by Swami Krishnananda
All these five subtle ingredients are reducible further to certain final cosmic properties and that is a more advanced step in the analysis of the five elements. The Samkhya or yoga calls these final properties as gunas. These gunas are sattva, rajas and tamas, reference to which has already been made. Sattva, rajas and tamas are the ultimate substances out of which the tanmatras and the elements are formed. The gunas are not qualities in the sense of abstract definitions. When we say that the rose is red, we know that redness is the property or quality of the flower, but we do not speak of property here in this sense, because we feel at once that the rose is not the same as redness. There is something which is the rose other than the quality called redness. But, here, this is not the case. The gunas, as properties, are the very essentialities, the substances, the very existence of prakriti and its evolutes, the tanmatras, etc.
The example usually given is of the rope that is made up of three strands. We can twist three strands to form a rope, and we do not say that the strands are qualities or properties of the rope. The rope is made up of the strands, and they form its substance. Just as threads constitute the cloth – we cannot say that the threads are only a quality of the cloth for they are the constituents of the cloth – they are the cloth itself. The gunas make up all things. These gunas are sattva, rajas and tamas, the conditions of all things in the ultimate analysis. The universe is a 'condition' and not a 'thing'.
The final stroke is the most magnificent step. What are these three gunas? How are they bifurcated? And why should they mix themselves up in certain proportions to constitute the tanmatras, and so on? Why should anything at all happen in the world? Everything happens in the way it does on account of the original permutation and combination of these three properties. If they are mixed up in some other proportion, the universe would be something else. This world would not have been what it is now.
There is a supreme determining power immanent in and transcending the whole universe of experience. What it actually is, no one can speak about. There is something indescribable and unintelligible at the foundation of all things. We may compare it with the Archetypal Ideas of the Supreme Good of Plato. The Vedanta calls it the "Absolute", or "Brahman". The Samkhya calls it the "purusha". Here we need not go deep into the mysterious base of things, for all this will go above the heads of everybody. However, suffice it to observe that there is some deciding principle, which wills in a manner the structure of all creation, and determines its functioning. This Great Idea of the cosmos is the reason why the three properties are mixed up in certain proportions at a particular time, and everything then follows as the patterns of universes.
When we conceive of anything, see anything, or try to define anything, three aspects of knowledge are involved: we have a name or characterisation given to the object; say, it is a stone, it is a tree, it is a person, and so on. Everything has a name. The associated name is called 'sabda', in the terminology of the Sutra. Sabda actually means a sound; and the name is nothing but a sound, which is connected with an idea thereof. The idea going hand in hand with the name or definitive limitation is called 'jnana'. We have an idea of an object as invested with a name defining it such as Mr. John. John is the name, and in connection with this name of the person, we form an idea of the person. This idea of the person, or any other thing, is another aspect. But the person as such or the thing as such, independent of the idea and independent also of the definition or name, is a third something altogether. Do we not think that we are different from the name that we have and the idea people have about us? Who has told that this particular tall thing is to be called a tree? Everybody has agreed that it should be called that way; that is all. Well, if the dictionary changes and the whole of humanity agrees that what is known as a tree should be called a stone, it is a stone from that day. The name can change. So, the name is not an essential element in the object. The name is only a convenient descriptive definition of a particular something for purpose of practical dealings. However, the more difficult and more important factor is the idea that we have about it. The least aspect of the object is the name. The more important aspect which determines it in an intensive manner is the idea. Everything is conditioned by the idea that goes with it. Our dealings with things in the world are conditioned, determined by the ideas that we have about them.
But our ideas are not necessarily a correct representation of the object. We may be mistaken and we are often mistaken. According to Patanjali, our ideas about things are always a set of errors and we never know the truth of things. No one can have a true concept of the essentiality of anything in this world. Everything is known only as conditioned by the idea and the name. So, when we do samyama on anything with the admixture of name, idea and the substantiality of the object, then this kind of achievement, called savitarka-samapatti, is the lowest stage of absorption. We can conceive or even gaze at the object that we have chosen for the purpose of samyama as constituted of this blend of three aspects. The thing as such, of course, we cannot conceive immediately. But at least we do believe that there is such a thing called tree, in its own essentiality, transcending the idea or the definition that we have associated with it.
But the difficulty increases as we go further, so that, at a point, we may find that it is a hopeless affair and we cannot go ahead any more. This is because we are asked to drop the aspects of name and idea and try to be attuned to the thing as it is in itself. This struggle is almost an impossible one for ordinary persons. How can you think of another as he is in himself apart from the idea that you have about him and the name that is associated with him? But this is precisely the true samapatti, or attainment.
The practice requires a little effort, and some sweating is necessary here. An easy-go-lucky life is not the life of yoga. We have to be serious in this matter, if we really want freedom in the ultimate sense. But how, on earth, is it possible to do samyama on the thing, as it is in itself, independent of the idea that I have about it, and dissociated from the name that is connected with it? Yes, it is not easy. It is not possible in the initial stages and the Teacher of yoga does not want to tell you what the second stage is, when you are still in the first stage, when you have, perhaps, not yet stepped even into the first stage. These steps of yoga are not academic definitions. They are not theories. They are not something to be told to you, now itself, wholesale. They are, on the other hand, stages of experience and not admonition or teaching. You cannot ask, "What shall I do after attaining moksha?" These are stupid questions, not intended to be answered, because these doubts arise from utter idiocy. The attainments are experiences and you will know what the answer is, yourself. It is like a dreaming man asking, "What shall I see when I wake up?" Nobody can say what he will see. He has to wake up and see; then he will know what it is about.
The stages of samapatti are levels of direct realisation and experience. They are not theoretical discussions. They are not mere informations given or teachings of a logic school, academic in nature. It is absurd, therefore, to put questions as to what are these stages, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc., when you have not even entered the stream. But a general solacing message can be given to you to enthuse the spirit. This is what the teachers generally do. They console you and give you an inspiration that something magnificent is coming, though it cannot be described in human language. There are types of meditation which you will find described in standard works on the subject, wherein you will be asked to transpose yourself into the object on which you are practising samyama, or total absorption.
This is not merely a spiritual technique; it is also a technique of even ordinary success in life. I am referring to pure psychology and even good social living. If you wish to be a good social individual, you must be able to transfer yourself into the society or the set-up of the society, the placement of the persons around you. You must be able to think as the people around you think; at least you should attempt to think in harmony with the way in which other people are thinking around you. You would be regarded as an anti-social person, you would be a misfit in that atmosphere, and you would be unhappy every day, if you are not versed in this human art.
The capacity of your mind to transfer itself to the position of the particular object or objects in the midst of which you are living is a great yoga by itself, and these stalwarts are the people who are the great men of human history. This requires a little bit of a surrender of one's ego, a sacrifice of one's personality and a relinquishment of one's own ideas. Why should you think that your own ideas are the correct ones? Why should you go on sticking to your own guns? It may be that others are also right, and there is no harm in conceding some value to the thoughts of other people. Why should you think that you are always right, and others are always wrong?
So, even to succeed in life, by way of a happy social and personal existence, it is necessary, on one's part, to be able to think in terms of the existence and feelings and needs of other people also. This is a kind of concentration and adjustment done in a mild manner, though not so intensely as in yoga. If you can think as another thinks, feel as another feels, and try to recognise another's needs and requirements as your own, become the other, for the time being, and lose yourself in the 'other', you 'are' the 'other', if this could be possible, you are in the first stage of samyama. I do not think that this essential of a good life is so difficult as it appears, and perhaps no one can be truly happy in this world if this rule could not be successfully employed, with some effort. When this method is carried to the technical point of complete concentration and absorption, it becomes the samapatti of the savitarka type. This is the real yajna, or sacrifice. This is real service. This is to be really humanitarian in the deepest sense.
The greatest service that one can do to others would be to think as others think. Everything else comes afterwards. When you are able to feel as others feel and be as others are, you have done the greatest service to people, and no charity can be greater than this act of goodwill. That is a real friend who has become you and exists as you. What can be a greater glory than this ideal?