This being a very basic topic some people may shrug their shoulders and click onto something more interesting. Yet, most of us are drawn into this so-called ping-pong game of rajas and tamas frequently so it may be worth reflecting on it.
In the West, and increasingly in India, we live in a predominantly rajasic world, meaning the display of rajoguna is highly valued in modern societies.
In Bhagavad Gita chapter 14, verse 12 it says
„Greed, physical restlessness, undertaking of activities, mental restlessness, longing – these are born when rajas has increased.“
The wheel of time seems to turn faster and faster ever since man has begun to compete against the speed of machines. It is interesting that machines, which originally were designed to simplify life, have now started to make it more and more complex. Those machines including their flawless functioning are factored in when the time to meet the requirements of life is calculated (by oneself, by the company, in childcare, care for the elderly, etc.). On top, globalization opens up countless new opportunities every day. But none of this would be a problem if there was no possibility of greed in human nature, signifying rajoguna. As better options come constantly on offer, greed is constantly reinforced and so is rajoguna
Hence an almost insatiable hunger for activities, entertainment, connectedness, pleasure, success, security, affection etc. has taken root in modern mans mind. In order to satisfy this hunger most people hurry through life, hunted by their agenda, by their mobile(s), their laptop as well as thousand and one other so called necessities. Those can spring up on every level: materially (gain more security), emotionally (gain more pleasure), intellectually (gain more knowledge) or ethically (gain more virtue). We live in Kali Yuga, the age of materialism and competition. Modern man, woman and even child are more and more turning into creatures driven by greed and ambition.
So it is not surprising that in order to balance this strenuous and unhealthy lifestyle sometimes out of sheer exhaustion the individual has to fall back on tamoguna.
In Bhagavad Gita chapter 14, verse 13 tamas is defined thus:
„Dullness, absence of activity, indifference, and indeed delusion – these are born, when tamas has increased.“
There are two types of people:
There are those who alternate between rajas and tamas either in daily life or periodically. They jump out of bed, dash out of the house, race to work, zoom through their mails, rush through their chores, numb hunger and tiredness with coffee and cigarettes etc. and then come home in the night to collapse with beer and Pizza in front of the TV. Or they will frantically ride the rajasic wave for a while and then slump into a period of carelessness and avoid efforts as ever possible. Whatever the pattern – once tamas has set in, it will take the lead only just long enough to relax the overcharged physiological and mental system so as to start up the rajasic hunt again.
The second type is not able to stop his/her rajasic compulsion at all. So he/she will go on and on, ignoring all warning signals of his/her physical and mental system until the body/mind will force him/her to stop by initiating whatever kind of breakdown will serve the purpose best – the purpose being to slow down or apply the brakes all-out. Disease, heart attack or even a stroke will stop activities; lethargy and apathy will prevail, it’s the time for tamas.
To treat too much rajas, tamas has to be applied – but it is not the cure. Tamas means slipping down the ladder of evolution. Soon after recovery from the overly rajasic lifestyle, the same will be taken up again. Why? Because no learning has occurred: while rushing around there is no time, while recovering there is no energy for it. You only have three choices in life, going about it dull, active and/or contemplative. So if you have learned not to be habitually dull any more, you tend to be habitually active. Habit (vasana) will make sure that as soon as the slightest surplus of energy emerges, it will be spent in the well-trodden way of speeding along onto the next possible project. In that way the vicious circle goes on endlessly. To escape it you will have to learn a different approach – the contemplative one.
It is our vasanas that underlie greed and excessive busy-ness. But what underlies those? Swami Dayananda points out that everyone basically feels deficient and tries in various manners and in various areas to become sufficient. The guna currently predominant in our body/mind will determine the manner in which one attempts to compensate for feeling deficient; whereas one’s goals in life will determine the area: to secure survival (artha), to make life more enjoyable (kama) or to change oneself and/or the world for the better (dharma).
Why does everybody feel deficient? Because measured against one’s true nature, which is the one single reality of all, i.e. complete and sufficient, the individual body-mind-intellect IS deficient. So the only intelligent response to the feeling of deficiency is to search for one’s true, complete and sufficient nature – simple, even if not always easy to actualise. But if we learnt that the sense of deficiency is going to remain irrespective of how many ways and in how many areas we run after fulfilment (= sufficiency), then this very knowledge itself could point us to the door to what’s needed for us to undertake the search for our true nature. What we need for this is sattva.
Bhagavad Gita 14, 11 gives the following definition for sattva:
“When through every sense organ in this body the light of knowledge shines, then know that sattva is predominant.”
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, even the pursuit of knowledge can be approached in a rajasic way, i.e. be propelled by greed. We then want to gather more and more knowledge as fast as possible, either because it makes us feel secure or because we get pleasure from it or because we want to feel and be seen as virtuous. But, as mentioned it is a mutual process. Mere accumulation of information does not help the persons understanding and it is understanding what counts.
So what is the practical conclusion of these reflections about the gunas?
Once our minds have grown out of the predominance of tamas, rajas will become more prevalent. Naturally at some point in life/lifetimes the prevalence of rajas will also be left behind and sattva will have the chance to become the standard response to inner and outer events.
Most readers of this site will be somewhere in between the last two gunas supremacies. It requires quite some watchfulness, to not join the rajasic game that people (especially those who are successful) play and that obviously pays off well in our society. The question now is what wins: hunger for more and more (of whatever) and allowing oneself to be driven to satisfy it. Or the single-pointed enquiry into one’s true nature.
The first will mean dissipation of one’s energies into wherever one feels it may pay off fast. And more often than not it will pay off in terms of career, money, fame and name. The second requires concentrating one’s energies until there is just one goal left: moksha – freedom from identification with everything that is not the one true Self. Single pointedly directing one’s energies to moksha will more often than not give little pay-off in terms of career, money, fame and name. Yet, only this way we will have the chance to find the fullness that is inherent in us, discovering that actually nothing has ever, can ever and will ever be missing.
The calm and quiet understanding of sattva, even in its beginning stages, can bless us with the insight into the value of leaving behind the bonds of rajas (obsessive activity), as it points to the only possible dissolution of the deep felt lack that every human being carries within.
 Translation by Swami Dayananda
 Translation by Swami Dayananda
 I refrain here to talk of the bonds connected with sattva, as this will become a problem only in the later stages of the spiritual journey.