The Gunas

Prakriti presents itself in objects and living beings. Within prakriti there are three different qualities, known as the gunas, which are seen in many combinations. The three qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Characteristics of sattva: goodness, truth, clarity, harmony, purity, balance, joy, intelligence
Characteristics of tamas: darkness, steadiness, heaviness, rest, laziness, ignorance, inertia, procrastination
Characteristics of rajas: passion, action, confusion, aggression, assertion, change, movement, cravings

Sattva helps with determining which guna we need to cultivate in order to improve well-being in the moment. At bedtime we wish to experience more tamas; darkness and rest are essential qualities needed for sleep and recovering the body, which will allow for more sattva during the day. When we are feeling overly tamas during the day, rajas with regards to habits can help us to experience more sattva.

In nature we observe an interplay of the three gunas as well; soil is dark and heavy(tamas), a seed is active and grows(rajas), plants purify the air and flowers bring joy(sattva).

Being overly attached to any guna can be misguided. For example, in modern agriculture, farms use herbicides to eliminate weeds; this results in monocrops, purity, in a way, because the field grows only one crop. This is an example of too much tamas with a bit of sattva. We have ignorantly assumed that using a poisonous chemical on a farm can create purity.

Another example is the overattachment to sattva in modern medicine; the overuse of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics to purify creates an environment free of bacteria. We have ignorantly assumed that our bodies should be scrubbed free of all bacteria. By doing this we lose the benefits of friendly bacteria in promoting a healthy immune system.

Another word used in translations of the word guna is strand. The gunas are like three strands that are woven together into the fabric of our world. They give objects and people texture, colour, and substance; and they give living beings emotions and thoughts. As yogis, we are seeking to incorporate more of the Sattva strands into our lives. We cannot do this without weaving in some tamas and rajas strands as well. Sattva helps us to experience, our True Self, and Bliss, thereby reducing suffering.

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader