CHAPTER 4: ATTRIBUTES OF THE UNIVERSE: THE GUNAS
4.1 What is a Guna?
THE SANSKRIT WORD GUNA IS TRANSLATED AS “QUALITY, PECULIARITY, ATTRIBUTE, OR TENDENCY.
The term guna is an element, or tattva of reality that can affect our psychological and emotional condition. These originated through Sankhya philosophy which saw gunas as an essential component of the universe. They continue to hold importance in Ayurvedic institutes today.
The three gunas are said to be constantly entangled and interacting with one another, in a restless state, which is referred to as maya or illusion. The patterns and attributes of the gunas help throw light on the qualities and lifestyle of an individual.
As per Yogic philosophy, every component in the universe arises from its fundamental state called Prakriti. The three gunas are – energy, matter, and consciousness – are born out of prakriti, and form nature. These gunas are tamas (darkness & chaos), rajas (activity & passion), and sattva (beingness & harmony).
“ajastamaśca manaso dvauca doṣāvudāhṛtau ॥
Ashtanga Hridaya 1:21”
This means that the psychosomatic disease can be because of tamas, ignorance in you, or rajas, desire or passion in you. Adequate awareness and conscious manipulation of the three gunas is powerful enough to drive away stress, achieve inner peace and achieve the path of enlightenment. There are three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) which affect your state of calm and well being.
4.2 The Three Gunas
The three gunas can be found all around you, yet they widely vary in quantity and composition. We have a unique ability to consciously control our guna levels. Our habits and environmental influences are ultimately what influences the gunas.
4.2.1 Tamas Guna
Tamas is described as a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality. Tamas arise from ignorance and and prevent a person’s path from spiritual truth. Noticeable tamasic qualities are laziness, anger, attachment, depression, dependency, self-doubt, guilt, boredom, irritation, addiction, apathy, confusion, grief, ignorance.
In order to reduce tamas, tamasic foods must be avoided. Oversleeping, overeating, inactivity and fearful situations should also be controlled. Tamasic foods generally include heavy meats and foods that are chemically treated, processed or refined and hence they tend to create a negative effect on your mind and body.
4.2.2 Rajas Guna
Rajas is described as a state of energy, action, change, and movement. Among Rajas qualities are those of attraction, longing and attachment. Rajas is responsible for binding you to the rewards of your actions. Noticeable rajasic qualities are anger, anxiety, fear, irritation, worry, restlessness, stress, courage, and chaos.
In order to reduce rajas, rajasic foods should be avoided. Over-exercising, overwork, loud music, excessive thinking and consuming excessive material goods should also be refrained from. Rajasic foods generally include fried and spicy food, and artificial stimulants.
4.2.3 Sattva Guna
Sattva is described as a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence. Yogis constantly strive to achieve this guna as it reduces rajas and tamas and thus makes liberation possible. Sattvic qualities are happiness, peace, wellness, freedom, love, compassion, comfort, empathy, friendliness, focus, hard work, self-control, satisfaction, trust, positivity, fulfillment, calmness, bliss, sympathy, gratitude, selflessness.
To increase sattva in the body, tamas and rajas both need to be reduced. Eat sattvic foods and enjoy natural activities and an environment that produces happiness and positivity within the body. Some examples of such foods are whole grains and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables that grow above the ground. Yogic practices were also developed to create the effect of sattva in the mind and body. Thus, practicing yoga and leading a yogic lifestyle can strongly cultivate sattva.
4.3 Omnipresence of the 3 Gunas
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”
There cannot be pure sattva without rajas and tamas. There cannot be pure rajas without sattva and tamas. And finally, there cannot be pure tamas without sattva and rajas.
While sattva connects one with happiness, rajas connects one to fruitful activities, and tamas connects you to attachment with some delusion. As long as we are influenced by three gunas, we remain in bondage of Maya. In order to reach Samadhi or Enlightenment, the first step should be to increase sattva and decrease rajas and tamas in your lifestyle. This should be followed by the ultimate goal – to completely detach from the three gunas and see the reality, beyond maya. A person who has transcended the three gunas becomes absolutely indifferent to the duality of life like pain and pleasure. He/she stops getting affected by the gunas and knows that the gunas are merely a part of Maya, and not of the Universe’s reality- which is the inner self.
यथा चित्तं तथा वाचो यथा वाचस्तथा क्रिया ।
चित्ते वाचि क्रियायां च साधूनामेकरूपता ॥
yathā cittaṃ tathā vāco yathā vācastathā kriyā ।
citte vāci kriyāyāṃ ca sādhūnāmekarūpatā ॥
As is the mind, so is the speech; as is the speech so is the action.
Of the good people there is uniformity in mind, speech and action.
Now having understood the different states in which the body exists, the next chapter looks at the Koshas, or layers that form our bodies and existence. Let’s take a look at Chapter 5 here.
You can refer back to the course outline here.
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