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The Three Gunas

Guna: a constituent, strand, or dimension of prakrit


The Gunas, whose natures are pleasure, pain, and indifference, 
(serve to) manifest, activate and limit.  
They succesively dominate, support, activate, and interact with each other.

Sattwa is buoyant and shining
Rajas is stimulating and moving
Tamas is heavy and enveloping.
They function for the sake of purusha like a lamp

Ishvarakrishna 
Samkhyakarika vv.12-13
3rd-5th century c.e.
transl. Gerard J. Larson, Amazon com Classical Samkhya pp.259-60 
(Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2nd. Ed. 1979

Sattwa Sattwa - Samkhya: accounts for thought and intelligibility, experienced psychologically as pleasure, thinking, clarity, understanding and detachment.  Classical Yoga: - when sattwa (purity, illumination through comprehension) predominates, consciousness manifests itself as prakhya - vivacity, illumination, mental clarity and serenity.

RajasRajas - accounts for motion, energy and activity.  Experienced psychologically as suffering, craving and attachment.  Classical Yoga: - when rajas (energy) predominates, consciousness is pravritti - active and energetic, tense and willful.

TamasTamas - accounts for restraint and inertia.  Experienced psychologically as delusion, depression and dullness.  Classical Yoga: - when tamas (obscurity, heaviness) predominates, consciousness is sthiti - inert, punged into a state of repose and torpor


references  Gerard J. Larson, Classical Samkhya, pp.244-45
Vyasa, Yoga-Sutras 1:2. as cited in Mircea Eliade, Yoga Immortality and Freedom, Princeton University Press, 1969, p.38


As the three primary qualities of phenomenal nature (prakriti) and of embodied consciousness, the concept of the three gunas has had great influence, becaming a basic concept running through Hindu culture.

An analogy can be made with the gunas and the yin-yang polarity of Chinese thought.  Sattwa clearly represents Yang, Tamas Yin, and Rajas has qualities of both.  The three pillars or columns of the Kabbalistic tree is another example, although the correspondence is less clear.  Both the central column of Balance and the right-hand column of Mercy would represent Sattwa, while the column of   Severity on the left combines Rajas and Tamas.





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page uploaded 30 June 1999, last modified 15 February 2005