The Metaphysics of Indo-European Tripartition, Part 5
Tripartition & the Gunas
Part 5 of 6
1. The Emergence of the Gunas from Brahman
We are obviously dealing with three principles which manifest themselves in different forms. These principles have the status of Platonic ideas: transcendent forms which we may approach through their various expressions in the world. But can we express the three principles in the abstract?
The most obvious place to look is to the Indo-European philosophical and mystical traditions. Here we are in luck, for there is much to draw on. As you might expect, the Indian tradition is the richest source. The ancient Aryans explicitly recognized and discussed exactly what I have argued for in this paper: that all things exhibit the same tripartite structure.
What I am referring to specifically is the ancient doctrine of the gunas. Guna means something like “quality,” and it may also have meant “part of a whole.” Guna thus is the same concept referred to in German philosophy as a “moment.” A moment is a part of a whole separable only in thought. The gunas are three moments of Being, which we may talk about separately, but which cannot actually exist in separation.
The gunas originate out of Brahman, which is the Absolute or Transcendent Immensity existing beyond all creation. I understand Brahman as the “ground of Being.” What is the ground against which existence or creation itself becomes present? This is Brahman. For this reason, it is sometimes spoken of as nothingness. Brahman is indeed no-thing, but it is an actual nothingness: it must be actual in order to be the ground against which the figure of creation appears.
Through the power of Maya or Illusion, movement appears in this transcendent immensity of nothingness. This movement has, of necessity, three and only three forms: centripetal, centrifugal, and revolving (movement around in one place). As Alain Danielou points out, “this triad pervades all things and appears in all aspects of the universe, physical as well as conceptual.”
2. Sattva, Tamas, and Rajas
The centripetal force of attraction creates cohesion, or coming together. The Hindus call it Sattva or “existence,” for all existence is a coming together or holding together. Sattva is thus the principle of oneness, having a binding or preserving function. It is pictured as light, and as the Sun. It is associated with intelligence, and with dream. It should be obvious that this is the first of the Indo-European functions. Sattva is embodied in the god Vishnu, the “all-pervader.”
The centrifugal force is the opposite of Sattva. It is not a force of attraction, but of repulsion. It is not a force of cohesion, but of dispersion, annihilation, and return into the Immensity. It prevents concentration. This force is called Tamas, darkness or inertia. Tamas is obscurity, because where there is dispersion there is dispersion of energy, and hence the absence of light. Accordingly, because of this association with chaos, darkness, and dis-unity, it is the third function. The god Rudra embodies Tamas. He is also called Shiva, the destroyer and lord of sleep. Tamas or Shiva is thought to be the inner nature of all things, since all things arise out of disintegration, only then to disintegrate themselves. Like Sattva, Tamas is associated with sleep, only this time it is dreamless sleep — a sleep without form or image.
The balance of Sattva and Tamas gives rise to a third, Rajas. In cosmology, this is the revolving, circular motion (which, incidentally, the Greeks associated with perfection). Rajas means “activity.” It is the source of all the different forms and kinds in creation. All rhythmic motion — the type of motion exhibited by life — comes from Rajas. Unlike Sattva and Tamas, Rajas is not linked with sleep, but with waking awareness. Sattva is associated with form or intelligence, Tamas with mass or matter, and Rajas with energy. These associations correspond closely to Paracelsus’s sulphur, salt, and mercury. Interestingly, Rajas is thought to be embodied in Brahma, which is the nominative, masculine singular of Brahman: i.e., the personification of Brahman. Rajas is obviously the Indo-European second function.
Danielou notes that, “One or the other of the three tendencies predominates in each sort of thing, in each kind of being.” We saw this in human beings, in the tendency of some men to be rational or spiritual, others spirited, and others appetitive. Precisely this doctrine of human types is to be found in Tantric psychology. According to Tantra, men belong to Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Only the former two are fit to take up spiritual practices.
3. The Divya, Vira, and Pashu
The Tamas (third function) man is called Pashu, which means “animal.” Pashu comes from “pac,” to bind. The Pashu is bound by animal urges — hunger, sex, comfort, greed — as well as by social convention. (This is, by the way, precisely how the Greeks regarded the appetitive man: they saw him as more of an animal; as not fully human.) Tantrism holds that in the present age, which is called the Kali Yuga, the Pashu type predominates.
The Sattva (first function) man is called Divya, a “divine being.” Like the Pashu, he is in some sense not human, because he is more than human. This man follows an inner path, detaching himself from the world. The Divya is very rare in the Kali Yuga.
The Rajas (second function) man is called Vira. This word comes from the Indo-European root vir- from which we get the words virile and virtue. The vira is a fully actualized human being: a manly, heroic being. There are right hand viras and left hand viras. The right hand vira is heroic but uncritical. He fights for ideals he has barely examined, and puts himself in the service of authority which he never questions. In fact, with the right hand vira, submission to authority and the unthinking performance of duty are considered supreme virtues.
The left hand vira may begin in this state, but, like the Divya, he follows an inner path. He may be compared to the Chinese Taoist ideal of the “scholar warrior.” Julius Evola writes, “Ascending from lower levels to higher, viras are subject to increasingly fewer limitations and ties.” The vira reaches a point beyond good and evil, where he becomes autonomous in the literal sense of giving a law unto himself. The ideal for the left-hand vira, and thus the human ideal as such, is independence, self-sufficiency, wholeness, and detachment. These are characteristics we find again in the Greek tradition, in Aristotle’s concept of God, the Unmoved Mover. The ideal man for Aristotle, approaches as close as possible to the qualities of the Unmoved Mover. In Tantra, the ideal man is he who most fully embodies Brahma, the embodiment of Rajas.
The fact that the word “virtue” is derived from the same root as vira is very significant. First of all, it suggests an unexpected connection between virility and virtue, or between masculinity and virtue. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the ancients regarded the virtues as masculine attainments. This is confirmed if we turn to Aristotle. The Greek word normally translated into the Latin virtue is arete, which is perhaps best translated as “excellence.” In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the nature of the virtuous man, and nowhere relates his observations to woman. Furthermore, Aristotle conceives of virtue as a mean between two extremes. For example, courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness. The Indian vira — who, I have argued, is the mesomorphic, somatotonic warrior type — is a kind of mean between the divya and the pashu. Indeed, whatever is analogous to the Indo-European second function occupies a middle position between the other two functions. If we look at a list of Aristotle’s virtues, his means between extremes, it amounts to a description of the vira. My suspicion is that the two extremes opposed to the mean will also consistently describe the characteristics of the divya and the pashu.
Those in whom Tamas predominates, the Pashus, worship ghosts and spirits (Bhuta and Preta). Those in whom Sattva predominates, the Divyas, worship Deva. Those in whom Rajas predominates, the viras, worship genii (Yaksha), and the anti-gods (Asura). This last fact is exceedingly interesting, for the term Asura is cognate with Old Norse aesir, which is the name of the group of principle first and second function gods in the Germanic tradition: Odin, Thor, Tyr, etc.
According to Tantra, Tamas is actually the path to enlightenment. But despite the fact that he is a creature of Tamas, the Pashu cannot take advantage of it. Tamas is annihilation and disunity. Recall that it is also associated with deep, dreamless sleep. The way to enlightenment, to the realization of the ultimate ground of all things, the transcendent Immensity of Brahman, is through annihilation of multiplicity. On the plane of action, the vira annihilates with his sword. The left hand vira turns this power inward, and annihilates the play of multiplicity within his own soul. He attempts to achieve a state like that of dreamless sleep, only in a waking state, within his control. Hence the use of meditation, and practices designed to achieve total mastery over the body, such as the various forms of yoga and martial arts.
But both the external world of things and the internal world of thoughts and images has been constituted out of Sattva, the centripetal force. Anything that goes contrary to Sattva goes contrary to the world itself, and to the creator’s intention. “The aim of any creator is to prevent a realization which would destroy his creation,” Danielou notes. “This is why [it is said that] ‘the Soul [the Atman, the true self] is not within the reach of the weak.’ It has to be conquered by going against all the forces of nature, all the laws of creation.” Thus, he who seeks enlightenment must become a warrior against all of creation, indeed against the gods themselves. This is why the man most suited to the quest for enlightenment must be the man who answers to the description of the left-hand vira – at least this is the case in the Kali Yuga.
 Alain Danielou, The Myths and Gods of India (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1991), 22.
 Ibid., 27.
 Julius Evola, The Yoga of Power, trans. Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1992), 55.
 Danielou, 33.
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