Chapter 9 — Three Gunas; Gods are Pure Sattvic; No Such Thing as Ignorance

Rama said, “Sage, you said that all forms are representations of illusion or ignorance. How do you account for the pure bodies of Vishnu, Shiva and other gods who are of pure essence in their embodied forms, and which cannot be the creation of our error or delusion? Please, sage, explain these clearly to me and remove my doubts and difficulties on the subject.”

Vasishta replied:—

The perceptible world represents the manifestation of the one quiescent and all inherent soul, and exhibits the glory of being-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda) which is beyond conception or thought. This gives rise to the shape of a partial aspect or essence, or there arises of itself principles resembling the rolling fragment of a cloud appearing as a watery substance or filled with water. This fragment is also conceived in its three different lights or phases of rarity, density and rigidity or grossness, resembling the twilight, midday light, and darkness of sunlight. The first of these is called the mind or creative will, the second the Brahma Hiranyagarbha or the creative power, and the third is known as Virat, the framer of the material frame, and is identical with creation itself. 5 These are also called the three qualities (gunas) of reality, brightness and darkness (sattva, rajas and tamas, the qualities of preservation, creation, and destruction) which are also called the triple nature of things or their swabhavas or prakriti. All nature is characterized by ignorance of the triple qualities of creation, preservation and destruction which are inbred in all living beings, except the Being that is beyond them and which is the supreme one.

Each of the three qualities of balance, activity and passivity (sattva, rajas and tamas) has its three subdivisions of the same names. Thus original Ignorance becomes nine kinds by the differences of its several qualities. Whatever is seen or known here below is included under one or the other in various degrees.

Now Rama, know the positive (sattvic) quality of ignorance includes several classes of living beings known as the rishis, munis, spiritual masters, naagas, vidyadharas and suras. 10 Again this quality of positive goodness comprises the Suras or gods Shiva and others of the first class who are purely and truly good. The sages and spiritual masters forming the second or intermediate class are endued with a less share of goodness in them, while naagas or vidyadharas making the last class possess it in the least degree. 11 The gods born with the pure essence of goodness and remaining unmixed with the properties of other natures have attained the state of purity like the divine Vishnu, Shiva and others.

12 Rama, whoever is filled with the quality of goodness (sattva) in his nature and is acquainted with divine knowledge in his mind is said to be liberated in this life and free from further reincarnation. 13 For this reason, O high minded Rama, the gods Shiva and others who possess the properties of goodness in them are said to continue in their liberated state to the final end of the world. 14 Great souls remain liberated as long as they continue to live in their mortal bodies. After they drop their frail bodies, they become free as their disembodied spirits and they reside in the Supreme Spirit.

15 The part of ignorance is to lead men to perform acts which, after their death, become the roots of producing other acts in all successive states of reincarnation. 16 Ignorance rises from knowledge like a hollow bubble bursting out of water, and ignorance likewise sets and sinks in knowledge like the bubble subsiding to rest in the same water. 17 As there is no such thing as a wave, only a word coined to denote the heaving of water, so there is nothing as ignorance but a word fabricated to express the lack of knowledge. 18 As water and waves are identical in their true sense, and there being no material difference between them, so both knowledge and ignorance relate to the same thing, expressing either its presence or absence. There can be no essential difference in their meaning.

19 Leaving aside the sights of knowledge and ignorance, there remains that which always exists of itself. Only the contradiction of adverse parties has introduced these words. 20 The sights of knowledge and ignorance are nothing. Therefore be firm in what is beyond these, and which can neither be known nor ignored by imagination of it.

21 There is something which is not anything, except that it exists in the manner of the intellect and consciousness. There is no way to describe this, therefore that being (sat) is said to be unknowable (avidya). 22 That one existent Being is said to be the destroyer of ignorance. Lack of knowledge gives rise to the false conception of ignorance. 23 When knowledge and ignorance are both lost in oblivion within the one consciousness, it is like when both sunshine and its shadows are lost in the shade of night. 24 Then there remains only the One that is to be gained and known, and thus the loss of ignorance likewise tends to the dissipation of self knowledge, just as the lack of oil extinguishes the lamp. 25 What remains afterwards is either emptiness or the whole fullness of space in which all these things appear to exist, or it is nothing at all.

26 As the minute seed of the banyan tree contains the future tree in its undeveloped state, so the almighty power of omnipotence is lodged in the minute receptacle of the spirit before its expansion into immensity. 27 The Divine Spirit is more rarefied than subtle air, and yet is not an emptiness because it has consciousness (chit). It is like the sunstone with its inherent fire, or like milk with the latent butter unborn in it. 28 All space and time reside in that spirit for their development, just as the spark proceeds from the fire and light issues from the sun in which they are contained. 29 So all things are settled in Supreme Consciousness and show themselves to us as like waves on the sea or the radiance of gems. Our understandings are also reflections of Divine Consciousness 30 which is the storehouse of all things and the reservoir of all consciousness. The divine essence pervades the inside and outside of everything.

31 The Divine Soul is as imperishable as the air within a pot which is not destroyed when the pot is broken, but mixes and continues forever with its surrounding air. Know also the lives and actions of living beings are dependent upon the will of God, just as the movement of iron depends upon the attraction of the loadstone. 32 The action of the inactive or quiescent spirit of God is to be understood in the same manner as the motion of iron is attributed to magnetic attraction. The inert bodies of living beings are moved by force of the conscious soul.

33 The world is situated in that mundane seed of the universe which the wise know by the name of consciousness. The world is as void and formless as empty air. It is nothing and has nothing in it except consciousness. It represents all and everything by itself, like the playful waves of the boundless ocean.