Understanding the Three Gunas, the Primary Forces of Existence

“Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, — these Gunas, O mighty-armed, born of Prakriti, bind fast in the body the indestructible embodied one.” ~ Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 5

All material nature is an interplay of three fundamental forces or “gunas” – sattva, rajas, and tamas. This is the law of prakriti or nature, where gunas are a part of prakriti.

And it is the nature of everything – from atom to element, plant to animal and living to non-living, all that can be known in this world, tangible and intangible, is a manifestation of the gunas in their various forms.

7d044acf7f1441f2ed0fdee359b0743fThe degree of concentration and combination may differ, defining our nature, behavior, attitude towards life and the choices we make. But it is impossible for anything to exist in the material world without the gunas.

“The gunas are primary constituents of the Prakriti and are the base of all substances. They are said to be attributes or qualities inherent in the substances. The three gunas bind the soul to the body.” ~ Mahesh B. Sharma stated in his book, Bhagavad Gita: A Journey From The Body To The Soul.

Each of these gunas have their own characteristics and influences our lives in many ways.

Have you faced a day when you have been on the go from morning till night, then found it hard to stop? This is an excess of the energy called rajas, or activity.

Or there have been times when you can’t wake up from sleep, feel unmotivated and drag yourself through the day? This is an excess of the energy called tamas, or inertia.

There will be days when you feel calm and clear and is perfectly in the flow? This is the balance of the energy called sattva, or harmony.

While the state of enlightenment can only be achieved when one rises above the three gunas, it is important for mankind to understand the three dimensions, and progress towards Sattva (balance) and gradually leave all three for eternal assimilation.

This article, covers the following topics :


Tamas originally translates to dullness, inertia and darkness. It is a state of delusion which stems from ignorance and leads us astray. Our ability to challenge the right and wrong, good and bad, is taken over by sloth and sleep. It possesses a downward motion that causes decay and disintegration. It weakens our power of perception and leads to insensitivity.

Lectures on three gunas by the Vedanta Vision Society stated, “When you are in the state of Tamas, you are in the state of sleep. You are asleep to your potential, you are asleep to your talent, and you are asleep to the world. You are definitely asleep to what is beyond the world.”

In this state, the energy will lie dormant and the only thing that will give gratification is sleeping and eating. The reason for the increase in the Tamasic nature can be due to food like meats, chemically processed food, refined food etc. Even the act of thinking negatively, lying, killing, anger, resentment and laziness can increase Tamasic attitude.


Rajas is the state where the mind is brimming with energy, action & movement. A rajasic mind would be attached to material possessions and that person would perpetually feel chaos & confusion, as he seeks happiness from the outside world.

It might be stimulating in the short term, but in the long run it leads to distress and conflicts due to its unbalanced nature. Thus rajas binds us to attachment, to the fruits of action, and to sensory pleasures of every kind.

Lectures on three gunas by the Vedanta Vision Society added, “In the state of rajas, there is partial awakening. You are aware of yourself. You are aware of your environment. But that vision is very myopic & very restrictive.”

According to the Bhagavad Gita, when a person dies in a rajasic mindset – full of unfulfilled desires, excitement, fears, and sorrows – he/she is reborn into who the womb of who is similarly driven. Rajasic nature is induced with overexcitement, overeating, overworking, eating fried or spicy food, loud music or overthinking.


Sattva is a state of harmony, equilibrium & purity where the mind is neither rajasic nor tamasic. This luminous state is all about reflecting on the consciousness. It possesses an inward and upward motion and brings about the awakening of the soul. A sattvic person would always resonate on a positive frequency, full of energy and mental harmony.

When pure Sattva prevails in our consciousness we transcend time and space and discover our eternal Self.

“Sattva is where you have a totality view of things… in the state of sattva your mind is totally calm, your intellect is creative, thinking clearly and therefore you come up with solutions and your body comes put with perfect action,” mentioned in the Lectures on three gunas by Vedanta Vision Society.

But according to Bhagavad Gita, Sattvic, even though good, is still a state of attachment, and he/she is not free from the circle of life and death. For this reason we must develop pure Sattva, which does not cling to its own qualities.

Therefore, we should aim to attain freedom from all the three gunas, but that is a later stage, first one has to be in balance to dissolve into nothingness.

Ways to balance the three Gunas


The practice of yoga and pranayama revolves around the concept of promoting sattvic lifestyle. With the help of poses and circulation of breath in the right direction, one can create equilibrium, a condition necessary for Sattva to exist.

By removing Tamas (sloth) and rajas (restlessness), a harmony can be achieved in the mind, body and soul.

The proportion of the gunas keeps fluctuating in the body. Different yoga poses can be chosen in accordance to the understanding of the current dominant guna. For example, if one is feeling an excess of thought and stress due to overworking, they can choose the easy poses that brings calm and composure and vice-a versa if they are feeling Tamasic in that moment.


The mind is where it all lies, and the only way to curb, control and create a balance in the mind is through meditation. With the ability to balance the current situation, meditation can become a great tool in dealing with lethargy, self doubts, tension, stress, over thinking, negative thoughts etc. All the conditions of both Rajas and Tamas can be improved with meditation.


We are what we eat holds true especially in the sense of the gunas. Any or each of the gunas varies in accordance to what you consume. Eating dense or heavy food can lead to tamasic mentally and physicality. It leads to lethargy, sleeping, and fixation over rest.

Similarly, rajasic food like ginger, garlic, food high in sugar, things hot in nature or too spicy, can lead to imbalance as well. Therefore, opt for food that are sattvic like fresh vegetables, fruits, whole wheat grains, legumes, honey, nuts etc. These promote balance, easy digestion, and lightness in the body.

It is only us, human beings who have the ability to change the levels of gunas through lifestyle choices & practices. At the same we need all three qualities in our life.

Tamas makes us stop and rest, we need rajas to get us going in the morning, we need sattva to understand and get clarity and wisdom. Appreciate the process of life as it unfolds. Don’t become attached and obsessed to be a certain way. Simply observe and be present.

References & Image Source

Bhagavad Gita: A Journey from the Body to the Soul
The three gunas
Yin yang

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Sonali Bansal
Sonali Bansal
A healer, yoga teacher, traveler & philanthropist, she is an independent writer/blogger. A creative soul, her inner calling lies in spiritual oneness. Overcoming the hurdles of human birth, she is a karma yogini. Channeling the light wherever she goes, her focus is on self development as this is the real art of divine worship for her. Follow her page on: https://www.facebook.com/yogictransfusion


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