As we take our standpoint primarily in the external nature, we are clearly subject to the action of the three Gunas, or ‘qualities’ of Nature. These qualities do not remain constant and are ever-changing, and they then determine the type of reaction and action an individual has in any particular situation or provocation. Thus, depending on the predominance of a particular quality at any point in time, an individual may exhibit totally different responses to any situation. Developed tendencies or capacities of the individual may cause him to respond characteristically along certain lines, but this is no guarantee that under specific circumstances, he will always respond that same way. The capacity to respond to specific types of vibrations resides in certain centers, called ‘chakras’ in the Indian tradition, and thus, depending on the Guna that is predominant at the time, the response may be the highest, or even the lowest, form of response. We frequently hear that love and hate are so intertwined that the person we hate may turn out to be the greatest love at some point, and vice versa. Generally calm individuals may find that under certain types of provocation they become enraged.

Those who have developed the firm standpoint of the witness consciousness, separate from the external nature and its reactions, are better able to control and manage these responses and thus, avoid becoming fully engaged with the source of the provocation and the response thereto. Until such a firm status is in place, however, each individual is subject to what appear to be contradictory actions from time to time.

The Mother observes: “The human individual is a very complex being: he is composed of innumerable elements, each one of which is an independent entity and has almost a personality. Not only so, the most contradictory elements are housed together. If there is a particular quality or capacity present, the very opposite of it, annulling it, as it were, will also be found along with it and embracing it. I have seen a man brave, courageous, heroic to the extreme, flinching from no danger, facing unperturbed the utmost peril, truly the bravest of the brave; and yet I have seen the same man cowering in abject terror, like the last of poltroons, in the presence of certain circumstances. I have seen a most generous man giving things away largely, freely, not counting any expenditure or sacrifice, without the least care or reservation; the same person I have also found to be the vilest of misers with respect to certain other considerations. Again, I have seen the most intelligent person, with a clear mind, full of light and understanding, easily comprehending the logic and implication of a topic; and yet I have seen him betraying the utmost stupidity of which even an ordinary man without education or intelligence would be incapable. These are not theoretical examples: I have come across such persons actually in life.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VIII The Psychic Being and Inner Growth, pg. 150

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.