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Have you ever considered that life might just be a big game of rock, paper, scissors? The Sankhya system of yoga has.

Without getting too esoteric, let’s explore this a bit and then apply it.

Sankhya has two basic categories, purusha and prakriti.

Purusha is the pure consciousness found in all living beings. It is the same in everything and everyone. It is like pouring pure water into pure water, there is no difference between the purusha of one and the purusha of all.

Prakriti is everything else—the physical world. Included in the physical world are our thoughts and emotions. We in The West tend to think of thoughts and emotions as non-physical but Sankhya includes them in prakriti because they are unique to each mind and therefore not pure consciousness (purusha).

Prakriti is formed and shaped by three forces or “gunas”. This is where we get to rock, paper, and scissors.

The three gunas (which means ropes) are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Stay with me here because this gets good.

Tamas is the state of inertia. Tamas is associated with the past. It is associated with non-action, sleep, history, darkness, delusion, ignorance, etc. We’ll call this one rock.

Rajas is the state of action. Rajas is associated with the future. It can be enthusiasm, passion, or anger. The motivation for action can be positive or negative. We could be running to win a gold medal or running to get away from a pit bull, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that rajas disrupts tamas. We’ll call this paper.

Sattva is the synthesis. Sattva is the state of the present moment. It is associated with balance, unity, order, purity. When we are sattvic, we are in the flow. We’ll call this scissors.

Believe it or not, sattva is not the goal. Sattva will always decay into tamas. It will become over ripe and inert. When this happens we are back to the beginning of the cycle.

Why isn’t sattva the goal? Because of the frustration we feel when sattva becomes tamas. “I don’t know what happened. Everything was going great and now it’s just dead.”

The goal is to observe the gunas working on the gunas and not to associate ourselves with any of them. We can see evidence of the gunas all around us. Winter (tamas) becomes spring (rajas) which turns into summer (sattva) and then declines through autumn back to winter. It is silly to try to resist or cling to any of the seasons—even in San Diego.

We can see the gunas at work in our relationships, in our exercise, in our diet, in our work performance; we can see them in almost anything. When we associate ourselves with them, our lives become caught up in this eternal game of rock, paper, scissors. When we are caught in the cycle and think that who we ARE is whichever guna is dominant, the mind can have no peace.

Joy lies in teaching the mind to observe the gunas instead being ruled by the gunas.

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