Sri Swami Satyananda says that the purpose of human life is to cultivate spiritual awareness. He is vocal and emphatic when talking about the cultivation of spiritual life, as for him that is the most important process in life. He always says that God-realization or self-realization is not the aim of life. It is the cultivation of spiritual awareness for which we have taken this birth, therefore all our efforts and actions should lead us to the stage where we can experience the spiritual awareness within.
Sri Swamiji’s statement is, “Cultivation of spiritual awareness is the aim of life.” My statement is, “The aim of life is also to develop efficiency and proficiency in all things that you do.” Therefore, you have two things before you: the cultivation of spiritual awareness, and the development of proficiency in everything you do in life. Both of these aims relate to the effort that every individual makes to overcome the limitations and restrictions of personality and develop a greater degree of creativity, positivity and optimism in life.
The mind and the senses are integrated with each other. While the mind has to be groomed and trained to experience spiritual life and develop spiritual awareness, the senses have to be groomed and guided to become more efficient and proficient in their involvement in the day-to-day world. When we are born into this life, our mind, senses, consciousness and pranas or energies, exist in a dimension where the tamasic nature is predominant. There are three different gunas, qualities. One quality and nature is sattwic, next is rajasic and the third is tamasic. Sattwic means pure, harmonious and luminous, and this is the final experience of an awakened mind. Next to sattwa is rajas, which represents the dynamism, motivation, determination, drive and inspiration to achieve, become and realize. The third nature is tamasic; tamas means defined, not negative. In fact, do not think of categorizing these gunas as either good or bad, positive or negative. They are neither positive nor negative; they are only characters, traits, conditions and qualities of life. Just as the weather is sometimes hot and at other times cold, depending on the season, in the same manner, in the manifest dimension the gunas – sattwa, rajas and tamas – represent qualities and conditions which your mind expresses and experiences from time to time. Most of the time, the expression and experience of life is tamas. You are ten percent sattwic, forty percent rajasic and fifty percent tamasic.
Tamas represents darkness. In darkness or in the absence of light, you cannot see things although they are there. It is possible to see things only when there is light. We are sitting here now, in the sunlight, and are able to see each other. However, if we were sitting here in the middle of the night in total darkness, who would see whom? In the presence of light, things come into the field of perception, and in darkness you are unable to see anything although the same things are there. This is tamas. Tamas has been called by different names, such as darkness, illusion and ignorance. Since life is under the influence of tamas, the mind, the mental patterns or vrittis are also molded by tamas. This tamasic mind blocks you from seeing the beauty inherent in life.
Rajas is an activity of the mind. When you speak of the mind, you think of it as the one word, ‘mind’. From the yogic perspective, the two behaviours or expressions of the mind are sankalpa and vikalpa. Sankalpa means clarity, focus, sharpened awareness, knowing the right and appropriate. Vikalpa is the opposite of sankalpa: distractions, dissipation and diversions. The mind swings between sankalpa and vikalpa. This swing between clarity or confusion can be experienced in the thoughts, feelings, emotions, intellect and logic. Sometimes thoughts are clear, sometimes confused. Sometimes emotions are clear, sometimes confused.
The main condition of the mind, during predominance of the rajas quality, is sankalpa and vikalpa: clarity and confusion. Rajas dominates these states. When there is clarity you are motivated, you are inspired to do better things, new things. With the change of mind, there is a change of mood, which expresses greater happiness, optimism and hope. When you fall in the trap of vikalpa, the mind becomes clouded; hopelessness and despair set in and you are unable to use the abilities or inherent strengths that you have. At that time you tend to identify more with the shortcomings and weaknesses in life.
Sankalpa and vikalpa are behaviours of the rajasic mind. This body, this brain and this mind are coloured by tamoguna, just as the clothes that you wear are coloured orange, yellow, blue, green, pink or red. When you are interacting with the environment and with the world, your mind is coloured by tamas. The colour of tamas is the conditioned nature, the conditioned quality: “I believe this and I do not believe that.” This applies to nearly every situation.
There is a story of a frog that had lived in a well all his life. He reached his middle age, half his life having gone by and still he had never left the well. Then one day, while he was admiring the world of his well, he heard a sound: ‘plop’. He looked around and saw that another frog had fallen into the well. He said to the newcomer, “You look new to me. Where have you come from?” The newcomer frog replied, “I come from the ocean.” The frog of the well asked, “Where is the ocean?” The newcomer said, “It is not too far from here.” “Is it as big as my well?” the well frog asked, as he jumped from one corner of the well to the other, feeling very proud. The newcomer frog answered, “It is much bigger than this well.” “It cannot be,” said the well frog. He took another big leap and asked, “Is it as great as my leap?” The ocean frog said, “Yes, it is much bigger than that.” The well frog answered, “Well, anything that you can’t put in my well doesn’t exist. Anything that does not fit in the well does not exist for me.”
You are the well frog, as you have created your own world, your own associations, contacts, circles, and you live within that world which you have created. In the world of your creation, everything is fixed: your expectations, beliefs, ethics, morality and concept of right and wrong. Your lifestyle is fixed and your expectations about how to behave in society are also defined.
Where everything is defined and you have to live within the parameters of the definition is known as the tamasic nature. If you try to change that tamasic nature, that act becomes rajasic. In this life, you are predominantly tamasic by nature: your body is fixed, your mind is fixed, your emotions and sentiments are fixed, and your spirit is also fixed. There is no growth in the spirit, as it is contained in a non-growing personality, body and mind.
In order to cultivate spiritual awareness, you move from tamas to sattwa. This is the definition given of spiritual awareness, of spiritual realization. Identify not with the changing and craving nature of the mind, but with the pure, luminous and peaceful nature of the mind. The journey from tamas to sattwa is the spiritual journey. This is the essence; this is the secret of spiritual life. You have to go from tamas, from the present condition of living, to sattwa, the purer, more luminous, more tranquil, harmonious and creative way of living.
Our paramguru, Swami Sivananda, says that to overcome the predominance of tamas in your life, negate its influence by imbibing divine qualities. Only when you imbibe a divine quality, one positive trait, do your vrittis or mental patterns change. This is the way to get out of the narrowness or the limited nature of your present life. The ignorance of the present life is removed and light comes in. As you leave the area of darkness and enter into the sphere of light, you experience luminosity within. You awaken the uplifting energies and your consciousness evolves into the higher dimension of intuition. You connect with creation and the creator.