Sattva, Rajas and Tamas: The traigunya or three attributes Part 1
The fourfold order was created by Me according to the division of gunas and actions. Though I am its author, know Me to be the non-doer, immutable
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, verse 13
Traigunya vishaya veda nistraigunyo bhavarjuna
“O Arjun, the Vedas deal with the three gunas (satva, raja and tama). You should transcend these three gunas.”
Bhagavad Gita II-45
Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the story of Krishna one of the “bibles” of vedic literature. These verses start to give an impression of the traigunya of sattva, rajas and tamas:
vanam tu sattviko vaso / gramo rajasa ucyate
tamasam dyuta-sadanam / man-niketam tu nirgunam
To live in the forest is in sattva-guna, to live in the village is in rajo-guna, to live in a gambling house (city) is in tamo-guna and to live where I live (the temple) is nirguna (without form).
sattvikah karako ‘sangi / ragandho rajasah smritah
tamasah smriti-vibhrashto / nirguno mad-apashrayah
The doer who is not attached to the result is in sattva-guna, the doer who is blinded by attachment is in rajo-guna, the doer who has lost his memory is in tamo-guna and the doer who has taken complete shelter of Me is nirguna.
sattviky adhyatmiki shraddha / karma-shraddha tu rajasi
tamasy adharme ya shraddha / mat-sevayam tu nirguna
Faith related to the self is in sattva-guna, faith related to karma (action) is in rajo-guna, faith related to irreligious activities is in tamo-guna and faith related to My service is nirguna.
pathyam putam anayas tam / aharyam sattvikam smritam
rajasam cendriya-preshtham / tamasam carttidashuci
Food which is wholesome, pure and easily available is in sattva guna. Food which is pungent, sour and gives pleasure to the senses is in rajo-guna. Food which is impure and the cause of misery is in tamo-guna and that food which is offered to Me is nirguna.
sattvikam sukham atmottham / vishayottham tu rajasam
tamasam moha-dainyottham / nirgunam mad-apashrayam
Happiness which comes from the self is in sattva-guna, that which comes from sense objects is in rajo-guna, that which comes from delusion and depravity is in tamo-guna and that happiness which comes in relation to Me is nirguna.
After explaining objects which exemplify the three gunas in the above mentioned Shrimad-Bhagavatam shlokas (11.25.23- 29), It is further explained how to attain perfection in realizing the nature (nistraigunya-bhava) of an object which is beyond the three gunas (nirguna-vastu). He says that only by performing nirguna-bhakti can one conquer the influence of the gunas that exist within oneself. This is stated in the following shlokas:
dravyam deshah phalam kalo / jnanam karma ca karakah
shraddhavasthakritir nishtha / traigunyah sarva eva hi
Everything material such as the substance, place, results, time, knowledge, action, the agent, faith, situation, form and determination are all traigunya.
Okay, now that we have that straight lets dive deeper into them for more clarity.
The term “guna” in sanskrit literature has so many meanings as do most words in sanskrit when translated to English. The main definition of those meanings are a quality, good or bad: generally a good quality, merit, virtue, excellence, eminence, effect, result, efficacy, a thread, instrument rope, cord, bow string, the string of a musical instrument, attribute and property in general. A guna denotes property of all substances. It meanings a constituent or ingredient of nature. The mahatraigunya are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. They go together with the five objects of sense form, taste, touch, smell and sound. Although these are gunas as well.
When talking about the mind substance “manas” it is also recognized as a quality (Sattva Rajas and Tamas). When talking about the shad rasa (six tastes) they are attributes. (dry or wet, cold or hot, heavy or light) Attributes remains as attributes but are distinctive to matter. They do not exist on their own but are qualities of matter. They also define only a substance of matter. An attribute does not exist within another attribute. They are dependent to substance, not possesing quality, devoid of action and are cause in production of similar attributes. In this they are always secondary as substance and being dependence is primary. Action and attribute do not exist in attributes and actions.
In ayurveda, the traigunya (three attributes) are three constituents of primordial matter and a psychic concept used in conjunction with the metaphysical concepts of panca maha bhuta (five elements). They all originate in Sankhya theory of the creation of the world in consciousness and how it manifests to the material reality. (see article of Sankhya for more on this) In a review of this, Mahat or the potentiality principle manifests out of the union of Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (Nature) that only unite from the Avyakta (unmanifest). From that, Mahat the traigunya are formed. Mahat is divided into three sub catagories: Vaikarika (satvika), Taijasa (Rajasa) and Bhutadi (Tamasa). In this they remain in a balanced state (Samyavashta) and the panca maha bhutas are predominated by the three traigunya. All of these; Purusha (soul), Traigunya (three attributes), Panca maha bhutas (five elements) and tridosha (vata, pitta and kapha) are spiritual, psychic, structural and functional fundamentals of human life. The traigunya effect the physical and mental development of a being.
Tamas and Rajas are manas (mind) doshas (imbalances or defects of the mind). They create the imbalanced ailments of anger, greed, passion, attachment, excitement, ego, envy, pride, worry, grief, fear anxiety, etc…. Tamas cannot create without rajas so these two are dependent upon each other. The creation of pleasure and pain and infatuation and are meant to serve to illumine, actuate and restrain. The traigunya act in these creations in fashion that sattva is free from defects and is endowed with auspiciousness. Rajas is the principle of activity and motion and tamas manifests as opposition, heaviness and resistance to motion and activity.
There are three physical Doshas (vitiating elements), Vata (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth) that vitiate the body. There are two mental Doshas (vitiating elements) that vitiate the mind. Vitiation of the body and the mind result in the manifestation of disease – there is no disease without their vitiation.
– Charaka Sharirasthana 4.34
1: Sattva – the pure humane personality.
2: Rajas – the mixed humane personality.
3: Tamas – the lesser humane personality.
These three in man manifest these qualities:
The pure qualities of Sattva are (12): – 1: Kindness (Anarishanyam), 2: Discretion in the use of articles (Samvibhagaruchita), 3: Forgiveness (Titikshna),4: Truthfulness (Satyam), 5: Righteousness (Dharma), 6: Belief in God Astikyam), 7: Knowledge (Jnyanam), 8: Wisdom (Buddhi), 9: Intelligence (Medha), 10: Memory (Smriti), 11: Firmness (Dhriti), 12: Non attachment (Anabhisangshcha)
– Susruta; Sharirsthan 1:23
– Charaka Sharirasthana 4:37
The wrathful qualities of Rajas are (11): – 1: Excessive miseries (Dukhabahulata), 2: roving-spirit (Atanshilata), 3: impatient (Adhriti), 4: pride (Ahankara), 5: falseness (Anrutikriva), 6: unkindness (akrunyam), 7: arrogant (Dambho), 8: vanity (Mano), 9: pleasure (Harsah), 10: lust (Kama), 11: anger (Krodhashcha)
– Charaka Sharirasthana 4:38
Activity, restlessness, and pain, remaining active or to be active, causing, instigating, inducing or stimulus of the man which possesses it. Resulting in misery as it is the origin of anger, greed, passion, attachment, excitement, ego, envy, pride, worry, grief, fear anxiety, etc…. Characteristics in man would be seen as bravery, cruelty, envy, indulgence in self praise, anger, intolerance and fear. It is due to Rajas why a man is in bondage of karma and the cycle of life and death as Rajas instigates Sattva and Tamas in their actions to create good or bad actions. This is why meditation is stillness of mind and action and silence and why it is so powerful when not a heady, mentalist game. It is also Yoga is not a physical exercise based upon western concepts of exertion and health as you see how that will just create more Rajas, karma and etc….. This is also why Rajas is known as misery creating in its results. Rajas can be compared to Freud and Western psychologists view of The Ego.
The ignorant qualities Tamas are (8); – 1: Despondency (Visaditavam), 2: atheism (Nastikyam), 3: unrighteousness (Adharmashilata), 4: unintelligence (Buddhenirrodho), 5: ignorance (Ajnynam), 6: dull headedness (Durmegha), 7: lethargy (Akarmashilata), 8: sleepiness (Nidralutvam)
– Charaka Sharirasthana 4:39
Tamas is the cause of ignorance, coarseness, stupidity, laziness, lack of sensitivity, and indifference. It is in opposition to Sattvik and Rajasik symptoms alike. It results in ignorance and heaviness as it opposes knowledge and lightness, produces the nature of sorrow and sadness, laziness, sleep, inaccuracy, which all lead to the bondage (a state of being greatly constrained by circumstances or obligations) of a being, inactivity, motionlessness creates unconscious substance. Development of intelligence is effected by Tamas due to the heaviness and sorrow that are it’s special features. The heavy properties tend to pull down the bearer to lower stages of society and living being involved in immoral, abominable and unsocial activities. It can be compared to Freud and Western psychologists view of The Id.
Each of these 3 mahaprakriti have sub categories for further definition:
SATTVA is of 7 personalities:
1: BRAHMA the virtuous type person.
They have following qualities: -1: purity (Shoucha), 2: religious (Astikyam), 3: learn knowledges (Abhyasovedesu), 4: worships elders (Gurupujanam), 5: is a good host (Priyatithiva), 6: performs well-being activity (Yajna)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 8
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 82
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 87
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 90