The Three Gunas

I have known about the three gunas for a long time and have wanted to share about them in a post forever. The three gunas were something I always sensed within me, but actually learned about when I really got into my yoga practice and realized in my life what effects different foods, environments, and people had upon me.

We are all living in one of the three guna states at any one time and fluctuate between these different qualities all the time and at different times of our lives. We can, however, make decisions in our lives as to what state we want to dwell in most often and create a reality of heaven or hell on earth for ourselves at any time, depending on what we are choosing. This includes, what we eat (whether vegetarian or not/organic or not) and how much we eat, how often we get outside in nature and the sunshine, how often we pray or meditate, how much sleep and/or rest we get, what we set our minds on and choose as a diet for our mind, whether or not we take any drugs or drink any alcohol, who we spend our time with, as well as many other different factors.

I have noticed in myself how I move through the different guna states at different times, especially depending on what and how much I eat, how much I get outside in the sunshine, whether or not I am doing yoga, whether or not I am taking time for spiritual study, how much rest I get, and whether or not I take time to do something positive, like connect with others and share spiritual insights (which I love to do, though I hate sitting at a computer).

The three gunas are sattva, raja, and tamas. These are the three primal qualities of which all nature consists. The gunas determine our spiritual growth. “Guna” in sanskrit means”what binds” because if not understood, they keep us in bondage to the external world and inhibit any spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Becoming aware of these qualities of nature in your life can help you to make different choices to change your state of being, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Sattva (calm, peaceful, clear, energetic, conscious, oneness)

  • pure and illuminating
  • intelligence
  • virtue
  • goodness
  • generosity
  • forgiveness
  • enthusiasm
  • flexibility
  • well-being
  • openness
  • fairness
  • brings about the awakening of the soul
  • unifying love
  • cleanliness
  • white in color
  • day
  • light
  • harmonious
  • peaceful
  • content
  • balanced
  • meek
  • humble
  • heaven state
  • corresponds to the spiritual beings, Gods, Goddesses, and sages
  • waking state
  • neutral energy

Sattva is pure consciousness, oneness, peace, beauty, and harmony. A heaven state of existence.

Rajas (impurity, passion, desire for worldly success)

  • change
  • activity
  • movement
  • restlessness
  • intense feelings
  • control
  • domination
  • overexercising
  • overworking
  • excessive thinking
  • loud music
  • overconsumption
  • goal-seeking for personal power or selfish desires
  • unsatisfied
  • turbulence
  • stress/anger
  • upsets balance
  • red in color
  • sunrise/sunset
  • sets things in motion
  • the realm of storms
  • corresponds to the human realm
  • dreaming state
  • yang energy

Rajas is active and goal-seeking usually for selfish purposes. Rajas leads us to short term happiness that always ends in let down, causing pain and suffering, often leading to a tamasic state.

Tamas (dark, gloomy, sluggish, lazy, unconscious)

  • dullness
  • darkness
  • heaviness
  • laziness
  • stubbornness
  • inertia
  • veiling
  • obstructing
  • delusion
  • insensitivity
  • lack of awareness
  • fear
  • poor memory
  • lack of will power
  • lack of discipline
  • materiality
  • unconsciousness
  • violence
  • unclean
  • black in color
  • night time
  • negative energy
  • earth realm, gravity
  • corresponds to mineral, plant and animal kingdoms
  • deep sleeping state
  • yin energy

Tamas is a negative energy that obstructs spiritual enlightenment. It is dark, heavy and depressing and is a state of unconsciousness and materialism.

The Three Gunas and Diet

Sattvic Foods

  • vegetarian and organic foods
  • organic fresh fruits and vegetables
  • foods that grow above the ground towards the sun
  • organic fruit and vegetable juices
  • easily digestible foods
  • organic wholemeal or sprouted grain bread
  • whole grains (oats, barley, wheat, brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth)
  • organic cereals
  • sprouts
  • nuts and seeds
  • honey
  • herbs
  • organic milk and dairy products which are free of animal rennet
  • organic yogurt
  • herbal teas
  • water

Sattvic foods raise our consciousness and increase our vibration. This increased vibration, energy, and higher consciousness leads us to live more positive, creative, and inspiring lives. We naturally succumb to a more meditative lifestyles as well due to the fact that the physical body is not weighed down with heavy, lifeless foods and more energy is available for spiritual activities. Food that is prepared mindfully and with love, as well as eaten with gratitude and reverence is sattvic.

Rajasic foods

  • bitter
  • soul
  • pungent
  • salty
  • dry
  • hot
  • spicy
  • onion
  • garlic
  • caffinated coffee
  • caffinated tea
  • sugar
  • chocolate
  • sattvic foods that have been fried in oil or over-cooked
  • sattvic foods that are eaten in excess
  • eating on the run
  • eating mindlessly

A diet high in rajasic foods steals peace of mind, destroying the balance of mind and body, indulging cravings of the physical body at the expense of the mind. Rajasic foods increase energy and excite our physical bodies. One who never sits to enjoy their food and meditate on its origins, blessing it with gratitude, usually ends up with digestive issues, physical illnesses and a foggy head. This is rajas.

Tamasic Foods

  • genetically modified
  • dead
  • dry
  • decaying
  • old
  • leftover
  • strongly processed
  • canned or frozen
  • microwaved
  • old, stale or incompatible with each other
  • meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • alcohol
  • overeating
  • gluttony

Tamasic foods lead to physical illness and an overburdening of the physical organism because they take an extremely large amount of energy to be digested and utilized within our organism. This causes a feeling of depression and an extremely lowered mental state. An inability to think positively and spiritually, feel hopeful and feel a sense of life-purpose or connection to others is the result of a tamasic diet.

Krishna describes the gunas in the Bhagavad Gita as follows:

Sattva is pure, without impurities, illuminating and free from sickness and disease. It binds the soul through attachment with knowledge and happiness.

I have seen this to be the case with many spiritual seekers, vegans and vegetarians (even in myself). The danger is falling into a false sense of advancement and separation from others due to diet, spiritual beliefs, meditation, and/or lifestyle choices. One can become too “off in the clouds” and deluded into believing that they are somehow higher or more advanced than others, egotism increases all the more.

Saints and seers can survive easily on a sattvic diet and lifestyle alone. Householders that live in the world and have to keep pace with its’ changes also need some rajasic energy. Keeping a balance between sattva and rajas and avoiding tamas as much as is possible is the goal for most people in our society.

Rajas is full of passion and born out of a thirst for desire and attachment. It binds the soul through attachment with action.

This is something common to society. Most people are driven by egoistic desires and the thirst for wealth, fame, or success. People dominated by rajas energy have trouble just being and not doing. Too much rajas can lead to a distraction from our true nature and purpose here and now.

Tamas is the darkness and crudeness in man. It is ignorance and is the cause of delusion. It binds the soul through recklessness, indolence, and sleep.

Tamas energy is another state we can easily observe in society. Many people are asleep, deluded and in the dark. They exist for purposes that are driven solely by their lowest desires. Tamas is unconscious of oneness, the reality of thoughts and actions, and the spiritual realm. It sees life through a materialistic and selfish lens. It is indifferent and insincere.

Once conscious of these fluctuating states in our lives, we can make decisions to change our state to one of balance. We will always have times of being more sattvic, rajasic or tamasic, but learning to accept these states and even transcending their effects is the ultimate goal.

Adding more sattvic energy to your life is always beneficial. This includes (but is not limited to), a vegetarian diet, avoiding genetically modified foods, not overeating or eating mindlessly, taking time for rest and relaxation, devoting time to meditation and prayer, practicing yoga, doing selfless deeds, indulging in forms of art (such as playing music, dancing, writing, painting, etc.), keeping your thoughts pure and positive, and surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting environments and people.

If you notice areas of your life that are too rajasic or tamasic, strive to balance or eliminate these. Maybe you are even too sattvic and could benefit from adding a little rajas or even tamas to your life. Where any of these gunas are producing undesirable effects, a change is needed.

For more information check out the following links:

The Mind Types (Gunas)

The Three Grades “Gunas” In The Ayrurvedic Diet

The Gunas: Nature’s Three Fundamental Forces