Saturday, 5 April 2014

Karma and the Gunas

While actions are being done in every way by the gunas (qualities) of Nature, one who is deluded by egoism thinks thus: ‘I am the doer.’

But, O mighty-armed one, the one who is a knower of the facts about the varieties of the gunas does not become attached, thinking thus: ‘The organs rest (act) on the objects of the organs.’
(Bhagavad Gita: 2: 27,28)

The battle is paused while Krishna explains the finer points of Dharma and Moksha. The moksha medicine pace Aldous Huxley (Island) is practice. By practice we move from the dominance of the gunas of tamas (sluggish, apathetic) and rajas (active, passionate) towards the sattvic (pure, balanced, harmonious). And what is practice? Follow the duties of your station in life, perform the rituals at the correct time and place, give to the poor, visit the sick and so forth. ‘Still one is acting and bound by the laws of karma and subject to the endless round of transmigration’; may be the objection. Krishna’s answer would be that by an inner detachment from the fruits of your work you mitigate the force of what is normal motivation. As used to be said, it’s the process not the product that is important. Also a reticulation of positive habits free you from constantly taking thought.

The other apophatic arm of sattvic practice is to meditate on the unreality of egoic identification. As the Upanishad declares ‘the knower cannot be known’ but deluded we hold fast to a ‘strong central ego’, Freud’s notion of sanity. In the practice of Jnana yoga we focus on the consciousness pervading the gunas making them ‘shine’ and seem to be conscious or self-luminous. Some fine distinctions can be drawn here. In the final analysis the being of everything is consciousness and the level of complexity of the matter that is pervaded reflects that reality to a greater or lesser extent. Expanding on the text of B.G. 2:27, Shankara in his commentary says (I omit most transliterated Sanskrit terms):

While actions, secular and scriptural, are being done, in every way by the gunas, i.e. by the modifications in the form of body and organs; born of Nature – Nature otherwise known as Pradhana being the state of equilibrium of the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas one who is deluded by egoism, thinks thus; ’Aham kartá, I am the doer.’

In states of benign dissociation variously called samadhi, satori, contemplative there is a glimpse of the true freedom that is the goal of religious practice. To say that practice is its own end is to say too little and too much. It is true after its own fashion but honest practice not burdened by large brained speculation such as I see in Gary Gutting’s interview with Howard Wettstein will bring surprises.
practiceAt least Pascal thought so.

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