Three Gunas

Yogic tradition speaks of three energy states in the phenomenal world, tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is a state of apathy and inaction, rajas of excitement and activity, and sattva means ‘law’ or balance’, a state in which [[detached|detachment]], selfless action is possible. Tamas would therefore be associated with a person or group who responds to oppression with apathy, inertia, and a sense of powerlessness. Rajas would correspond to a state in which people’s passions have been aroused and in which action (though possibly violence) is possible, but where there is not necessarily a clear coherent goal or way forward. (See also “[[effervescence of the crowd]].”) Sattva is the state from which nonviolent action, creative action towards greater integration, unity, and reconciliation (not to be confused with action that simply lacks violence) becomes possible.  These three broad laws of reality line up suggestively with the spiritual states of cowardice, violence, and nonviolence.  For example, It is thought not to be possible to move directly from a state of tamas to a state of sattva, without passing through the rajasic state. This is sometimes used to explain why in some nonviolent social movements, the oppressed group must overcome the belief that they are powerless or that they somehow ‘deserve’ it (internalized oppression), and must pass through a phase where they are capable of violence (they do not necessarily have to employ it!) on their way to becoming a nonviolent movement.  As Gandhi said, ‘I can make a satyagrahi out of a violent person, not out of a coward.’