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Ticks in the Wood

By 'tick' is meant "a small insect that bites humans and animals and sucks their blood. There are several types of tick, some of which can carry diseases."

Ticks are normally not thought to be life-savers, but suppose you are bitten by one in the wood, and then goes home. Also suppose that fifty yards further ahead you would have been ambushed, and but for the tick bite and how you responded to it, you would have been killed, and that is a point of utterly great significance to many . . .


A Tale by Ramakrishna

Once a rich man was passing through a forest, when three robbers surrounded him and robbed him of all his wealth. After snatching all his possessions from him, one of the robbers said: "What's 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's no use in killing him. Let us bind him fast and leave him here. Then he won't be able to tell the police." Accordingly the robbers tied him with a rope, left him, and went away.

After a while the third robber returned to the rich man and said: "Ah! You're badly hurt, aren't you? Come, I'm going to release you." The third 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.

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 gunas." (Gupta 1942:218-19, cf. 267-68)


In Hindu literature, three gunas appear: tamas, sattva, and rajas. Depending on the context guna means 'string, thread or strand', or 'virtue, merit, excellence', or 'quality, peculiarity, attribute, property'. Beneath it all, a guna is a 'category', somewhat like a label.

Guna is literally 'string' or 'a single thread or strand of a cord or twine'. It can mean 'a subdivision, species, kind, quality', or an operational principle or tendency.

  1. Sattva, originally "being, existence, entity, has been translated to mean balance, order, or purity.
  2. Rajas, originally "atmosphere, air, firmament", leads one to activity.
  3. Tamas, originally "darkness", "obscurity", has been translated to mean "too inactive", negativity, lethargy, dullness, or slowness, and usually associated with darkness, delusion, or ignorance.

The gunas can be convenient abstractions for classifications up to a level. Yet there is no evidence that gunas are parts of the real world - they are categories that are ascribed onto phenomena by persons and in literature for classification purposes. Ramakrishna speak of them as robbers in the wood, meaning that humans have to go beyond them eventually, to gather favours of meditation and realisation.

A recap with something added: Is the 'tick bite' of guna lore for good or bad? Are categorical categorisations to be trusted all along?


Gunas, a Ramakrishna tale, Literature  

Gupta, Mahendranath. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Tr. Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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