About the Gunas

About the Gunas

I’ve written or commented on the gunas in a variety of articles. This includes The Gunas and Emotions, Karma and the Gunas, and The Gunas in Awakening. I talk about them regularly because they play a key roll in our style of awakening.

The gunas are the fundamental qualities of consciousness as it begins to express. As vibration arises, it has 3 qualities:

Sattva: purity or clarity of the flow (golden)
balance, harmony, goodness, purity, universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful, virtuous, light, buoyant
– Jupiter, Moon, Sun

Rajas: movement itself, energy or fire and transformation (red)
passion, activity, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, moving, dynamic, neither good nor bad but sometimes either
– Mercury, Venus

Tamas: resistance or inertia to movement (blue)
dark, slow, dull, heavy, indifference, ignorance, delusion, low, impure, violent, anxious, imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, destructive, negative, inactive, apathy, lethargy, violent, vicious
– Saturn, Mars, Nodes

They always exist together and, unimpeded, are moving toward balance. Too much Tamas and the world would die. Too much Rajas, and it would burn out. Too much sattva and it would dissolve into nothing.

Within any wave of vibration is all three. Tamas at the root, rajas giving us the wave, and sattva riding the tip.

In objects and experiences around us in the world, we can learn to notice specific qualities in combination. As Sattva and Tamas are at opposite ends of the pole, they don’t mix directly.

This leaves the following typical emphasis:


To give examples, oranges and almonds are sattvic foods. Beef is tamasic. But if you add ginger or pepper (rajas), you make beef more easily digested. Leave sattvic (fresh) food in the fridge for a few days and the life force dissipates, turning it tamasic. Anger is rajasic, shame tamasic, and joy is sattvic. But sometimes each of them are appropriate. Trying to make a mood of being happy when you’re in grief is resistance, a blend of rajas and tamas. Look to the quality of what arises and the quality of how we respond. This is what steers the outcome.

Here it’s important to note that the gunas function on various levels. The sattva I frequently talk about is the sattva in the subtle levels; that which refines perception and awakens inner clarity.

There are advantages to quality of life if we favour more sattvic foods, emotions, and activities. But a pure diet or special postures or decorations will not cause awakening. They’re working at a different level. In spiritual practice, sitting comfortably so you’re not distracted by the body is more important than a perfect lotus.

This also illustrates why techniques that try to force or control are a difficult route to clarity. Similarly, trying to follow a strict diet based on belief can lead to subtle imbalances and resistance. Better to allow what is here to arise as it is. Learn to notice what the body wants. Perhaps it wants heavier food to ground an opening or something energy-dense for processing. It’s not all purity and light.

Yet Joseph Campbell’s recommendation to “follow your bliss” is good advice. What brings you joy points you to sattva in whatever part of life it arises in.

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