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The Three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas & Tamas Explained

Gunas in Sanskrit translates as an attribute, quality, characteristic, or a rope, but there is no single word in English language translation for the concept of Guna.

The three Gunas are tamas, rajas, and sattva.

They are the causal factors of creation; without them, there is no life process.

According to the ancient teachings, everything, on all levels of manifestation, is made up of different combinations of these three qualities.

A Guna can be decreased or increased through the influence and interaction of external objects, lifestyle, spiritual practices, and thoughts.

”Being present in the here and now transcends needing to be in a particular state or mood to make that happen. You can be present feeling tamasic, rajasic and sattvic!” – B.K.S. Iyengar.

Samkhya philosophers say that life exists for the purpose of knowing the Self and acquiring experience. The Gunas are meant to facilitate this spiritual endeavor.

Here Is A Simple Explanation Of The Three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas:

Sattva Guna Characteristics

Sattva is the quality of virtue, intelligence, and goodness and creates balance, harmony, and stability. One can cultivate sattva by making choices in life that foster unselfish joy and elevate awareness.

When we are under the influence of sattva guna, we may feel kindness and compassion for others and would resonate on a positive frequency, full of mental harmony and energy. In addition, the sattva mind represents the culmination of human evolution.

“Of these three, sattva, luminous, untainted, free from sorrow, binds by means of attachment to knowledge and joy.” – quote from Bhagavad Gita.

Rajas Guna Characteristics

Rajas is the quality of activity, passion, neither bad nor good nor occasionally egoistic, self-centeredness, driven, moving, avarice, dynamic.

The rajasic mind always wants variety and new sensations and has a constant tendency to look into the defects of others.

When we are under the influence of these Gunas, we wonder how others can further our selfish motives, and we may feel ambitious.

It might be stimulating in the short term, but in the long run, it may lead to conflicts and distress due to its unbalanced nature.

“Rajas is marked by passion born of craving and attachment; it binds the embodied Self to never-ending activity.” – Bhagavad Gita

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Tamas Guna Characteristics

Tamas is the quality of inertia, disorder, imbalance, chaos, anxiety, violent, destructive, impure, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, vicious, passivity, sluggishness, heaviness, ignorant.

When we are under the influence of these Gunas, we see others as being the enemy or as having little or no worth, and our capacity to challenge the wrong and right, bad and good, is taken over by sleep and sloth.

Some examples of this form of energy feeling a lack of energy or enthusiasm include watching television or a diet heavy in meat, eggs, and dairy products.

“Tamas, ignorance-born, deludes all embodied beings; it binds them by means of dullness, indolence, and sleep.” – Bhagavad Gita

In each of us, there is a proportion of each Guna. For instance, without rajas, we would lack dynamism; without tamas, we would not sleep, and without sattva, life would be uninspiring and without the higher human characteristics.

The essence is to understand that all three Gunas will be a part of us throughout the day and during our lifetime, so we want to learn how to be comfortable in each state.

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On a practical level, the three Gunas reflect states of mind that manifest as behaviors and moods. On a spiritual level, understanding the Gunas provides opportunities for spiritual inquiry and personal development.

Through discrimination and awareness, we have the possibility to become a master of their fluctuations.

Fluctuations of the three Gunas have a profound influence on our emotions and thoughts, which reveals that all states of being are purely transitional and should not be misconstrued with our sense of Self.

”Action that is virtuous, thought through, free from attachment, and without craving for results is considered Sattvic; action that is driven purely by craving for pleasure, selfishness, and much effort is Rajasic; action that is undertaken because of delusion, disregarding consequences, without considering loss or injury to others or self, is called Tamasic.” – Bhagavad Gita.

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