Gunas in Yoga Meditation

QUICK EXPLANATION ON GUNAS

Guna = attribute, quality, tendency, or primal element.
 
There are three gunas= tamas, rajas, sattva; these are the three building blocks of manifestation or the three attributes of prakriti (subtlest matter), these three principles are combined in various ways to make up apparent reality. These qualities can be seen in all levels of manifestation, from the most subtlest to the grossest; everything is made of sattva, rajas and tamas.
 

 
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ON THIS PAGE:
GUNAS: PRACTICAL
MORE ON GUNAS
YOGA SUTRAS ON GUNAS
SWAMI RAMA ON GUNAS
SWAMI JNANESHVARA ON GUNAS
OTHER TEXTS ON GUNAS

 

GUNAS: PRACTICAL

Observe the gunas
We want to become aware of the meaning of each of the gunas, not merely by knowing its definition but by being able to observe them in our daily life. Therefore choose for a day or a week to be aware of one of the gunas as you go through activities, situations, and conversations. Observe how this guna is related to actions, thoughts and speech. For example when you feel lazy, dull, inert, or grounded it is tamas; when you feel energetic, rushed, all-over-the-place, or full of attachment it is rajas; when you feel serene, calm, and balanced it is sattva. You will discover that everything in the apparent manifestation is related to the gunas. Thus it is useful to find your own examples of the gunas which allows you to have direct knowledge of this concept of the gunas. This expanded awareness about the gunas then also brings the opportunity to play with the gunas and to regulate them.
 
Sattva preferably the predominant guna
Of all the three gunas is sattva the one that we would like to cultivate. Is it the quality that makes buddhi sharp enough to penetrate all the levels of our being, until it becomes aware of itself and even sattvic buddhi need to be let go of. But until then one needs to purify all the levels of one’s being so that sattva predominates. But do not think that the other two gunas are bad, both rajas and tamas can be off service for sattva. Tamas brings stability and rajas can be used wisely when you need the energy to do something.

 

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DAILY OBSERVATION AND YOGIC SELF-AWARENESS ASSESSMENT

Eventually the gunas will swim around in your awareness all the time, as they become a part of constant self-awareness. Also, becoming aware of the gunas will have the effect that you will increase your use of these words in your daily vocabulary to express yourself and you will discover how the gunas relates to other concepts, processes, or insights. For example, you may come to see that when you feel rajasic, which is one of the gunas, you may also think of ahamkara, or raga and dvesha. Or you find a relationship between avidya and the gunas. Eventually you will discover how all these concepts dance together and coming to know this dance will guide you towards that which is beyond all the concepts. This is because as you increase your self-awareness, you will discover that everything you can observe is not who you truly are, you are not the gunas, you are the One that is able to witness all these concepts. Therefore the gunas itself have to be transcended, who you really are is beyond the gunas. This will increase the non-attachment towards the gunas itself, while you can be in awe of the beauty of the Divine dance of Consciousness that appears to play as the gunas. Therefore practicing self-awareness is actually practicing not-self-awareness by which the True Self will eventually reveal itself.
 
Look at the self-assessment PDF (assessment-yymmdd.pdf) and a PDF that includes daily internal dialogue and daily observation (sumseven-yymmdd.pdf) on the website of www.abhyasaashram.org (when you are on this page scroll all the way down to find the downloadable PDFs) These PDFs can be used as tools to explore and expand your understanding on the gunas.

 

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MORE ON GUNAS

Gunas are like volume-knobs of the stereo of prakriti
Swami Jnaneshvara once beautifully explained the gunas as three volume-knobs on a stereo. As a yogi, a sadhaka, we would like to have full control of the three knobs of rajas, tamas, and sattva. We want to know what every knob is, how it functions, and what kind of influence it has on the other two gunas. In this way we know and can judge what kind of combination is most useful in a particular situation.
For example when you go and sit still for meditation, you would like to be able to increase sattva even more, make tamas and rajas very quiet. And when meditation time is finish sattva can remain being active (knob is turned open) but rajas can be increased so that the daily duties can be performed.
 
Eventually all gunas have to be transcended
When you gain more and more understanding on how the gunas operate, you will come to see that being able to adjust the gunas as needed is not the end. As the gunas are part of prakriti (the subtlest matter) we need to transcend them all. Our true nature is not sattvic, is it that which is beyond all three gunas, which is purusha, or pure Consciousness.

 

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YOGASUTRAS ON GUNAS

1.16 Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (gunas), achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya).
tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam
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2.15 A wise, discriminating person sees all worldly experiences as painful, because of reasoning that all these experiences lead to more consequences, anxiety, and deep habits (samskaras), as well as acting in opposition to the natural qualities.
parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih guna vrittih virodhat cha duhkham eva sarvam Vivekinah
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2.19 There are four states of the elements (gunas), and these are: 1) diversified, specialized, or particularized (vishesha), 2) undiversified, unspecialized, or unparticularized (avishesha), 3) indicator-only, undifferentiated phenomenal, or marked only (linga-matra), and 4) without indicator, noumenal, or without mark (alingani).
vishesha avishesha linga-matra alingani guna parvani
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4.13 Whether these ever-present characteristics or forms are manifest or subtle, they are composed of the primary elements called the three gunas.
te vyakta suksmah guna atmanah
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4.32 Also resulting from that dharma-meghah samadhi (4.29), the three primary elements or gunas (4.13-4.14) will have fulfilled their purpose, cease to transform into further transformations, and recede back into their essence.
tatah kritarthanam parinama krama samaptih gunanam
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4.34 When those primary elements involve, or resolve themselves back into that out of which they emerged, there comes liberation, wherein the power of pure consciousness becomes established in its true nature.
purusha artha sunyanam gunanam pratiprasavah kaivalyam svarupa pratistha va chiti shaktih iti
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SWAMI RAMA ON GUNAS

”Prakriti: “That which makes forth.” In Sankhya and Yoga philosophy it is the material and mental creation with which pure spirit (purusha) has falsely identified itself on account of ego, the “I-maker” (ahamkara). The goal of yoga is the isolation (kaivalya) of purusha from prakriti – the identification of pure spirit with itself. Prakriti is said to have three attributes (gunas) or tendencies; balance or purity (sattva), energy (rajas), and inertia (tamas). Everything in the material universe is said to be some combination of these three tendencies.”
~ The Royal Path pg. 130
 
It is true that a human being is a compound of three qualities – the animal aspect within him, the human in him, and the divine aspect in him. In the Bhagavad Gita, these three aspects are referred to as tamas, rajas, and sattva. When the aspirant learns to tame the animal within and expresses his creative, human potential through mind, action, and speech, then he becomes fully civilized and is prepared to attain divinity. The divine qualities in the human being remain latent as long as the human and animal qualities remain predominant.
The concepts of tamas, rajas, and sattva are also known as the three gunas, or the three principles that combine in various ways to make up apparent reality.
~ Wisdom of the Ancient Sages pg. 49
 
‘Gunas are interacting with gunas’
3.27 With regards to the actions being performed by the gunas of Prakriti, jointly and severally, one whose nature is confused by the ego believes, ‘I am the agent of action.’
3.28 He, however, who knows the reality of the divisions of gunas and actions, O mighty-armed One, knows, ‘The gunas are interacting with gunas.’ Knowing this he does not become attached.
“Prakriti has three qualities called gunas. Those three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas—are distinct from one another yet function together. Actually all actions performed by any aspect of nature are led by these three qualities or gunas. The qualities of each object are different from one another. So when two objects come into contact, there is a confrontation, and as a result they create conflict. In this way the gunas are the source of action in the universe. The three qualities exist together in the human being as well as in every aspect of nature, but when one of them becomes predominant, one’s actions take on the quality of the predomintant guna. A deed performed in a state of tranquility is a consequence of sattva guna. The deed in which rajas is predominant is performed with a desire to reap the fruits. Tamas leads one to sloth and thus to inaction. No one remains without doing action, but when one does action with an inert mind, there is no concentration. Therefore there is total disintegration and chaos.
By studying and understanding these verses, we can realize that we are mistaken to feed our egos, deluding ourselves that we are doing great deeds or serving humanity. A child plucks a beautiful flower and hands it to his mother saying, “Here, Mommy, I am giving this to you,” as though the gift comes from him. But the gift of the flower was created by nature out of the gunas, and the child, also motivated by the gunas, is merely transporting it from one place to another, though claiming that it is his to give. The ego, being the predominant part of the internal organization, is deluded by its false identification with the qualities of the Self: it believes that it (the ego) is all-powerful and all-knowing, and that creates the bondage. But when one shakes loose all the fetters by becoming ware of the Eternal, freedom is attained.
~ Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita

 

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SWAMI JNANESHVARA ON GUNAS

Read the whole article “Yoga” on www.swamij.com
The Three Gunas of Yoga: All of the subconscious mental impressions are made of the same stuff. There is no more straightforward, simple English way to say it. All of these subconscious mental impressions manifest from the three primal elements or gunas. The three gunas all manifest together, and the result is the appearance of a single object, rather than seeing the parts which make up the whole. Only the composite is seen, not the components. The subconscious impressions (which are all constructed from these three gunas) are all witnessed by pure consciousness or purusha (Yoga Sutra 4.18). In these extremely subtle experiences or realizations, one comes to see that there is really very little to know (Yoga Sutra 4.31), and gradually the three gunas recede back into the prakriti from which they arose, along with the realization of liberation or kaivalya (Yoga Sutra 4.34).
 
Read the whole article “Witnessing” on www.swamij.com
Cultivate sattvic mind: We want to cultivate the Sattvicor Illuminated state of mind, rather than a mind filled with Inertia or Negative Activity. The three gunasare said to be the building blocks of the universe, and at the same time are qualities of grosser levels of reality. For example, one might eat more Sattvic food as an aid to meditation, or create a Sattvic environment. Here, we are talking about cultivating Sattvic thought patterns.

 

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OTHER TEXTS ON GUNAS

Bhagavad Gita
From the Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Rama
2.45 The subject of the Vedas is the world consisting of the three gunas. O Arjuna, be free of the constituent gunas, free of the pairs of opposites, dwell in the eternal essence, disinterested in worldly and other-worldly success, having cultivated the Self.
 
3.5 No one can remain without performing actions even for a moment. Every creature is helplessly made to perform actions by the gunas born of nature.
 
3.27 With regards to the actions being performed by the gunas of Prakriti, jointly and severally, one whose nature is confused by the ego believes, ‘I am the agent of action.’
 
3.28 He, however, who knows the reality of the divisions of gunas and actions, O mighty-armed One, knows, ‘The gunas are interacting with gunas.’ Knowing this he does not become attached.
 
3.29 Those who are confused by the gunas of Prakriti become attached to the actions of the gunas. One who knows the complete reality should not cause conflict in the minds of dull-witted, little-knowing ones.
 
3.37 This desire, this is anger, born of the guna called rajas, consumer of much, very evil; know it to be your enemy here in the world [this is the answer to the question of Arjuna; Now propelled by whom does this person commit sin even not wanting to, o Krishna, as though impelled by force?)]
 
4.13 I have created the four-fold division of humanity ([caste system] on the basis of their qualities and actions. Though I am its creator, know Me [Brahman] to be the immutable one who does not become an agent of action.
 
7.13 This entire world, deluded by three states constituted of gunas, does not recognize Me [Brahman] as the immutable One beyond them.
 
7.14 This divine maya of Mine, consisting of gunas, is difficult to transcend. Only they who surrender themselves to Me [Brahman] go across this maya
 
(a cluster of verses that beautifully talk of Brahman the Non-dual Reality)
13.13-17 That which is the worthy object of knowledge I shall teach you, knowing which, one attains immortality. It is beginningless, supreme Brahman, which is said to be neither existent nor non-existent. With hands and feet in all directions, with eyes, heads, and faces in all directions, having ears everywhere, He dwells covering everything in the world. Appearing as though having attributes of all the senses, yet devoid of all the senses, unattached yet bearer of all, free of gunas yet receiver of gunas, immobile yet moving inside and outside beings, unknowable because of Its subtlety, It dwells far and is near. Undivided in the beings yet remaining as though divided, bearer of all the beings is that object of knowledge, the consumer and also the creator.
 
13.20 Know the primordial nature Prakriti as well as the conscious principle Purusha both to be beginningless. Know the gunas as well as the product (vikaras) to be born of Prakriti.
 
13.22 THe conscious spirit Purusha, only dwelling within Prakriti perceives the Prakriti-bound gunas. The cause of His birth in the good and bad bodies is His connection with the gunas.
 
13.24 He who knows the conscious spirit Purusha as well as the primordial nature Prakriti together with te attributes (gunas), even though operating in every way, he is not bound again.
 
14.5 Sattva, rajas, tamas—these attributes born of Prakriti bind the immutable body-bearer in the body, O Mighty-armed One.
 
14.6 Of these, sattva, illuminator and healthy because of its immaculateness, binds through the attraction of pleasure as well as the attraction of knowledge, O sinless One.
 
14.7 Know rajas to have the nature of attraction and color, producing craving and attachment. O Son of Kunti, it binds the body-bearer through attachment to action.
 
14.8 Know tamas to be born of ignorance, the stupefier of all body-owners. O Descendant of Bharata, it binds through negligence, sloth, and sleep.
 
14.9 sattva causes attachment to happiness, rajas to action, O Descendant of Bharata. Tamas, however, veiling knowledge causes attachment to inattention.
 
14.10 Overcoming rajas and tamas, sattva prevails, O Descendant of Bharata; rajas prevails overcoming sattva and tamas; similarly tamas prevails overcoming sattva and rajas.
 
14.11 When the light of knowledge waxes in all the doors of the body, then one should know sattva to have increased.
 
14.12 Greed, activity, the initiation of action, absence of peace, competitiveness—these are born when rajas has increased, O Bull among Bharatas.
 
14.13 Absence of light, lack of initiative, inattention as well as stupefaction—these are produced when tamas has increased, O Prince of the Kurus.
 
14.14 When a body-bearer comes to death during an increase of sattva, then he attains the immaculate worlds of those of high knowledge.
 
14.15 Upon dying in rajas, one born among those who are drawn to action. Similarly, dying in tamas, one is born among stupefied species.
 
14.16 The fruit of a meritorious act is sattvic and stainless, but the fruit of rajas is pain, and the fruit of tamas is ignorance.
 
14.17 Knowledge is born from sattva and greed from rajas; inattention and stupefaction as well as ignorance arise from tamas.
 
14.18 The sattva-dwellers rise upward; the rajasic remain in the middle; tamasic goes, remaining under the influence of base qualities, move downward.
 
14.19 When the seer observes no agents of action other than the gunas and knows the transcendent beyond the gunas, he attains the state of being Me.
 
14.20 The body-bearer, transcending these three body-creating gunas, freed from sorrows called birth, old age, and death, enjoys immortality
 
14.21 With what characteristics is that one endowed who has transcended the gunas, O Lord? What is his conduct? Having transcended the gunas, in what manner does he conduct himself?
 
14.23 He who sites in neutrality is not move by the gunas; he observes merely that ‘they operate with one another’ and does not respond.
 
14.24+25 Alike to pain and pleasure, Self-dwelling, beholding a lump of clay, stone, and nugget of gold as the same, holding pleasant and unpleasant as equal, endowed with wisdom, alike to praise or censure, alike in honor and dishonor, equal to the friendly or hostile sides, renouncing all endeavor, he is said to have transcended the gunas.
 
14.26 And he who serves Me with an undeviated yoga of devotion, fully transcending the gunas, he is fit to become Brahman.
 
15.2 Above and below are spread out its branches, grown through the gunas, with object of senses as the shoots; and the roots are spread out below, resulting in the bondage of actions in the human world.
 
15.10 The stupefied ones do not serve Him [Brahman], whether endowed with gunas, He is departing or staying or experiencing. Only those with the eyes of knowledge truly see.
 
18.19 The knowledge, action, and doer are said to be of three types through the distinction of gunas, as it is taught in the way of discriminating gunas correctly. Hear of these also.
 
18.20 That whereby one sees a single, immutable aspect in all beings, undivided in the divided, know that to be the sattvic knowledge.
 
18.21 When one knows the knowledge and all the separate kinds of aspects, each divided separately among all beings, know that to be the rajasic knowledge.
 
18.22 That which is attached to a single effect as though it were the entire, without proper reasoning, devoid of essential meaning and reality, and narrow in scope is said to be tamasic [knowledge].
 
18.23 An act performed devoid of attachment and without attraction and aversion, by one desiring no fruit, is called sattvic.
 
18.24 That act, however, which is performed by one desirous of fruit and possessed with ego with much exertion of many kinds, that is called rajasic.
 
18.25 Without foreseeing the result, loss, violence, or capacity, the act that is initiated out of delusion is called tamasic.
 
18.26 Liberated from attachment, not uttering ‘I’, endowed with the power to sustain and enthuse, unaffected in fulfillment or failure, such an actor is said to be sattvic.
 
18.27 Attached, desirous of the fruit of action, greedy, inclined to violence, impure, possessed by exhilaration and depression, such an actor is said to be rajasic.
 
18.28 Not joined in yoga, unrefined, unbending, a roque, harming others, lazy, always depressed, a procrastinator, such an actor is said to be tamasic.
 
18.29 Now hear the threefold division of intelligence and sustenance by their gunas, being taught in entirety and separately, O Arjuna.
 
18.30 Ordinance and prohibition, what ought to be done or not to be done, dangerous and nondangerous, bondage and liberation—the intelligence that knows theses, O Son of Pritha, is the sattvic one.
 
18.31 That by which one knows incorrectly virtue and vice, what ought to be done or ought not to be done, O Son of Pritha, is rajasic.
 
18.32 That intelligence, which, covered by darkness, believes vice to be virtue, and all the matters opposite of their nature, O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.
 
18.33 That undeviating steadfastness (dhriti) which sustains activities of mind, prana, and senses through yoga, is, O Pritha, a sattvic one.
 
18.34 That by which one sustains virtue, desire, and worldly success, desiring fruits incidentally in the context, that steadfastness (dhriti) is rajasic.
 
18.35 That by which someone devoid of intuitive wisdom does not give up sleep, fear, grief, and depression, that steadfastness (dhriti), O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.
 
18.36 Now hear from Me the three kinds of happiness in which one delights through practice ad definitely finds the end of sorrow.
 
18.37 that which initially is like poison but is in effect like elixir, that happiness is called sattvic born of the pleasantness of one’s intelligence.
 
18.38 That which appears initially like elixir through the union of senses and their objects, but in effect is like poison, that happiness is considered rajasic.
 
18.39 That happiness which both initially and in the end result deludes one’s self, arising from sleep, laziness, and inattention, that is said to be tamasic.
 
18.40 There is nothing in the earth, in heaven, or even among gods that may be free of these nature-born gunas.
 
Vivekachoodamini, Adi Shankaracharya
Translated by Swami Madhavananda, Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta
104. Know that it is egoism which, identifying itself with the body, becomes the doer or experiencer, and in conjunction with the Gunas such as the Sattva, assumes the three different states.
 
108. Avidya (Nescience) or Maya, called also the Undifferentiated, is the power of the Lord. She is without beginning, is made up of the three Gunas and is superior to the effects (as their cause). She is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects She produces. It is She who brings forth this whole universe.
 
110. Maya can be destroyed by the realization of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination of the rope. She has her Gunas as Rajas, Tamas and Sattva, named after their respective functions.
 
120. This Undifferentiated, spoken of as the compound of the three Gunas, is the causal body of the soul. Profound sleep is its special state, in which the functions of the mind and all its organs are suspended.
 
302. The treasure of the Bliss of Brahman is coiled round by the mighty and dreadful serpent of egoism, and guarded for its own use by means of its three fierce hoods consisting of the three Gunas. Only the wise man, destroying it by severing its three hoods with the great sword of realization in accordance with the teachings of the Shrutis, can enjoy this treasure which confers bliss.
 
Panchadasi, Sri Vidyaranya Swami
Translated by Swami Swahananda and Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai (Translation under Fair Use, and believed to be in the public domain.)
1.40. By discrimination of the subtle body (and recognition of its variable, transient character), the sheaths of the mind, intellect, and vital airs are understood to be different from the Self, for the sheaths are conditions of the three gunas, and differ from each other (qualitatively and quantitatively).
 
6.103. The Shruti declares that Ishvara is the Lord of Jivas and also of Prakriti. He controls the Gunas too. In the Aranyaka part of the Shruti He is respectfully called the Inner Controller.

 

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Yoga Meditation for Self-realization

This site is an offering to those who deeply long to experience Pure Consciousness that is known as Divine Mother or Tripura (‘Tri’ means three, and ‘pura’ means city); She is the one that lives in the three cities of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep. Temporary leaving behind the three cities and residing only in Pure Consciousness is called Self-realization. Another name for this realization is Yoga; the union of the individual self with the universal Self; the union of Atman with Brahman, or Shiva with Shakti; or the dis-union of Purusha and Prakriti. Some might think of Tripura as an anthropomorphic being but She is not, She is the Non-dual Reality in which all appearing manifestation seems to exist. All that is, is the Non-dual Reality.
 
On this site the teachings of Yoga, Vedanta, and Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra are offered to guide you in learning to meditate directly on Tripura by using modern ways of communication such as through animations, while preserving the ancient wisdom. These teaching have been given to us by an ancient lineage of meditation masters, lovingly called the Tradition of the Himalayan masters. These practices lead us to a space of stillness and silence where Yoga meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer converge into deep devotion and constant awareness of Tripura. At the end of the journey when all efforts are exhausted, grace will dawn. This is known as shaktipata, through which the final barrier is removed, which is the piercing of the bindu, and leads to the direct experience of Non-dual Reality. This finally reveals an unimaginable Joy from knowing the Non-dual Reality or Pure Consciousness!

 

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