Anatomy of our experience – the Connectors (Gunas)

This is the third in our series of essays on “Anatomy of our experience”. Some readers at this point may feel the presentation is logical, coherent and meaningful. Thank you! Some others may feel it is interesting, but some what complex. Hang in there!! Few others may wonder, “Is it all really necessary?”Every one of you is right in your view point!

If you understand the elegance of logic, it will make you in charge of your experiences. This may not be the need all the time, but such skill is very helpful especially at times of “crisis” or for extreme leadership.

Those of you who feel it is complex, I urge you to muster your inner strength and dig through the details. I promise to you that you will find so much of your inner potential, your hidden talent that will come to the surface as you understand and internalize the approach and the logic based on a few axioms.

For those of you, who wonder, if this is necessary, the answer is “absolutely not!”. Just as the water flows down stream, we will behave according to our nature. If you wish to know why the water flows down stream, then you need to understand the laws pertaining to it. So do we need to learn the “laws pertaining to our experience”? It should be of interest or curiosity to us in our quest for Spirituality in Life. With this brief explanation of “Why?” we continue our journey!

Earlier we had mentioned that an “experience” occurs, when the Consciousness gets connected with something external to it, through our portals of body, mind and the intellect.–-the-source/

Later we understood that in the above definition, the key to understanding the “experience” is not a thorough comprehension of the Consciousness or a total understanding of the cognitive universe (anything external to the consciousness). Both these avenues are open for life long exploration. Instead, what we seek is a clear and comprehensive understanding of the “Connectors” – Gunas – and the nature of such connections with any event, which can be as brief as a moment or for any duration longer than that.–-understanding-the-source/

We shall explore these connectors in some detail here.

Connectors: The means or the connectors are called “Guna”, a Sanskrit word which literally means rope or the connector. The word “Attribute” is also used to represent Guna. The synonyms for attribute are: quality, characteristic, trait, feature, aspect, and element. Each of these words, equally well apply for the word Guna.

It is said that there are three connectors associated with every experience. They are like the three strands of a rope. In other words, every one of our experiences is composed of three connectors. If we are a product of our experiences, then as a derivative, we are a product of the three connectors associated with all our experiences. So, don’t blame yourself or your experience, but look for the connectors associated with your experiences! Also, don’t credit your self too much as well, as your positive experience is also the favorable outcome of the connectors and their role!

The three Connectors: Let us return for the moment, when I set my eyes on an object. I could become instantly aware of the object, because I have a very good prior knowledge about it. As a result, I am very clear on exactly what it is and what my next action should be. I could have some knowledge of the object apriori, but I am not sure. This partial knowledge triggers some actions, which may or may not be adequate. I could be totally unaware or ignorant of the object and hence I am totally unclear on what I should do next? These are the three connectors – Knowledge, Partial Knowledge and Ignorance or absence of any knowledge– associated with any event. My experience associated with this event – as a result of my setting my eyes on this object – is a combined effect of all these three connectors.

The Sanskrit words for these three connectors (Gunas) are: Sathvikam, Rajasam and Thaamasam. Each of these words has many meanings, which become relevant depending on the context. But, you can see the common theme among these several meanings for each word.
 Knowledge (Understanding, Comprehension, Tranquility) —-Sathvikam
 Bias (Partial Knowledge, influenced by attachments and preferences, Turbulence) —- Rajasam
 Ignorance (Lack of direction, stagnation, Inertia) —- Thaamasam
For our discussion we will use the words Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance for the three connectors.

The three connectors co-exist all the time! Earlier we described the three connectors as the three strands of a rope connecting our inner most – the consciousness – to something, external to it. Like strands of a rope, these three connectors co-exist all the time! Hence our experience at any moment is a cumulative effect of all three connectors at that moment. Like a rope that carries the load through all three strands, our experiences are perceived through these three co-existing connectors.

The co-existence of the three connectors is an important axiom. It should not be dismissed or set aside lightly. In fact, this axiom alone may be sufficient in many cases to find peace and comfort, even under complex situations and circumstances. Let us use a light hearted example here:

Consider some one calls you an “idiot”. You might say, “That is very offensive” and get angry, upset, disgusted, etc. Ok, let us say some one calls me an idiot! I don’t know your reaction for sure. May be you are happy, that some one finally spoke the truth! But, for my part if I do believe in the axiom above, then I could think, “For certain I could be ignorant of some things or some views; very likely I am biased or partial to certain other things or views; but may be there is also some element of knowledge in me as well, if the above axiom is true!” Co-existence of knowledge, bias and ignorance is indeed the reality. One who understands the true meaning of this axiom and its implications is never swept away by the tides of praise or criticism. Instead one resorts to internal reflection instinctively. Such reflection leads to analysis and identification of the three strands or connectors and their relative proportions.

One among the three co-existing connectors is always dominant: While all three connectors co-exist, one of these is always dominant over the other two. It is the perception, influence or response to the dominant connector, modulated by the other two that we call as our “experience”. These two axioms (i.e) co-existence of the three connectors and the role of dominant one in the formation of our experience are profound observations codified in the scriptures!

Consider the rope with the three strands. Generally we think that a rope has all three strands of same material with equal weight, strength, gage, etc. Consider the grip or feel of a rope with strands of different materials or of different gage, strength and such properties. Consider for example the rope, where the three strands are made of three different materials (such as cotton, nylon and wool or copper, steel and aluminum). Clearly the strength, endurance, flexibility, feel, use, etc. of such a rope is dependent on the role and properties of each strand.

You begin to see why two people could connect with the same event differently – depending on the nature of the rope (and its strands) they use as the connectors! Other analogies are the sundae with three ice creams or a cup of coffee (with milk, sugar and coffee)! In all these, three elements co-exist, but our taste – our experience – is determined by the dominant component.

We can use the above axioms to look further or deeper in our analytical view of our “experience”. This requires further in-depth understanding of the three connectors, how to recognize their properties, role and effect. It also requires pointers to identify the dominance of one over the other two.

Such analytical look at life and experiences develops a natural separation between the scenes in our movie (the life) and “I” the audience or observer in the movie! We always resort to a common methodology or frame work to use – to identify the three connectors and the dominant strand –irrespective of the event, time, situation, circumstances, etc.

The consistency in the use of such methodology at all situations facilitates objectivity in our outlook on its own accord! Such analytical and dispassionate look at our experience with a consistent methodology as the back bone, is another elementary step towards Self-Realization (Yoga). We shall pursue these details in our next essay!

Knowledge or Tranquility (Sathvam), Bias or turbulence or agitation (Rajasam) and Ignorance or stagnation or inactivity (Thaamasam) are the three connectors or natural tendencies (Guna) of any person. These connectors bind a person (Consciousness) to his/her body and all its functions. — B.G. 14.5

Knowledge prevails when bias and ignorance are over powered. Bias or turbulence prevails when knowledge and ignorance are diminished. Ignorance or stagnation prevails when knowledge and bias are diminished. — B.G. 14.10

Recap of the Axioms:

  • Who am I?
    o I am consciousness (the “I” – the inner person (Dehinam)).
    o I am the product of my experiences (the “i” – the external or visible entity / person (Deham)).
  • All experiences occur, when “I” – the Consciousness gets connected to “i” something external to it (the cognitive world we relate to, through the portals of our body, mind and intellect).
  • There are three connectors (Guna)
    o In order to better understand the experience we need to have clarity and understanding of the “connectors” at play with respect to that experience, which may be momentary or life long experience.
  • The three Connectors are:
     Knowledge (Understanding, Comprehension, Tranquility) —- Sathvikam
     Bias (Partial Knowledge influenced by attachments and preferences, Turbulence) —- Rajasam
     Ignorance (Lack of direction, stagnation, Inertia) —- Thaamasam
  •  The three connectors co-exist all the time.
    • One among the three co-existing connectors is always dominant over the other two.
    • It is the perception, influence or response to the dominant connector modulated by the other two that we recognize as our “experience”!
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