Guṇa is also known as attributes

Post By: Published on: December 22, 2016 Reading time: 5 minutes

What is guṇa (attributes of cognition) and the driver of māya?

During any transaction, our awareness moves from confusion, to active effort and finally harmony.

  • Attributes are called guṇa in saṃskṛtaṃ.
  • The components of these attributes are tamas (inertia), rajas (passion) and sattva (harmony).
  • Finally, these 3 attributes are constantly changing in composition depending on the state of awareness of the Self with the subject.

Tamas (inertia): This attribute is characterised by fear, laziness, indolence, confusion, delusion etc. and is governed primarily by the physical/ static element of our Self. So, a person with predominance of this state generally is confused, lazy, indecisive and will not do work unless pushed or monitored.

Rajas (passion): This state governs nearly all forms of action, driven primarily by emotions. Also, this aspect drives our orientation towards results and desire for achievement. So, a person in this state would typically be result oriented, dominating, driving, aggressive, brooking no resistance, impatient etc.

Sattva (harmony): This occurs when a person tries to balance result with resource, process, tries to balance task result with quality & relationships. This is driven by a need for balance. So, this person avoids confrontation unless absolutely required. When in a conflict situation, the person is calm and absorbs emotions. Also, this person avoids personal & and judgmental remarks.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help understand guṇa…

Example: A person is using an ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) for the first time. The bank has issued a new ATM card to the person.

Imagine the person’s state when he/she has to withdraw money from the ATM for the first time. Initially, there is confusion – “How am I going to do this?” or anxiety/ fear “What will happen if…?” This is tamas.

Then comes anger or irritation – “This is ridiculous! How do they expect me to operate this machine without training?” This is rajas. Then, there is effort… “let’s see what we can do”.

Finally, there is acceptance and ownership. Here, the person hacks around and finds a solution, either by doing it himself or by asking someone. Value is added and this is sattva.

Consequently, an awareness of the transaction in the person drives the outcome and consists of two parts. First, there is an awareness of the situation which is called vijñāna. This transactional awareness results in increased understanding of the Self, an increase in asmitā (I am this) and a feeling of being the doer (ahaṅkāra), and this is called jñāna.

How does the transaction between two entities (Śiva) become māya (farce)? 

Whenever we transact with anyone, we are constantly confronted by perception. We never see everything in its entirety, nor do others see us for what we actually are. Broadly speaking, we can split our perceptions into,

  • Our behaviour, which is called darśana (that which is shown).
  • What others see, which can be called dṛṣṭi (that which is seen)
  • The seer is called dṛṣṭu (one who sees)
The transactional mechanics can be broken down as,
  • Firstly, during the transaction, the manifesting Śiva can transmit its identity only to the level of its own awareness/ cognition, and this is never complete or in alignment with the situation.
  • Similarly, the receiving Śiva can receive and analyse the incoming information only to the extent supported by its identity and its awareness of the situation.
  • However, the reality is that each Śiva thinks that its own as well as the other’s manifestation is complete, and this leads to a difference in perception between the manifestation and feedback.
  • The resulting relative difference between perception of sender and receiver as well as the way feedback is received and decoded is māya (illusion).

Additionally, it’s important to realise that various other parameters of decision-making framework are also continuously changing.

  • Conditioning (dharma) of the sender and receiver is continuously changing,
  • Dharma of others in the environment is continuously changing,
  • Both, sender and receiver are getting inputs from multiple sources, which makes them distracted,
  • Everyone’s self-worth (asmitā) is continuously changing because the arareness is never completely engaged in the present,
  • The environment or framework of the transaction is continuously changing,

Comment: Therefore, it is very important to understand how māya drives our existence. Our manifestation is the expression of our identity (asmitā). However, the feedback we get may or may not be in congruence with how we perceive our Identity.

Consequently, when there is congruence between our manifestation and the feedback we receive, our sense of self-worth (asmitā) expands and there is rāga (attraction-karma). But, when it is dissonance between the feedback and our Identity, then our asmitā contracts and dveṣa (repulsion-karma) results.

What is the role of and prajñā (awareness).

From the above, we can realise that our ability to engage completly in any situation is dependent on our awareness in any situation.

Situational awareness (prajñā) consists of two components:

  • Awareness of the situation by the Self during the transaction (vijñāna).
  • Awareness of changes to the Self due to the transaction (jñāna).

Points to ponder about guṇa

Internal Tags: Conditioning or DharmaSelf Awareness or Asmita,  Guna in Bhagavat- Geeta chapter 14

External Tags: Stress

  • How do you recognise your value system or conditioning (dharma)?
  • When you are stressed, how do you know?
  • How do you react when you are confronted with change?
  • What is your strategy for overcoming anxiety and fear of change?
  • How do you cope with fear of consequence of your action?
  • What are the factors which drive you to act?
  • Do you experience passion and ambition? How do you handle them?
  • When you are angry, what do you do?
  • How do you recognise that your coping actions are not adequate?
  • What would svatantra mean for your team, your company, your state or country.

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