The Sanskrit word “Guna” translates literally to ‘strands’ or ‘fibers.’ Imagine or visualize a rope. This rope has 3 sections or strands that intertwine together to make the whole.
Balance. Sattva denotes having the natural quality of purity and goodness. Increasing sattva, which should always be our focus, involves reducing the rajas and tamas.
Inertia. Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality. Tamas manifests from ignorance and deludes all beings from their spiritual truths.
Movement. Rajas is a state of energy, action, change, and movement. The nature of Rajas is of attraction, longing, and attachment.
The Gunas – Elemental Attributes Effecting Gunas
In our universe, these elements combine to form three primordial energies – also called doshas – that form and rule our entire universe. The 3 doshas are a combination of the following 5 elements including fire, ether (or space), air, water, and earth.
Pitta [Fire + Water]
Pitta is the dosha of fire and water, which governs digestion and transformation. This could be considered a state of Rajas.
Vata [Air + Ether]
Vata is the dosha composed of air and ether, which governs movement and change. This could be considered a state of Sattva.
Kapha [Earth + Water]
Kapha is the dosha of water and earth, which governs stability and cohesion. This could be considered a state of Tamas.
The Gunas – Illustrated in 3 States of Water
To better illustrate the nature of the Gunas, let’s consider water in its 3 states.
Movement. When water is heated, it remains a liquid and fluid until quite a high temperature is reached. Water could be considered to be in a state of Rajas and the element is Pitta [Fire + Water.]
Personal Account – Rajas
Personally, when I am feeling overwhelmed and am constantly thinking – I say that I am ‘running hot.’ I have a hard time organizing my thoughts, I’m restless, and have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. When I consider the Yama ‘Ahimsa,’ I am literally witnessing myself ‘causing hard or pushing against’ myself. I am pushing and therefore not creating space in my mind or physical state to allow my ‘higher self’ to reveal itself. Like liquid water, I am literally in a state of motion. This is when I am in the state of Rajas. Once I witness that I am in this state, I try my hardest to become aware of the qualities that are perpetuating this state.
When I am in this state, I meditate to help move myself more into a state of Sattva – or balance. I also practice Asanas which encourages inner stillness.
Inertia. When water freezes, its molecules move farther apart, making ice less dense than water. Frozen water is held in a congealed or static configuration. This denotes the qualities of Tamas and the element is Kapha [Earth + Water.]
Personal Account – Tamas
Balance. You cannot see it. When you boil water, the water changes from a liquid to a gas or water vapor – transcending the boundaries of ice and liquid and the limits of gravity, shape, and form. This denotes the qualities of Sattva and the element is Vata [Air + Ether.]