According to Indian philosophy the world is made up of the three gunas or constituent principles. They are different vibrations. These three principles are tamas, rajas and sattva. They combine in infinite permutations to form the manifested universe. When we put these three in complete balance and still them, we are said to have completed our sādhana. Combinations of the gunas make up our vehicles as well as the world outside our bodies. Our minds, therefore, are made up of the three gunas.
Tamas (inertia) is the cause of ignorance. When tamas predominates, we as people will be dull, lazy and stupid. We will read life from this viewpoint and respond to the world with “heedless indifference”.
Rajas (activity) is the cause of pain. When rajas predominates, we will be agitated, anxious and impulsive. We will approach life as a fight. We will live life embattled with the world.
Sattva (calm) is the cause of peace and happiness. When sattva predominates we will be calm, bright, light and peaceful. We will approach life discerning its truth and able to accept how it is. We will love life and act appropriately.
Each of us is a combination of the above three. Our task is to move from tamas to rajas to sattva and overcome the expressions of each. We are to own, master and transcend the gunas. Ultimately, we are to transcend even sattva, so that the gunas cease to control or be part of us. We then will find ourselves resting in the Heart, being the Self, and knowing we are All. At that point the gunas will cease to attach to us because we no longer are in the Play.
Surrender serves an important part in this journey. Depending on where we are at any given moment, our definition of “surrender” will change and we will be approaching surrender to God, the world, and surrender itself in very different ways.
So depending on which guna is running your life at the moment, you will “surrender” very differently. When we are tamasic, surrender is losing, passive and dark. We will find ourselves “putting up with” something rather than facing it. We will be fatalistic, saying that our situation is just the way it is and there is nothing we can do. We are actually miserable and stuck, believing we have surrendered. We have lost and have nowhere to go. We are sitting in the muck, determined that this is the only option. We may think we are doing sādhana, but we are attached to where we are. There is no way out.
When we are rajasic, surrender is active. It means surrender to impulse. We will surrender to an urge, an idea, a food, an activity, or a person. We will think we are free and giving ourselves to the event, thing or person. We will lose ourselves in the other and believe it is a good choice.
Finally we come to sattva. In the place of sattva, surrender will be letting go of what is actually appropriate to let go of, and having equanimity and acceptance. Our action will then be right action.
When my son Aaron was six he had not developed his ability to lose graciously. His belief was simple: if you win then you are a winner; if you lose, then you are a loser. Not a surprising view for someone his age. But if he were going to grow to enjoy games, and eventually life, whether he won or lost, he would need an education in surrender. Surrender for him was synonymous with losing, and losing meant life was miserable. Winners got to enjoy life triumphantly. We all tend to start with this understanding.
For Aaron’s sake and mine, I knew it was time to move him through the process of surrender. Checkers was the venue. We set up the board and began the play. I knew the part I had to play if my son was to be free and actually win. So I destroyed him. At first, he took it with a tense and unhappy expression. I remained as light and free as I could possibly be. “That was a great game. Don’t you agree? Let’s play again”. And so we played again, and again and again. Each time I destroyed him. Each time I related how good it was to play together. The game itself was fun. It did not matter who won or lost.
Tears of frustration streamed down Aaron’s face. I did not stop, and neither did he. He could not win the game, and he was lost in trying. We played on.
And then it happened. Aaron gave up. He surrendered. What did he surrender? He surrendered his attachment to his idea of winning. He saw that it was not making him happy, and that winning and losing were off the point. He accepted and played and enjoyed. Though he never actually defeated his checkers opponent that day, he WON.
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