Sri Ramakrish Paramhansa was once engaged in a discourse with his disciples in a garden house at Sinthi near Kolkata, on the occasion of a festival of the Brahmo Samaj. The master was speaking about God’s maya, under the spell of which man forgets his true ture — that he is heir to the divine glories of his father.
This divine maya is made up of three gus — sattva, rajas and tamas. According to Sri Ramakrish, all the three gus are like robbers. He then told his disciples the story of the ‘Three Robbers’ to illustrate the three qualities:
“Once a rich man was passing through a forest, when three robbers surrounded him and robbed him of all his wealth. After stching all his possessions from him, one of the robbers said: ‘What is the good of keeping the man alive? Kill him.’
Saying this, he was about to strike their victim with his sword, when the second robber interrupted and said: ‘There is no use in killing him. Let us bind him fast to that tree and leave him here. Then he won’t be able to tell the police.’ So the robbers tied him to a tree with a rope and went away.
After a while the third robber returned to the rich man and said: ‘Ah! You are badly hurt, aren’t you? I am going to release you.’ This robber set the man free and led him out of the forest. When they came near the highway, the robber said, ‘Follow this road and you will reach home easily.’
‘But you must come with me too’, said the man. ‘You have done so much for me. We shall all be happy to see you at our home.’ ‘No,’ said the robber, ‘it is not possible for me to go there. The police will arrest me.’ So saying, he left the rich man after pointing out his way.” Sri Ramakrish now explained the significance of his story thus:
“Now, the first robber, who said: ‘What’s the good of keeping the man alive? Kill him’, is tamas. It destroys. The second robber is rajas, which binds a man to the world and entangles him in a variety of activities. Rajas makes him forget God.
Sattva alone shows the way to God. It produces virtues like compassion, righteousness, and devotion. Again, sattva is like the last step of the stairs. Next to it is the roof.
The Supreme Brahman is man’s own abode. One cannot attain the Knowledge of Brahman unless one transcends the three gus.”
So saying, the master concluded his discourse.
Thus Sattwa is purity and goodness, a principle that is constructive and harmonious. Rajas springs from passion and action while tamas is dark, chaotic and destructive.
But the trigus keep man under their spell. If sattwa is present, it drags rajas with it; if rajas is present, it drags tamas with it.
Sri Ramakrish used to say that little children are divine because they too are beyond the fetters of trigu. Only when a child grows, the three qualities start establishing their domince on its character permanently.
Thus it was that Sri Ramakrish himself was so childlike in his simplicity and holiness. He had transcended the trigus, leading a life of divinity that continues to inspire others.