That knowledge by which one sees
one imperishable being in all beings,
undivided in separate beings;
know that knowledge to be sattvic.
Chapter 18, Verse 20, Bhagavad Gita by Winthrop Sargent
With the above verse in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna the teacher, defines ‘Sattvic Knowledge,’ to Arjuna, the student. Sattvic Knowledge means to see and know the one life essence behind the many forms we encounter around us. One would imagine that the human psyche will easily understand the unity of spirit and aliveness behind the diversity of race, color, religion, gender and so on.
Yet as I prepare myself to write about Sattva, the world around me is in extreme pain and suffering. It feels like the essence of humanity is dissolving. While the pandemic crisis continues to increase the death tolls across the globe, hate crimes and racism are growing by leaps and bounds. It is distressing to witness such negativity and violence against humanity committed by our own fellow citizens.
Breathing is the fundamental right of being alive. This past month the right to breathe was forcefully and brutally taken away from George Floyd by an officer of the law whose duty was to serve and protect human rights, irrespective of color and race. It was terrifying to witness the abuse and manslaughter in cold blood. I am devastated beyond measure to experience such division and separation. There have been so many untimely, violent deaths in the last few years that it seems to have numbed out society. Now shooting, killing and breaking the fundamental rules of humanity are becoming the new norm.
If this continues, the world as we know it, where our children are raised will destroy itself and disintegrate. Driven by ego, greed, and anger, humanity is setting up for its own downfall. What we are seeing today is against the principles of Dharma (righteousness). I am saddened that we live in a society where it is easier to define what is not Sattva than what is.
What is Sattva and how can we define it?
Sattva, coming from the Sanskrit word ‘Sat’ – ‘Truth’, can be defined as a state of crystal like clarity and balance where opposites dissolve, where there is only equality, unlimited love and compassion for all beings. To live in Sattva is to remain in Buddhi, which is the ultimate space of discernment.
Sattva enables us to see the underlying oneness in all creatures no matter the caste, creed, or color. In Sattva, external form disappears. It enables the one underlying truth and reality to shine bright by dissolving separation. The choices made in Sattva are selfless and lead to the greater good of the whole world. Sattva always comes from a place of truth and leads back to truth.
There is nothing but the truth in Sattva.
The practice rooted in Sattva is called Sattvic Sadhana, which teaches us to live in Sattva day in and day out. The practice teaches us to recognize Sattva, the one underlying truth in all people, places and experiences. It teaches us to become aware of Sattva, the one underlying truth behind all our emotions and feelings.
Through this practice, a seeker can continuously remain in Buddhi due to his or her Sattvic qualities, until it becomes a part of their habitual nature. This becomes a stepping stone for the spiritual seeker to go beyond the gunas to the realm of Purusha and Brahman. That’s why the Bhagavad Gita constantly encourages the seeker to cultivate Sattva in thought, speech, and action.
Currently in the world around us, we are seeing the gunas flow and the forces of Rajas and Tamas are creating havoc and destruction in and around us. We can take the time to mourn and we can take the time to grieve. Then we must take the time to act and do the work to educate ourselves and those around us.
Now more than ever, it is important to share what we intuitively know and do all we can to serve our community crying out for help. We have often heard Yoganand quote, “a yogi acts only to help the wheel to turn.”
As practitioners and teachers of yoga, this is the time to impart the practices of Sattva that teach how to reconnect with our essence.
Without expectations of the outcome, this is the time to help the world find its way back to unity. This Sattvic knowledge when practiced and intuitively recognized will restore eternal peace and freedom in the world. Therefore, let us do our duty, as practitioners and teachers, to practice, to share and then surrender to grace.
Teaching Sattva: how can we bring Sattva into our classes?
- Practice what you preach, and then deliver with authenticity.
As a teacher, establish a daily practice that is disciplined and consistent. If you cannot have your own personal practice, you will be coming from a place of ‘Asat’- non truth. Teaching from your own experiences will have a bigger impact than teaching from someone else’s. Experience Sattva yourself, then you can deliver it authentically.
- Pay attention and be present for your student.
As a teacher, you should be fully present to notice everything that happens in a student’s practice and guide them in the best way you can, to recognize the gunas. Your mind cannot wander off into a past memory or fantasize about the future while teaching. It should stay present for your class. Your presence will help the students to strengthen their inner awareness.
- Practice the Yamas and Niyamas. Cultivate equanimity and gratitude.
Use the Yamas and Niyamas to generate steadiness and calmness on the mat. No matter what the life’s circumstances, encourage the student to acknowledge the circumstance and then surrender to the experience. Letting go and expressing gratitude for positive experiences can help overcome negative experiences in life. Therefore cultivate the practice of equanimity and gratitude in your classes.
- Cultivate the witness
Strengthen the witness by practicing the foundational principles of Pranakriya Yoga. These promote healthy habits to live in Sattva and then go beyond the gunas to continue the spiritual journey .
- Selfless service off the mats.
Encourage students to take the practice off the mat, into their daily lives and share the lessons learnt. For example, you can be proactive and support a cause you truly believe in, by educating and spreading awareness.
Encourage students to explore their biases concerning racism, political leanings, sexual preferences and all the subjects they consider taboo and hide from – even from themselves. Ask them to journal about it, if they are not ready to converse about it yet. Acceptance is key to transformation. Acknowledging the truth about oneself is Sattva, then only can one take action to make changes in their life. After all, we can only teach others by changing ourselves.
To wrap up, this quote below from Mahatma Gandhi always puts this practice into perspective for me-
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Photo Credit – Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash