The 3 Gunas

In the Know Yourself course at Serafis, Dr. Juan mentioned the 3 Gunas:

  1. Rajas:: which correspond to positive or Yang
  2. Satwa: neutral, Tao
  3. Tamas: negative or yin

Here is an entry from wikipedia:

In Samkhya philosophy a Guna is one of three “tendencies”: tamas, sattva, and rajas. These categories have become a common means of categorizing behavior and natural phenomena in Hindu philosophy, and also in Ayurvedic medicine, as a system to assess conditions and diets. Guna is the tendency of the mind and not the state. For instance, Sattva guna is that force which tends to bring the mind to purity but is not purity itself. Similarly Rajas is that force which tends to bring the mind to perform some action but is not action itself.

  • Sattva (originally “being, existence, entity”) has been translated to mean balance, order, or purity. This typically implies that a person with more of Sattva has a positive or even orderly state of mind. Such a person is psychologically kind, calm, alert and thoughtful. Compare also the bodhisattvas in Buddhism. Indologist Georg Feuerstein translates sattva as “lucidity“.
  • Rajas (originally “atmosphere, air, firmament”) leads one to activity. This type of activity is explained by the term Yogakshem. Yogakshem is composed of two words: Yoga and Kshem. Yoga in the present context is acquiring something that one does not have. Kshem means losing something that one already has. Rajas is the force that creates desires for acquiring new things and fears for losing something that one has. These desires and fears lead one to activity. (Rajas is etymologically unrelated to the word raja.) Feuerstein translates rajas as “dynamism“.
  • Tamas (originally “darkness”, “obscurity”) has been translated to mean “too inactive”, negative, lethargic, dull, or slow. Usually it is associated with darkness, delusion, or ignorance. A tamas quality also can imply that a person has a self-destructive or entropic state of mind. That person is constantly pursuing destructive activities. Feuerstein translates tamas as “inertia“.

In other wods:

Sattva-guëa encompasses a steady state of maintenance, and gives rise to knowledge, happiness and virtue. Rajo-guëa is responsible for creation and action. It corresponds to hankering for that which is not, and ultimately leads to suffering and pain. Tamo-guëa is the agency of decay. It obstructs action and causes apathy and confusion.

The three guëas are never separate. They constantly intermingle with one another and compete for supremacy. What’s the use of understanding the 3 gunas?

When one learns any discipline, science or philosophy what one receives is a categorical scheme, a paradigm, by which one looks at the world and understands things. There are many ways of looking at the world, and the way one chooses depends on one’s purposes. 

The concept of the three guëas is a categorical scheme given for the business of understanding the universe so that one can transcend it (the ultimate objective of Yoga). That is the assigned task for a spiritual practitioner. For the purposes of modern scientists the three-guëa scheme may not be useful categories, but to a practitioner of Yoga they constitute the theoretical basis of his entire enterprise.


One who knows that the three guëas—sattva, rajas and tamas—are not constituents of the soul but of material nature, and who knows that the pure soul is simply an observer of the actions and reactions of these guëas , is not bound by them.

Isn’t this similar to what Stephen Covey said? That 10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react. It is as if the two speak the same language but with different vocabulary…



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