The Gunas are three basic qualities that are present in all things to varying degrees. They are present in our body and mind as well as in the foods we eat, the media we consume, and everything else we interact with. The concept of the Gunas comes from the Bhagavad Gita, a core Hindu text. Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are universal energies that are ever present and in flux. The Gunas are a key concept of Ayurveda and must be understood before Ayurveda Psychology begins to unfold. The three Gunas are tamas (dullness), rajas (passion) and sattva (goodness).
Tamas is characterized by inertia, lethargy, helplessness and depression. You may notice a tamasic energy in yourself when you feel a deep attachment or addiction to something. Or perhaps when you are feeling disinterested and apathetic about things you once enjoyed. Confusion, doubt, unfocused are also tamasic properties. Tamas is predominant in greasy, fast food, violent entertainment, factory-farmed meat, and substance abuse/addiction. Rajas is characterized by extreme emotions, restlessness and anxiety. You may notice a rajasic energy within yourself when you have such determination that you use force to achieve the end goal. If you experience chaos in any part of your life, that is rajasic energy. Rumination and fear are also properties of rajas. Rajas is predominant in substances that cause excitement like sex-based entertainment, coffee, alcohol, and amphetamines. Sattva is characterized by harmony, trust and gratitude. You may notice a sattvic energy when you feel calm, fulfilled, and present. When you feel in control of yourself and your circumstances, without being controlling, that is sattvic energy. Freedom, love and happiness are also sattvic properties. Being in the sattvic state is being in the flow. Nature is an abundant source of sattva. Selfless service, art, spirituality, pure foods, herbs, and water are also sources of sattva. Which Guna are you feeding your senses?
The Gunas are a tool to help us navigate our inner landscapes. The saying “where your attention goes, energy flows” is of vial importance here. Through the Gunas, we can recognize whether the things we are giving our attention to are bringing a tamasic, rajasic, or sattvic energy into our lives. Once we recognize these influences we can use our power of choice to stop giving our attention to things that are ultimately bringing us suffering. Through understanding tamasic and rajasic energy and taking inventory of the places where you draw these energies from, you can transform them to cultivate sattva. The Gunas are a structure for Svadhyaya (self-study). Knowing the properties of each guna can help you go deeper in your self-exploration. Self-study is the key to liberation.