Lit. Quality or attribute. Refers to the three qualities of mind: Tamas (inertia), rajas (activity) and sattwa(purity).
▵ The Three Gunas – Tamas, Rajas and Sattva
All the qualities of the world have been identified as three basic gunas, tamas, rajas, and sattva. Inertia is called tamas. Activity is called rajas. Transcendence is called sattva.
There is no physical entity without all these three dimensions. Not a single atom is free of these three dimensions of a certain static nature, of energy, and of vibrance. If these three elements are not there, you cannot hold anything together – it will break up. If it is just sattva, you won’t remain here for a moment – you will be gone. If it is just rajas, it’s not going to work. If it’s just tamas, you will be asleep all the time. So, these three qualities are present in everything. It is just a question of to what extent you mix these things.
The nine days of Navratri are classified as to the three basic qualities of tamas, rajas and sattva. It is good to enjoy Navratri and make use of it. For those who are on certain type of sadhana, like brahmacharies and a few others, it doesn’t matter what day it is. But for all others it will matter. It is good to make use of the little supports that nature offers. Going on your own steam is not impossible, but not many people made it, that’s all.
Approaching every aspect of life in a celebratory way is most important.
Above all, approaching every aspect of life in a celebratory way is most important. If you approach everything in a celebratory way, you learn to be non-serious about life but absolutely involved. The problem with most human beings right now is, if they think something is important they will become dead serious about it. If they think it is not so important they will become lax about it, they don’t show the necessary involvement. In English, if we say “He is in a very serious condition,” that means the next step is you know where. And a lot of people are in a serious condition.
The passage, the secret of life is in just this – seeing everything with a non-serious eye, but absolutely involved – like a game. That’s the reason the most profound aspects of life are approached in a celebratory way, so that you don’t miss the point.
▵ The Festival of Navratri
The Indian festival of Navratri is dedicated to the feminine nature of the Divine. Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are seen as three dimensions of the feminine, symbolic of the earth, the sun and the moon, or of tamas (inertia), rajas (activity, passion) and sattva (transcendence, knowledge, purity) respectively. Those who aspire for strength or power, worship forms of the feminine like Mother Earth or Durga or Kali. Those who aspire for wealth, passion or material gifts worship Lakshmi or the sun. Those who aspire for knowledge, dissolution or the transcendence of the limitations of the mortal body worship Saraswati or the moon.Life is a mystery, and will always remain one. The festival of Navratri is based on this fundamental insight.
The nine days of Navratri are classified according to these basic qualities. The first three days are dedicated to Durga, the next three to Lakshmi, and the last three to Saraswati. The tenth day, Vijayadashami, signifies the triumph over all these three aspects of life.
This is not merely symbolic, but true on an energy level as well. As human beings, we arise from the earth and are active. After a while, we fall back into inertia once again. This happens not just to us as individuals, but also to the galaxy, and the entire universe. The cosmos emerges from a state of inertia, becomes dynamic, and subsides into inertia once more. We do have the capability however, to break the cycle. The first two dimensions of the Devi are needed for human survival and wellbeing. The third is an aspiration to transcend, to go beyond. If you have to bring Saraswati down, you have to strive. Otherwise, you cannot reach her.
What is the best way to approach Navratri? In a spirit of celebration. This has always been the secret of life: to be non-serious but absolutely involved. The cultures that traditionally venerated the goddess knew that there is much in existence that can never be understood. You can enjoy it, celebrate its beauty, but never understand it. Life is a mystery, and will always remain one. The festival of Navratri is based on this fundamental insight.
▵ Why Tamas Matters?
In yoga, all the qualities of the world have been identified as three basic gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas literally means inertia. Rajas means activity. Sattva is the breaking of boundaries. The first three days of Navratri are tamas, where the goddess is fierce, like Durga and Kali. Tamas is the nature of the Earth, and she is the one who gives birth. The gestation period that we spend in the womb is tamas. It is a state which is almost like hibernation, but we are growing. So tamas is the nature of the Earth and of your birth. You are sitting on the earth. You must just learn to simply be one with her. You are anyway a part of her. When she wishes she throws you out, when she wishes she sucks you back.
It is very important that you are constantly reminded of the nature of your body. Right now, you are a mound of earth prancing around. When the earth decides to suck you in, you just become a small mound.
In the ashram I always tell people, no matter what work you are doing, every day you must stick your fingers into the earth at least for an hour. Do something with the garden. This will build a natural bodily memory in you that you are mortal. Your body will know that it is not permanent. That realization in the body is extremely important for one to keep his focus on his spiritual pursuit. The more urgent the realization becomes, the stronger the spiritual sense becomes.