Samkhya karika 13, Purpose of the Coming Together of Three Gunas


Sattvam laghu prakaasham Ishtam upashthambakam chalam cha rajah ||

Guru varnakam eva tamah pradeepavacharthato vrittih ||

Sattvam – sattva is

Laghu – light, buoyant

Prakaasham – illuminating, enlightening

Ishtam – desirable

Upashthambakam – stimulating, exciting

Chalam – moving

Cha – and

Rajah – of rajas

Guru – heavy, stationary, inertia

Varnakam – hiding, obstructing

Eva – so also, surely

Tamah – tamas

Pradeepavach – providing illumination like a lamp

Artha tah – is for the only purpose of

Vrittih – modifications


Samkhya karika 13 for the first time mentions names of the three qualities (gunas) of Mula Prakriti as mentioned in the previous Karika as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. In continuation of the description of nature of the three gunas from the last karika this karika further elaborates on their characteristic features. It says that though the three gunas exhibit contradictory attributes their sole purpose is to bring illumination or light as a lit lamp disperses all the darkness of the room it is kept in.


The purpose of the three gunas 


Though the qualities of all the three gunas are contradictory to each other, still the purpose of their coming together is to provide illumination or getting rid of darkness. Each guna has a role to play and as the cotton wick, oil, and fire though contradictory in their composition come together to provide light by coming together as a burning lamp.


Even if one of the components of the lamp is missing the light would not be generated. The Sattva guna is characterized by it being light in weight (laghu) and buoyant along with providing prakasha, or illumination. Sattva represents the most refined version of something. Samkhya karika 13 talks about the revelatory nature of Sattva i.e. its presence can remove the cover of darkness, or ignorance and reveal the extremely subtle knowledge, wisdom and intelligence. Sattva is the main characteristics of Buddhi, as buddhi being the first evolute that emerges out of Mula Prakriti comes into existence only when the equilibrium of the unmanifest Prakriti is so disturbed that Sattva predominates over rajas and Tamas. 


The Sattva guna is apparent in lower organisms in their being light weight and in the presence of emotions in the biological world. The nature of Rajas on the other hand is passion, excitement, and stimulation. All the three qualities are needed for any action to take place. The term “chalam”, as used to describe the nature of Rajas in this karika, stands for movement.  Actions of all kind – bodily (kaya), speech (vaca) and thinking (manas) – are the result of the presence of Rajas guna. This characteristic represents continuous flux or instability.


Tamas is replete with the essence of guru, or heaviness, mass, inertia, and immobility. The word “ varnakam” used for describing the nature of Tamas means covering which cuts of illumination and causes darkness, it  involves veiling, and resistance too. The nature of Tamas is to hide, cover, or obscure objects and knowledge. It brings about inertia, stability, stupefaction of the mental faculties along with lethargy. It is everything anti to rising or elevating.


The proportions of all the three gunas making up an entity is never constant; it keeps fluctuating each moment. None of the gunas can exist independent of the other two, and at any given moment one of the guna remains dominant than the other two, the state of their equilibrium exists only in the unmanifested form of Prakriti (Mul prakriti) as the loss of their proportional balance is the main reason for matter to begin manifesting. 


The existence of so many types of  personalities of human beings can be explained by the theory of the dominance of one guna at any given time: predominance of Sattva gives rise to a pious, ethical, simple, and an equipoised personality; dominance of Rajas imparts violent and anxious temperament to the bearer; and  depression, inertia, apathy, and instability in one’s persona are the result of a dominant Tamas.


The main purpose of the knowledge of three gunas is that one need to become aware of which guna is dominant at what times. One needs to identify and consistently strive to reinforce the qualities of Sattva guna in oneself so that one can attain true knowledge and get rid of all the misery. If there is Sattva there is intelligence and understanding, if there is Rajas then there is no peace, and tamas causes dullness or lethargy. 


We need to take notice of the fact that the universe is made up of three gunas and their proportion keeps changing. Each of the three gunas is important for the existence of the universe, and they are interdependent on each other for creating the objects of the world. 


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