What are the gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas

(Featured image by Vanessa Bezman.)

There are three gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

Guna means quality, virtue or merit — essentially, they are responsible for our dominant traits and behaviours.

Every object, every being is made up of parts Sattva, Rajas and Tamas under the law of Prakriti (nature).

In humans, all three gunas manifest differently according to spiritual purity and progress.

The gunas determine our primordial nature, including our actions, behaviours, attitudes and the choices we make.

It is difficult — some say, impossible — to exist in the material world without the gunas; they create desire, which lead to attachment and keep us bound to this world.

Source: explorevedanta.com

Sattva is pure, illuminating and free from illness. It binds the soul through attachment with happiness and knowledge. Traditionally, beings in the higher worlds are dominant in Sattva.

The Vedanta Vision Society explains it as: “Sattva is where you have a totality view of things… Your mind is totally calm, your intellect is creative, thinking clearly and therefore you come up with solutions.”

Rajas is activity, full of passion and is born out of thrishna (intense desire) and sanga (attachment). It binds the soul through material possessions, which can lead to chaos and confusion. Beings in the middle worlds are mostly rajas.

The Vedanta Vision Society calls it: “In the state of Rajas, there is partial awakening. You are aware of yourself. You are aware of your environment, but that vision is very myopic and restrictive.”

Tamas is darkness and crudeness. It is ajñāna-jam (born of ignorance) and mohanam (the cause of delusion). It binds the soul through recklessness, indolence and sleep. Beings in the lowest worlds are predominantly Tamas.

The Vedanta Vision Society describes it as: “When you are in the state of Tamas, you are in the state of sleep. You are asleep to your potential, you are asleep to your talent, and you are asleep to the world. You are definitely asleep to what is beyond the world.”

What does this all mean?

According to the Bhagavad Gita, when Sattva is dominant, the human body radiate the illumination of knowledge. A sattvic person, after death, can attain higher worlds, returning to be born among pious people.


When Rajas takes control, greed, worldliness and a penchant for selfish activity arises. After death, a rajasic person remains in the middle worlds, being reborn in a family attached to actions.

The increase of Tamas brings a flourish of darkness, inactivity, recklessness and delusion. This person sinks to the lowest regions and when reborn, takes birth among the ignorant and the deluded.

The goal is not to encourage everyone to become sattvic or eliminate the other two qualities. Why? Because being sattvic still means to be attached.

The gunas are responsible for our ignorance, delusion, bondage and suffering on Earth. When they are active, it means we are bound to something.


We cannot be free from the cycle of birth and death until we are able to transcend all three gunas, rather than cultivate them.

Ways to balance the gunas:


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