Among the three modes of material nature, rajo-guna is the mode of passion. It supports all kinds of creation by providing initiative and power. Passion has a greater range of spiritual applications than ignorance, but not as many as the mode of goodness

Symptoms of the mode of passion include:

  • Materialistic tendencies
  • Workaholism
  • Excess ambition
  • The sense of not having enough
  • False pride
  • Using religion for worldly gain
  • Arrogance
  • Addiction to sensual pleasures
  • A competitive spirit
  • A boastful personality type
  • Defensiveness
  • The tendency to ridicule or criticize others

In this article, we’ll focus on how rajo-guna impacts us, and ways to manage its effects.

Great Expectations

When we think of the word passion, perhaps athletes, or workaholics come to mind. Their unstoppable drive for success defines their character in the eyes of onlookers. Due to this determination to succeed, their projects come to fruition at a greater rate than the rest of us.

But hard work comes a cost. Stress and perfectionism disproportionately affect the passionate workers of the world. If these descriptions sound all too familiar, you may be innately passionate, or going through a phase of it. Self-care is needed to balance these side-effects.

Here are some ways to de-stress and overcome the inner critic:

  • Pause your plans for a moment and reflect on the present.
  • Let go of troubling memories of past failures (after learning from them).
  • Ask whose face would you like to bring a smile to, and why.
  • Accept that everything is not in your hands, and know that trying your best is enough.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition in itself, but when it leads us away from our deep-seated values, or distracts us from our relationships and our health, then it’s time to take a beat. The spiritual path known as karma-yoga is meant to leverage the best of passion, while avoiding its pain points.

Respect the Fire

Whether personally or cosmically, rajo-guna is the driver of creation. It takes energy to bring a dream to life. That energy is like a fire within the creative person. When handled properly, that passionate energy shines out as enthusiasm and ingenuity. But when uncontrolled, it burns bridges.

Out-of-control passion is reflected in a projects-over-people attitude. People are not means to an end (read, human resources). They are living beings, each with an inalienable value of their own. The victims of this sick management style are hurt, and the abuser is ultimately left all alone.

The devastating firestorm of uncontrolled passion doesn’t stop with humans, but it does start with us. Passion in the animal kingdom, for example, is reined in by their relative simplicity of motives. The advanced consciousness we humans have carries with it a responsibility for fair use.

Today’s ecological crisis is rooted in mismanaged passion, and the solution lies in a more spiritual perspective. Again, passion has great potential, even in spiritual life. If channeled properly, it is possible to get the benefits of passion without anyone being consumed in the blaze.

Making Passion Work…Gently

Raising a family is a perfect case study for passion. Creating futures for ourselves and those who depend on us takes both initiative and grit. But we must remember why we’re working in the first place. No task is worth long periods of neglect, and abuse is out of the question.

Here are a few red flags of abuse to watch out for in the household:

  • Embarrassing or putting you down
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing your friends or families
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children

Anger is called kamanuja in Sanskrit which means “the follower of selfish desire”. When selfish desires are unfulfilled, they lead to anger. If that anger is uncontrolled, it can drag us under the mode of ignorance, tamo-guna. This lower mode triggers violent thoughts, words, and actions.

Stress may be unavoidable, but it can be treated. Instead of letting anger devolve to violence, that passion can be used to address the underlying problem constructively. Fortunately, we all have the same basic needs, so there are always people who understand and want to help.

Creating a Caring Environment

Sticking with our family example, each member of a home can make a contribution with their unique passions. Not all creativity involves original thinking. Creativity can also can include drawing the strength to make something happen when it’s not easy. Here are some examples:

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Decorating
  • Organizing outings
  • Celebrating Special Occasions
  • Family discussions
  • Charity projects
  • Acquiring and spending income

When passion is applied to service, it can improve lives. Sometimes all someone needs is a caring listener to feel better. The practice of active listening is one way to use your creative intelligence to help someone open up when they need an ear.

Literally any activity takes some amount of passion to become a reality. When passion is guided by spiritual principles like kindness, honesty and so forth, it can create uplifting and joyful results. It can even lift us up out of a rut.

Showing Up, Not Showing Off

Kama, mentioned earlier, is a desire for selfish personal enjoyment. Passion provides the strength to achieve pleasure. People are attracted to strength in part because it affords pleasures. Communities form based on social contracts to meet the shared needs for these pleasures.

Spiritual communities also seek pleasure, but that pleasure is in service of others, and of the Supreme.

“The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama [lust], but the desire to please the senses of Krishna is prema [love].” (Caitanya-caritamrta, text 1.4.165)

Passion is also needed in spiritual communities, otherwise nothing can get done. We can call this showing up. Showing off on the other hand is when passion gets out of control, and distracts us from the job at hand. Calling attention to ourselves is uncalled for when we are serving others.

A Stepping Stone to Enlightenment

The preoccupation with perfection which we have is natural because we are all part of a perfect spiritual reality. Our drive for results can be peacefully dovetailed in the path of karma-yoga. Approaching the Supreme with each of our creative projects is the perfection of perfectionism.

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