Updated: Dec 14, 2020
What are Sattva Rajas Tamas, the 3 Gunas in Yoga?
We all have at some point in life pondered on the source of all things around us, including our own selves. As the mind tries to sort the elements of the universe around us into categories and patterns for better understanding, it gets overwhelmed with the enormity of the material world, and finally gives up. But, is the universe really that complex to comprehend logically, in fact it is not, all the elements which constitute the expanse of the universe have their source in only three substances, which by way of their nature, properties, and construct come together in different permutations and combinations to form the mind staggering number of objects of which the universe is made up of. The earth, vegetation, rivers, animals, humans, and all other animate and inanimate parts of the universe are the result of the various combinations of only three very subtle forms, qualities of matter; sattva rajas tamas. Study of these subtle substances is also known as the study of the nature of 3 gunas.
Each form of matter, whether it is earth, iron, wood, or water differ from each other only in the proportions of sattva, rajas, tamas present within it. Human cognitive senses ( ear, eyes, skin, tongue, nose) are limited in their scope of perceiving matter in all its forms, with all its qualities. All forms, qualities of matter - solid, liquid, and gas - as known to human senses, and many more forms which are beyond the scope of human senses, have evolved from Prakriti which exists in its unmanifest and manifest forms, Inside the unmanifested form of Prakriti, known as Mula Prakriti, is hidden the cause of material world, which is its effect, where the qualities of sattva, rajas, tamas are present in equal proportions, or are in equilibrium with each other. Sattva, rajas, and tamas are also known as the three gunas, the term guna means quality, or nature of an entity. When these 3 gunas are in equilibrium with each other the subtle cause of matter that exists is called Mula Prakriti which is formless, nondescript, and immutable, The three gunas differentiate Prakriti from the Purusha. All the other forms of matter evolve out of prakriti as the equilibrium between the 3 gunas is disturbed, and an imbalance is created. These multiple forms of matter are nothing but manifested form, or effects of the cause inherent in Mula prakriti.
The matter, or forms of matter, out of which the universe is created is the one carrying an imbalance within the three gunas present within it, different forms of matter having difference in the proportion of the three gunas they are made up of. Thus the three gunas - sattva rajas tamas as they are known in 3 gunas yoga - are nothing but the forms of matter which carry different qualities, nature , tendencies. The qualities of Sattva form of matter is that it is the subtlest of the other two, and condenses itself as harmony, purity, and the right knowledge. Sattva present in human mind, body promotes happiness, joy, satisfaction. peace, patience, and inclination towards spiritual quest. Rajas is full of action, motion, and passion. All activities present in the universe are the derivatives of the rajas guna, or the quality of matter which causes movement. In human body, rajas propels the mind towards activity, longing for change, and variety. The qualities of tamas is of being lazy, inertia, attachment to material world etc. In fact sattva and tamas impart inactivity to the form of matter they are present in, peace , tranquility for sattva, and inertia for tamas, rajas imparts energy for action within the other two.
What are Sattva Rajas Tamas made of?
No instrument invented by mankind, or even the senses present within the human body can measure or even perceive the 3 gunas in their natural state. They can only be perceived by increasing the subtleness of the mind as a master sensory organ (all the senses feed their knowledge to the mind) by the practice of yoga to an extent that it matches the subtleness of the 3 gunas as they are present in prakriti. Such a mind can see the color and other properties associated with the three gunas. The particular color of an object is the result of a particular frequency of waves it emits on being energized from within (matter is itself a form of condensed energy). All the three gunas project three different colors when they are energized with rajas, or prana; yellow for sattva, red for rajas, and black for tamas. Sattva exhibits longer wavelength but shorter amplitude, rajas gives out shorter wavelength but higher amplitude, and tamas is associated with irregular wavelength and shorter amplitude.
As per 3 gunas yoga Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas come together in various proportional combinations through the process of evolution of prakriti to form the building blocks of the entire physical universal. As per Samkhya philosophy the gunas come together for one more purpose other than of creating the universe. These building blocks are the subtle forms of the five basic elements ( earth, water, fire, air, ether) which further condense, or settle down ( under the influence of the degree of tamas present in them) into their corresponding five gross elements of which the material world is composed of. Owing to the proportion of tamas present in them each element is subtler than the other in the sequence; earth has the highest proportion of tamas so it is the grossest, water is more subtle than the earth, fire is more subtle than water, air is subtler than fire, and space is the subtlest of them all. Similarly Sattva guna is present in the reverse order within the same sequence of the basic five gross elements. Interesting point to note here is that the subtler the composition the nearer the form of matter is to Mula Prakriti, or the process of liberation of the object from matter (material world) moves towards rendering the composition of the gunas the object is made up of more and more subtle, towards or increasing the proportion of Sattva guna in its composition. All the five sense organs present within the human body manifest themselves according to the basic five gross elements the Prakriti freezes into.
Personality explained as per 3 Gunas Yoga
The 3 gunas Yoga states that the three basic element of prakriti are activated with the energy from rajas as they project their qualities with respect to each other. All the three gunas have to exist together to make the existence of an entity possible, absence of any one will break the entity apart. Moreover, other than in Mula Prakriti, the proportions of the three gunas are in imbalance, different in each object of the universe, the object generally displays the behavior , tendency of the guna present in higher proportion than the other two it is made up of. It is only the human body that carries the capacity to alter the proportion of the three gunas of which it is made of by practicing spirituality. As one progresses spiritually one begins to increase the sattva component within oneself in relation to the other two gunas, one actually converts tamas guna into sattva guna. With each level of spirituality scaled, the rajas and tamas gunas decrease and sattva guna increases with respect to the composition of the human body
As one moves up the spiritual path the component of sattva increases in proportion relative to the other two guna; the five senses, and the mind they feed begin to lose their tamas, and rajas components which are responsible for their existence and thus the senses, mind, ego, and buddhi begin to dissolve in the same sequence as the sattvik component dominates their construct. Ultimately even sattva guna needs to be abandoned ( as it is a part of prakriti which is matter) in order to be one with, or realise pure consciousness or the Purusha. Never does only one guna which is dominating the other two in an object completely imparts its attributes, qualities to the object, the qualities of the dominant guna express themselves relative to the presence of the proportion of the other two gunas. Here it would be interesting to note the difference the presence of the dominant guna can make to human behavior, personality, & lifestyle.
Sattvic qualities of Mind, 3 Gunas Yoga
The fact that the amount of sattva is more at the Intellect ( Buddhi as per the evolution of prakriti) level than at the body level ( made of five gross elements) explains the experience of higher joy when the mind works at the intellectual level. Sattva is happiness and joy. Sattvik tendencies always keep us on the right path, and away from negativities of the tamasic guna. Such a person considers himself as part of the whole, and not an individual separated from the whole creation, and thus all his karmas are performed selflessly.
Honesty, and discipline is his hallmark, he believes in sharing ( knowledge or matter) for the benefit of the whole humanity. Sharing brings happiness with the feeling of oneness. Sattva is light, or illumination within oneself, purity of the heart and fearlessness. A sattvic mind is always steady, and seeks stability, consistency in everything: relationships, beliefs, and action. Whenever the mind comes under the influence of sattvic tendency it connects with the divine, and can create exquisite pieces of art, or literature. One whose senses and the mind are flushed with sattva guna always remains radiant, positive, inspired, and highly motivated.
People with Sattva guna as dominant are also known as Satvabhuyishta. They have a religious bent of mind, and follow the path of truth and righteousness. Good manners, and good character make them stand out from others. They possess a high degree of self control, they rarely lose temper or become irritable. Such people experience less mental fatigue, and need only 4 hours of sleep to rejuvenate themselves on the daily basis. They display respect for their teachers and an insatiable quest for knowledge, proficiency, and skill. They take clear decisions as their intellect is pure and clear. Detachment to the worldly affairs is another of their qualities.
Sattvik food is fresh, stuffed with minerals, fiber, and a proper mix of all vitamins, and is least processed. Such food is sweet, and alkaline in nature. Sattvic food items are full of energy, and is non stimulating in nature. The contents of the diet as proposed by yoga are always high on Sattva guna.
Rajasic Qualities of Mind , 3 Gunas Yoga
Rajasic tendency keeps the mind oscillating between the feeling of one with the whole and feeling separate from the whole the next moment, but generally remaining self centered. A rajasic mind is restless, and is always in the race to seek newer sensations and variety in everything. Rajas is the string ( another meaning of guna is a rope or string which keeps one bound to the material world) that keep pulling the person down into the material existence opposite to the Sattvic tendency which pushes the person up away from the material bonds. Rajas lacks stability as it is on a continuous ride to meet new people, read newer books, eat newer food; security, stability is boring to them. Rajasic mind enjoys company and conversations a lot.
People with more of rajas are conditioned to look for shortcomings in others. By habit they seek negativity in everything around; they will only remember the negative things about an encounter they would have had with someone in the past. Hatred is their hallmark. A rajasic mind completely lacks compassion, contentment, and happiness. People with dominant rajas guna are also known as Rajobhuyishta. Such people have ego, pride, are very ambitious, and have a tendency to control everything, everybody around them. Rajasic people are good speakers, and hard workers, but are not organized, and lack planning and direction. Their mental stamina is not very strong. Their personality remains dominated by emotions like anger, joy, attachment, and jealousy.
Their mental energy remains scattered as they are prone to emotional outbursts. They need 8 hours of sleep to rejuvenate themselves, and display calm only till things are going their way. They are selectively nice to only people who are helpful to them. People with rajasic tendencies like eating rajasic food: fried, heavy, spicy food is rajasic food. Such food increases the body weight and is hard on the digestive system. Rajasic food also produces irritation, and stimulation in the body. All the pickles, chutneys, and other palate stimulating food items are purely rajasic in nature. Eating such food adds to the already present rajasic energy within the mind, the mind becomes weak in front of temptations, and is prone to agitation all the time. Fruits like apple, banana, guava; grains like millet and buckwheat; vegetables like potato, spinach, broccoli; red lentils, sour milk, fish, and chicken all come under rajasic food items.
Tamasic Qualities of Mind, 3 Gunas Yoga
The tendency of people dominated by tamas is laziness, sleepiness, impurity, and darkness. The dark cover of tamas veils away the reality from the one afflicted by its domination. People who have tamas dominating their construct are known as Tamobhuyishta. Such people lack in intelligence and seem to be always reeling under depression. They feel tired even with the slightest of the mental effort. Such people remain sleepy even during the day. They prefer the path of least resistance and remain engaged in basal activities like eating, sleeping. drinking , and sex. Tamasic people are extremely greedy, self centered, and highly irritable. Some time they may harm others in order to protect their own interests.
Food that is prepared with high amounts of spices and is cooked to extreme comes under tamasic food. Such food is lacking in fiber, minerals , and vitamins. Food which has gone stale, is fermented , or deep fried are all tamasic in nature. It is acidic in nature and promotes the formation of mucous within the body. Eggs, soyabean, wheat flour, beef, and other forms of meat come under tamasic food category.
Who is a Trigunateet?
Trigunateet is a person who has mastered all the mental fluctuations which occur under the influence of the three gunas. He is above any desires, emotions, dislikes, and any attachments. Bereft of any desire for gains, or any aversion to anything such a person performs his activities by being free of any expectations from therein. He can't be stimulated, angered, or elated, or frightened under any circumstances. Such a person is fearless even in the face of death. He isn't bothered about the opinion of society on anything as he considers himself as a part of the whole and not as an individual self or society. A trigunateet is above praise or criticism. He persistently remain happy, and at peace in spite of renouncing all the worldly pleasures.
All the matter which makes the material world actually emanates from a single entity called prakriti. Prakriti is in itself composed of three types of tendencies, or qualities - sattva, rajas, tamas gunas - which gets transferred to the objects that evolve out of it. In a way all the three gunas are like ropes which bind the soul, or the individual self to the material world ( the body) , and prevent it to rise and merge with the universal self ( the Purusha). The main aim of yoga, or spirituality is to arrest the attributes of the sattva, rajas, tamas qualities present in the personality complex ( Citta) and move the self to merge with the universal self - the Purusha.