Sattva is essentially one of the three natures (gunas) of existence, along with tamas and rajas. The Taitiriya Upanishad refers to these as the three primary tendencies of nature, or the cosmos, but we must add that these are three manifested natures of Being Itself, which make up creation, and which can be found in the human nature. Tamas is cyclical and repeating, rajas is newly creative and unexpected, and sattva is a conserving, stable presence of mindfulness.
Tamas has the power of keeping life the same, as patterns keep on repeating themselves, and this becomes a great resisting force to change. It's opposite is rajas, which has the power of transcending creative imagination. It is the opposite of conservativeness, and its creativeness would spontaneously change life all the time were it not for the conservative balance of tamas.Rajas is known as the force belonging to Shiva. It is the power of spontaneous creativity or creative transformation, not being forced or determined by the repeating patterns of manifestation under the tendency of tamas. Most people have been predominately tamas, while fewer people are mostly rajas, though the creative eccentricity of rajas is unfolding more in these times.
opposition arises between the repeating tendency of tamas and the
fresh spontaneous impulse of rajas. Tamas gives life its stability
and regular consistency, which is necessary in creation, at least for
the sake of sanity, but which can hold us back, repeating old
patterns again and again. This is the fundamental tendency of the
material world, relating to attachment and karma. Yet, the power of
rajas can unfold in the world and transform those patterns. The newer
patterns of creativity will again come under the repeating force of
tamas, but hopefully some kind of improvement or spiritual evolution
will have come through into the repeating cycles of creation.
And so evolution proceeds with this interaction of tamas and rajas. One is the primary tendency of the material world, the nature substance of Prakrita, and the other is the primary tendency of the spiritual consciousness, the spirit substance called Purusha. When they blend and find complementation with each other in the mind-body of the spiritual initiate, we call this third power sattva, meaning the conserving, stable presence of spiritual power or realization. It is the alchemy of tamas and rajas, stabilizing and preserving the spiritual realization in the body-mind, yet having the freedom to transcend even this.
Sattva encompasses in one singular presence the power of rajas and the force of tamas, working together toward stabilizing ever greater creative evolution and greater spiritual realization. Sattva is a developed spiritual presence, remaining continually available in one person. It could be thought of as the actualized, realized soul or atman. The atman refers to the divine essence within each person, whether realized or not, but sattva refers to the awakened atman as a developed stable presence of body-mind. Sattva is always aware and mindful of the spiritual reality within the bodily world of creation. Sattva is the wakeful, walking presence of a divine consciousness, in some form or quality. Sattva is always incarnate and actualized, always referring to a living being or presence in this world.
Spiritual saints may be called sattvas. Sattva has always been a rarity in people, and therefore a lesser force in human history. Sattva is the power of mindful presence, which is mostly found in masters, saints, and spiritual initiates. Sattva is a kind of alchemical higher synthesis of rajas and tamas, and it has the qualities of each, though in a balance and complementation. The Sattva presence transcends the world yet lives mindful within it. It is unattached and unaffected by the changing circumstances of this world, yet it remains aware, feeling, and compassionate in this world.
Rajas is predominately in the higher two centres, and Tamas is predominant in the lower two centres. The highest centre of the Crown is completely rajas, and the lowest centre of the base is completely tamas. The Sattva power has its greatest predominance in the heart centre, as a synthesis of the higher consciousness centres and lower vital centres, and it can cooperatively work with all the centres, organizing and integrating them together as one spiritually functioning body-mind. The ultimate goal of the spiritual path is to develop Sattva, and so become the living presence of eternal divine wisdom consciousness on earth.
Sattva has the quality of both rajas and tamas. It is both freedom and constancy. It is a continuing presence of spiritual realization and freedom. So it is a kind of developed inertia and continuance, though a continuance of conscious freedom. It is not really freedom from form or pattern, but is freedom within form and pattern. We could say that Sattva is a form and pattern of freedom which has its own inertia to remain relatively free within the world of fixed forces. It has its own fixed quality and inertia, but this quality continually frees itself from fixed forms and patterns of being.
Sattva is always ready for changing conditions, yet remains stable in its mindful presence. Sattva is beyond both radicalism and conservatism, understanding the value of both within the course of human evolution, personal and collective. Sattva is the continuous presence of conscious wisdom, the buddhi mind or mindfulness, being mindful of the transcendent spirit and the world of creation all at once. This manifests as the buddhi-sattva, the enlightened spiritual presence living and serving in the world.