either that you have to do nothing or that you can keep right on doing what you are doing and it will take you there. But you have to take responsibility for ‘your’ projections even though ultimately they do not belong to you. When they are fully owned the mind becomes resolved and will naturally respond according to dharma.

Stuck in Sattva

But you have to be careful. The more pure your mind becomes the greater is the danger that you will develop a spiritual ego. The ego is that part of the Subtle Body that owns actions and the results. It associates with the sublime feeling of sattva and says, “I am pure. I am holy. I am spiritual.” It can become extremely vain and obnoxious in a smarmy loving way. The practice of discrimination is not intended to improve you or make you pure. You are already-accomplished-awareness and as pure as the driven snow. A pure mind, a pure heart is not the goal. It is only a means to an end. It is the field in which Vedanta can establish the vision of non-duality. The vision of non-duality destroys the ego’s sense of ownership and establishes self knowledge as the doer. There is no purifier like self knowledge.

Sattva Plus Vedanta

If the vision of non-duality is established in a pure mind, experience is processed as it happens. Things come up and I respond appropriately. I see the big picture and see where I fit into it. Everyday happenings are laid to rest, leaving space for old stuff to come forth and offer itself into the fire of self knowledge. Our goal is to make this teaching the interpreter of our experience. We need to trust the teaching and let it do the work. Once you see how it works, you will not go back to interpreting reality from your personal standpoint. Your life will flow effortlessly because the doer will have stepped aside and let the truth take over. It is like being on a magic carpet, floating here and there. Nothing gets in your way. You are like water, flowing around every rock.

By now the relationship between action and knowledge should be clear. Action purifies you and knowledge sets you free. In a way you could argue that action is even more important than knowledge because unless you have done the work, the knowledge cannot destroy your ignorance. In the next chapter, The Vision of Non-Duality, we discuss Vedanta’s signature teaching, the discrimination between awareness and the objects appear in you. The teaching of the three gunas will appear again in a different context.

But before we move on we need to consider how it is possible, but difficult, to achieve enlightenment through yoga. So far I have used the word yoga to mean an action or actions done to obtain a certain result. We know that the self is ever-free and already accomplished, so yoga does not work for liberation. However, it may lead to liberation. Although the modern world sees yoga as calisthenics, and indeed there is a branch of yoga that is purely physical, in the Vedic world the word yoga generally refers to Astanga Yoga, the yoga of the eight steps or ‘limbs.’ It is a path of meditation leading to various spiritual states of mind.

Leading Error

Here is a quotation from a 14th Century Vedanta text called Panchadasi. “A person saw a ray of light emitted by a diamond and another saw a ray coming from a candle. Both believed that the rays were coming from a diamond and went to obtain it. Though both took the ray to be a diamond, one found a diamond and the other didn’t. Mistaking the ray of a candle for a diamond is called a ‘misleading error’, an error that does not lead to the goal. Taking the ray of a gem for a gem is called a 'leading’ or ‘informative’ error because it leads to the goal. If someone thinks mist is smoke and sets out to collect charcoal and finds charcoal, the mistake is a ‘leading’ error or a coincidence. Meditation on or worship of awareness may also lead to liberation.”


Meditation is an action. Although some meditations insist that the body be positioned a certain way, meditation is actually an act of mind. We call it a manasa karma. People who take up meditation believe that the technique will produce the experience of enlightenment. This is why you see enlightenment touted as a ‘state’ in the yogic literature as well as the obvious absence of a means of self knowledge. The meditator wants to achieve a certain ‘state’ like Samadhi or Nirvana. We know this is not possible because reality is non-dual awareness. Non-duality means there is only one ‘state’ and you are it. The gunas are three different states created by Maya out of non-dual awareness. However, meditation may inadvertently lead to liberation. Therefore it is called a leading error.

One of the best examples of a leading error is the experience of Ramana Maharshi one of India’s greatest sages. Here is a description of an experience that delivered self knowledge.

“I felt I was going to die and that I had to solve the problem myself, there and then. The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally without forming the words. ‘Now death has come, what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ And I at once dramatized the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the inquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape so that neither the word ‘I’ nor any other word could be uttered. ‘Well then,’ I said to myself, ‘The body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body am I dead? Is the body ‘I?’ It is silent and inert, but I could feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So I am spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means that I am the deathless spirit.” All this was not a dull thought. It flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought process.

‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centered on that “I”. From that moment onwards the ‘I’ or ‘Self’ focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on. Other thoughts might come and go like the various notes of music but the ‘I’ continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends will all other states. Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading, or anything else I was still centered on the ‘I’. Previous to that crisis I had felt no perceptible or direct interest in it, much less any inclination to dwell permanently in it.”

This is a typical self ‘experience.’ It, or something like it, happens somewhere to many people every day. There is a vast literature of these kinds of experiences. The first thing we notice is the statement, “the shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards.” The mind was previously facing the world. Now it is looking inwards. An inward turned mind need not be the result of a trauma, although traumas often drive the mind inward. An epiphany that happens in this way may be a fortuitous event…it was in Ramana’s case because it led to self knowledge. But it is not as useful as the gradual cultivation of an inward turned mind through the consistent practice of karma and jnana yoga. This so because the mind introverted by chance or a radical technique invariably returns to an extroverted state because the extroverting vasanas are only temporarily suspended by the epiphany. They are not destroyed. No discrete experience of the reflection of awareness in a sattvic mind can undo lifetimes of ignorance.

Experience is only a decaying time capsule meant to deliver knowledge. What did Ramana learn from this experience? This is important because it reveals the nature of Ramana’s mind very clearly. Ordinarily, when we have intense experiences involving great pleasure or great pain, our emotions take over and cloud our appreciation of the experience. We either get so frightened we cannot report what happened accurately, or we get so ecstatic we cannot report what happened accurately. But Ramana stayed cool. He was dispassionate, the number one qualification for self knowledge. He says, “Now death has come, what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.”

Vedanta is concerned with meaning. It is ‘the knowledge that ends the search for knowledge.’ Here you have an inquiring mind, one not fascinated by the experience, one seeking to understand the experience. And using logic he draws the right conclusion, “This body dies.” Already we can see by implication that he knows he is other than the body. He has completely objectified it. Then he dramatizes it ‘to give greater reality to the inquiry.’ The rest of his musings up to ‘it is silent and inert’ are further confirmation of his understanding that he is not the body.

Next we come to the realization of the self. This is the positive side—what happens when the world is negated. He says, “but I could feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it.” The word personality is quite interesting. I don’t know if this was an accurate translation of Ramana’s words. But he probably meant the Subtle Body. It is often referred to as the ‘embodied’ self or individual. The self is unembodied, but seems to be embodied when you look at it through the body.

So now he is aware of the dead body and the Subtle Body and ‘even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it.’ You see the whole structure of the self in this experience. Then, he concludes correctly, “So I am spirit transcending the body.” He has answered the ‘Who am I?” question, which up to this point he had never even considered.

Most meditators and those blessed…or cursed as the case may be…by accidental epiphanies who experience the reflection of awareness in a sattvic mind, lack discrimination. Ramana, it seems, was highly discriminating even though he was a mere lad of seventeen and had no idea of the self before this experience. Discrimination, along with dispassion, sits at the top of the list of qualifications. See the logic: “So, I am spirit (awareness) transcending body.”

And next, the icing on the cake; he describes self knowledge. “All this was not a dull thought. It flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought process.”

When you have any experience, the knowledge of that experience arises in the mind. This knowledge needs to be grasped, owned, if you will. In this case, he witnessed the knowledge ‘flashing vividly through me as living truth.’ This should quiet the people who say that the mind has to be dead for enlightenment. The operative words are ‘almost without thought process.’ This means there was thought.

Many people have these kinds of experiences, but do not realize that they are ‘spirit transcending body.’ It is this knowledge that is called liberation. Why is it liberation? Because thinking you are the body is a huge problem. It makes the world and everything in it seem to be real. But to the self, the world appears as a kind of dream, so all the experiences you have in it cannot bind you. In the next statement he addresses this issue of what is real. He says, “‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centered on that ‘I’”. This is knowledge. The ‘I’ is real. The body/mind entity is not ‘taken to be real.’ And you will notice that he says, ‘my present state.’ This means that ‘he’ was not ‘in’ the state of meditation or samadhi. He was the awareness of it. We know this because it appears an object known to awareness.

So whether attention is driven inward unintentionally and the reflection of the self is experienced in a happenstance moment or it is experienced more or less at will though meditation, the ‘ray of a diamond’ is only meaningful if it brings the knowledge. Experiences never last but knowledge is eternal.

Obviously we are arguing for the gradual cultivation of the mind through the yogas discussed so far: karma/dharma yoga and the yoga of the three gunas. It is not that we want you to go to a lot of trouble for your enlightenment…heaven forbid!...but the logic of existence, the way the vasanas are formed and the way they are ameliorated, demands patient hard work. If you are not willing to commit your life to it, it is better to forget it and settle for the frustrations of normal life than the frustrations of a life of inquiry.

But let’s assume that you have really had enough suffering and you have a burning desire for liberation and you have been living your life as karma yoga. You are also interpreting what happens correctly in light of your nature as awareness. You have managed the gunas properly and created a very still pure mind. Your attention is fixed on the reflection of the self. You think you are a person meditating on the self but you are actually the self meditating on your reflection in the mind.

Before we get to the point, it is important to know that meditation, holding your attention on the reflection of the self burns vasanas very quickly, not as quickly as self knowledge, but much more quickly than karma yoga. It burns them because a vasana needs to be meditated on and/or acted out to be recycled. If you don’t think about it or perform actions connected to it, it burns up in the meditation.

Finally, before we return to the relationship between meditation and self knowledge, it is also important to know that meditation is one of the most pleasurable experiences known to man because the mind is not troubled by the vasanas. Meditation does not mean struggling with the vasanas, waiting for them to clear before you feel peace. It is locking attention on the reflection of awareness. If you are meditating only for peace, for relief from vasana-induced stress, you will undoubtedly miss the real meaning of meditation. The real meaning is the knowledge, as Ramana says, “I am spirit (read awareness) transcending body.” This knowledge in the form of a thought is called the akhandakara vritti. It can appear in whatever language you speak and the words can vary but the knowledge is ‘I am whole and complete non-dual ordinary actionless unconcerned awareness.” Ramana somehow ‘intuitively’ understood the value of this knowledge and it seems it became his primary identity at that time or maybe later sometime during his stay in the caves. This is why, along with Vedanta, he said, “By knowledge alone is the self to be gained.” Virtually nobody gets enlightened through meditation because they meditate for experience, not for knowledge. They do so because they do not understand the value of self knowledge. But meditation can be a ‘leading error.’ Inquiry can develop and you may appreciate the value of the thought “I am limitless awareness” when it arises.

A Short Summary

The purpose of all the yogas is to convert an extroverted mind, a disturbed and dull mind, into a contemplative inward turned mind. A contemplative or sattvic mind is not totally free of rajas and tamas; it is just not dominated by them.

The transition from an extroverted mind to a contemplative mind, one that is committed to discriminating awareness from the objects in it and taking a stand in awareness, is not always smooth. Even when you begin your practice the mind will have moments, sometimes days or weeks on end, of clarity and joy as it basks in the reflection of awareness created by your practice. Then it may slowly become active and dull as old rajasic and tamasic habits attempt to reassert themselves. You cannot be too vigilant. My teacher used to say, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” The gunas are Isvara’s Circadian rhythms. They not only go through complete cycles on a daily basis, they operate globally too. Just because a habit no longer seems binding, don’t assume that it is gone for good. It retreats to the Causal Body and often lives to fight another day. You can quit smoking for months, even years, and one day find yourself puffing away once more.

When sattva is predominant it seems like you are enlightened or moving quickly toward your goal. When tamas and rajas predominate, it seems as if you are backsliding. We are aiming for a predominantly sattvic mind, but it is frustrating if you think enlightenment is a state of permanent sattva. There are no permanent states. If you are in the habit of nervously evaluating your progress on a daily or even weekly basis you are asking for heartbreak. This is why Vedanta is not really useful unless you are qualified. A qualified person who has properly assimilated the knowledge sees his or self as the self, understands the nature of the mind, works doggedly and cheerfully on it, not allowing the fluctuations of the gunas to try his or her patient resolve.

As practice matures the mind enjoys increasingly global periods of sattva undisturbed by the daily ups and downs of rajas and tamas. The greatest impediment to happiness is the notion that the ego should have direct control of its experience. The tremendous popularity of drugs, alcohol, sex and extreme sports testifies to the prevalence of the desire to instantly feel good. As mentioned in the last chapter, it does have a certain degree of indirect control, as samskaras are slowly transformed by the practice of karma yoga and modifications of behaviour.

The transformation of the Subtle Body is unpredictable. Certain negative patterns can take many years to neutralize. Others may dissolve in a trice. One of the most important qualifications is forbearance. I spent thirteen years patiently eradicating a particular vasana. In the old days of reduced expectations, people were disciplined. In this age of instant gratification and entitlement discipline is a bad word. We want our enlightenment and we want it now!

This from an anguished seeker, “I know there's nothing to get or achieve, I know that the only thing I need is a clear understanding of who I really am. But, how is it possible that if I know all these things, I am back in my old habits? Why am I that same old sad person who gets affected by what other people say or think of me? WHY? It seems so hard. Why can’t I just see myself as awareness? If I know that that’s the true ME!!!!!!!!” We sympathize, but what can we say? There is tremendous opportunity for mischief when a person suffers. Whenever there is a natural disaster, the scammers come of the woodwork like noxious parasites. Many modern teachers feed off this kind of misery. “I have just the deal for you! Buy my special blend of eleven magic yogic practices for radiant health and instant enlightenment now!” Or as the Neo Non-Dualists mindlessly intone: There is nothing to do except listen to me say there is nothing to do. Just get it.” There are no quick fixes.

Respect Isvara

Isvara…the gunas…can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It is up to you. It is not particularly pleasant to be the one to deliver this news, but life is a terribly conservative force. It abhors change. See how long it takes a species to adapt and evolve. And when the pace of life speeds up beyond the organism’s capacity to evolve, it becomes extinct. Will the polar bears survive global warming? The ice will go, humans will invade their habit and it will be history. Can a rhino evolve a hornless snout in the face of the overweening ignorance of sex crazed Asians?

We have only one life to set ourselves free. It is definitely possible but only when we are armed with rugged determination and a clear understanding of our animal nature and the laws that govern our environments. If you are willing to let go of your attachment to the way things are, maintain dispassion in the face of suffering, and embrace the truth of your limitless identity irrespective of how you feel in the moment, you can succeed. If you respect Isvara it is easy. If not, not.


(1) Why is knowledge of the gunas essential for anyone seeking liberation?

(2) Why are you not able to stay in a happy state of mind all the time?

(3) Which guna causes happiness and which gunas produce suffering?

(4) Why are the gunas called ropes or chains?

(5) Rajas is passion for objects. It inclines an individual to non-stop action. Why does it generate considerable anger?

(6) What is the primary bondage caused by rajas?

(7) Does the statement “I am not the doer” mean that nothing can be done to attain enlightenment? If yes, why? If no, what does it mean?

(8) Tamas causes a failure to see what has to be done in a given situation and a lack of will to accomplish it. Why is it spiritually counterproductive?

(9) Give at least two reasons why is sattva the most desirable state of mind for self inquiry?

(10) Does transcendence of samsaric experience i.e. ‘spiritual’ experience result in spiritual growth independently of the assimilation of samsaric experience? If yes, why? If no, why?

(11) Why is it necessary to assimilate experience? Why not just live like and animal without understanding the purpose of life?

(12) Why does the individual have only limited control over the three gunas?

(13) How does rajas affect the assimilation of experience?

(14) Boredom is caused by which guna and why?

(15) Rajas is intimately associated with which guna in unevolved people? Why?

(16) Which guna is responsible for neglect?

(17) What is the upside of rajas and the upside of tamas?

(18) How does rajas bind the jiva?

(19) When rajas is strong it easily causes violations of dharma. Why?

(20) How does tamas bind the jiva?

(21) How does sattva bind the jiva?

(22) Two gunas are responsible for the mind’s most fundamental problem: projection and denial. What are they and how do they work?

(23) Blaming an object for your emotional dysfunction is caused by the denial/projection mechanism. List the four steps of the inquiry that exposes this mechanism.

(24) When rajas and tamas are the dominant energies, inquiry is not possible How can an inquirer cultivate sattva?

(25) What are some of the dangers of too much sattva?

(26) Sattva is desirable but because it is a guna it biases the mind skewing the inquirers interpretation of reality. How should an inquirer correct sattva’s bias?

(27) Sometimes we start out in the wrong direction but end up at our destination. Why is it possible for a yogi to attain enlightenment even though his assumption about the nature of moksa are based the incorrect notion that reality is a duality?

(28) Why does meditation burn vasanas?


(1) Because experience itself is comprised of them. Everything that happens to us on the gross and subtle levels of existence is created and regulated by them. You cannot transform your mind into an instrument capable of self knowledge without understanding them. If an individual is dissatisfied with his experience, he will not be able to change it without knowledge of the gunas.

(2) Because of the action of the gunas. When the gunas change, the individual’s experience changes.

(3) Sattva guna causes happiness and rajas and tamas cause suffering.

(4) Because they apparently bind the self to experience.

(5) Because Isvara does not supply the desired object, supplies the wrong object, supplies no object or supplies the object when it sees fit, not when it is wanted.

(6) Attachment to doership, the idea that the self is a doer.

(7) No. It is impossible for the individual not to act. It means “I am actionless awareness.”

(8) Because the vasanas are hard-wired and considerable effort is required to purify them.

(9) (a) Sattva is the ‘revealing’ power making awareness accessible as knowledge because it reflects awareness. (b) It inclines the mind to objectivity; you can see what is happening and respond appropriately. (c) It makes assimilation of the teachings and of one’s experience easy. (d) It gives the inquirer control over his destiny. (e) It causes feelings of satisfaction that stimulate inquiry.

(10) No. Because samsaric samskaras are not obliterated by spiritual experiences; they sprout once the epiphany ends and produce attachment. In fact spiritual experiences are samsaric experience because they produce attachment.

(11) Because unassimilated experience causes psychological pain. Unexamined rajasic and tamasic patterns produce suffering.

(12) Because they are unconscious forces, the result of lifetimes of unexamined experience.

(13) It disturbs the mind to such a degree that it causes a lack of discrimination so that the individual consistently repeats actions that produce suffering.

(14) Rajas. Because rajas creates dissatisfaction.

(15) Tamas. Excessive Subtle Body disturbance causes exhaustion which mitigates against doing what has to be done and compromises discrimination.

(16) Tamas.

(17) Rajas is necessary to motivate inquiry. Tamas is necessary to ‘ground’ sattvic habits and to ensure proper sleep.

(18) By longing and attachment.

(19) The jiva can’t wait to get what it wants because the pain of desire is so strong, so it is tempted to break the rules.

(20) By ignorance and a laziness. A tamasic jiva doesn’t do what needs to be done and when it does, its actions are usually not appropriate to the situation or timely.

(21) By attachment to pleasure, beauty, knowledge, and vanity.

(22) Rajas and tamas. Tamas conceals the object, either the self or particular experiences, and rajas projects meaning based on its likes and dislikes.

(23) (a) Ask if the thought blaming the object is true. (b) Ask a second time because the ego is likely to deny the implication of the first question. (c) Ask yourself why it is important for you to believe your projection. You will discover that it is an important part of your identity. Ask if you would rather be right or happy. (d) See the problem for what it is, exercise your free will and drop the problem. Make a vow not to project again.

(24) Observe which actions produce which guna, forgo rajasic and tamasic actions and repeat sattvic actions. The gunas produce karma and karma produces the gunas.

(25) (a) Vanity and conceit. (b) An inability to sleep. (c) Loss of motivation for moksa owing to attachment to a successful life.

(26) By hearing Vedanta and interpreting reality according to its teachings.

(27) Through meditation and repeated impermanent epiphanies, he may begin to question his assumptions and become an inquirer.

(28) The mind is held on the self so they have no way to create experiences.