In the Bhagavada Gita, Lord Krishna talks about the three gunas (modes of instinct) that are pre-installed in all beings. These modes of Nature include sattva (goodness or purity), rajas (passion), and tamas (darkness). All jivas (individuals) and their activities in the universe are bound to Nature through the three modes, and the ratio of these modes in an individual forms one’s temperament. In Hindu thought, no one in the perceptible universe is supposed to escape the three gunas as any soul outside the range of Nature is defined as Brahman (God) Himself or is assumed to have reached the state of emancipation.
Mother Nature always has these three qualities or gunas. That are called sattva, rajas and tamas. These three inseparable qualities exist simultaneously in all of matter, all the time.
Just as it’s not possible to have water (H20) without the “O”, oxygen atoms, so it’s not possible to find a situation where one or more of its qualities have been eliminated. All three remain together, although at any given time, one of these qualities predominates over the other two.
Each quality has its own characteristics. Since both the external world and the internal world of the mind are made of matter, the qualities of the three gunas are seen in both. For example, in the external world we see:
Sattva — equilibrium and serenity
Rajas — dynamism and movement
Tamas — inertia and stagnancy
Gunas are vibrational levels under which everything is classified. The mind has three Gunas, viz., Sattva (light, bliss, goodness), Rajas (passion, motion) and Tamas (inertia, darkness).
They are ennumerated as Light, Middling, and Heavy, in corralation with Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
Popularly, Sattva is viewed as “Good”, and Tamas as “Bad”. That is not always the case though. These each have their function and their ways of being used.
Sattvic things are “light” or “airy”. A person with a Sattvic physiology would be thin and light-boned. Sattvic foods are fresh, raw foods which generally have a sweet taste. Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, and ginger are examples of Sattvic foods. A person with a Sattvic disposition is content, smiling, and generally easy-going and centered. Meditation is a very Sattvic activity.
Rajavic things are in the middle, and are energetic. A person with a Rajavic physiology is neither fat nor thin, but is likely to have an athletic build and a predisposition for sports. The nature is very energetic, and there would be a tendency to be drawn to things which are quite exciting, although possibly risky. These people are the adrenaline junkies of the world. There is a lot of activity, but the movement is willy-nilly. Rajavic foods tend to be things which are spicy, or contain things to give more energy, such as refined sugar and caffeine.
Tamasic things are heavy. The movement is slow, or not at all. They may be viewed as thoughtful or lazy. However, once a decision is reached to move some particular direction, through the addition of Sattva, there is no stopping it! It would be as futile for an outside force to try to stop a mighty river. The river too moves slowly in general, but may speed up or slow down at times. Due to the quantity and weight, the inertia is enormous! Tamasic foods tend to be heavy foods – heavy starches such as potatoes, fats, meats, spoiled or fermenting foods.
To further complicate this, by combining any two of these gunas, you produce the third. Tamas given energy becomes Sattva. Rajas with Satva added becomes Tamas. This is one explanation why for a very energetic person to learn meditation, there are seldom any results – Tamas alone is stagnation.
All of these gunas, or vibrational levels are useful. In my opinion, it is better and easier to try to make the best use of the energy you have than it is to make an attempt to fundamentally change it. It is similar to a vocal ensemble. There are bass, tenor, alto, and soprano parts. For the music group to sound good, all of those parts have to be there, and have to sing their own parts. It is futile to try to change an excellent bass into a soprano! It would be foolish to remove everyone from the music group except the sopranos! Like the music group, all of life needs all of the parts to operate in harmony.
In another way, gunas can be ennumerated as 24 in number. Those are:
satva – light
rajas – energetic and middle-weight
tamas – heavy, slow moving or stopped. Inert.
rupa – form
samyoga- conjunction or nearness
dharma- merit or virtue
adharma- demerit or nonvirtue.
Clearly, these gunas can be combined in numerous ways! In fact, some combination of these with a quantity attached could be used to pretty thoroughly describe anything.
In the internal world of the mind, these are experienced as:
Sattva — Purity, compassion, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, comprehension, recognition, generosity, patience, kindness
Rajas — Desire, attachment, possessiveness, hyperactivity, fear, nervousness, anxiety, aggressiveness, competitiveness, power, prestige, name and fame
Tamas — Impurity, greed, anger, dullness, envy, jealousy, delusion, confusion, depression, stupor, unconsciousness, coma
One of the factors that influences the quality and strength of the material quality that predominates in your mind is your destiny (see below). Otherwise, because the mind has an adoptive nature, it is also strongly affected by the quality of your environment and associations. It is also influenced by the quality of the food you eat. You are always one with your environment, and grow to become a perfect part of your environment.
Material creation comes into existence due to the influence of these qualities or Gunas.
These two powers, the material power, Nature, and energy, Awareness, cause other aspects of the material energy to manifest. These are:
A perfect duality — duality means dynamic opposites such as Yin and Yang, Shiva and Shakti, day and night, life and death, happiness and sorrow, rich and poor, high and low, good and bad. Time induces the change from one to the other; otherwise they would be static. Then it would only be night or only day, or we would only experience happiness or only sorrow, and so on.
With respect to the gunas, this means that although one guna of maya predominates at any one time, another guna will predominate after some time. It isn’t possible to predict when they will change or shift, for how long or to what degree.
It is just like three wrestlers who are competing – how long can the strength of one person dominate over two people? After some time he weakens and one of the other wrestlers dominates the other two.
This type of fluctuation is seen in any creation from weather patterns to our internal mood swings.
The relationship of the gunas to each other is dynamic and ever-changing.
Attraction — You learned earlier that the inner world of the mind expands in the presence of the outer world. There is a natural attraction or harmony between the subtle energy of your material mind and the gross manifestation of the external world. On a scale of 1 to 100, you could say the attraction is a “10”. Why does it feel like 100? This is called attachment. It’s not coming from the world; it’s coming from you.
Destruction – This means everything is temporary. Everything that is created in the field of matter, whether it’s your human body or the universe, one day will end. This is the field of beginnings and endings and future renewal. This, again, is due to the fluctuation of the three gunas and the passage of time.