Tamas literally means inertia.
▵ Inertia is called Tamas
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.
▵ 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.