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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.25
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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.26
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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.27
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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.28
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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.29
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
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.30
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

Ayurveda has established the human personalities (mahaprakriti) in three divisions.
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

Sattva is free from defects as it is endowed with auspiciousness. These aspects are actually cultural, social, or moral aspects of life and belong to a higher order of living. In this living the ego is diminished, patience is developed and good and morral behavior is developed. Sattva is associated closely with conscious mind and intelligence. It can be compared to Freud and Western psychologists view of The Super Ego

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

2: MAHENDRA the sovereign type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Has greatness (Mahatmyam), 2: chivalry (Shourya), 3: commanding habits (Ajnya), 4: behaves according to righteous teachings (Satatam Shastram Buddhita),5:  look after his servants well (Bhriyanam Bharanam)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 81
3: VARUNA the Vigorous type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Liking for cold thing (Shitseva), 2: tolerance (Sahisnutvam), 3: graces eye (paingalyam), 4: brown hair (Harikeshata), 5: sweet voice (Priyavaditva)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 82
4: KOUBERA the prosperous type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: impartial (Madhyastatha), 2: tolerant (Sahisnutva), 3: earns and collects wealth (Arthstygamasanchyou), 4: highly fertile (Mahaprasavashaktitvam)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4:83
 5: GANDHARVA the aesthetic type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Loves perfumes and garlands (Gandhmalyapriyatvam), 2: has passion for dancing and music (Nritya Vaditra Kamita), 3:  always likes roaming (Viharshilata)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 84
6: YAMYA the righteous type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: One who does the right thing (Praptakari), 2: has indefatigable energy (Dridhotthano), 3: is fearless (Nirbhayah), 4: has good memory (Smritiman), 5: is clean (Shuchih), 6: and freedom from attachment, infatuation, vanity and jealousy (Ragamohamadadvaisaivarjito)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 85
7: RISHI the divine type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: The perform prayers (Japa). 2: fasting practices (Vrata), 3: celibacy (Brahmacharya), 4: well being activities (Homa), 5: dedicated to studies (Adhyayanesevinam), 5: possesses sense and sciences (Jnyavijnyana Sampanan)
– Susruta Samhita; Sharir Sthan 4: 86
RAJAS is of  6 types of personalities.
8: ASURA the ruler type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Who is wealthy (Aeshavaryavan), 2: fierce looking (Roudra), 3: brave (Shura), 4: full of anger (Chandam), 5: calumnious eats every thing without giving to others (Asruyaka), 6: trickster (Aoupadhika Kapati)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 87
9: SARPA the serpentine type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Sharp (Tikshnam) 2: laborious (Ayasinam), 3: cowardly (Bhirum), 4: full of anger (Chan), 5: shrewd (Mayanitam), 6: is quick in action and behaviour (Viharacharchapalam)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 88
10: SHAKUNAM the eagerly type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Overly sexy (Pravruddhakamasevi), 2: eats incessantly (Chapyajastrahara), 3: is intolerant (Amarsano), 4: and has unsteady mind (Anavasthayi)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4:89
11: RAKSASAM the fiend type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Prefers loneliness EKANTAGRAHITA, 2: terrifying ROUDRA, 3: intolerant of others progress ASUYA, 4: irreligious DHARMABAHYATA, 5: and is liking praisesBHRUSHMATMASTAVASHCHAPI
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 90
12: PAISACHAM the wicked type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Eats food left over by others (Uchichhstaharata), 2: has anger (Taiksnyam), 3:liking for adventure (Sahasapriyata), 4: fondness for women (Strilolupatvam), 5: is shameless (Nairlajjayam)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4:91
13: PRETA the nasty type person.
They have following qualities: –
1: Does not like to give their thing to others (Asamvibhaga), 2: lazy (Alasam), 3: unhappy (Dukhasil) 4: jealous (Asuyakam), 5: greedy (Lolupam), 6: miser (Adataram)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4:92
TAMAS is of 3 personalities
14: PASHAVAH the brute type person.
They have following qualities: -1: Dull grasping power (Durmaghastvam), 2: unintelligent (Mandata), 3: dreams of intercourse daily (Svapne Maithunanityata), 4: is indecisive (Nirakarisnuta)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 93
15: MATSYA the beast type person.
They have following qualities: -1: Fickle (Anavasthita), 2: foolish (Mourkhye), 3: cowardly (Bhirutvam), 4: has affinity for water (Salilarthita), 5: has a tendency to fight with people of similar type (Parasparabhimardasch)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 94
16: VANASPATYO the creature type person.
They have following qualities: -1: Love to be static (Ekastanaratir), 2: devoted to eating and drinking (Nityamahare Kevale Ratah),  3: no taste for pureness, righteousness, passion and wealth (Satvadharmakamathavarjitah)
– Susruta; Sharir Sthan 4: 95
The Traigunya and the Pancamahabhutas
1:The pure quality Sattva is more related with Akasha the space element.
2:The mixed quality Rajas is more related with Vayu the air element.
3:The pure mixed qualities Sattva Rajas are more related with Agni the fire element.
4:The pure lesser qualities Sattva Tamas are more related with Jala the water element.
5:The lesser quality Tamas is more related with Prithvi the earth element.
These are showed the relation between the psyche elements and the physical elements. And also illustrate the impact of each other. For psychotherapeutic, as well as through (ahara) food and (vihara) lifestyle purpose we can apply the combination and individual as well. This is all in the view of therapeutics, they show the general mode of treatment that should be provided for the types of people. It is said that this knowledge is essential for all Ayurvedic physicians. It can be applied in Yoga as well as Ayurveda although you are not likely to see a student walk in your door or class that is Tamasik.
The mind, mental temperaments and diseases of the mind are discussed and described vividly in Ayurveda. The mind is one of the underlying layers of disease having its own vitiating elements.
Food intake provides us with our physical health, this is proven even by Western methods. The fault in the Western approach is that they see no depth to how food reacts to the body and more so the mind. In Ayurveda, this is the fundamental idea. Lifestyle also has an effect on the body and the mind. In Ayurveda the details of how these concepts work is what makes Ayurveda last the test of time. Everything is poison and everything is medicine. Everything, everything, everything in this cosmos is made of the five elements. What makes it poison or medicine is just dependent upon for who (what their own unique balance point and present imbalance is), where (environment), when (season and age), what (what the substance is made of and how it is being processed as well as taken).
Food affects the mind. Being that food is so dear to most of us, it is also of Sattvik, Rajasik and Tamasik natures. The foods that provide health and vitality, energy and joy, are delicious and bland as well as substantial and agreeable are liked by a person of Sattvik nature. Foods that are bitter, sour, pungent, salty, over hot, dry and possess burning qualities produce misery, grief and sickness. They are desired by a Rajasik person. Foods that are stale, flat, putrid unclean and corrupt are liked by a Tamasik person. The diet can change the nature of a person. A person of a Tamasik nature that consumes Sattvik foods will increase their Sattvik nature. A person desiring good health must take a diet of the purest foods that will also help with the purification of the mind.
The subtlety of all food can be explained by the experience of what happens after eating asparagus. Believe it or not it only takes 15 minutes for the odor in your urine to smell funny from the metabolite called methanethiol that is in asparagus. The same happens if you rub a garlic clove on the bottom of your foot, you can taste it in your mouth 15 minutes later. The effect of food goes much father than this. We just don’t realize it.
This is the basis of Ayurvedic medicine. The panca maha bhutas (the five elements) is what construct everything and our body/mind as well. The traigunya predominate the these panca maha bhutas and so they predominate over the whole of human life.
The traigunya are always in a dynamic equilibrium. They oppose each other and are also dependent upon each other at the same time. There are so many ways in which this dependency plays out. Start to see life with these lenses and see what you experience. So many gunas, so little time.

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