In yogic philosophy, all matter in the universe is made of the 3 guna, or 'qualities'. Guna translates as 'thread' in Sanskrit and implies that the 3 guna - sattva, rajas and tamas - are interwoven into every being and every object, therefore each guna can never be removed from the thread they share. We can however alter their levels of predominance either consciously or through lifestyle choices.
Sattva correlates with truth, goodness, light, intelligence, harmony, purity, clearing and consciousness. This guna shines at its brightest when the light of knowledge prevails. It is related to Brahma, Lord of Creation. Sattvic foods - such as whole grains, legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables - are light in order to foster a clear mind. Many yogic practices help to create Sattva for the body and mind. The word ‘satisfied’ comes from ‘sattva’.
Rajas denotes activity, passion, desire, energy, change and movement. Rajas rules when there is a predominance of greed, restlessness and excessiveness. Within rajas there is great attachment to the outcome and a tendency to do things in excess (e.g. food, music, work, material items). Vishnu, the Lord of Preservation, is analogous with rajas. Rajasic foods are spicy, bitter and salty that contribute to a restless mind. The English word ‘rage’ is derived from ‘rajas’.
Tamas relates to darkness, inertia, heaviness, sloth, ignorance, selfishness, carelessness and obstruction. When there is a surplus of stagnant, lazy, idle, and confused qualities in an individual, then tamas prevails. The Lord of Destruction - Shiva - is related to tamas. Tamasic foods - such as meat, fermented food and alcohol - are heavy, low in prana (life force) and overripe, therefore contributing to a lethargic state of mind.
Whatever quality arises –
Light (sattva), activity (rajas), delusion (tamas) –
He neither dislikes its presence
Nor desires it when it is not there.
He who is unattached,
who is not disturbed by the gunas,
who is firmly rooted and knows
that only the gunas are acting
who is equally self-contained
in pain or pleasure, in happiness
or sorrow, who is content
with whatever happens, who sees
dirt, rocks, and gold as equal,
who is unperturbed amid praise
or blame of himself, indifferent,
to honor and to disgrace,
serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to action – that man
has gone beyond the three gunas.
He who faithfully serves me
with the yoga of devotion, going
beyond the three gunas, is ready
to attain the ultimate freedom.
Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation, 14.22 – 26
Translation by Stephen Mitchell, 2000
Article by Alyssa McLeod
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