The Origin of Fundamental Qualities (Gunas)

The Origin of Fundamental Qualities (Gunas)

One of the fundamental principles of the Vedic perspective is the three gunas or qualities. I described them in some detail in About the Gunas but here is a basic outline:

Sattva: purity or clarity of the flow (golden)
Rajas: movement itself, energy or fire and transformation (red)
Tamas: resistance or inertia, impediment to movement (blue)

I’ve also explored them relative to awakening, karma, and emotions.

A similar perspective is the cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction. (Brahma, Vishnu, & Shiva) In fact, we may think of the gunas as coming from these principles. But they have a deeper, parallel origin in existence itself.

What is the fundamental quality of pure being? Silence. Stillness. This has a fundamental resistance to movement. In other words, it is inertia or tamas in its highest form.

However, in order for existence to be conscious, it has to be self-aware. When consciousness becomes aware of itself, there is recognition. That recognition gives rise to the cosmic intellect or discrimination. This distinction or “two-ness” creates a flow of attention as the process of experience. That flow of attention becomes the senses, the means of experience. This is sattva.

Even the sense of “I am” is an experience, mediated by sattva.

Thus we have a polarity of stillness and flow, silence and aliveness. And this in the very nature of consciousness. It is one thing knowing itself in two ways.
That knowing gives rise to movement and action, rajas.

Note what this means – the process of perceiving is the process of creation. Consciousness creates through perception. It knows itself by experiencing itself. Through the process of experience, consciousness expresses itself to know itself. While we may describe creation in a sequential way with layers and a process, the actual process is all at once.

As more people are waking up to subtler layers, they are being enlivened in the whole. New laws of nature are waking up and coming back on-line. This expands the range of knowing and the expressions that are possible.

We live in remarkable times.


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  1. Hi Michael
    Interesting question. You have to maintain relative relationships though. On the level of Being/ consciousness, shakti is the energy of creation so is Rajas. Beyond consciousness we’re beyond the gunas so even though pure Shakti is sattva in nature, it flows from behind consciousness and is thus beyond manifest qualities.

    We could say that flow of attention/ experiencing/ sensing/ sattva is driven by pure Shakti but when expressed, Shakti becomes movement, rajas.

    In that way, Shakti is behind both. At the highest levels of expression, sattva and rajas are surprisingly similar but become more distinct at more manifest levels.

    In a similar way, Shiva is silent being but is also the observer, risen to alertness by Shakti. This intertwines tamas and rajas.

    One step from nonduality, its all interrelated. 🙂

  2. Andreas


    please can Ultimate Pure Awareness really know itself as Pure Awareness devoid of qualities or only as imbued with certain qualities like spaciousness, luminosity, etc.? Namaste!

    1. Hi Andreas
      Pure awareness can know itself as pure awareness, and then also with subtle qualities, and as more expressed qualities. The later is what we experience as the world. Space and time arise as subtle qualities in the dynamics of self-aware consciousness. Luminosity goes a little deeper, shining through consciousness. (I use awareness and consciousness as mostly equivalent.)

      I don’t refer to it as ultimate anymore as in later stages of enlightenment, you go beyond consciousness, discover its origins, and then discover what may be called the source of the source.

      Awareness can then be seen as a kosha or sheath, a layer of expression. Fundamental to expression but not ultimately. 🙂

  3. Andreas

    So in your view, Sat/Chit/Ananda is NOT the Ultimate?! There are few teachers who say that (Mooji, Sri Satguru Subramunyaswami, …). Most teachers say that Pure Awareness devoid of qualities cannot be aware of itself but only of its Shakti.

    Please to which teachings do you refer? Dzogchen? Kashmir Shaivism? I am very curious!

    And which meditation do you recommend: self inquiry? presence meditation? bidirectional awareness (simultaneously looking inward towards one’s individual awareness and outward towards the “objects”)? Do you teach it? 🙂

    1. Hi Andreas
      In my experience, Sat Chit Ananda is the reality of mature Self Realization. But Brahman stage takes you beyond consciousness and the absolute previously known, rending SCA less ultimate.

      Sages of yore talked of this but the understanding had been lost. For a time, teachers spoke only of Self Realization, partly because that was the experience or they wished to avoid concepts of later stages. Some in the Papaji linage are in the later camp, for example. The reaction of people like the fellow from Malaysia to my SAND 17 talk would be an example.

      Awareness is inherently a blend of alertness and liveliness. We can call the liveliness Shakti and say there is no awareness without Shakti. In that sense, it’s true.

      Sometimes, such statements come from insufficient depth. When we first experience samadhi, for example, its often just a blank space. As we deepen and increase clarity, we notice progressively more subtle qualities. Bliss begins to be conscious. Yet deeper and we can know consciousness knowing itself.

      I don’t refer to a specific teaching. Rather I refer to the experience here and in others I know.

      I recommend an effortless mantra meditation. Pure simplicity to take you beyond the mind and into samadhi. I’ve not been teaching meditation for years but have recently been called to begin again. Thats not been structured yet.

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