Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – The three gunas or qualities of life

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Aug 04

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – The three gunas or qualities of life

According to the yogic philosophy the whole universe can be divided into 2 main categories: Prakriti (Maya or Illusion) and Purush (Reality). According to this philosophy everything which is changeable, which is not infinite, is part of Maya. Purush on the other hand is the only reality, it is the universe’s only unchangeable element: the Soul.

Only the soul is eternal whereas Maya or Prakriti are changeable and part of Illusion. The difficulty lies in being able to discriminate the real from the unreal. That is the ultimate goal of Yoga: to see beyond the illusion and see the reality. Only a person who is able to see the Reality can reach the stage of Samadhi or Enlightenment.

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Everything in the illusionary world consists of three gunas or qualities. These three qualities are present in all objects in various degrees, one quality is always more present or dominant then the others. The three gunas are Sattva (purity), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (darkness, destruction). Gunas are present in everything; humans, food, objects,… Humans have the possibility to consciously change the levels of the gunas in their body and their mind. By altering the presence and influence of external objects, lifestyle and thoughts we can increase or decrease the gunas. Whichever guna is predominating will affect how we perceive the world around us. It will affect behavior, attitude, actions and attachments and so on. For example a person who is predominant tamas will see everything as negative and destructive. A person who is more sattvic on the other hand will perceive the universe as positive and will find joy and happiness in everything. However the mind is very unstable and can fluctuate very easily from one predominant guna to another.

Let’s try to understand more clearly the difference between each one of the gunas and how you can stimulate one more than the others.

Sattva
Sattva manifests itself as purity, knowledge and harmony. It is the quality of goodness, joy, satisfaction, nobility and contentment. It is free of fear, wrath and malice. Sattvic quality is pure and forgiving. It is the guna that people want to increase in order to reach the state of Samadhi or Liberation. 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 yogic lifestyle, surrounding yourself by positive people and performing activities that bring you joy and happiness you increase the sattvic elements in your mind and body.

Rajas
Rajas represents itself by 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.

Tamas
Tamas manifests itself as impurity, laziness and darkness. It is the consequence of ignorance and it prevents all beings from seeing the reality. In order to decrease the tamasic elements in your mind and body, avoid eating tamasic foods (eg. processed food), indulging (eg. over eating, over sleeping, excess of alcohol, etc).

The clearest way to make the distinction between the three gunas is with the following image of three robbers who catch a man in a forest. The tamasik robber wants to kill the man. The Rajsik robber however is able to persuade the tamasik robber to bind the man to a tree and to rob all his treasures. The third robber, the Sattvic robber, frees the man from the tree, gently takes him out of the forest and shows him the way to home.

The first step to reach Samadhi or Enlightenment is to increase sattva and decrease rajas and tamas. Next, the ultimate goal is to become unattached from the 3 gunas and see the reality beyond Maya. A person who has transcended the 3 gunas is indifferent to the dualities of life like pain and pleasure and is undisturbed by the gunas, knowing that the gunas are part of Maya, and not of the universe’s sole reality which is the self. As stated in the Bhagavad Gita:

“When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body;
one is freed from birth, old age, disease, and death; and attains enlightenment” (Bhagavad Gita 14.20)

If you want to learn more about the yogic philosophy and the three gunas, follow one of our Yoga Teacher Training Courses in India or the Netherlands.

You might also like to read the following articles: What is Hatha Yoga, Principles of Karma Yoga.

Original Source of This Article: https://www.arhantayoga.org/blog/sattva-rajas-tamas-gunas/

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