2.18 – The characteristics of the primal forces of nature—luminosity, activity, and inertia—express through the elements and the senses to form all which is seen. The seen exists for the purpose of experience and liberation.

प्रकाशक्रियास्थितिशीलं भूतेन्द्रियात्मकं भोगापवर्गार्थं दृश्यम् ॥१८॥

prakasha kriya sthiti shilam bhuta indriya atmakam bhoga apavarga artham drishyam

  • prakasha – luminosity; light; shining
  • kriya – action; activity; work
  • sthiti – focused; fixedness; sustaining; maintaining; stabilizing; steadiness; inertia
  • shilam – character; nature; tendency
  • bhuta – elements; being; existing
  • indriya – senses; sense organ; power of the senses
  • atmakam – consisting of
  • bhoga – experience; enjoyment
  • apavarga – liberation; emancipation; freedom; completion
  • artham – for the sake of; for the purpose of; objects; forms
  • drishyam – the seen; experienced; perceived; visible

2.19 – The primal forces of nature encompass all states, from the gross to the subtle, from the manifest to the unmanifest.

विशेषाविशेषलिङ्गमात्रालिङ्गानि गुणपर्वाणि ॥१९॥

vishesha avishesha linga-matra alingani guna parvani

  • vishesha – distinction; difference; special
  • avishesha – without difference; uniform; equally
  • linga-matra – only a trace of; only a sign of
  • alingani – no trace of; no sign of
  • guna – fundamental forces of nature; primal qualities
  • parvani – states; phases

2.20 – The seer is nothing but seeing, it remains pure even while witnessing thoughts or objects.

द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रः शुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः ॥२०॥

drashta drishi-matrah suddhah api pratyaya anupashyah

  • drashta – the seer; the perceiver; the witness
  • drishi – seeing; looking; observing
  • matrah – only; alone
  • suddhah – pure
  • api – even; also; too; though
  • pratyaya – contents of consciousness; mental content; notion; cognition; conception
  • anupashyah – witnessing; observing; perceiving seeing

2.21 – That which is seen exists for the seer.

तदर्थ एव दृश्यस्यात्मा ॥२१॥

tad artha eva drishyasya atma

  • tad – that
  • artha – purpose; meaning; an object
  • eva – same; way; like
  • drishyasya – the seen; the heard; the perceivable
  • atma – the Self; soul; spirit

2.22 – The seen ceases to exist (as a separate, objective reality) for one whose purpose has been accomplished (the liberated soul). It continues on as the common experience of others.

कृतार्थं प्रतिनष्टंप्यनष्टं तदन्य साधारणत्वात् ॥२२॥

krita-artham prati nashtam api anashtam tat anya sadharanatvat

  • krita-artham – one who has attained the end; one whose purpose has been accomplished
  • prati – in the direction of; towards
  • nashtam – ceased; disappeared; destroyed; vanished
  • api – even; also; too; though
  • anashtam – unimpaired; not destroyed; not having vanished
  • tat – that
  • anya – other; different
  • sadharanatvat – universality; commonness

Commentary on Sutras 2.18—2.22:

The gunas are dynamic cosmic forces moving through the universe and interacting with each other to create, sustain, and dissolve the worlds of form.

These three powers are aspects of the one power. When the one desires to emerge as the many, the vibratory force of OM creates an imbalance in the gunas, and the universe is born.

For as long as the universe exists, the gunas are in continuous flux. If they were to cease their activity, all manifestation would withdraw back into its source.

Any change in one guna causes a shift in the other two. Each pulls on the other to produce countless vibratory effects that alter the structure of things.

The three gunas are:

  • Tamas guna: The power of inertia
  • Rajas guna: The power of activity
  • Sattva guna: The power of luminosity

These energies form the substratum of all things. Their span includes the subtlest, unmanifest aspects of primordial nature to the most solid and tangible.

We can notice the effects of the gunas both within us and our environment. For example, if we have an excess of tamas guna our consciousness becomes contracted. As a result, we sleep longer, feel tired throughout the day, and are prone to depression, apathy, and compulsive behaviors.

Think of tamas as ice. It freezes parts of our being, encasing us in limiting thought patterns, stubborn personality traits, and negative attitudes. It influences the lazy part of us that would rather sleep in than get up early to meditate and exercise.

To melt tamas, we need the fire of rajas, the force of action, movement, and energization. We can call it forth with some calisthenics, a brisk walk, listening to some upbeat music, or engaging in stimulating conversation with a friend.

However, too much rajas, and we become restless. We get fidgety, impatient, and emotionally unstable. An excess of rajasic energy is common in our fast-paced culture. It feeds on caffeine, tobacco, salty foods, over-stimulation, and stress.

The journey of yoga involves moving from tamas to rajas and then from rajas into sattva, the illuminating force of nature.

Sattva is the upward-moving current that inspires and uplifts us. It expands our consciousness and reveals our inner radiance. Sattva vibrates as love and warmth and creates peace and serenity.

We can cultivate the energy of sattva through a positive attitude, compassion, and kindness. We also attract more sattvic energy by spending time in nature, practicing higher meditation, eating nourishing foods, and living a balanced lifestyle. Ultimately, we want to move beyond the influence of all three gunas.

The gunas move through the elements and our senses to create our world and our experience within it. Their purpose is to provide us with a medium through which we can express, experience, and come to know our true nature.

Our true nature is the seer, the power of seeing itself. And even though we may be caught up in the seen, that nature never changes. It remains forever pure and free.

The gunas and the universe those forces give rise to are created out of Awareness by the Power of Awareness and exist for Awareness alone.

For the yogi who has accomplished the highest purpose of existence—the full liberation of consciousness—the universe ceases to exist as something external and separate. With the dawning of enlightenment comes the coalescence of the subject-object relationship. All is perceived as one.

That awakened being sees other beings as part of an unbroken continuum. But others, still lacking Self-knowledge and under the influence of the gunas, continue to experience the universe as an objective, divided reality.