The importance of the rule of the 3 Gunas, the qualities of Nature, cannot be over-emphasized. Each of these qualities has both its positive aspects and its downsides, and they are functional in all life. They are continually in fluctuation and intermix with one another to create the events and circumstances that play out in our lives. This remains true even for those who take up the spiritual life. The focus, quality and process of the spiritual practice are all conditioned by the Gunas and their action.

There seems to be considerable misunderstanding about the action of the Gunas as people indicate that they are becoming ‘sattwic”, with the idea that the qualities of light, harmony and calm understanding that accompany this Guna are the total requirement. What is overlooked here is that even sattwa has its difficulties and can pose obstacles to spiritual progress at a certain stage; as well as the fact that Rajas is needed to provide the energy in the life action, and that Tamas has its role in providing a stable foundational platform. What is required is a detailed insight to the actions of the 3 Gunas, the application of their positive benefits for the spiritual practice, and the need to overcome the obstacles each one puts in the way of the progress.

Another issue is the frequently held idea that once one takes up spiritual practice, the action of the Gunas is no longer to be regarded, and that somehow the Divine operates through some miraculous mechanism that overturns and overrides the Gunas. This creates a duality of the Divine creation being built upon the basis of the Gunas, and the seeker somehow being extracted from this foundation and basis of the entire creation. The Divine appears to favor the evolutionary and systematic growth and development within the overarching framework that has been set up.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The spiritual change which yoga demands from human nature and individual character is, therefore, full of difficulties, one may almost say that it is the most difficult of all human aspirations and efforts. In so far as it can get the sattwic and the rajasic (kinetic) elements to assist it, its path is made easier but even the sattwic element can resist by attachment to old ideas, to preconceived notions, to mental preferences and partial judgments, to opinions and reasonings which come in the way of higher truth and to which it is attached: the kinetic element resists by its egoism, its passions, desires and strong attachments, its vanity and self-esteem, its constant habit of demand and many other obstacles. The resistance of the vital has a more violent character than the others and it brings to the aid of the others its own violence and passion and that is a source of all the acute difficulty, revolt, upheavals and disorders which mar the course of the yoga. The Divine is there, but He does not ignore the conditions, the laws, the circumstances of Nature; it is under these conditions that He does all His work, His work in the world and in man and consequently also in the sadhak, the aspirant, even in the God-knower and God-lover; even the saint and the sage continue to have difficulties and to be limited by their human nature. A complete liberation and a complete perfection or the complete possession of the Divine and possession by the Divine is possible, but it does not usually happen by an easy miracle or a series of miracles. The miracle can and does happen but only when there is the full call and complete self-giving of the soul and the entire widest opening of the nature.”

“Still, if the call of the soul is there, although not yet full, however great and obstinate the difficulties, there can be no final and irretrievable failure; even when the thread is broken, it is taken up again and reunited and carried to its end. There is a working in the nature itself in response to the inner need which, however slowly, brings about the result.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 110-111

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.