In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna describes the three Gunas (Qualities) of Prakriti (Material Nature) to Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. These are called the Sattva (goodness & harmony), Rajas (activity & passion) and Tamas (darkness & chaos). All activities of the living beings are under the influence of a unique mix of these three Gunas. They affect our emotional, physiological and energetic states. The influx of all these three modes keeps us in Maya, or illusion.
Human beings, through the process of Yoga, have the unique ability to consciously alter the Gunas within oneself to lead a more balanced, harmonious and peaceful life. Essentially awareness of the Gunas tells us whether we are genuinely moving forward in life (sattva), running in place (rajas), or losing our way (tamas).
Like seen in the above painting, the three modes of nature (Gunas of Prakriti) control all living beings like a string pulls a puppet. The quality of food we eat, the kind of association we have, all determine what mode dominates our life. What are these energies and how do they affect us? Let us find out.
It is the lowest of the three modes, characterised by darkness, inertia and inactivity. It’s nature is gross, heavy and dense. It is the mode of Ignorance, which keeps a person away from spiritual progress. Qualities such as laziness, depression, doubt and guilt are found in the one dominated by Tamas. Such a person may have addictions (such as alcohol, smoking and drugs) and is full of sadness and helplessness. Tamasic foods are stale, lifeless and impure, entertainment is mindless and intoxicating. It is the appeal of lethargy and procrastination.
Rajas is a higher Guna than Tamas. It is the state of energy, action, change and movement. Rajas breeds attraction, longing and attachments, binding us to the fruits of our work. Qualities such as anger, anxiety, fear and restlessness are found in the one dominated by Rajas. It is the mode of Passion and is higher than Tamas, because it makes one move out of inactivity. There is unsteadiness and agitation. Spicy food, for example, is Rajasic, which is aggravating.
This is the highest of the three Gunas, characterised by Goodness. It is the state of harmony, balance, intelligence and joy. It is like a transparent glass which allows the light of consciousness to shine through. It is the most basic state to be in, in order to aspire for spiritual growth and enlightenment. This Guna promotes life, energy, health and contentment. Love, compassion, friendliness and focus are other qualities associated with Sattva.
The goal of Yoga is to gradually rise above these three Gunas and know the true nature of the self, which is beyond these three modes. When one is freed from the bondages of the physical body which brings birth, disease, old age and death, by transcending the three modes of nature, one is truly liberated.