All experience is based on this duality between the conscious subject and the active evolutes of nature. Consciousness needs something to be conscious of and matter needs to be experienced. Prakriti is held together in a balanced state of tension by three universal constituents (guna). These three aspects combine in variable proportions to create manifest phenomena. They are the causal form of nature. They are present in every expression of prakriti, be it subtle or gross; if it is ‘observable’ it contains the guna. Sattva refers to qualities of balance, equality, and stability. It is light (laghu) and luminous (prakasika) and holds the capacity for happiness. It is conscious and intelligent, moving inwards and upwards.
Rajas generates activity, change, and disturbance. It is mobile (chala) and excitable (upastambhaka). It is the motivator and activator. It has a centrifugal force causing dispersion and disintegration. This movement away from the centre causes pain. Tamas is the immobile, still, and stuck quality. It is heavy (guru) and causes obstruction or lack of perception (varana). It moves down and is responsible for degeneration. Through the force of tamas there is delusion and confusion. Tamas has a bad reputation for being a negative, downward-bearing energy. To perceive it negatively is to misinterpret its role. The gunas exist ‘for a single purpose, like that of a lamp’. That they possess contradictory properties does not give any one quality priority over another. They come together for the single purpose of liberation (moksa), the ultimate goal of all darsana(s) and conscious existence. They are one force, with different aspects unfolding to be mutually ‘supportive’, ‘productive’. They help each other and keep each other in check. They are accountable to each other; maintaining, encouraging, or restraining. Their varied proportions explain the variety in nature.
The disturbance of the primal balance between purusa and prakriti, which releases the patterns of the guna, is a conceptual pattern. The Samkhyakarika describes the process: ‘For the perception of nature by the spirit and for the isolation [kaivalya, concomitant with moksa] of the spirit, there is union of both. From this union proceeds evolution’. The analogy of the seer (purusa) guiding the active blind (prakrti) is used. From this catalyst of seeking ‘enjoyment’ and ‘isolation’ comes the seed of all philosophical and mystical work and debate: ‘Who am I?’; ‘What am I doing here?’, ‘What is matter and what is spirit?’. This ‘union’ of purusa and prakriti causes the confusion or a vidya of our true nature. We think that we are the observable and not the observer.