Why is Life Such a Struggle?


by Jayaram V

Why is life such a struggle? Why do you face problems and resistance as you begin to work on something? Why do things seldom run smoothly? Why do things begin to fall into disorder and when we neglect them or do not take any action? What makes changing anything so difficult?

Sat and Asat

The Vedic seers of ancient India thought about this particular aspect of our existence and found an answer. They observed that Reality had two modes: existence and non-existence. They called them sat and asat. They are also known as Real and Unreal, Known and Unknown, Being and Nonbeing, and Manifested and Unmanifested. No one can fathom the nature of non-existence or Asat. How can you draw any conclusions about something that does not exist in the perceptual and mental sense and cannot be reached through any known dimensions? Hence, beyond recognizing its presence, they did not probe into the nature of non-existence.

Nature of Sat

Instead they focused upon existence, Sat, and speculated about its essential nature. They further observed that existence had two modes, order and chaos. Nature, (manifested as the world, the universe and existence itself) was subject to these twin modes, or the duality (dvanda). When the order is missing, chaos would prevail. Existence vacillates between these two modes because of impermanence. They called order Rta, meaning harmony, order, regularity, etc. It is manifested as days and nights, seasons, years, the waxing and waning of the moon, the position of the planets, starts, etc. In contrast, disorder (anrta) denotes weakening of life sustaining forces or absence of willful divine activity.


This order and regularity imparts some predictability (niyati) to the whole existence. Because of it you can predict when the summer or the winter will come and how you can deal with the changing seasons and climate. They attributed the cause of this order and regularity to God or Brahman, the Supreme Intelligence of the universe. They believed that the worlds stayed in their spheres and the laws of the existence operated predictably because of the supreme force of God.


They further observed that existence was subject to the twin modes of order and chaos because of three operating principles or competing forces. These three forces are found in every aspect of existence. They are hidden in all objects and phenomena, including our very lives. We suffer because of them. We are happy because of them. We live and die because of them. They are responsible for the whole existence, all diversity, and the very manifestation of beings and worlds. Without them existence would recede into a non-active and non-existential mode.

What are these three? They are

  1. The creative, constructive, progressive, building, binding, forward force.
  2. The balancing, upholding, preserving, protecting and supporting force.
  3. The opposing, destructive, dispersive, degrading, retrogressive force.

These three forces are called rajas, sattva and tamas respectively. Diagrammatically, you can represent them as below.

You may now wonder what these three forces have to do with your life. Your entire life is defined by them. You are made up of them, and you make use of them. From the time you are born, you live, act and breathe under their influence. They shape your life, thinking, actions and destiny continuously. You are not free from them even for a moment. They govern your life both in all planes, and even when you are asleep. Metaphorically, you are like a football in the field of life, with the forces of Rajas on one side and those of Tamas on the other, with sattva acting as the referee in between. They are responsible for every emotion, desire, attachment, feeling, thought and action you experience. These forces manifest in creation variously. A few important ones are listed below.

Gunas in competition Gunas in Competition

What does all this mean?

It means you have to live your life with the awareness that you have to deal with both the positive and negative aspects of your life and try to achieve balance and stability, without being overwhelmed by them. You cannot escape from life. You cannot escape from problems and suffering. To move forward in life, you must know how to harness the creative forces in you, control the destructive tendencies, and stabilize your life with peace and equanimity. It means your life will be shaped by how you manage the creative and destructive aspects of life and stay in control and balance. It also means you can take nothing for granted, since you have to deal with resistance from tamas the moment you decide to initiate any constructive action. It also means that as soon as you decide to do something, you will set in motion a number of forces that may either assist you, oppose you or support you.

These three forces are responsible for our desires as well as suffering. When you desire to do something in life under the influence of one guna, you will be met with opposition, problems, doubt, and criticism from the other. The quality of tamas is the obstructing or resisting force in Nature. It makes possible the Newton's law of motion by creating the equal and opposite reaction. You push something and something pushes it back.

Therefore, if you expect that your life will run smoothly you are sadly mistaken. If you intend to do some good expect that there will be resistance and criticism. That is how Nature works. Whatever you do, you will meet with some resistance. If birth is a creative movement caused by rajas, death is the destructive movement caused by tamas. What keeps both of them in balance is sattva, the balancing force. Existence is possible because of these three force only. If you want peace, let the balancing force in you gain strength.

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