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To move towards Sattva, keep a mirror with you || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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तत्र सत्त्वं निर्मलत्वात्प्रकाशकमनामयम् ।

सुखसङ्गेन बध्नाति ज्ञानसङ्गेन चानघ ॥ १४.६॥

tatra sattvaṁ nirmalatvāt prakāśhakam anāmayam

sukha-saṅgena badhnāti jñāna-saṅgena chānagha

Of these Sattva, because of its stainlessness, luminous and free from evil, binds, O sinless one, by attachment to happiness, and by attachment to knowledge.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 6

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रजो रागात्मकं विद्धि तृष्णासङ्गसमुद्भवम् ।

तन्निबध्नाति कौन्तेय कर्मसङ्गेन देहिनम् ॥ १४.७॥

rajo rāgātmakaṁ viddhi tṛiṣhṇā-saṅga-samudbhavam

tan nibadhnāti kaunteya karma-saṅgena dehinam

Know Rajas to be of the nature of passion, giving rise to thirst and attachment; it binds fast, O son of Kunti, the embodied one, by attachment to action.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 7

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तमस्त्वज्ञानजं विद्धि मोहनं सर्वदेहिनाम् ।

प्रमादालस्यनिद्राभिस्तन्निबध्नाति भारत ॥ १४.८॥

tamas tv ajñāna-jaṁ viddhi mohanaṁ sarva-dehinām

pramādālasya-nidrābhis tan nibadhnāti bhārata

And know Tamas to be born of ignorance, stupefying all embodied beings; it binds fast, O descendant of Bharata, by miscomprehension, indolence, and sleep.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 8

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Acharya Prashant (AP): Sattva-guṇa binds by attachment to happiness and knowledge. Raja-guṇa binds by attachment to action and achievement.

So how does Tamas bind fast? By miscomprehension. You’d be in a hazy state; witless, unable to comprehend what’s really going on.

Then, indolence. What is indolence? Laziness and sleep; sleep of both kinds: physical and mental. The mark of the tāmsika individual is that one: sleep dominates him a lot; secondly, sleep dominates him at all the wrong times; thirdly, even when he is physically awake, he is still inwardly in a stupor. So, that’s Tamas.

Questioner (Q): On reading the lines above, I see that I have Rajas and Tamas qualities in me, like ambition, ignorance, procrastination and laziness. If Sattva leads to wisdom, how does one move towards it?

To what degree does having a sāttvika diet and doing physical exercise and other material changes help in developing a sāttvika disposition?

AP: Alright. How does one move towards sāttvikta or sattva-guṇa, on knowing that one is predominantly rājasika or tāmsika or both?

The result of rajo-guṇa is dukha (suffering). That’s the defining outcome of rajo-guṇa. One runs, one runs hard, one has ambition, one acts, one wants to achieve, one feels a certain restlessness. And then there is defeat upon not achieving and despair upon achievement.

Similarly, the result of tamo-guṇa is a loss of consciousness. One keeps sinking deeper and deeper into an inner abyss of unconsciousness. All kinds of laziness, all kinds of inabilities overwhelm the individual. Even when he sees that there is a need for action, he finds himself incapable to act.

So the very presence of these two as the dominant traits in an individual is sufficient to make him rebel against these two, and move towards sattva-guṇa.

The questioner is saying, “I am dominated by Rajas and Tamas. How do I move towards Sattva?”

The answer is: Because you are dominated by Rajas and Tamas, therefore you’ll have to move towards Sattva. These two will not let you live or die in peace, these two will keep unsettling you. And since it is obvious that you have at least some kind of a desire to break free of these two, you are advised to be with people or be at places where your defeats and despairs will be exposed and called out ruthlessly. You should allow yourself to feel the utter pain and helplessness inherent in your situation. That will accelerate the process of your freedom.

I’m just suggesting what would assist you in your own intention. If your intention is to be free of Rajas and Tamas, then allow yourself to feel the pain of being dominated by these two very frequently, 40 times a day, so that you are continuously reminded that you cannot sleep peacefully. At least one of these two traits, Tamas, will want to keep you captive by just comforting you into a drunken sleep. Right when you would be about to energetically break away from your chains, you will find that you are under a pall of sleep. Here you were about to just explode away, and here you are snoring away on your bed. Gone are the hopes of any kind of liberation.

So, make sure that by your bedside is somebody who is not very happy seeing you asleep.

Make sure that you are kept a little uncomfortable all the while.

Make sure you are reminded frequently of your state.

Probably it was in this very context that the knowers had said, “Nindak niyare raakhiye.” Keep your critic by your side. Let him remind you again and again how deep and how pervasive your follies are. Otherwise, you will simply comfort and console yourself, and certify yourself that you are almost alright. That would be just a way to grant yourself a little more sleep. Don’t allow yourself that leverage.

You have been playing this game with yourself for way too long now. Sometimes you have been running after things hungry as hell, wanting to be a super-achiever, and sometimes, usually after repeated failures, you have sunk into a drunken state, saying that you do not want to have much with the world’s achievements, that you are alright within your limited, dirty, stinking self, that you don’t want to go out of the room. All that you need is your small room with ample supply of liquor, a nice bed, some food to drown your senses down, and stuff to keep your sleep cosy, an air conditioner maybe.

That’s how most people have been spending their lives. When in hope, they run. When their hopes are smashed, they drink. There is a lot of pain contained in this situation, in the continuation of this cycle. That pain itself is the only reason one would move away from and beyond these states. And if that pain is not sufficient to make you rise up and away from your present rut, then nothing else would work on you. It’s impossible. What kind of revelation, what kind of motivation can really spur someone who is insensitive to his own inner decline?

So, what you really need is a mirror. Keep mirrors all around you, knowing fully well that what would be reflected back to you would not really be pretty; knowing that full well and being resolved that you would not put on some make-up.

"Things are ugly? Let them show up as ugly. Neither would I decorate myself, paint my face, wear a pretty mask, nor would I refuse to look at the mirror. Remaining what I am, I would carry the courage to not only look into a mirror, but also actually, deliberately surround myself with mirrors. Everywhere I go, I’ll keep a mirror. I’ll request mirrors to provide me company. If I know I am failing somewhere, I’ll be doubly brutal with myself and beg for assessments. I’ll especially focus on those parts of my being that I know to be ugly."

Beauty is your nature. If ugliness manages to stay with you, it is because you hide it, tolerate it, defend it, do not squarely look at it in the eye. If you confront ugliness every day, every moment, then your beautiful nature within will not allow that ugliness to stay for long.

Similarly, weakness.

Strength is your nature. If you have managed to remain so weak, so fragile, so brittle for so long, it is only because you have been defending your weaknesses; you have been arguing in favour of your weaknesses; you have been reasoning out your weaknesses. You have simply not been ruthless enough with yourself; you have been giving yourself all kinds of excuses. And that’s why the weaknesses remain till date.

And they will continue to remain, because you are quite accommodative. You have no disdain for your own weak self. Your own weaknesses do not disgust you. You’re alright.

“Yes, I am a spineless fool. And I am okay with that!”

And that’s only on the rare occasions when you are indeed demonstrated to be a spineless fool. Mostly you will not allow such occasions to arise, where the reality of your current condition is exposed. Nine out of ten times, you will deliberately and deceptively put yourself in situations where there is no one to expose you. So nine out of ten times, there is anyway no chance of you being called out as weak.

Once in ten times, when despite your arrangements your weaknesses are still exposed, then you just thwart the danger by acting a bit shameless. Shamelessness comes to your rescue. You say, “Yes, I have a few problems—but that’s okay. You see, everybody has problems, everybody has weaknesses. So have I!”

It’s great that you have acknowledged that tamas and rajas dominate you. Now let that acknowledgment become a continuous inner resonance. This acknowledgement should keep echoing within you. The sound must not die down. Even in your sleep there must be a restlessness. You must have an active dislike towards yourself.

And when I say this, I know this goes against the grain of a lot of current spiritual beliefs. We have been taught to accept ourselves, and be nice to ourselves, and be happy with things as they are, and be happy with ourselves as we are. So I know fully well that this that I am saying now militates all of that.

Here we are with Sri Krishna. And if that does not suffice, listen to Jesus as well. He says very clearly, “Unless you are full of hatred towards yourself, of what use can I be to you?”

If you are full of confidence and if you are someone who knows already what is good for you, then no Krishna and no Christ can help you. If you are someone who is habituated in self-deception, then you cannot be helped. Just ask yourself, last time your follies or weaknesses were exposed, how did you react? Ask. It’s easy to assess your reaction.

Let’s say a situation, a force comes and exposes your ugliness. There are only two ways to react. Figure out which one is yours.

One is: you get full of anger towards the one who exposed you. First way is: you start feeling angry at the one who exposed your weakness. Second is: you start feeling angry at your weaknesses.

What’s your reaction? What’s your reaction? That will tell you how honest you are, and that will tell you what your fate in life is.

You know, mirrors too are delicate things. You can keep a mirror with you, and if the mirror reflects your ugliness, it is easy to smash the mirror. The mirror will not come back to you. The mirror will not come again to tell you how ugly you are. It’s difficult to improve oneself; it’s easy to smash the mirror.

How easy is it to change yourself? Not easy.

How easy is it to shatter the mirror? Very easy!

Ask yourself, what did you do the last time the mirror said, “Ugly, ugly!” What did you do? Did you curse yourself, or did you find yourself full of bitterness towards the mirror?

You do not need a method. You just need a mirror. Can there be an easier method?

Then, “To what degree does having a sāttvika diet and doing physical exercise, and other material changes help in developing a sāttvika disposition?” Of course these things help. No doubt about that. So, if you find that you are bulky, indolent, then physical exercises are obviously something you must go for.

Similarly, change in diet. Obviously yes. We fully well know that certain types of foods cause you to feel drowsy, heavy, sleepy. Why go for them? It is a chemical thing. If a food material is acting almost like a sleeping pill, why do you want to pop in the pill? You have work to do, you have distance to cover, why are you taking in the wrong kind of chemical, and that too in the wrong quantity?

So, if you are someone who has realized that you have a long distance to go, then you must ensure that you make as much time available to the journey as possible. If you have 24 hours, and a long distance to cover, you do not want to be sleeping 10 hours, right? So you don’t want to take food that would turn you sleepy.

That’s life. We have only 24 hours, and there is much to do, so try not to take in stuff that would make you one, heavy; second, sleepy.

Physical fitness is very important. Physical strength is very important. Sometimes I wonder whether physical fitness and physical strength are any less important than mental fitness and strength.

Yes, obviously, in the final assessment, mental strength accounts for far more than physical strength. Still, give respect to your physicality. Make sure you are in shape. Make sure that your body does not let you down.

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