The Three Gunas Explained

In yoga philosophy, all matter in the universe comes from the fundamental substrate known as Prakriti. From this ethereal Prakriti we get the three gunas or qualities of energy that emerge and create the essential aspects of all nature—energy, matter, and consciousness. These three gunas are tamas, darkness & chaos, rajas, activity & passion, and sattva, the state of being & harmony. The awareness and conscious manipulation of these three gunas are a powerful way to decrease stress, improve inner peace and direct one towards enlightenment.

What is a guna?

Guna is a Sanskrit word which translates as “quality, peculiarity, attribute, or tendency.” In yoga and Ayurveda, a guna is a tattva or element of reality that can affect our psychological, emotional and energetic states. The three gunas were created as an essential component of Sankhya philosophy but the gunas are now a major concept in most schools of Indian philosophy. The three gunas are described as being constantly influx and interacting with one another, in a playful state referred to as maya or illusion. The patterns of the interplay of the gunas can define the essential qualities of someone or something, and these patterns can highly influence the path and progress of life. For yoga practitioners, awareness of the gunas provides a GPS to allow us to make choices to be more balanced, peaceful and content both on and off our mat. Cultivating the ability to identify and understand the nature of the gunas brings us closer to seeing the universal truth of oneness.

What is Sattva?

Sattva manifests itself as purity, knowledge, and harmony. It is the characteristic of goodness, joy, satisfaction, nobility, and contentment. It is free of fear, violence, wrath, and malice. Sattva is pure and forgiving. In order to reach Samadhi or liberation, people want to increase their Sattva guna. Increasing sattva is possible by reducing rajas and tamas, both in your mind and in your body. You can do this by eating sattvic food such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Sattvic foods are fresh and pure and grow above the ground, receiving their positive energy from the sunlight.

By practicing yoga and living a non-violent lifestyle, surrounding yourself with positive people, and performing activities that bring you and others joy, you increase the sattvic elements in your mind and body.  You can learn about this in online yoga teacher training.

Definition of the Guna Sattva by Example of a Sattvic Teacher and Student

  • A sattvic teacher has attained the highest spiritual level. The yogi sees all living beings as one and does not believe in or teach hypocrisy. He practices what they preach! A Sattvic teacher is largely unaffected by praise and criticism.
  • A Sattvic student has mastered the first two sub-stages of the 7 Stages of Knowledge. He has understood the difference between real and real (discrimination) and has developed dispassion for the unreal.

What is Rajas?

Rajas expresses as passion, action, energy, and motion. Rajas is characterized by a feeling of attachment, a longing for satisfaction and desire. If you want to decrease the level of rajas, avoid consuming rajasic foods like fried and spicy food and stimulants such as caffeine.

Definition of the Guna Rajas by Example of a Rajasic Teacher and Student

  • A rajasic teacher wants to have followers who worship him or her. Rajasic teachers use the way they dress, theatrical techniques, and desire to impress and mesmerize their followers. A rajasic teacher follows what he or she preaches.
  • A rajasic student cannot see the real meanings of the spiritual teachings, as he or she hasn’t mastered the two stages of Knowledge yet. The devotion to the teacher is emotional, and can even become fanatical.

What is Tamas?

Tamas manifests itself as impurity, laziness, and darkness. It is the consequence of ignorance and it prevents all beings from seeing reality. To decrease the tamasic elements in your mind and body, avoid eating tamasic foods (eg. alcohol, meat, processed food) or overindulging (eg. overeating, oversleeping).

Definition of Tamas by Example of a Tamasic Teacher and Student

  • A tamasic teacher is entirely perverted. He or she indulges in unethical practices to gain powers and sensual pleasures. A tamasic teacher adapts the teachings and principles to suit his or her agenda and desires.
  • A tamasic student is filled with ego and not ready to learn. A tamasic student cannot discriminate and doesn’t abide by rules and discipline.

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