The qualities of Creation - Sattva, Rajas, Tamas

by Sandra Radja

Ayurveda subscribes to the Sankhya philosophy.  Like any good creation story, it tells us of the journey from consciousness to matter, of how the world twists and turns.  This philosophy assumes that we see ourselves as distinct from spirit (ego) and from this vantage point we see the world in opposites, or duality. The further away from our connection to spirit, the more we become entangled in the good and bad, hot and cold, heavy and light of the qualities or attributes of the world.  Acknowledging this, proponents of the Ayurvedic philosophy observed the three subtle energy forces that permeate our state of being.  They saw the journey as one from dark to light, or ignorance to awareness. 

This is a non judgemental affair. Where we might see clarity in one aspect of our lives, we are blind in another. But each moment of inertia is but an opportunity to break through.  Each experience that comes to us is a gift for this reason, these ideas are simply a label of observation. To use them constructively is to first be aware of them. 

In Yoga we use the term of observer and observed.  Tamas is the observed, the action is rajas and the witness is Sattva. Dr Lad encourages you to become the witness to the experience, to create the distance from the material object and loosen the reins of attachment. We need the three actions to experience this point.  None is greater than another if you can see the purpose of what each stage is - the stage, the action to experience and the observer of whether it adds value or not to your well being.

Tamas

Tamas is heavy and dark.  It leads us to the netherworlds of desire that overtakes us and blinds our better sense. We lose empathy to others and become self motivated as we believe ourselves to be separate from others - our experience is our own.  We aim to covet others and material items. We become influenced by cravings and like to mix in the company of misery. Decisions become confusing.  When the dawn breaks and our decisions see the light of day, they may inspire regret.  It is earth and matter.  It is solid and inertia. It is dullness and the inability to experience the full emotion.  It remains stagnant.  But within the experience is potential.

Without Tamas there is no experience.
— Dr Vasant Lad - textbook on Ayurveda

Earth and its matter remain consistent.  We enjoy knowing that we can rely on things to appear somewhat inert; our homes and the streets we live on.  Imagine if they moved each day?! Activity can be tiring and taking sleep and rest can provide the necessary inertia in order to restore ourselves to experience again.  From darkness we may experience the light as it provides the opportunity for stillness. The heavy quality can pull us too deep sometimes, into depression and into dark alleys and compromising situations. Our integrity and moral compass may be challenged.  Here we have opportunities to know the full spectrum of ourselves. Can we experience without being attached?  What is our rock bottom?  How far do we need to go before we get sick of being sick? What is our personal take of the middle road?

Rajas

Movement and excitement. Rajas is the energy of propulsion. To move through an experience requires activity and energy and effort. Through the movement of rajas, consciousness becomes matter and inertia has the opportunity to become lighter and more subtle.  We get an opportunity to use our senses to feel our way through life, to try things out and be creative.

Because of Rajas you plan for the entire day.
— Dr Vasant Lad - textbook on Ayurveda

The action of getting out of bed and deciding what to do for the day can determine whether we live close to our heart or we are carried away by the pulse of the group momentum.  Something catches our eye or yearns inside us to come out. We crave expression as human beings and rajas helps us to honour that feeling. The earth naturally turns and the seasons move and provide the qualities in the environment for us to move against. Rajas provides the atmosphere and the set to play out the drama. Travel the world and see new sights. Take up a sport. Express your start up idea with a business plan. Wake up before sunrise and go for a walk. Start a new relationship and it feels invigorating. But too much change causes addiction. The need for the new means you live on the surface and never experience the depth of knowing yourself. You may experience feeling ungrounded or too ambitious. See the forest for the trees.  Each tree counts and can provide you with all you need.

Sattva

Pure light.  It is right action and spiritual purpose.  It is the refined understanding of the connection of all souls together. It is subtle and clarity and balance. It is pure in the sense of not allowing distraction.  It is perception and a closer feeling to something greater than ourselves.  It is surrender. It is easy decision making that uplifts everyone around you. It is calm and observant. It balances the other energies.

Sattva is perception.
— Dr Vasant Lad - textbook on Ayurveda

In the interplay of knowing yourself, you have the setting and the propulsion to act within the setting, but within that you may have this feeling of watching what you're doing, ideally without judgement.  Oh I notice myself get excited about a game of tennis.  I notice that person makes me feel calm.  I watch myself become sad, then happy. I notice the wave of anger come over me and then dissipate. Sometimes the observation of nature makes me feel small and in awe of the way the light moves and changes form around me. I notice the qualities in myself react to the qualities of my experience.

I forget myself and feel closer to everything.