Gunas ~ the tendencies that shape us….


(The Whirlpool Galaxy NASA image)

Guna means thread or primal tendency. Feuerstein has called them ”energy parcels” to draw attention to their quality of energy and flow, waves rather than particles. I like to think of them as winds or vibrations. Vibrations that flow through the cosmos. They are the basic forces that shape creation. They were there at the beginning of creation when Shakti manifested the ten thousand things and they are there yet in our bodies and beings. They are three-fold. Sattwa meaning truth, balance, purity, creation; Rajas meaning action, fire, movement, desire, sustaining; and Tamas meaning grounding, stability, inertia and ultimately the force from which destruction emerges. All are intertwined and necessary, and we move through combinations of the three qualities all the time.

”Yoga ontology thus conceives Nature to be a quivering force field…undergoing continuous transformations. The dynamism is sustained by the incessant interactions of the three types of gunas…sattva is derived from ”sat” ~ being…rajas (to glow, to be brilliant) is the active principle without which the field of (manifestation) would collapse….{and} tamas, to become exhausted.”

(The Philosophy of Classical Yoga ~ Georg Feuerstein)

When we do not recognise the primal influence of these tendencies upon us, suffering ensues. We become confused, for example, by complex and inexplicable variations in mood and energy. Ultimately we are meant to transcend the gunas. We allow the vibrations to flow as they inevitably will by virtue of our being part of creation, but we remain the witness.


In our natures different gunas predominate. If we pretend otherwise and try to suppress our natural being, if we pretend to be controlled when we are passionate, or active when we are by nature feeling lazy, or compassionate when we are not truly so inclined, we are doing our development a disservice. We aught to be true to our present nature, but all the while meditating on the changing vibrations to eventually develop authentic transformation and transcendence.

‘Work hard and purify yourself, then the light will unfold from within you.’

(Swami Sivananda)

We cannot renounce our basic nature, nor the natural influence of the gunas, but through work and self-observation we can control or balance them.Rhythm (Sattwa), Motion (Rajas) and Inertia (Tamas) are the properties of creation, and Rhythm (Sattwa) arises from a perfect harmony and balance between Motion (Rajas) and Inertia (Tamas). Sattwa could be said to be the non-duality that arises from the eventual harmony of the other two opposing, dualistic forces.

David Frawley, the Ayurvedic practitioner, describes the three gunas as follows.


Sattva is the quality of intelligence, virtue and goodness and creates harmony, balance and stability. It is light (not heavy) and luminous in nature. It possesses an inward and upward motion and brings about the awakening of the soul. Sattva provides happiness and contentment of a lasting nature. It is the principle of clarity, wideness and peace, the force of love that unites all things together.


Rajas is the quality of change, activity, and turbulence. It introduces a disequilibrium that upsets an existing balance. Rajas is motivated in its action, ever seeking a goal or an end that gives it power. It possesses outward motion and causes self seeking action that leads to fragmentation and disintegration. While in the short term Rajas is stimulating and provides pleasure, owing to its unbalanced nature it quickly results in pain and suffering. It is the force of passion that causes distress and conflict.


Tamas is the quality of dullness, darkness, and inertia and is heavy, veiling or obstructing in its action. It functions as the force of gravity that retards things and holds them in specific limited forms. It possesses a downward motion that causes decay and disintegration. Tamas brings about ignorance and delusion in the mind and promotes insensitivity, sleep and loss of awareness. It is the principle of materiality or unconsciousness that causes consciousness to become veiled.


(Wieslaw Sadurski)

The gunas are applicable to the three tendencies recognised in Ayurvedic medicine, but they are seen to run deeper, influencing the very unconscious, and not simply the physical matter.

Stage 1: Breaking Up Tamas/ Moving from Tamas to Rajas – Personal Healing

For this transition fire is necessary. We must wake up, act and begin to change. Deep seated patterns of attachment, stagnation and depression must be released. We must recognize our suffering and learn from it, confronting our pain, including what we have suppressed or ignored for years. A new sense of who we are and what we need to do is required. Action (Rajas) is indicated, not only in the mind but involving outer aspects of our lives. We must break with the past, bring new energies into our lives, perhaps change jobs or modify our relationships, or move to a new locale.

Stage 2: Calming Rajas/ Moving from Rajas to Sattva – Healing of Humanity

For this transition space is necessary. We must surrender our pain and give up our personal seeking, letting go of individual hurts and sorrows. Egoistic drives and motivations must be surrendered for the greater good. We must depersonalize our problems and look to understand the entire human condition and the pain of others. Leaving behind our personal problems we must take up the problems of humanity, opening up to the suffering of others as our own. We must learn that life creates suffering in order to help us to grow spiritually. This is a stage of service and charity.

Stage 3: Developing Pure Sattva – Universal Peace

To bring about this transition we must develop love and awareness as universal forces. We must learn to transcend the limitations of the human condition to our higher spiritual nature. Inner peace must become our dominant force. We should no longer seek to overcome our pain but to develop our joy. We should no longer be centered in our personal or collective problems but in developing communion with the greater universe and the Divine powers at work within it. At this stage we move from the human aspect of our condition to the universal aspect, becoming open to all life. This is the stage of spiritual practice. It is beyond all ordinary healing and works to heal our relationship with God or the inner Self.

(David Frawley)

The gunas apply to everything in the cosmos. Right the way from food, which can be tamasic, rajasic, or sattwic, to the mind stream, to creation itself. If the three gunas were in perfect balance there would never have been creation. It was as a result of fluctuation in the gunas that Shakti manifested. The only aspect that the gunas do not touch is pure consciousness (Purusha/Shiva). Pure consciousness is beyond the gunas.

The theory of the gunas basically represents a fundamental building block in the whole theory of creation from the point of view of Samkhya philosophy, and thus it is much more detailed and developed than this introduction. But this will do for a start.


(Creation – Jaison Cianelli)




Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

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