Inclusive Power of Three


S. Ainavolu

4/17/2022 6 min read

Inclusive Power of Three


The number Three has significance across many cultures and contexts. One is alone, two just a pair but three are “we”. Man was always a social animal, as is said. It is said in the earlier time context that “it takes a village to raise a child,” meaning life is community-based, and the sense of “we” is important. Even in modern times, the family as a unit is complete when the child enters the lives. Three decades ago, it was not uncommon to find three generations living comfortably, inclusively and interacting well to lead contented lives. Bilwashtakam, the stotram talks of Bilwa as “tridalam trigunakarm trinetrancha”, the word “tri” signifying the number Three. Whether it is Sanatana dharma talking of Tri-murthys, the Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, taking care of creation, sustenance, and the clearing or the Biblical trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, number Three is prominent. We explore the significance of number Three and the multiple ways and forms it is assuming around us.

Mind, Body, Spirit

There are three Gunas attached to personality as per Indian system. Satva, Rajas and Tamo, signify purity, action, and darkness, respectively. God is referred as “trigunateetam”. HE is referred as the one who is beyond three gunas. Satva gives one soft form. Pleasantness can be felt around such people. Rajasik tendencies can be seen in quick and energetic actions. Tamasik tendencies that surface due to Tamo guna gives the lazy nature and slow acting. Slumber and inaction are the natural states for such.

Ayurveda, the science of well-being talks of three doshas - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata refers to the airy disposition. Pains associated with different parts of the body are attributed to vata. Pitta is the bile nature, the acidic in action. All need the acidic secretions for the digestion of the food. The problem happens when the acidic nature is more and burning is felt internally. Probably, internalization of external jealousy. Kapha is the phlegm. Cough and cold often experienced are the minimal visible forms of distortion of Kapha. There are theories that propose what nature can be expected when different combinations (or ratios) are seen in persons. The balance of these three gunas or qualities is the perfect health, and any disturbance results in “dis-ease”.

Homeopathy, another alternative remedial system mentions three “kingdoms” from which healing remedy material comes – mineral, plant, and animal sources. The healing energies contained in items belonging to these three different sources are “potentized” and administered to the suffering persons (patients). Some of the examples of mineral kingdom are common salt, soda, lime stone. Plant remedy sources include different parts of different plants, bark, leaves, roots, diluted and “made powerful.” The animal kingdom is a world in itself, the properties influence the choice by “mapping the properties and behaviourial patterns”. These range from milk of animals to poison of a snake is wide and inclusive. Thus, the three number is significant. Homeopathy has its “laws of cure”. And, again these are three. The disease progresses as the timeline progresses. When the healing is unleashed, the features move from “in to out”, “top to bottom”, and “latest to older symptoms”. These three “laws” tell us what to expect during the Homeo treatment.

Puranic sources

We have reference of three lokas (universes) – Urdhwa (up), Bhoo (our plane), and Patala (below). Commonly called are swarga, bhoo and paatala loka. The up direction indicates the better, and hence the swarga (heaven). King Mahabali reportedly conquered the swarga as well. God took the form of Vamana and asked Mahabali for a three-foot space and was granted. He occupies the earth, akasha and asks for the third. Ultimately, he pushes Mahabali to the Paatala loka where he was supposed to rule. Three feet space became the gamechanger.

We are told of God Vishnu’s “door attending” bhaktas Jaya and Vijaya were cursed by sages and chose to take three lives as the “Vishnu vairi”, enemies of Vishnu. The other alternative was to take ten lives as Vishnu devotees. They chose three lives. Many know of the Hiranyaksha/Hiranyakashyapa, Ravana/Kumbhakarna, and Shishupala/Dantavaktra incarnation of these two devotees. Rama had three brothers to help him in the avatar. Jagannadh, Balabhadra and Subhadra are also three.

We have three types of karmas, Sanchita, Prarabdha, and Agami. All that gets accumulated is sanchita karma. It is the pile of all good and bad actions one would have committed over life times and not got neutralized. A portion of this, manageable quantum is brought into the world in a life and one undergoes that. It is called prarabdha. While undergoing the prarabdha one also commits new set of karmas. These are agami, the ones that shall be borne during next few lives.

We have Ekadashi vrat as Puranic reference and it spreads across three days. The first day of fasting is Dashami, the tenth day in the lunar calendar, and during the night time. The next day is actual Ekadashi, the eleventh day, and one fasts full day and spends time in contemplation. The next and the third day called Dwadashi morning, sees one “breaking the fast” with a meal called “Paarana”. The story talks of Ambareesha king breaking the fast with water and earning the wrath of Durvasa saint and ultimately got protected by Vishnu. Durvasa learnt his lesson as well. The point to note is the Ekadashi vrat is observed over three days. Similarly, the festival of Makara Sankranthi is also celebrated over three days, the Bhogi, Sankranthi, and finally the Kanuma, the third day on which animals used in agriculture are decorated and thanksgiving is done.

From the mundane and practice

Adi Shankaracharya mentions Baala, Taruna and Vruddha as the three stages of life, meaning childhood, youth, and old age. In his famous Moha mudgara stotram he admonished mankind for losing a valuable opportunity called life. He said during childhood one is lost in play pleasures; during the youth stages, the desires fill one, and during the old age worry consumes one. He quips, one can’t find the time needed for contemplation, God orientation, and aligned actions.

Three Kaalas (time frames) used are Bhoota, Vartamana, Bhavishya - past, present, and future respectively. Here time is one but the reference point makes it appear like three. Actual time one has is NOW. The time behind is the past and the time that is yet to come is future. Past is over, and the future is uncertain. Action-oriented and exhilarating stories are told about how “present time” is the PRESENT. It is expected that the action has to happen in every present and this alone shall ensure that the past is filled with happiness and the future is full of brightness and hope.

Thus, the significance of the number Three is found in different contexts. We have three parts of the day, the “Dina,” “Ratri” and the cusp periods called “Sandhya”. The transitory or cusp times are supposed to be very powerful for the sadhana. The year is the minimal unit of the kaala (time). Again, number Three is prominent here. We have three broad seasons in a year: summer, rainy, and winter. Based on these seasons, ideally, there were three crops in a year, which used to signify the abundance.

On a closing note

We observed the recurrence of number Three in different contexts. It can’t be a chance that we find number Three almost in all the contexts. Anything that has to be stressed is often said three times. For instance, the Shanti mantra ends with “Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi”, Shanti or peace getting repeated thrice. The three occurrences or repetitions of Shanti is meant for adibhautika, adidaivika, and adhyatmika purposes. Repeating anything thrice is taken as a promise, a firm commitment. Marriage vows are made to be repeated thrice. Tying of the mangala sutra is with three knots. Three indicate firmness, three indicates competition, and three indicates inclusion, cementing of bonds, and establishment of ONENESS.

“I” often stands out negatively as ego. Two is mentioned as “both” but still limited to two “I”s. One says “we both”, still indicating the limitedness, restricted partnership. On the other hand, the number “Three” is “we” and sounds inclusive. We know that at the start the seeker is lonely. Paulo Coelho begins the powerful book Alchemist with the sentence “That boy’s name was..”. He was alone, in search of something, he needed guidance. The goal is vague, path is unknown and the process seems complex. One needs clarity on all these three dimensions.

Though alone at the beginning, the seeker is joined by the Guru who spots the shishya due to the earnestness displayed. They become two now and the pursuit for THAT makes it three. Then the guided journey begins. The destination is the journey itself, which gets “completed” when the sense of three becomes ONE. It is akin to what Adi Shankaracharya described as Seeker, Guru and God are found as same by the seeker. Not a boast but the realization that happens in a flash. Then the seeker realizes the feeling of ONENESS is not limited to only these three but encompasses the whole world. Three now becomes so inclusive that it becomes ONE. The seeker becomes part of ONE now. The seeker has fully immersed in ONENESS that the world is ONE for him. We pray that more people need to begin this journey, complete it successfully, and make three to ONE. The world is inclusive then, equity is only a step away.