Firstly, it’s useful to note what the gunas are. In Indian philosophy, all of the created world is said to arise from the interplay of 3 primary “forces” or qualities of Prakriti, nature. Elementally, these are creation, maintenance, and destruction. One of these three qualities tends to dominate everything we experience but nature as a whole seeks continual balance between them. Without that balancing force, known as dharma, the universe would cease – as it sometimes does.
The three forces of creation, maintenance, and destruction express as the three gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. They exist only together. These can be perceived directly in a number of ways, such as by subtle colour or feel, for example. In practice, we see them as bringing various qualities to our experience. Sattva as light, balance, equilibrium, purity, clarity. Rajas as energy, desire, motion, fire. Tamas as inertia, stability, stupor, or dullness. Notice how for stability, we also need balance yet for continuance, we also need energy. It is a continual interplay.
Each of us tends to have a dominant internal guna due to habits of thinking, feeling and lifestyle. Not to mention the simple momentum of our long past. The guna feeds the habits which feed the guna, self-reinforcing. I’ve written several articles about how our experience of the world is influenced by our dominant guna.
For example, most people have Tamas dominant. The world from a Tamas perspective behaves like a covering over it’s source. The physical world seems real and the subjective or inner world unreal. The world is heavy, solid, dark, and inflexible – a hard taskmaster otherwise known as tamas.
When Rajas becomes dominant, it has the effect of “burning” or purifying tamas. In this stage, the world is seen as an illusion, like our life is in a movie. This is a common symptom of good spiritual progress.
When Sattva becomes dominant, the illusion is recognized as ‘created by’ and is now seen as Lila, the divine play. Subtle beings (deeper than astral) and the divine are apparent to us.
This leads us to the subject of the article. Our experience of Awakening itself is also influenced by the dominant guna. Because sattva brings clarity, it’s easier to awaken when sattva is more prominent. But awakening is not something done by the person or their form. It happens from a much deeper post-personal level. So when it does happen, it happens through whatever is here. Another good reason to prepare the vessel.
A person having more sattva will experience the process more directly, will recognize the process is being guided by grace, and will recognize some of the sages and devas (light beings) that are supporting them on their spiritual journey. This platform is much more likely to lead to a smoother process.
Such people will also have the bliss arise, a much fuller experience, and have a clear God Consciousness stage.
When Rajas is more dominant, there can tend to be more fire and excess colouring the process. Ideally, this occurs as heat to burn off the old Tamas and release more energy for transformation. More of this is necessary to embody the awakening more fully. It can also bring the courage to boldly step through this transformation.
But it may also amplify desires, create excess thinking rather than a settled mind, and cause heat imbalances. (Ayurveda can help there) Self-importance can be inflated plus a premature desire to guide others.
Just as world-as-illusion is a pretty common meme in modern awakening circles, so too is the above issue of premature teaching. Rajas also tends to lead to drier forms of awakening with less refinement. Further, until the way is more clear, there can be a delay in the bliss coming on.
However, when Tamasic quality dominates an awakening, the process is driven by inertia. This leads to orthodoxy and fundamentalism, perhaps even intolerance or extremism. The literature refers to this as a “demonic” type and there is a few examples in the epic stories. This can require some real support to shift the process and transform the awakening with the “fire of knowledge”.
Of course, typically we’ll be a combination of all of them – yet another thing that contributes to the uniqueness of each unfolding. We’ll all have some tamas to burn and rajas to settle.
What this points to is the true value of techniques. Not in awakening itself but in preparing the vessel so our experience of life is optimized and our awakening is as smooth and clear as possible. Note that this also means we don’t have to be perfect and pure to awaken. Not even slightly. But it can certainly help if we’re moving towards that. Meditation, good lifestyle, and the company of the wise can really help with a quality awakening into the fullness of who we are.