The Elevator of Consciousness: What causes all the problems we see in ourselves, other people, and the world?

Theosophy tells us that most of these problems can be explained by the fact that people and the Universe are composite beings made up of the 7, 10, or 12 different planes of reality, both spiritual and material.

It’s as if most people in the world are riding an elevator of consciousness in the Empire State Building between the grossest aspects of themselves down in the basement, to the spiritual realities up in the penthouse on the top floor!


Living in the Penthouse of our Being: Our challenge is to bring the elevator under control and gradually inch our way up towards living more permanently in the ‘penthouse’ of our Being – then most of our problems in ourselves and the world will simply melt away!

But how did we get to be riding this elevator anyway?

Where does the composite nature of Man and our world come from?

Hindu philosophy as expressed in that Bhagavad Gita tells us that it is because we are caught in the threefold nature of the manifest Universe – the Three Gunas (in Sanskrit: ‘Triguna’).


What Are the Three Gunas? ‘Guna’ is a Sanskrit word meaning literally a ‘String’ or ‘Thread’ which both hold the manifest universe together, are the mode of action in the universe, and also bind us humans to the wheel of manifestation – until we can see beyond them.

In the unmanifested universe, energy has three qualities, or rather ‘tendencies’, known as the Gunas, that exist together in equilibrium: SATTVA: spirit/purity; RAJAS: passion, activity, the process of change; TAMAS: ignorance, inertia, darkness.


Once energy takes form, ie. once the Universe is manifest, one quality or other of the three predominates , and the interaction of the three Gunas drives the process of spiritual evolution. But no matter which quality predominates, an element of the other two will always be present as well – this includes people too!


The Three Gunas in People: How does Hindu philosophy say that the three Gunas manifest in people?


Rajas Character: The majority of people in the Western culture with a mixture of all the three qualities but with rajas/tamas dominant. The rajas mind is active, intense, has the potential to become incendiary and aggressive. Those with a rajas-like mind are prone to argument and can be challenging.


Tamas Character: The tamas mind is lethargic, slow, and has the potential to become negative and destructive. Those with a tamas-like mind are prone to disengaging from situations and becoming lazy.


Sattva Character: The sattva mind is balanced and pure. The sattvic person finds a sense of truth and light in their life.  They are more open to creating spiritual influences in their lives. Many people may be sattvic momentarily, but truly sattvic people are extremely rare in today’s world.


Let’s look at the three Gunas in more detail:


 ‘Tamas’: Ignorance, Inertia, Ignorance: Let’s start off with the Guna that we are most familiar with in this troubled world – Tamas. This quality represents the tendency to inertia, ignorance, downward flow, apathy, reluctance to engage in meaningful activity, don’t want to change even if we are suffering, contentment out of ignorance, totally selfish, the desires are dominant, eats harmful foods, worships demons and ghosts , no concept of right and wrong except what gives pleasure to them, ignorance producing misapprehension – the way that you feel when you need to get up in the morning but are reluctant to face the day – even when the alarm is ringing in your ears!


‘Rajas’: Passion, Desire, Activity: The majority of the human race at the moment are said to be dominated by the Rajas or Rajas/Tamas. Rajas presents the tendency to agitation, passion, desire, ‘I want more’, greed, incessant activity, the mind is constantly agitated by attachment to material things and the intellect is devoted to ambition and the fruitless search for happiness through the acquisition of objects, movement, expansion, binds to the world by passion born of craving and attachment, is the ruling trait when greed, excessive projects, cravings and restlessness arise, hot spicy food which tastes good at the time but has longer term bad affects, worship higher beings. Rajas is not all bad as there is a knowledge of right and wrong outside of total selfishness to some degree, a partial awakening but the spiritual vision is restricted to your own personal world and flawed by constant longing for the benefit of oneself.


 ‘Sattva’: Spirit, Truth, Goodness: The highest and most spiritual of the Gunas is Sattva. Sattva is the tendency and quality of Spirit, Purity, Goodness, Light, Illumination, Intelligence/Consciousness, Upward Flow,.

Such a person’s mind is always on spiritual realities, he/she is content, contributes to the welfare of humanity, experiences a higher joy, indifferent to what he/she has because he/she has a knowledge of the higher and is concerned with what he/she may become, mind is calm, intellect creative, eats pure  foods which guarantee health.

Sattva still binds us to the world by attachment to pure happiness, knowledge and spiritual study. This means that you would rather reject daily life pleasures for spiritual happiness such as reading spiritual books, meditation, service for others, etc. There is the possibility of mistaking such high spiritual pleasures for spiritual realization.


Progress Upwards to Remaining in Sattva: Obviously, Sattva is the most desirable condition for us and our world. But how to reach it considering most people are fixed in the Desire-Mind (Kama-Manas), or Rajas/Tamas, as their centre of consciousness at the moment resulting in most of the suffering we can see in the world? How can we keep our consciousness-elevator in our spiritual penthouse and express the Compassion Mind (Buddhi-Manas) or Sattvic condition?

Our mission then is to establish ourselves in Sattva. Those fixed in Tamas should aspire to Rajas qualities, those stuck in Rajas (the majority) should aspire to the Sattvic qualities. All the time we should remain resolved in our progression and avoid ‘yo-yo’ efforts. We can start with purification of our body and physical habits by doing such things as eating the right foods, abstaining from negative habits, recreational drugs, and get up in the early morning when Sattva is ruling the day.


Sattvic Foods: nourish the body and maintain it in a peaceful state. A Sattvic diet leads to true health: a peaceful mind in charge of a fit body, with a balanced flow of energy between them. Sattvic foods include: cereals, wholemeal bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, pure fruit juices, milk, butter and cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, honey and herb teas.


Progression to Living in Sattva: Fix a spiritual goal to overcome weaknesses and develop what is already good within us – transforming material desires to higher desires to help humanity. Talk to someone who is clearly living in the Sattvic qualities and get their advice. Practice unconditional love (Bhakhti Yoga), good deeds (Karma Yoga), and spiritual knowledge (Jnana Yoga). Study these things every day with Joyous Perseverance. The Bhagavad Gita stresses that the most important aspect of our journey is to not become obsessed with the results of your actions but do good simply for its own sake as indicated in the ancient Sanskrit saying: ‘Manushya Yatram, Bhagvan Kripa’, that is, a person should do right without consideration of the result, then the Gods will bless you. In this way you can progress through the Gunas and remain fixed in Sattva for longer and longer periods – try it and you’ll notice a distinct change in your behaviour if sincerely practiced for a year – you’ll be noticeably progressed in living in those high spiritual qualities of Sattva!


Rising Above the Gunas: When we identify with the modes of nature (the Gunas), we forget our own eternity and we use mind, life, and body for egoistic satisfaction. To rise above bondage, we must rise above the modes of nature – become ‘Trigunatita’- and then we put on the free and incorruptible nature of spirit. Sattva is sublimated into the light of consciousness – ‘Jyoti’; Rajas, into austerity – ‘Tapas’’; and Tamas, into tranquillity or rest – ‘Shanti’. Even living in Sattva or goodness is imperfect since this goodness has for its condition the struggle with its opposite. The moment the struggle ceases and goodness becomes absolute, it ceases to be goodness and goes beyond all ethical compulsion. By developing the nature of Sattva, we rise beyond it and obtain transcendent wisdom. Therefore, the Bhagavadgita encourages us to develop all the Sattvic qualities we have mentioned but without attachment and you will eventually reach enlightenment at a time which is right for you.


Some Practical Advice on Rising Above the Gunas: The Bhagavadgita thus recommends that we immerse our concentration in Spirit and then gradually we will turn to that which is above the Gunas.


A practical way to do this was suggested by the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who saw more than his fair share of conflict and human frailty. He gave a practical guide for us spiritual students to follow in what often seems to us a dark and cynical world, when he said in his ‘Meditations’: “In all the universe, reverence that which is the highest: namely, That to which all else ministers, and which gives law to all. In like manner, too, reverence the highest in yourself: it is of one piece with the Other, since in yourself also it is that to which all the rest minister, and by which your life is directed.” In other words simply look for the highest spiritual potential in everyone and every situation you meet and in this way you will align yourself with the guiding energies of the Universe and rise above the conflict of opposites and the realm of the Gunas.


How Will You Know Someone Who Has Risen Above The Operation of The Three Gunas? In the Bhagavadgita, Arjuna asks Khrishna the question: “How would you recognize someone who is above the three Gunas? What is his way of life? How would such a person get there?” Krishna (representing the Godhead) replies: “He who does not abhor or shrink from the operation of enlightenment (the result of rising Sattva) or impulsion to works (the result of rising Rajas) or the clouding over of mental and nervous being (the result of rising Tamas), nor longs for them, when they cease.

He who, established in a position as of one high above, is unshaken by the Gunas; who seeing that it is the Gunas that are in process of action stands apart immovable. He who regards happiness and suffering alike, gold and mud and stone of equal value, to whom the pleasant and the unpleasant, praise and blame, honour and insult, the faction of his friends and the faction of his enemies are equal things; who is steadfast in a wise and imperturbable and immutable inner calm and quietude; who initiates no action (but leaves all works to be done by the Gunas of Nature) – he is said to be above the Gunas. He also loves and strives after Me (Krishna representing the Godhead) with an undeviating love and adoration, passes beyond the three Gunas and he too is prepared for becoming the Brahman (advanced spiritual person).” – From the Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 14.


Further Reading:


The best source of information about the Gunas is from Chapter 14 of the Hindu classic The Bhagavadgita. Our Society publishes a version translated and with commentary by W.Q.Judge. Available free online at:


Also highly recommended is the translation with commentary by S. Radhakrishnan available at any good bookshop.


A very good article on the Three Gunas is available from the American Institute of Vedic Studies at:

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