This morning I had to leave the house early to get a blood test—the type that requires fasting beforehand. So, when I got home, I was famished. I ate breakfast and then had many items on my checklist to accomplish before traveling tomorrow, and a thought came into my mind to leave the dishes in the sink so I could get a start on those tasks. Along with that thought was a sense that it would be easy to clean up later. But then I realized that this thought of delaying cleaning up, and the feeling that doing so was a good thing, was not to be trusted. I realized that this thought, and the feeling that came with it, were sweet sounding lies born from sloth.
Sloth, according to dictionary.com, is “a disinclination to exertion, indolence, laziness.” It is one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins. The great Himalayan sage, Swami Rama, warned his students to avoid sloth.
Sloth is a product of the tamas guna. According to Yoga philosophy, every-thing in the material world is composed of an amalgamation of three gunas, or constituents, which are tamas (solidity, darkness, inertia), rajas (movement, activity), and sattva (illumination, lightness, joy). These gunas are not things, but energetic qualities. All three are in everything. But the guna that is dominant—that is, in greatest proportion in a particular object—determines the character of that object. This remains true whether the thing is a gross object such as a person’s body, or a subtle object such as a person’s mind.
If a person’s mind has more of the guna tamas than it has of rajas and sattva, the person’s mind is tamas dominant. But this creates many problems for the bearer of such a mind: A tamas dominant mind is said to prefer to not do anything, and rather expects others to fulfill their desires. They tend to avoid life and yet are filled with wild, often delusional thoughts about how the world works. A tamasic mind doesn’t decide things on time, and is often depressed, dependent and feels helpless. Such a person may become overweight and prone to sickness, with a mind controlled by negative emotions and inaccurate ideas. Although those with tamasic minds believe in “eat, drink, and be merry,” they don’t usually experience joy. Hungry for stimulation and happiness, they use intoxicants freely, hoping this will fulfill their desires; but it only deepens their tamasic tendencies.
Rajas, on the other hand, is dynamic, and a mind in which rajas is predominant is active. It’s full of desires, attachments, enjoyments and aversions. Such a mind is constantly engaged in pursuing objects of pleasure, is never satisfied, and is always in motion. It performs actions for self-gratification and because the objects can’t often be attained, such a mind suffers greatly.
A rajasic mind is greedy and competitive. Actions are performed selfishly to such an extent that even charity may be given with an expectation of gaining name, fame, or some benefit.
It might be said that most people have rajasic minds.
Success in Yoga requires a predominantly sattvic mind. Sattva is illumination, clarity, peace, lightness, and joy. A mind in which sattva is dominant is serene, balanced and filled with elevating thoughts and delight. It is light, both in terms of being illumined with knowledge and wisdom and in the sense of being filled with light sentiments rather than heavy negative emotions.
A little known but key part of Yoga is to slowly transform a practitioner’s mind in a sattvic direction. This is because only a sattva dominant mind can reach the clear, calm, one-pointed state of samadhi. Most people who take up the practice of Yoga likely have rajasic or sattvic minds. Those with tamas dominant minds would usually not be willing to exert the effort that Yoga requires. Once taking up Yoga practice, those practices and the lifestyle of Yoga slowly transform the practitioner’s mind, increasing sattva.
When we indulge in a guna, when we focus on it, we increase that energy within us. So, if we engage in sattvic actions, such as selfless service, we increase sattva in the mind. If we move fast all the time, we increase the rajas in the mind. If we avoid action and give in to laziness, we increase tamas within the mind. For one on the Yoga path, it is essential to avoid increasing tamas. This is why Swami Rama often advised his students to get up out of bed when they first wake in the morning, rather than lying in bed soaking in the tamasic pleasure of laziness. It is also why it was advisable for me, today, to take two minutes to clean up my dishes. Besides, as I said, sloth lies—I have found from long experience that if I am seduced by tamas and don’t clean the dishes right after eating, that the dishes pile up and, eventually, I am left unhappily having to clean up a tower of dishes. That sugary voice of sloth is not to be trusted.