The Gunas and Emotions

The Gunas and Emotions

There are a number of ways the sages of old describe the three-way structure of consciousness and creation. Creation, maintenance, and destruction. Observed object, process of observing, and observer. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.

But by the time you get down into our universe and the universal mind (aka unified field), the principles become known as the three gunas. These we could call forms of energy or qualities. This is the field of action or karma. We find these principles throughout nature. On their own level, we can see them directly as the primary colours.

They are:
Sattva – purity or clarity (golden)
Rajas – energy or fire, transformation (red)
Tamas – inertia, resistance (blue)

The Vedic idea is that a combination of these three qualities is responsible for all forms and phenomena, much as physics describes all of nature as energy.

From a kosha perspective, the gunas operate on the causal level, anandamaya kosha. As the name may illustrate, we experience the lively interaction of these subtle qualities as bliss on that level. (note that the levels is not somewhere else but right here, within us.)

The gunas also show up as the dominant quality of our experience and thus how we respond to circumstances. We often cycle through which guna is dominant on a given day. Excitement, anger, or intense activity will increase Rajas. A heavy meal or sleepiness means Tamas. I explore a broader range in a chart here.

If we’re going to clear emotional charges from our old unresolved experiences, it’s useful to become more conscious of them. Naming them can be a good exercise as long as we don’t use that to go into the mind and analyze. That’s a common escape route from feeling. If we have trouble naming the feeling, perhaps we can recognize it’s quality.

The Tamas emotions are heavy and lethargic. They bring us down, like sadness, depression, guilt, shame.
That Rajas emotions are fiery and resistant, like anger, desire, pride and frustration.
The Sattvic emotions are light and reassuring, like clarity, happiness, love, and peace.

Of course, they usually show up blended. You may have noticed resistance in both Tamas and Rajas sections above, for example. Hard to change means more Tamas. Fiery stand your ground, more Rajas. Frustration is also usually a blend of the two. Infatuated love blends Sattva and Rajas. You get the idea.

As we clear the grosser traumas, we come to subtler and subtler unresolved energy to release. They shift from harsh, blaring things, into progressively quieter and subtler values. At some point we get down to values that go beyond a feeling label into pure qualities, the gunas themselves. So here, we can relate to them more directly but subtly.

Sattva increases attachment to knowledge and joy
Rajas increases desire and attachment to pleasure and craving
Tamas increases dullness and aversion to pain or avoidance

Ultimately, we want to go beyond the 3 gunas into Atman. But to get there, we use the Rajas of transformation to roast the Tamas of inertia. Sattva then settles the fire of Rajas into a clear mind. Then we can transcend, go beyond, as the quote at the bottom of this site refers to.

In this context, it’s also worth noting Shankara’s teaching about the Maya of world appearance. When Tamas is dominant, we experience the world as a covering. Only the physical seems real. That’s pretty common in today’s world. When Rajas becomes dominant, we see the world as an illusion. This is more common around spiritual awakening and is often how Maya is understood. When Sattva becomes dominant, the world comes to be seen as the play of the divine, Lila. The mechanics of nature become increasingly apparent.

The dominant guna during the awakening process also determines the style of experience of it.

Now, you may ask why I often talk about the Sattva process post-awakening. After going beyond the gunas, what’s the point? This is because once we have gone beyond the three gunas and awoken, then comes the process of embodying that awakening in the world. Awakening isn’t an end game but a way of being in life. Once we live Atman, Sattva is what helps awaken the heart and refine the perception. And that’s where some of the real richness of enlightenment lies.

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