Tamas in Yoga Meditation

QUICK EXPLANATION ON TAMAS

Tamas = the attribute or quality of inertia, ignorance, darkness, heaviness, doubt, slow-moving, dense, sloth, laziness, lassitude, dullness, sleep, inadvertence, stupidity… but also stability and permanence
 
Tamas = this attribute is one of the three building blocks of manifestation or the three attributes of prakriti (subtlest matter), these three principles are combined in various ways to make up apparent reality. The other two are sattva and rajas. These qualities can be seen in all levels of manifestation, from the most subtlest to the grossest; everything is made of sattva, rajas and tamas.
 

 
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ON THIS PAGE:
TAMAS: PRACTICAL
MORE ON TAMAS
YOGA SUTRAS ON TAMAS
SWAMI RAMA ON TAMAS
SWAMI JNANESHVARA ON TAMAS
OTHER TEXTS ON TAMAS


 

TAMAS: PRACTICAL

Observe Tamas
We want to become aware of the meaning of tamas, not merely by knowing its definition but by being able to observe it in our daily life. Thus choose for a day or a week to be aware of tamas as you go through activities, situations, and conversations. Observe how tamas is related to actions, thoughts, and speech. You will notice that tamas is predominant when you feel lazy, when you don’t feel like going anywhere or doing much, when you feel heavy, absent-minded or any of the other qualities mentioned above, but also notice tamas when you feel grounded or stable. You will discover many things in the apparent manifestation that can be tamasic. Thus it is useful to find your own examples of tamas which allows you to have direct knowledge of this concept of tamas. This expanded awareness about tamas then also brings the opportunity to play with the gunas and to regulate them.
 
Moving out of a tamasic state
What to do when you discover that tamas is predominant and you want to change the predominance of this guna? You might look at the other two options and conclude that sattva appears to be the best guna, so you think you should increase sattva. But to go from tamas to sattva happens through rajas, first you will have to get into motion, first you will have to come out of your inertia and this happens with the energy of rajas, then you are able to tune all the gunas in a way that sattva is predominant and tamas and rajas support sattva when needed. It is very useful to find out what works for you to get yourself out of a tamasic state. Maybe walking, doing some asanas, cleaning the house, anything can serve, it is most valuable if you know what works for you.
 
Tamas can be seen in many aspects of existence
You can have a tamasic diet, tamasic body, mind and breath, a tamasic buddhi, tamasic determination, tamasic thoughts, tamasic intentions, even tamasic joy!
 
Tamas as stability can be in service of sattva
If you read all the words that are used to try express tamas, you may think that to be in tamasic state of mind, is not desirable. Tamas is sloth, inertia, and laziness; it is a state of avoiding that which is useful, or not to do anything. But just like rajas can be in service of sattva so can tamas also be in service of sattva, because beside all the ‘negative’ aspects of tamas, it is also stability and this can be used wisely. When stability is needed you want to be able to control the level of tamas, so that is support sattva in its purity.

 

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DAILY OBSERVATION AND YOGIC SELF-AWARENESS ASSESSMENT

Eventually the concept of tamas will swim around in your awareness all the time, as it becomes a part of constant self-awareness. Also, becoming aware of tamas will have the effect that you will increase your use of this word in your daily vocabulary to express yourself and you will discover how tamas relates to other concepts, processes, or insights. For example, you may come to see that when you feel tamasic, you may also think of mudha, or you find a relationship between vikalpa and tamas. Eventually you will discover how all these concepts dance together and coming to know this dance will guide you towards that which is beyond all the concepts. This is because as you increase your self-awareness, you will discover that everything you can observe is not who you truly are, you are not tamas, you are the One that is able to witness all these concepts. Therefore tamas itself have to be transcended, who you really are is beyond tamas. This will increase the non-attachment towards tamas itself, while you can be in awe of the beauty of the Divine dance of Consciousness that appears to play as tamas. Therefore practicing self-awareness is actually practicing not-self-awareness by which the True Self will eventually reveal itself.
 
Look at the self-assessment PDF (assessment-yymmdd.pdf) and a PDF that includes daily internal dialogue and daily observation (sumseven-yymmdd.pdf) on the website of www.abhyasaashram.org (when you are on this page scroll all the way down to find the downloadable PDFs) These PDFs can be used as tools to explore and expand your understanding on tamas.

 

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MORE ON TAMAS

Gunas are like volume-knobs of the stereo of prakriti
Swami Jnaneshvara once beautifully explained the gunas as three volume-knobs on a stereo. As a yogi, a sadhaka, we would like to have full control of the three knobs of rajas, tamas, and sattva. We want to know what every knob is, how it functions, and what kind of influence it has on the other two gunas. In this way we know and can judge what kind of combination is most useful in a particular situation.
For example when you go and sit still for meditation, you would like to be able to increase sattva even more, make tamas and rajas very quiet. And when meditation time is finish sattva can remain being active (knob is turned open) but rajas can be increased so that the daily duties can be performed.
 
Eventually all gunas have to be transcended
When you gain more and more understanding on how the gunas operate, you will come to see that being able to adjust them as needed is not the end. As the gunas are part of prakriti (the subtlest matter) we need to transcend them all. Our true nature is not sattvic, is it that which is beyond all three gunas, which is purusha, or pure Consciousness.

 

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YOGASUTRAS ON TAMAS

1.16 Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (gunas: rajas, tamas, sattva), achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya).
tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam
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2.15 A wise, discriminating person sees all worldly experiences as painful, because of reasoning that all these experiences lead to more consequences, anxiety, and deep habits (samskaras), as well as acting in opposition to the natural qualities.
parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih guna vrittih virodhat cha duhkham eva sarvam Vivekinah
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2.19 There are four states of the elements (gunas: rajas, tamas, sattva), and these are: 1) diversified, specialized, or particularized (vishesha), 2) undiversified, unspecialized, or unparticularized (avishesha), 3) indicator-only, undifferentiated phenomenal, or marked only (linga-matra), and 4) without indicator, noumenal, or without mark (alingani).
vishesha avishesha linga-matra alingani guna parvani
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4.13 Whether these ever-present characteristics or forms are manifest or subtle, they are composed of the primary elements called the three gunas.
te vyakta suksmah guna atmanah
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4.32 Also resulting from that dharma-meghah samadhi (4.29), the three primary elements or gunas (4.13-4.14) will have fulfilled their purpose, cease to transform into further transformations, and recede back into their essence.
tatah kritarthanam parinama krama samaptih gunanam
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4.34 When those primary elements involve, or resolve themselves back into that out of which they emerged, there comes liberation, wherein the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its true nature.
purusha artha sunyanam gunanam pratiprasavah kaivalyam svarupa pratistha va chiti shaktih iti
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SWAMI RAMA ON TAMAS

”Prakriti: “That which makes forth.” In Sankya and Yoga philosophy it is the material en mental creation with which pure spirit (purusha) has falsely identified itself on account of ego, the “I-maker” (ahamkara). The goal of yoga is the isolation (kaivalya) of purusha from prakriti – the identification of pure spirit with itself. Prakriti is said it have three attributes (gunas) or tendencies; balance or purity (sattva), energy (rajas), and inertia (tamas). Everything in the material universe is said to be some combination of these three tendencies.”
~ The Royal Path pg. 130
 
“There are really three aspects to a human being: the animal in him – which is called evil – the human aspect, and the divine. These aspects are called, tamas, rajas, and sattva. The human being is like an angel that has fallen down, because he has become tamasic. He was distracted by the charms and temptations of the objects of the world, and thus forgot his essential nature. The goal of meditation is to know that essential nature.”
~ Path of Fire and Light II pg. 124
 
“It is true that a human being is a compound of three qualities – the animal aspect within him, the human in him, and the divine aspect in him. In the Bhagavad Gita, these three aspects are referred to as tamas, rajas, and sattva. When the aspirant learns to tame the animal within and expresses his creative, human potential through mind, action, and speech, then he becomes fully civilized and is prepared to attain divinity. The divine qualities in the human being remain latent as long as the human and animal qualities remain predominant.
The concepts of tamas, rajas, and sattva are also known as the three gunas, or the three principles that combine in various ways to make up apparent reality. Tamas is the obscuring or veiling quality, associated with darkness, ignorance, inertia, and doubt. Tamas is heavy, slow-moving, and dense and has the most concrete material quality. It also has the traits of stability or permanence. The most tamasic aspect of the human being is the body.”
~ Wisdom of the Ancient Sages pg. 49
 
“Karma is law. You cannot live without it, no matter how lazy you are. If you are tamasic, you will receive the fruits of tamasic; if you are rajasic, you will receive the fruits of rajas; and if you are sattvic, you receive the fruits of sattva.”
~ Sadhana pg. 161

 

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SWAMI JNANESHVARA ON TAMAS

Read the whole article “Witnessing” on www.swamij.com
Cultivate sattvic thoughts and emotions: In any case, we want to cultivate individual thoughts and emotions that are Sattvic in nature, that are spiritual, clear, or illumined. To do that, it is useful to label the Tamasic and Rajasic thoughts so that these can be transformed into Sattvic thoughts. It is not a matter of repressing the Tamasic or Rajasic thoughts, but of positively emphasizing the Sattvic. For example, if Tamas is predominant, then thoughts might be heavy or negative. However, when Sattvas is dominant, then Tamas provides stability, which is useful.

 

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OTHER TEXTS ON TAMAS

Tripura Rahasya
Translated by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
14.59: The first step of creation was darkness. This marks the first stage of manifestation and is called avidya or tamas. The appearance of the perfect as if it were limited or imperfect is avidya.
 
Bhagavad Gita
From the Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Rama
14.5 Sattva, rajas, tamas—these attributes born of Prakriti bind the immutable body-bearer in the body, O Mighty-armed One.
 
14.8 Know tamas to be born of ignorance, the stupefier of all body-owners. O Descendant of Bharata, it binds through negligence, sloth, and sleep.
 
14.9 Sattva causes attachment to happiness, rajas to action, O Descendant of Bharata. Tamas, however, veiling knowledge causes attachment to inattention.
 
14.10 Overcoming rajas and tamas, sattva prevails, O Descendant of Bharata; rajas prevails overcoming sattva and tamas; similarly tamas prevails overcoming sattva and rajas.
 
14.13 Absence of light, lack of initiative, inattention as well as stupefaction—these are produced when tamas has increased, O Prince of the Kurus.
 
14.15 Upon dying in rajas, one born among those who are drawn to action. Similarly, dying in tamas, one is born among stupefied species.
 
14.16 The fruit of a meritorious act is sattvic and stainless, but the fruit of rajas is pain, and the fruit of tamas is ignorance.
 
14.17 Knowledge is born from sattva and greed from rajas; inattention and stupefaction as well as ignorance arise from tamas.
 
14.18 The sattva-dwellers rise upward; the rajasic remain in the middle; tamasic goes, remaining under the influence of base qualities, move downward.
 
18.22 That which is attached to a single effect as though it were the entire, without proper reasoning, devoid of essential meaning and reality, and narrow in scope is said to be tamasic [knowledge].
 
18.25 Without foreseeing the result, loss, violence, or capacity, the act that is initiated out of delusion is called tamasic.
 
18.28 Not joined in yoga, unrefined, unbending, a roque, harming others, lazy, always depressed, a procrastinator, such an actor is said to be tamasic.
 
18.32 That intelligence, which, covered by darkness, believes vice to be virtue, and all the matters opposite of their nature, O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.
 
18.35 That by which someone devoid of intuitive wisdom does not give up sleep, fear, grief, and depression, that steadfastness (dhriti), O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.
 
18.39 That happiness which both initially and in the end result deludes one’s self, arising from sleep, laziness, and inattention, that is said to be tamasic.
 
Vivekachoodamini, Adi Shankaracharya
Translated by Swami Madhavananda, Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta
110. Maya can be destroyed by the realisation of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination of the rope. She has her Gunas as Rajas, Tamas and Sattva, named after their respective functions.
 
113. Avriti or the veiling power is the power of Tamas, which makes things appear other than what they are. It is this that causes man’s repeated transmigrations, and starts the action of the projecting power (Vikshepa).
 
114. Even wise and learned men and men who are clever and adept in the vision of the exceedingly subtle Atman, are overpowered by Tamas and do not understand the
Atman, even though clearly explained in various ways. What is simply superimposed by delusion, they consider as true, and attach themselves to its effects. Alas ! How powerful is the great Avriti Shakti of dreadful Tamas !
 
116. Ignorance, lassitude, dullness, sleep, inadvertence, stupidity, etc., are attributes of Tamas. One tied to these does not comprehend anything, but remains like one asleep or like a stock or stone.
 
117. Pure Sattva is (clear) like water, yet in conjunction with Rajas and Tamas it makes for transmigration. The reality of the Atman becomes reflected in Sattva and like the sun reveals the entire world of matter.
 
174. Therefore the mind is the only cause that brings about man’s bondage or Liberation: when tainted by the effects of Rajas it leads to bondage, and when pure and divested of the Rajas and Tamas elements it conduces to Liberation.
 
179. Man’s transmigration is due to the evil of superimposition, and the bondage of superimposition is created by the mind alone. It is this that causes the misery of birth etc., for the man of non-discrimination who is tainted by Rajas and Tamas.
 
278. Tamas is destroyed by both Sattva and Rajas, Rajas by Sattva, and Sattva dies when purified. Therefore do way with thy superimposition through the help of Sattva.
 
361. As gold purified by thorough heating on the fire gives up its impurities and attains to its own luster, so the mind, through meditation, gives up its impurities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and attains to the reality of Brahman.
 
Panchadasi, Sri Vidyaranya Swami
Translated by Swami Swahananda and Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai (Translation under Fair Use, and believed to be in the public domain.)
1.15. Prakriti (i.e. primordial substance) is that in which there is the reflection of Brahman, that is pure consciousness and bliss and is composed of sattva, rajas and tamas (in a state of homogeneity). It is of two kinds.
 
1.16. When the element of sattva is pure, Prakriti is known as Maya; when impure (being mixed up with rajas and tamas) it is called Avidya. Brahman, reflected in Maya, is known as the omniscient Isvara, who controls Maya.
 
1.17. But the other (i.e. the Jiva, which is Brahman reflected in Avidya) is subjected to Avidya (impure sattva). The Jiva is of different grades due to (degrees of) admixture (of rajas and tamas with sattva). The Avidya (nescience) is the causal body. When the Jiva identifies himself with this causal body he is called Prajna.
 
1.18. At the command of Isvara (and) for the experience of Prajna the five subtle elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth, arose from the part of Prakriti in which tamas predominates.
 
1.44. Brahman becomes the material and efficient cause of the world when associated with those aspects of Maya in which there is a predominance of tamas and sattva respectively. This Brahman is referred to as ‘That ‘ in the text ‘That thou art’.
 
1.45. When the supreme Brahman superimposes on Itself Avidya, that is, sattva mixed with rajas and tamas, creating desires and activities in It, then it is referred to as ‘thou’.[thou from “thou art that”]
 
2.13. The mind enquires into the merits and defects of the objects which are perceived by the senses. Sattva, rajas and tamas are its three constituents, for through them the mind undergoes various modifications.
 
2.14. Non-attachment, forgiveness, generosity, etc., are products of sattva. Desire, anger, avarice, effort, etc., are produced by rajas.
 
15. Lethargy, confusion, drowsiness, etc., are produced by tamas. When sattva functions in the mind, merit is acquired; when rajas functions, demerit is produced.
 
2.16. When tamas functions, neither merit nor demerit is produced, but life is wasted for nothing. Of the modifications of the mind that of I-consciousness is the agent. In the practical world also we do the same.
 
6.99. Unconsciousness is the nature of Prakriti (the primordial substance) which is ever-changing and composed of three modes, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The Prakriti functions for experience and release of the Atman.
 
6.125. The [Nrisimha-Uttara-]Tapaniya Upanishad declares Maya to be Tamas or darkness. The empirical experience of all is evidence for the existence of Maya, says the Shruti.
 
6.187. Ishvara through the Tamas of Maya is the cause of the inanimate objects and through the reflection of the supreme intelligence Ishvara is the cause of the Jivas.
 
6.188. It is objected that the cause of the bodies is that aspect of Paramatman in which Tamas predominates and that of the Jivas is that aspect where intelligence predominates. So Paramatman alone is their cause in accordance with their inner impressions, moral and spiritual actions.
 
11.58. A text of the Atharva Veda says: ‘In the state of deep sleep, when all the objects of experience have been absorbed and only darkness (Tamas) prevails, the Jiva enjoys bliss’.
 
15.3. The mental modifications are of three kinds: serene (Sattvika), agitated (Rajasika) and dull (Tamasika). The Sattvika modifications are detachment, fortitude, liberality and so forth.
 
15.4. The Rajasika modifications are thirst and love for objects, attachment (to them as if they were real), greed and so forth. The Tamasika modifications are said to be delusion, fear and so forth.
 
15.9. Because of the preponderance of impurities of the Rajasika and Tamasika Vrittis, the blissfulness of Brahman is obscured; but because of their slight purity the consciousness of Brahman is reflected.
 
15.10. Or as in pure water when heated there is the transmission of heat of the fire and not its light, similarly in the Vrittis (in which Rajas and Tamas predominate) there is the manifestation of consciousness only.
 
15.13. Neither in Rajasika nor in Tamasika Vrittis the experience of bliss is seen but in Sattvika Vrittis experience of happiness is seen to a greater or lesser degree.
 
15.16. If the opposition is too formidable to be overcome, there is despair; that is born of Tamas. In anger etc., there is great misery; indeed even the chance of happiness is remote.
 
15.21. Both existence and consciousness are manifest in the Rajasika and Tamasika Vrittis of the intellect and all the three are manifest in the Sattvika Vrittis. Brahman associated with the world including the Vrittis is thus described.
 
15.24. There is misery in the Rajasika and Tamasika Vrittis. Thus Maya is manifested. Because of His identification with the Vrittis of the intellect, which are Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika, Brahman is called ‘associated Brahman’ i.e., Brahman is associated with the world.
 
15.26. In stone etc., he should reject both name and form and meditate on existence; in Rajasika and Tamasika Vrittis he should reject the misery (which is associated with them) and meditate on existence and consciousness.
 
15.32. It is said that the adjuncts creating difference are the Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika Vrittis. Through either Yoga or discrimination these disturbing Vrittis are removed.

 

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Yoga Meditation, Contemplation, and Devotion for Self-realization

This site is an offering to those who deeply long to experience Pure Consciousness that is known as Divine Mother or Tripura (‘Tri’ means three, and ‘pura’ means city); She is the one that lives in the three cities of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep. Temporary leaving behind the three cities and residing only in Pure Consciousness is called Self-realization. Another name for this realization is Yoga; the union of the individual self with the universal Self; the union of Atman with Brahman, or Shiva with Shakti; or the dis-union of Purusha and Prakriti. Some might think of Tripura as an anthropomorphic being but She is not, She is the Non-dual Reality in which all appearing manifestation seems to exist. All that is, is the Non-dual Reality.
 
On this site the teachings of Yoga, Vedanta, and Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra are offered to guide you in learning to meditate directly on Tripura by using modern ways of communication such as through animations, while preserving the ancient wisdom. These teaching have been given to us by an ancient lineage of meditation masters, lovingly called the Tradition of the Himalayan masters. These practices lead us to a space of stillness and silence where Yoga meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer converge into deep devotion and constant awareness of Tripura. At the end of the journey when all efforts are exhausted, grace will dawn. This is known as shaktipata, through which the final barrier is removed, which is the piercing of the bindu, and leads to the direct experience of Non-dual Reality. This finally reveals an unimaginable Joy from knowing the Non-dual Reality or Pure Consciousness!

 

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