“Rajas is in the form of a coloring (of the mind), causing longing and well-entrenched attachment. It totally binds the indweller of the body by connection with action.” BG 14, 7
“Greed, physical restlessness, undertaking of activities, mental restlessness, longing – these are born when rajas has increased.” BG 14,12
Claire is a hard-working woman. Companies, administrative bodies, professional associations and the like book her to conduct workshops all over Europe. 90% of her nights are spent in hotel rooms, hardly any weekend she spends in her own home which means there is hardly any private time. She is never not working.
The motives for this kind of life style changed several times in the last years but the life style itself has remained. Recently she asked me what to do about some of her habits, which she herself found undesirable: 1. the habit of drinking a glass of wine (not more than two) after work to calm herself down, 2. the tendency to slip into bouts of shopping addiction spending lots of money on clothes (which means she needs to work even harder in order to settle her account).
Here one can easily start to focus on the symptoms and forget about the cause. Drinking alcohol is tamasic. The shopping addiction is partly rajasic – greed – and partly tamasic – indulgence. Someone with a rajasic lifestyle as obvious as her’s, is not someone who one can diagnose as basically tamasic. So a lot of her tamasic behavior can be considered as an effect of her rajasic pattern. Even though her tamasic reactions need to be kept in check – and in fact she does keep them in check – I do not think that they need her main attention. Her psychological system tries to balance her obsessive busy-ness the way it knows, i.e. with tamasic countermotions; but in this respect the real problem is the excessive busy-ness, not the reaction to it. In fact in BG 18,8 Krishna points out that such reactions need not even be called anything else but rajasic.
Claire needs to learn a different way to live so that the need for any kind of compensation becomes obsolete. By dis-identifying from her rajasic habits she will develop a more sattvic lifestyle. What does this mean in practical terms?
Advaita Vedanta prescribes a simple method to reduce fixation on rajas, called karma yoga. It signifies a certain attitude to one’s own actions as well as to their results.
To go into any kind of action we need to have a desire. To get up in the morning may be prompted by my desire to earn a living, by my desire to go to the bathroom, by my desire to enjoy the sunshine outside or whatever. The initial spark that gets me going on whatever is desire.
Now there are desires and desires. Some are almost arbitrary, carrying very little energy. They are rather preferences or intentions than desires. Others are highly charged and carry a lot of energy. Why do some carry lots of energy and others almost none? The key word is identification or attachment.
What is identification? When identifying with something I take this something almost as my own self – ‘me or mine’. One can be identified with people, situations, ideas and convictions, behavior patterns and of course with one’s desires.
So my desire prompts me to act because I want a certain result. Not every desire is as easily fulfilled as getting up in the morning. Lets say I want to spend a beautiful day with my loved one/s. If it is a preference, i.e. I am not identified with the desire, I will propose it and when meeting with a positive response I will go ahead and prepare for the trip. If preparations go well we will set off. The day may be as beautiful as I had wished for and we happily return home in the night.
Then again, I might face opposition on the proposal or I may not be able to prepare according to my intentions – I wanted a picnic but there is nothing suitable in the fridge, I wanted to wear that blue pair of shorts but it is still waiting to be washed, I wanted my beloved(s) to give me a hand but they decide to make endless phone calls instead. Even if all went well before we set off, the day itself may not meet my preferences. Maybe the car breaks down or one of us sprains his ankle and we spend the day in a walk-in clinic instead of in the county side or we cannot stop ourselves getting again into this old argument about moving house or not.
If there really had not been any identification with the desire for a beautiful day with my loved one/s it would be utterly immaterial whether things went this way or that. This however may be a little too angelic to expect of oneself. Reduced identification will do; one can feel a little sad or dispirited or annoyed but for someone not identified with his/her original intentions these reactions will pass swiftly.
If there was a lot of identification, it means that I cherish my own desire for a beautiful day with my loved one/s and all the desires that go with it as much as my own self; this implies that if anything goes against these desires it goes against myself and I will have a strong reaction against the obstacle.
The rajasic attitude is: In my actions I have to assert myself, meaning I have to make sure they are implemented forcefully so I attain the goal I have set. If things do not turn out as desired I feel intensely frustrated and react with the attempt to assert myself more. If nothing works I will move onto another desired project that looks as if I could be more successful and proceed in the same way.
“That action which is done by one who has a (pronounced) desire for the result or again with arrogance (and) a lot of exertion is called rajasa.” BG 18, 24
Rajas is very much identified with the desire prompting the action and the action itself as well as with the desired result. Swami Paramathananda points out that raga (identification or attachment) brings about shoka (grief) and shoka brings about moha (confusion about right and wrong). Turned around this means whenever there is grief it is worth investigating what kind of identification/attachment is behind that grief.
Too much rajas certainly brings about a lot of grief in the form of feeling bothered, upset, unnerved, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, agitated, cross, outraged, angry, furious (in this order). If what is behind the grief has been clearly recognized for what it is, raga (identification/attachment), we can nip the unfortunate process in the bud. If not, our minds will fall victim to grief, which will bring about delusion.
In the case of Claire who did not realize that the way she lives and works displays an identification (raga) with rajas, a lot of agitation and frustration (shoka) has come about, which needs to be tempered; in her case by drinking the odd glass of wine in order to calm down and by treating herself to nice new clothes in shopping bouts.
These reactions can be classified as moha because in the course of doing them she is convinced that her actions are absolutely appropriate, something that afterwards she recognizes as erroneous.
So the first step in order for Claire to leave her behavior pattern behind is in acknowledging it as rajasic. The second step is acquiring an understanding of the guna that would allow her to rise above her pattern. This is sattvaguna.
“That action, which is enjoined and which is done without attachment, without being impelled by likes and dislikes, by a person without a (binding) desire for the result, is called sattvika.” BG 18,23
Someone who is predominantly sattvic will act with
little or no attachment to/identification with
neither the desire prompting the action
nor the action itself
nor the result.
The desire is dispassionate, more a preference or intention.
The attitude to the action is ‘I am not the doer’.
The attitude to the results of actions is ‘while the attempt to reach a certain result is natural, once I have acted, I let go of this attempt’.
How can such an attitude be achieved?
For such an attitude it is helpful to introduce Ishvara. Ishvara, as mentioned in other blogs, is the totality of natural laws and orders and their seamless interlocking. No human being will seriously claim that he/she is above or beyond natural law and order: throwing dry wood into fire will make it burn and turn into ashes. Being born as a human, I cannot suddenly choose to become a duck. Screaming at someone will trigger a physiological and psychological reaction in him and myself. No-one can escape such laws.
Yet there are innumerable laws we do not know or do not understand. Admitting to both – that we are not above them and that we often do not even know of them – humbles us. This attitude means we bow to Ishvara in wonder, reverence and gratitude. Why gratitude? Because isn’t it a miracle that we, knowing so little, are still alive and even happy a lot of the time?
Grateful or not, the acknowledgement of Ishvara allows me to let go of my rajasic identification. How?
As to the results of my actions – taking into account the innumerable unknown factors that concur to form the result of what I have set in motion – I cannot possibly claim the authorship for the same. Yes, I am the author of an action but never of the result. The result is Ishvaras ‘doing’, the result is the product of the natural laws and orders and their seamless interlocking. This attitude in itself will propel me a fair way towards sattvaguna.
The next step is more advanced and not possible for many but it is worth to reflect about it:
As to the action – who or what is this “me” that acts? Is it apart from the natural laws and orders? Is it not rather the expression of these very same laws and orders? Looking from this perspective: as much as I can say “I act” I can say “these natural laws and orders act” and surrender my identification with my own ego to them, i.e. to Ishvara.
As to the desire prompting the action –
Lets consider a really rajasic want, a burning desire, a passionate craving (to act in a certain way). Such cravings usually are deeply ingrained habits. More often than not one cannot change them in a trice. One has to grow beyond them. How? First of all they can be worked on directly by constantly keeping them in check. This being not always very successful, we can ask for help. Who? Ishvara. Our very asking for help expresses our intention to go beyond the habit and will in time effect a change. Swamini Atmaprakashananda calls prayer “will-involved auto-suggestion“, her Guru Swami Dayananda calls it “free will”. We can choose to express our free will in mindlessly following in old ruts, or we can decide to express it in prayer for the ability to change.
The rajasic impatience, however, will tend to pray once or twice and then complain that it does not help. A possible remedy: make the desire to change as urgent as the desire that you want to leave behind, pray intensely, again and again, for the ability to be able to leave the old habit behind. Don’t give up, it will work.
My attempt in this blog was not to try and diagnose and solve a psychological problem with vedantic means – although as has been shown this is possible to a degree. But in Advaita Vedanta we aim for much more than mere freedom of psychological disturbances. We aim for moksha, which is the freedom from ignorance.
In my last blog (please see there) I talked about how sattvaguna helps us to overcome ignorance because “Knowledge is the key to sattva and vice versa: the more sattva shines through us the more capable our intellect will become. By deepening and refining the mind's capacity to understand, knowledge will grow.”
 Yet, as anyone of us, Claire has different Gunas operating in different situations and at different times. Here I just pick out one situation.
 Which is due to vasanas.