Three qualities … chapter 16

Three qualities

Diet became an easy entry into the knowledge of the body and with it Ayurveda, the knowledge of longevity, and also Yoga cosmology. A simple sermon to local villagers when Amar Puri would describe the particular hell worlds their soul might travel to as a result of eating foods such as garlic and onions, or other hells that were reserved for eaters of meat and alcohol, would suddenly become a sublime discourse on the three qualities of nature, called gunas: rajas, the Active; tamas, the Passive; and sattva, the Balanced. Not only did these qualities show themselves in food (garlic and onions marked by tamas), but they pervaded creation, and, indeed marked the manifestation of nature herself.

“We babas don’t eat tamasic foods because they embody ignorance, laziness, and doubt,” Baba said. “Babas don’t eat rajasic foods, either, such as anything hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty, for these are signs of passion of the senses, and a baba marks the absence of passion,” he said. “We babas like to eat sattvic foods, whatever is fresh, juicy, light, sweet, and nourishing. These embody balance and harmony with nature. We like milk and ghee, ripe fruits and fresh tender vegetables, rice, wheat, and honey.”

In Amar Puri’s world, you were what you ate. It wasn’t that you became what you ate, for his rules were descriptive rather than prescriptive or predictive. So a tamasic person would tend to eat tamasic food, a rajasic person rajasic food, and a sattvic person sattvic food.

But then, as I was further instructed, these same three qualities give birth to the great web of illusion, which is the world. I learned that what applies to the cosmos as a whole also applies to its smallest part and therefore also to man. Before the world comes into existence, there is only consciousness. Matter exists in potential, and is indistinguishable from consciousness. Through Amar Puri’s guidance, I visualized this as a calm mirror-like lake, reflecting only itself, which he described as the Cosmic Mind. At this stage, everything is the Same. This is also the potential intellect in man, where discrimination will take place. A single drop, the primordial desire for identity and therefore separation, hits the mirror lake, causing ripples, and in this way identity or ego appears as movement, distinguishing it from its background of stillness. The Other is born, and the three qualities of nature, the gun)as, excite the potential world, the Other, into manifestation.

If there were only sattva, the Balanced, then ego would always be transparent and movement would remain potential. Rajas, the Active, as the agent of the Same, attracts, transforms, and assimilates. Tamas, the Passive, as the agent of the Other, repels and maintains the isolation of things.

The Active, together with the Balanced, attracts matter to consciousness, and produces the five organs of knowledge—smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing, plus the organizing mind.

These five organs of knowledge perceive and therefore give existence to the five elements of the world: Smell perceives Earth, taste perceives water, sight perceives fire, touch perceives air, and hearing perceives space. The tension between the Active and the Passive shapes the five elements. I could see that the element of space, being the least dense, contains and absorbs the remaining four elements. Here the Active dominates. And at the other extreme, the element of Earth maintains its isolation and shape through its density. This is the pull of the Passive. In the middle, the elements of air, fire, and water reflect the varying degrees of relationship of the Active and the Passive.