Too Much Purity and the Holier Than Thou Syndrome
In Samkhya philosophy there are three gunas which are the basic components of the fundamental nature of reality. These tendencies are expressed in both the physical and mental planes of existence and are known as sattvas, rajas, and tamas.
Sattvas is the aspect of the subtlest primordial matter, which has the nature of existence, light, illumination, sentience, harmony, or clearing. Rajas is the aspect which has the nature of activity, motion, energy, movement, or change. Tamas is the aspect which has the nature of stability, stasis, darkness, dullness, heaviness, insentience, obstructing, and veiling.
Rajas is the guna that seems to predominate the world right now. As yogis, we are taught and encouraged to cultivate sattvas. The sattvic state of mind is the clearest and healthiest state. This is the state of a Saint or Seer.
The more you read about the three gunas, it is obvious that sattvas is the most desirable state of mind. It is important to remember that all three are qualities of Nature itself and must be embraced on some level. For example, if you are feeling lethargic, you will need some rajas to break up the stagnation and get things moving again. If you are feeling rajasic, a little bit of tamas may help stabilize the movement.
I was alerted by friends and colleagues who studied under Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that sattva can be out of balance too. This at the time felt like a big change in my own thinking when the idea was presented to me. Dr. Lad told his students that too much sattva can result in the “Holier than Thou Syndrome.” This made me laugh as we all know somewhere inside this is or has been a possibility. A joke within the Asthanga lineage is “the Ashtanga police.”
As yogis, we are seeking through our practices and diet to cleanse and cultivate more purity within our bodies, hearts, and minds. This is a positive quest. I suppose the question is at what point have we crossed the line?
When we become rigid, dogmatic, and judgmental, lose our compassion, or start to exude an error of superiority, I believe we have lost step on our path toward purity. To me, the purest heart is one that is understanding, accepting, and unconditionally loving. This understanding is rooted in a basic compassion for human strife and suffering, to know that everyone is on their own unique path and doing the best they can at the moment. This compassion must start with oneself before it can be extended to others.
If as a yogi you find yourself lacking tolerance towards others because they do not eat like you, because they have different inclinations, habits, and lifestyles as you, or because they have made different choices along their path, you may want to check yourself. It is not to say you need to be best friends with these people, but if the mind crosses the line from discernment into judgment, I believe you have stepped off the path.
Furthermore, if you approach yourself with these same harsh viewpoints, I believe it will not only stunt your growth, but it can cause harm to the body and mind. I have learned through my own practices that love and acceptance of myself in the moment is the best medicine towards growth.
If we look into our history as humans, some of the darkest experiences have come from extreme cases of this mindset, such as racism, genocide, inquisitions, and religious wars and killings. Danger lady!
Keep this in mind as you walk along the path. Drop the holier than thou attitude if it is present, let your hair down, and accept the world as it is. Then, maybe it will change because you are giving it space to.
You know what they say, “You never truly know someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes.”
Let the Light of Love and Compassion lead the way on your path to purity and self discovery.
Love to All Beings.
Owner, Director, Teacher – Ashtanga Yoga Center, Outer Banks, NC