Yoga and Ayurveda give us a unique perspective in understanding the mind and our body’s awareness. This philosophy of the gunas explains nature’s subtle qualities and how they influence all living and non-living entities.
When it comes to people, the gunas determine our quality of mind and whether we use our senses and body for our upliftment or degradation. The gunas exist at both the surface level of the mind and deep within the subconscious.
We’re all under the influence of the gunas at one point or another: sattva when we’re working toward self-improvement, rajas when we take action, and tamas when we’re sleeping. The mind isn’t fixed in one state, it fluctuates between all three but each guna is necessary!
However, our underlying focus should be to increase sattva, decrease tamas, and balance rajas. Yogis in particular can use their understanding of the gunas to elevate their consciousness and expand their awareness.
Sattva brings about the awakening of the soul and provides us with lasting happiness, clarity, expansion, and peace in our daily lives.
Known as the quality of peace, intelligence, and virtue. Sattva provides us with both knowledge and intelligence. It is pure and light, creating balance and harmony. It also has an inward and upward motion, meaning it drives us to understand our true self and allows us to work toward self-improvement.
A person who is primarily under the influence of sattva has a strong sense of self-control and chooses what will uplift them physically, mentally, and spiritually. They’re always trying to improve their knowledge, have a clear intellect and steady mind, and steer clear of attachments. The buddha is an excellent example of a sattvic person, as he fully sought spiritual upliftment and then shared his wisdom in order to help others.
Known as the quality of action and turbulence, rajas is the quality of change and activity. It’s what motivates us into action—a good thing!
Rajas can be stimulating by nature and provides energy and pleasure in the short-term. Long term, however, it results in pain and suffering as its object of desire is always something illusory and impermanent, such as money or fame. It might seem like common sense, but these material acquisitions can never provide lasting peace and happiness.
Rajas has an outward nature that tends to create turbulence. Someone who is primarily under the influence of rajas is ambitious and hardworking, but their goals are self-motivated. They easily fall prey to jealousy, anger, lust, and attachment; cool and calm only if things are going their way. They know what supports their wellbeing, but nonetheless will willingly choose against it.
Tamas posses a downward motion that veils and obstructs. It causes ignorance and delusion, and prevents the development of awareness.
Known as the quality of inertia and dullness. The least desirable of all three gunas, tamas is known as the quality of inertia. It covers, slows, and inhibits.
Someone who is primarily under the influence of tamas usually takes the path of least resistance. They’re prone to overeating and drinking, lack of awareness as to what supports their wellbeing, and depression. The mind is veiled and consciousness resides at a low level.
Most everything in life can be understood through the three gunas. Our food, behavior, and how we spend our free time can be sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic in nature. We can use the guna philosophy as a moral compass, helping us to make better choices that as a result can uplift our soul.