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Activity and Spirituality

Various Indian Scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter XIV), describe three types of Gunas - constituents, attributes or qualities - that constitute the whole nature, including the human nature. These are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. It is believed that some inscrutable combination and preponderance of one or more gunas determines the nature and character of a person. Sattva relates with qualities of illumination, purity, and discrimination. It leads to the possibility of realization of the Self. Rajas deals with passion, activity, ambition, and desires, while Tamas is concerned with infatuation, delusion, lethargy, and ignorance. Naturally, great emphasis is laid on cultivating sattvik qualities in our personality.

Purification of mind, Chitta Shuddhi, is achieved by various spiritual disciplines that leads to development of more and more sattva, keeping rajas and tamas at abeyance. Thereby a person attains proper control over senses and concentration of the mind. This leads to stoic state of equanimity and sage like nature. Such a person is truthful, does not harm anybody, and is engrossed in attempts to realize his true nature. His very presence makes the atmosphere peaceful. Only a person well established in sattva can visualize the state beyond the three gunas. Transcending the sattva itself, such a person becomes trigunateet - goes beyond the three gunas - and is said to rest in the fourth state - the transcendental Turiya. Through well guided and sincere efforts of sadhana -spiritual practices- one can attain this sattvik state of total purity and control of mind, overcoming the hindrance of rajas and tamas.

Rajasik nature may be understood if we visualize personality of a king, or a company executive. Such people are always active, ambitious, busy, and confident. They cherish power in the form of money and wealth, name and fame. A king can be ruthless in times of war and social unrest, but can be compassionate during famine or similar calamity. A chief executive officer is similarly competitive to the core and yearns to succeed in every aspect of economic, social, and even political dominance.

The third category of people, who manifest tamasik characteristics, are lazy, dull, and inactive. They, as if, do not understand the necessity of their own progress. They are deeply engrossed in darkness of ignorance and delusory concepts. At times they think that their inactivity is comparable with the tranquility of a sattvik sage! They think that by not acting or reacting they have reached the stage of a Wise Yogi (Sthithprajna, as described in the Gita). They deceive themselves and others by their hypocritical behavior.

Present day Scenario

When society is full of such tamasik people and tendencies, a time comes when it is conquered and enslaved by outside rajasik forces. It is quite likely that such conditions had prevailed in medieval India and Africa leading to their downfall. While Africa as a continent is still reeling under the spell of disaster, India probably was saved from the final tragedy because of age-old tradition of Vedas and Upanishads. But, if there is no effort to develop combination of sattva and rajas, which I would like call "sattvik rajoguna", and if any nation continues to cherish the illusion of tamasik inactivity, the day is not far off when that nation would land up in deep trouble. As Swami Vivekananda pointed out in relation to India, 'then the Truth will vanish from the land of sages, as also from the world'.

Unfortunately, despite efforts of various Vedantic Missions and organizations to spread this message, situation has not much changed in India or abroad. It is said that India has sattva to offer and rajas to take from outside; but, it seems that the desired "export of sattva from India and import of rajas from the Western societies" has not materialized. The expected impact of science of spirituality of the East on the culture of physical sciences of the West is not visible. On the other hand, everywhere one sees corrupting influence of 'tamasik rajaoguna' instead of desirable 'sattvik rajoguna'. We have become partly rajasik (active), no doubt, but we are engrossed in tamasik rajas (selfish activities) instead of sattvik rajas (selfless activities - generosity, compassion, and altruism). It is clearly seen that people responsible for planning and executing programs for social welfare and justice are engaged in corrupt practices to earn money and power! This is an example of 'tamasik rajas'. "Dishonesty has become the best policy; might of wealth and power have become right."

The situation is throwing up a man with dreaded face of tamasik rajas, which Sri Krishna has labeled as demonic or 'aasuri' qualities. Greed, lust, egotism, jealousy, and hatred are a few examples of tamasik rajas. Moreover, unfortunately, such qualities are given sanction of respectability!

The question is 'how to stem the rot? 'Swami Yatishwarananda way back in 1925 (in Prabuddha Bharata) in the article 'Spirituality and Activity' had said: "Only a few thoughtful men and women of different countries are now able to recognize the union and intermingling of the two forces of spirituality and activity. But sooner the bulk of mankind come to realize this urgent need the better for the world and the human race."

Aggressive Honesty

At the 'All India devotee's Convention (February 1998), Swami Bhaskarananda from USA firmly put his finger on these issues. He asked the devotees to be aggressively honest! He suggested, among other things, that devotees should start a national daily to counter the false propaganda against Vedanta, and to spread the message of spirituality all around. The message should bring out positive and purer aspects of Vedanta: activity well blended with spirituality - Abhyudaya (individual and social welfare) and Nihshreyasa (social and individual renunciation).

Swami Ranganathanandaji, presently President of Ramakrishna Order, appealed to the devotees not to despair. "Do not get depressed", said he, and went on to elaborate origin of the value system from 'the depth dimension of Atman'. He exhorted the devotees to implant 'Vedantic Thoughts Bombs' all around, as envisaged by Swami Vivekananda, and maintained that explosion of these 'bombs' will deluge the society with the message of altruism and generosity, selflessness and fearlessness, ethics and morality, thus making this world a better place to live. Time has come for every one of us to express overtly spiritual values in all aspects of our everyday life. Our behavior at home or in office/factory/work-place, in social interaction, and public places should positively bring out sattva (purity) in us.

Necessity of Sadhana

For this the person must clearly understand the nature of spiritual values, their origin, their need, and their effectiveness. He should not be satisfied with barren talk of 'divine brotherhood', 'universality of soul', etc., but should be able to live these values in his life; actually let them shine through in his every act. This is the meaning of sattvik rajoguna. The essential pre-requisite is to do regular sadhana (spiritual practice). The necessity of meditation and contemplation for glowing purity of character must be emphasized. It should be our firm belief that such practices are beneficial to the individual and the society at large.

The question is: Why is this not seen? The reason is that our genetic system is not conducive for sadhana! It is a selfish structure. It does not easily allow 'new lines of spirituality' to be etched on our brains. It resists every attempt to incorporate values in our personality. Only by 'conscious and deliberate' attempt can one possibly defy this genetic selfishness and win the battle. The modern day evolutionary biologists have drawn these conclusions. Vedanta, long back, has emphasized the same truth; only the word 'sadhana' is used in place of 'conscious and deliberate attempt'!
C S Shah
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