Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gunas - universal modus operandi

The term guna is derived from Sanskrit गुण and literally refers to a 'string' or 'single thread'. In yoga philosophy, the concept of gunas is used to describe the quality, tendency, or an operational principle of matter and behavior.

The Samkhya philosophy, one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, differentiates three gunas of universal importance which are most commonly applied to yogic practice: sattva guna, rajas guna, and tamas guna. Balancing the three gunas is an important step towards making more controlled and sustainable progress towards any goal.

1) Sattva from Sanskrit सत्त्व literally describes 'existence', or 'reality', but is also translated as 'purity'. Nature is generally ascribed with being sattvic, as is any action with no attachment to the result, i.e. when mind, speech and actions synchronize.

2) Rajas from Sanskrit रजस् describes 'action', 'energy', and 'motion', and is attributed to be the force behind creation and evolution. If dominant, rajas can lead to excitement and passion.

3) Tamas from Sanskrit तमस् on the other hand describes 'darkness' and 'inertia'. As the force that provides resistance to change it is crucial in terms of conservation. If dominant, it can lead to lethargy and indifference.

No value judgement per se is entailed in the concept of gunas since all three are indivisible and mutually qualifying. The concept can be applied to yogic practice in many ways, such as in the selection and sequencing of asanas, as well as choosing the most appropriate diet.

Balancing the three gunas is an important step towards making more controlled and sustainable progress towards any goal.

Avidya - tinted window to the world

Clear perception of reality or the 'true nature' in any situation is an important goal in yoga practice. The ancient Yoga Sutras by Patanjali which form the theoretical basis of many modern forms of yoga discuss this point under the topic of avidya, the Sanskrit word अविद्या which translates to 'ignorance' or 'delusion'. Avidya is the opposite of vidya 'knowledge' and describes the misunderstanding and misperception of the nature of things, including ourselves.

Yoga philosophy assumes that there is an absolute reality behind the ever changing phenomena we observe. However, our perspective is limited not only by our human senses and intellect, but in addition by an individual veil of four types:

1) Asmita is translated as 'individuality' or 'egoism'. Asmita refers to how we see the world depending on who we think we are. At any given point this can be a range of limited and sometimes distorted perspectives such as the roles we choose or are given in terms of gender, nationality, within our family and professional lifes.

2) Raga is translated as 'attraction' or 'addiction'. What we hold dear, including past experiences, can cloud our view. Raga, as defined in the Yoga Sutras, does not refer to the act of enjoyment or pleasure as such, but the desire of the mind to repeat the very experience.

3) Dvesha is the opposite to raga and is translated as 'aversion'. Negative past experiences can be recalled in our memory and result in negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. These emotions are then associated with similar objects and situations and limit your openness of approach to a new situation.

4) Abinivesha is the final veil of delusion and is translated as 'fear'. It is fear of loss of identity and continuation of life itself that often colours and constrains our vision by insisting on remaining within the identities that we have created for ourselves, including a limited set of ideologies and individual Weltanschauungen.

In yoga practice we aim to witness and thereby limit thought patterns that blind us from the true nature of things and ourselves.