Triguna Theory: All about Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Guna


Triguna is a combination of two words: Tri (three) and Guna (energy/quality). The concept of Guna dates back to Swethaswathara Upanishad, where the three fundamental qualities of matter were referred to. However the concept of Triguna- Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas- was comprehensively discussed in Samkhya philosophy and explained by Shri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita.

W­hat are Trigunas?

Trigunas are the three inherent energies or qualities of a living being which constitute the personality and behavior of a person. We have already discussed Tridosha – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The concept of Tridosha forms the basic principles of Ayurveda. The three doshas determine the physical aspects of a body whereas the three Gunas control the metaphysical aspects i.e. mind and behavior of a person. That is why Triguna is also called Mansa Dosha – an integral component of the Mind.

What are The Three Gunas?

The three virtues or gunas are:

Sattva guna (goodness)

Rajas guna (passion)

Tamas guna (ignorance)

The influence of Trigunas on Personality

The three Gunas are naturally generated and destroyed. There is nothing in this infinite universe that is devoid of these three qualities originating from nature. The Prakriti i.e. every living and non-living thing possesses these three gunas in different proportions. Each guna affects the personality according to its proportionate share.

Swami Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa used to narrate a story of a rich person. This rich man, while passing through a forest, was caught and robbed by three dacoits. After robbing, the first dacoit suggested his comrades kill the man.

The second bandit said, "Do not kill him, let us leave him here with hands and feet tied tightly ".The dacoits left the place after doing so.

After a while, the third dacoit returned and apologized to the man for the sufferings caused to him. He then freed him, guided him to the main road, and advised him to go through that road to reach home soon.

Now consider yourself as the rich person and the three bandits to be the three Gunas.

The first robber, who advised to kill is Tamogun or Tamas. Tamas destroys us.

The second bandit, who advised to tie him up, is Rajoguna. Rajoguna binds humans to worldly bonds. Man forgets Ishwar (God) in Rajoguna.

The third bandit is Sattvaguna. Sattva creates the spirit of liberation and gives rise to the qualities of purity, compassion, devotion, and mercy. Thus it is the last step to reach the divine, the Parabrahma.

More about TriGunas

Although there are 3 gunas, Acharya Charaka and Sushruta recognize seven categories into which people can be classified, depending on the dominance of the Gunas in their body. An individual can fall into any one of the types. Everyone has all three gunas. Few have the dominance of one Guna but most people have a dominance of two Gunas. Few have all the three Gunas in equilibrium.

1. Sattva dominant

2. Rajas dominant

3. Tamas dominant

4. Sattva-Rajas dominant

5. Rajas-Tamas dominant

6. Sattva-Tamas dominant

7. Sattva-Rajas-Tamas balanced

Sattva, Rajas and Tams Guna

Sattva Guna:

Sat means forever and real. Thus, Sattva guna is mainly the “spiritual quality”.

• Satvaguna produces sanctity, an excellent intellectual frame of mind, and happiness.

• When sattva is dominant a person does his work as a duty.

• Sattvic intellect clearly understands the difference between desirable and undesirable, undutiful and dutiful action.

• One of the limitations of sattvic guna is that it binds a person through attachment to happiness and knowledge.

• Sattva produces soothing equitable power of love, awareness & intellect.

• It gives an innate propensity to become divine.

• Sattva maintains the stability of the Universe.

• Self-realization, the ultimate liberation of the soul from all the constraints of ignorance or illiteracy is its vital goal.

• In the clear light of Sattvaguna, the rajas and tamas are visible. Anger, greed, fascination, and envy (grudge & jealousy-Matsya), etc. arising from them are also seen clearly and knowledge of these disorders is known.

• Sattvaguni is free from ego, passion, anger, greed, jealousy.

Rajas Guna

• Rajas guna produces activeness or Functionality.

• Rajas guna gives rise to passion and desires like greed, restlessness, selfishness, desire to work more and achieve more. Precisely a Rajas dominant human is an earthen person.

• Rajoguni is never satisfied. He will continue to make efforts for the accumulation of status, fame, wealth, and property.

• His longing for the fulfillment of sensual pleasures keeps on increasing - as if he will never die.

• Rajoguna produces raga(attachment), enthusiasm, activity.

• Rajas dominant person is filled with joy in success & sorrows in failures.

Tamas Guna

• Tamogun or Tamas is a ‘material quality.

• It arises from hopes and illusions.

• Tamas produces fascination, inactivity, stupidity, ignorance.

• Tamas is dominated by inactivity due to delusions and confusion.

• Tamas is the root cause of the inertial power of darkness.

• Tamo guna achieves nothing in the order of development.

• Tamoguni does not like to work under any rules.

• When Tamoguna is dominant, it does not allow the knowledge or conscience to awaken and differentiate between truthfulness and falsehood, responsibility and irresponsibility, good and bad.

Relation between the Three Gunas

There are two basic laws of the Gunas that are crucial in understanding their workings. The first law of the Gunas is ‘the law of alternation’. The three Gunas are ever in dynamic interaction. All three forces remain intertwined, affecting each other in various ways. Rajas and Tamas exist in the field of Sattva, Tamas and Sattva are found in the field of Rajas, and Sattva and Rajas move in the field of Tamas. The essence of the three qualities is their interplay. Rarely is seen pure Tamas, pure Rajas, or pure Sattva. There must ever be readiness for the Gunas to change. The second law of the Gunas is ‘the law of continuity. The Gunas tend to hold their particular natures for a certain period once they come into dominance. Substances stabilize on the level of one of the three Gunas. While it is initially is difficult for Tamas to become Rajas, or for Rajas to become Sattva, once they do so they will continue in that same quality.

Thus Sattvaguna increases by suppressing Rajoguna and Tamo guna.
Rajoguna increases by suppressing Sattvaguna and Tamogun. 
Tamo guna increases by suppressing Sattvaguna and Rajoguna.

The quality which increases becomes the superior(primary) and the other qualities become inferior(secondary). When the Tamoguna increases by curbing sattva guna, then the awareness power of the senses and conscience disappears. When Tamoguna increases by restraining Rajoguna, then the person does not feel like doing the work. He remains neutral, like lazy Laurence wishing to remain seated.

Triguna and Panchamahabhoot

Each of the five bhutas has all the 3 Gunas – Satva, Rajas, and Tamas but one or two are predominant. 

 Dominant Guna

Aakash (Ether/Space)
Satva dominant

Vayu (Air)
Rajas dominant

Agni (Fire)
Satva + Rajas dominant

Jala/Ap (Water)
Satva + Tamas dominant

Prithvi (Earth)
Tamas dominant

The ego along with Rajas and Tamas guna causes identification with the body and makes us forget our true self.
Akash tatva is Satva dominant. That is why for the physical well-being of a person it is enough to be concerned about balancing and cleansing the other four bhutas. When a person wants to seek the unmanifest, the mystic nature of the Universe, then he should start paying heed to Akash tatva too.

Triguna and Food:

With Triguna theory, we understand it is hard to change our physical constitution, but our mental attitude can be molded through the food we eat daily. Thus we can choose between consciousness, agitation, or inertia through the choices of food we make. Ancient Yogic Science classified food into three basic categories called the Satvic foods, Rajasic foods, and Tamasic foods based on their influence on Trigunas of mind. Of these, the Satvic diet has been described as most conducive to health.

Yogic Classification of Food:

Sri Krishna describes the classes of foods in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

Satvik Food: 

Satvik food promotes life span, increases Age, sattva guna, strength, health, and happiness. Such foods are juicy, succulent with natural fats, wholesome and nourishing, conducive to heart health, and naturally tasteful.

Rajasic Food: 

Food that is Bitter, sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry, and aromatic substances are Rajasic. Such foods are supposed to cause sorrow, grief, and diseases.

Tamasic Food:

Food that is Rotten, overcooked, foul-smelled, rancid - stale, and with impurity is liked by tamas humans.
3. Frawley D. Yoga and Ayurveda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd; 2004. p. 27. (46, 75)

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