Tamas Guna, a Vedic term, is the third of three modes of material nature explained in the 14th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. Swami Prabhupada translates Tamas as 'Darkness' in his version, The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Other authors have rendered Tamas as 'Ignorance, Inertia or Embodiment.' The eighth paragraph of the Swami's translation reads:
"O son of Bharata, know that the mode of darkness, born of ignorance, is the delusion of all embodied living entities. The results of this mode are madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul."1
Again, in paragraph thirteen, the effect of the predominance of Tamas is explained:
"When there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, O son of Kuru, darkness, inertia, madness and illusion are manifested."2
In western alchemical traditions these very same modes of material nature are called Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. Thus, Alchemical Salt and Tamas Guna are identical. Furthermore, in Aesch Metzareph (The Purifying Fire), Alchemical Salt is assigned to the third sphere on the Qabalistic Tree, equating Binah with the former two. Since this sphere is most usually illustrated by the color black, the Swami's translation of Tamas as 'Darkness' would seem appropriate. The 'darkness' is something which veils or conceals, however. Alchemical Salt and Binah contain a finitizing principle. They possess an intrinsic power to coalesce, to make compact, and to harden something into manifestation. That which is hardened is Universal Mercury, the Luminous Substance. Since Darkness carries connotations of evil and negativity, perhaps the better translation would be Embodiment, for this is the actual function of Tamas, Alchemical Salt and Binah.
Devoid its inner power to coalesce, the One-Thing could create no tangible universe at all. On the surface, Hindu Philosophy appears a bit strict with regard to Tamas. Some sects teach to rid oneself of its inclination entirely. But we must remember the modes, all three principles of nature, are properties in the One, Living God, Almighty. No part of Itself could be anything less than pure holiness. If one could successfully purge oneself of Tamas Guna entirely, it could only be done by IHVH Itself, retracting the entire cycle of manifestation within Itself once again into the 'Night of Brahma.' This would be the state of AIN SUPh, pure space, and prior any degree of manifestation whatever. Sans Tamas Guna within AIN SUPh AUR and in us, we could make no physical body, no astral body (the body of subconsciousness), no mental body, nor any of the higher bodies the divine human possesses. Pure consciousness would be all. What the deeper significance of Hindu, Buddhist, Qabalistic and Alchemical traditions hint is the avoidance of the predominance of Tamas mode. All the metals in the etheric body contain the three modes of nature. When Tamas (Salt) mode is predominant, there is bias toward sensation seeking through all the chakras. The lowest preferences prevailing in all seven force centers give credence to the seven vices (the seven cardinal sins) of exoteric Roman Catholic dogma. The lower tendencies veil reality and plunge the soul further into darkness, away from the center. A personality life steeped in Tamas is discussed further in the Swami’s translation. Added to that here is the Stalker's System of Classification in Yaqui Indian esoterica. People conditioned by this third mode are described to Carlos Castaneda by his master, Don Juan Matus, in The Power of Silence:
"In the third category are people who are neither nice nor nasty. They serve no one, nor do they impose themselves on anyone. Rather they are indifferent. They have an exalted idea about themselves derived solely from daydreams and wishful thinking. If they are extraordinary at anything, it is at waiting for things to happen. They are waiting to be discovered and conquered and have a marvelous facility for creating the illusion that they have great things in abeyance, which they always promise to deliver but never do because, in fact, they do not have such resources."3
The net effect of the Tamas mode forces the Luminous Substance into tighter compaction, giving appearances of the manifest world even more credibility. To the unenlightened and primitive, mesmerized by the seeming solidity of our object world, the effect holds sway in the determination of life’s circumstances. They give more power to our sensible world than is its due. The illusionary power, equivalent to the Hindu Maya Shakti, will grow to loom overwhelming. The soul, so entrapped, struggles against illusionary forms, suffering repercussions until it learns to surrender to a Higher Self within for liberation. The desire for freedom and union is intrinsic within Alchemical Sulphur burning like the fiery brimstone of hell. When we turn Our Sulphur from the hypnotic Salt penchants in each metal toward its Mercury principle, the illusionary power begins to loosen its grip. This veiling effect of Tamas is explained by dialogue between Horus and his mother, Isis, in G.R.S. Mead’s alchemical text, The Virgin of the World. Dictum 45 reads:
"And how do souls become intelligent, O mother mine? And Isis answered:
The organ of sight, my son, is swathed in wrappings. When these are dense and thick, the eye is dim; but when they're thin and light, then is the sight most keen. For it, as well, has envelopes incorporeal appropriate to it, just as it is itself incorporeal. These envelopes are “airs” which are in us. When these are light and thin and clear, then is the soul intelligent; but, on the contrary, when they are dense and thick and turbid, then (the soul), as in bad weather, sees not at distance but only things which lie about its feet."4
That “which lie about” the deluded soul's feet are senses gone awry, receiving nothing of reality save what they dumbly report. Such souls are called 'materialists' in that they place no value in anything beyond what the five lower senses are able to prove actual in this physical world. “The organ of sight, swathed in wrappings,” renders power to appearances. Yet the “thick airs” lighten to let a sixth, intuitive sense perceive enough for one who ultimately learns to control the senses, and turns them into useful guides rather than jailers. When this realization is finally learned, our desire nature (Alchemical Sulphur or Rajas Guna) turns from the predominance of Salt biases within our metals. We aspire toward the higher, Mercury expressions in each center. If desire is persistent, strong and true enough then meditation, study, and mindfulness of our base inclinations are all that are required to change our erroneous habit patterns. We can build a new creature with the aid of the Red Work and the White Work; structure a consciousness that walks in the Light of Tiphareth, returning the rightful King (Christ) to His rightful Throne (Malkuth). Refer also to GUNAS, SATTVA GUNA, RAJAS GUNA, MERCURY, SULPHUR, SALT and MAYA SHAKTI.
1 Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. West Germany: Bhaktivendanta Book Trust, 1985 ed., pg. 68.
2 Ibid., pg. 693.
3 Castaneda, Carlos, The Power Of Silence. New York: Pocket Books, 1987, pg. 247.
4 Mead, G.R.S., The Virgin of the World. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1986, pg. 18.