Three Opposites Instead of Two

One of the key differences between quality and quantity thinking is that quality thinking breaks ordinary logic. In ordinary logic, there are always two opposites. Only one of these could be true, and one of them must be true. The former condition forbids both opposites from being true, and the latter condition forbids neither of the opposite being true. In quality thinking, however, there are opposites called rajas and tamas, but additionally, there are two other categories. The first is sattva which is neither of these opposites. And the second is suddha-sattva which is beyond the three qualities because it is all three qualities. This post discusses these nuances of quality thinking.

Symptoms of Three Qualities

The following table is an intuitive summary of the three qualities, as they manifest in people. These are not the only manifestations, and the goal here is not a complete enumeration. The goal is to use this summary to discuss how they transcend ordinary logic.

Tamas Rajas Sattva
Low ability Better ability High ability
Unthinking Short-term thinking Long-term thinking
Laziness Over-endeavoring Dutiful
Entitlement without endeavor I deserve what I work for Do duties even with no result
Arrogance without ability Confidence due to ability Humility despite ability
Cynical Hopeful Content
Selfish Transactional Selfless

Let’s take the example of cynical, hopeful, and content. Cynical and hopeful are opposites, but contentment is neither cynical nor hopeful. A content person can talk about the perfect truth, right, and good, and because he believes that such perfection can be achieved, therefore, you can say that he is hopeful. However, such a person remains cynical about the present world and sees it largely as falsity, immorality, and suffering, so you can say that he is cynical. Of course, the cynical and hopeful people don’t see things this way. The person in rajas thinks that because a contented person is cynical, therefore, is bundles sattva with tamas. And the person in tamas thinks that because a contented person is hopeful, he bundles them with rajas. Thereby, the category of neither is always misunderstood by the either-or persons.

Binary Person Sees Binaries in Non-Binaries

The person in rajas is over-endeavoring and confident of his abilities. He wants to prove to the world his abilities and derives satisfaction from demonstrating his superior skills. When a person in rajas meets a person in sattva and finds him content, his immediate conclusion is: This person is lazy, incompetent, and cynical. People in rajas, therefore, loathe those who are detached from the world, because they see worldly endeavors as the sole purpose of life. Conversely, the person in tamas is generally lazy, cynical, and doesn’t believe in any ideals. When such a person meets the person in sattva, his immediate conclusion is: This person is arrogant because he thinks that he can attain perfection and ideals, that he is endeavoring too hard to attain the ideal when life could be so much simpler without those ideals. People in tamas, therefore, loathe those in sattva, because they embody the pursuit of ideals, and they work too hard for that idealism.

The result is that the person in tamas thinks that the person in sattva is in rajas—arrogant, working too hard, hopeful, and idealistic. If he was a little “down to earth” then he would not be so idealistic, hopeful, and endeavoring so hard to attain the perfection of idealism. Meanwhile, the person in rajas thinks that the person in sattva is in tamas—cynical, lazy, and incompetent, which is why he pretends to be detached from worldly aspirations and goals. If he was truly skillful and hardworking, then he would also be ambitious just like him.

Thus, those in tamas or rajas have binary thinking: If someone is not like me, then they are opposite to me. They cannot conceive of neither.

More Examples of Binary Thinking

We can apply the same principles to understanding selfless action. The person in tamas thinks that the person engaged in selfless activity is engaged in a business transaction. For instance, if we sell books on spiritual knowledge, then the people in tamas accuse us of profiting from spiritual knowledge; their logic is: If we were truly selfless, then we would be giving away books for free. They are not able to contrast the immense value of the knowledge relative to the small price of the book. They think that if any money is charged, then it is a business.

Conversely, the person in rajas doesn’t mind the fact that books are not free. He is rather unhappy about the fact that such books detract people from the path of material progress. Their argument is: Material progress benefits everyone, while a person going down the spiritual path only seeks his personal salvation. The spiritualists eat food, wear clothes, and take the contributions of society but they do not advance that society materially. Therefore, such people are more selfish than other people creating businesses and material progress.

Similarly, the person in tamas thinks that volumes of books, philosophical hair-splitting, and detailed arguments are too much complexity. Why can’t things be made simple and easy? Conversely, the person in rajas says that all these books are low-skilled speculations; the real skill would be seen only when theory is converted into technology and then transformed into a business to make money and benefit everyone materially. Thus, according to the person in tamas, the person in sattva is skilled but creates unnecessary complexity. And according to the person in rajas, the person in sattva is unskilled, as he is not able to engage in the truly skillful activities of material progress.

Then, if a person in rajas sees a humble person, they think: He is humble because he is unskilled, incompetent, and has no achievements. If he was competent, skilled, and had achievements, then he would be confident of himself. Conversely, the person in tamas sees a humble person and thinks: He is not humble because he points out mistakes in other people and tries to correct them. If he was truly humble, then he would be more accommodating, accepting, and tolerant of other people’s differing opinions. Thus, the person in rajas thinks that the humble person is hiding his incompetence behind humility, and the person in tamas thinks that the humble person is arrogant.

Transcending the Three Modes

The situation gets even more complicated when a person transcends the three modes, because now, the person is all three qualities, although three qualities are applied in different contexts. For example, a transcendentalist abandons humility and becomes arrogant quite like those in rajas—forcefully asserting the ideal truth, right, and good. He remains cynical about the material world, due to its ignorance, immorality, and suffering. And yet, he remains humble in the sense that he understands that he cannot change the world; that depends on the Lord’s will, the choice of the other people, who are free to choose whatever they like and face their consequences.

Thereby, you cannot say that the transcendentalist is arrogant (because he is also humble), cynical (because he is also hopeful), and humble (because he is also arrogant). Due to the presence of all three qualities, which apply in different contexts, none of the three qualities can be applied universally. But that doesn’t mean the absence of qualities. Impersonalists falsely equate “beyond the three qualities” and the “absence of three qualities” to the “absence of all qualities”. The correct understanding is that all the qualities exist contextually.

Four Logical States

Therefore, rajas and tamas are mutual opposites, or what we call the logical opposites of either-or. Then, sattva is neither of these two opposites. And transcendence, which is sometimes called suddha-sattva, is all of the three. To say “all the three” we need to know that there are three opposites, but since most people don’t know that, therefore, it is easier to say that transcendence is both the opposites.

Hence, quality thinking leads to four logical conditions: (a) either, (b) or, (c) neither, and (d) both. That both is actually all three.

Further Complications

These three modes are constantly cycling in prominence. When one mode goes “up”, then the other mode goes “down”. When a mode goes down, then it is said to be “inside” the mode that is up. For example, if hope is up and cynicism is down, then a person says: Even if this thing is not working, other things will work. The cynicism is that this thing is not working, and hope is that another thing will work. But if cynicism is up and hope is down, then the person says: I’m sure that nothing will work. Here, cynicism is the belief that nothing will work. However, even the cynical person doesn’t want to be proven wrong! So, he has a hope that when those things are tried out, they will not work. The cynic is excitedly waiting to say to the non-cynic: “I told you so”.

Due to the cycling of the modes, we can say that there is cynicism inside hope and hope inside cynicism. This is the essence of the yin-yang dynamic in which black is inside white and white is inside black. This again creates a logical paradox: How can something be both inside and outside? That paradox is the result of thinking in terms of quantities rather than qualities. In quality thinking, we can say that the masculine tendency is subordinate in females, and the feminine tendency is subordinate in males. The subordinate quality is minor but within the dominant quality. Thereby, masculine and feminine are opposites, but each contains the other, so they can be both inside and outside.

Of course, reality is not just the opposites of rajas and tamas. There are also neither and both states, which the yin-yang model doesn’t accommodate. The yin-yang model therefore partially embodies the bigger problem of logical oppositions in qualities.

The quantity thinking overturns all these ideas: (a) if something is inside, then it cannot be outside, (b) if X exists, then ~X cannot exist, (c) certainly, there cannot be ~X inside X because that will lead to an inner contradiction, (d) either of the opposites must be true, (e) both opposites cannot be false, (f) all of the opposites cannot be true, and finally, (g) there are only two opposites, not three or four.

Whatever we call Bhedābheda, is all these properties of qualities. And whatever we call Achintya Bhedābheda, is the inconceivability of these qualities in quantity thinking. It is actually not inconceivable, but it is also not conceivable in the same way as quantity thinking.

Understanding Vedic Science

Understanding Vedic science simply means changing our thinking from quantities to qualities. It means that if you move from one place to another, then there is a change in quality. One moment in time to another is a change in quality. One body to another is a change in quality. There is hence nothing called “uniform space”, “uniform time”, and “uniform motion”. All these are aberrations of quantity thinking.

You also cannot say that just because time has passed, therefore, the past doesn’t exist in the present. You cannot say that because the future hasn’t arrived, therefore, the future doesn’t exist in the present. You cannot say that just because the world exists outside, therefore, it doesn’t exist inside; the entire world exists inside you, but you may not be aware of its existence. You cannot say that the bigger thing cannot be inside the smaller thing, or that because the smaller thing is inside the bigger thing, the bigger thing reduces to the smaller thing.

There are literally infinite such propositions, which are problematic in quantity thinking. Vedic science is all these seemingly problematic propositions. But all these propositions become accessible if we shift to quality thinking. The irony is that people in rajas and tamas cannot do that, because they can only think in terms of binaries. The minimum requirement for thinking in terms of qualities is to come to sattva because then one can see that there is something beyond binaries, which requires us to reject classical logic and quantity thinking.

Scientific Necessity of Qualities

The most concrete demonstration of this problem with quantities within modern science is Gödel’s Incompleteness, which says: No system of arithmetic can be both consistent and complete. Here, arithmetic pertains to quantities, completeness pertains to the ability to know everything, and consistency indicates the ability to know everything in terms of binary logic. To know everything, we should be able to use categories like neither and both, inside and outside, simultaneously one and different. And that necessarily requires qualities.

Unless we have an experience of something beyond the binaries, we will never feel the need for non-binary thinking. Anyone who uses non-binary thinking would always be reduced to one of the binaries by the binary thinking people. When such reductions are done, then infinite things cannot be known, which is called incompleteness. Those infinite things include all that is in sattva and suddha-sattva, which means transcendence from the material world, and the path of yoga which illuminates the nature of the sattva or a non-binary condition. However, they also include everything else in rajas and tamas, produced due to their up and down states, which is neither transcendent nor yoga.

The understanding of transcendence is theology, the understanding of the yoga process that requires a person to be fixed in sattva is religion, and the understanding of up and down states of rajas and tamas is science. None of these can be understood, and for the same reason: We are always thinking in binaries, using either-or logic, employing quantities, so nothing can be understood correctly. If, however, we shift from quantities to qualities, then everything becomes easily amenable. That is Bhedābheda, but it is not inconceivable.