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The Three Gunas Model of the Mind - Sattva, Rajas, Tamas

Author: Kwench / May 31, 2021 16:50

According to Hindu analysis the mind has three constituents’ sattva, rajas and tamas. These are known as Gunas. ‘Guna’ is a Sanskrit word which has no equivalent word in English. Used in Samkya philosophy, ‘Guna’ is fundamental component of ‘Prakriti’ which constitutes the Universe and everything within it.

The various permutations and combinations of the three gunas  determine the constitution of everything that manifests in Prakriti, including the individual mind.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes to the mighty warrior Arjuna  

सत्त्वात्सञ्जायते ज्ञानं रजसो लोभ एव |
प्रमादमोहौ तमसो भवतोऽज्ञानमेव || 17||

sattvāt sañjāyate jñāna rajaso lobha eva cha
pramāda-mohau tamaso bhavato ’jñānam eva cha

From Sattva arises knowledge, from Rajas arises greed,

& from Tamas arises negligence and delusion.

Sattva is the highest of all gunas. It is synonymous to purity, knowledge and joy.  Rajas whereas is the principle of aspiration, enthusiasm, longing and restlessness and Tamas is the lowest of all gunas, it leads to inertia (inaction), anger, lifelessness and delusion. The gunas are analogous to Shiva who cannot be defined without Shakti (its manifestation).

Therefore, Swami Vidyanarayana in his masterpiece of Vedanta philosophy and spiritual practice, defines each guna according to its effect:

Non-attachment, forgiveness, generosity, etc. are products of sattva. Desire, anger, avarice, etc. are products of rajas. Lethargy, confusion, drowsiness, etc. are products of tamas. When sattva functions in mind merit is acquired; when rajas functions, demerit is produced. When tamas functions, neither merit nor demerit is produced, but life is wasted for nothing. (Panchadasi, II. 14-16)

Tamas degrades the mind, Rajas scatters it and Sattva gives it a loftier purpose and direction. More or less this also determines the wavering nature of the mind. When we talk about mind control, we talk about predominance of sattva than the other two gunas which makes the mind pure and calm.

Swami Vivekananda teaches:

The purer the mind, the easier it is to control. Purity of mind must be insisted upon if you would control it…Perfect morality is all-in-all complete control over mind. The man who is perfectly moral has nothing more to do; he is free. (Ibid. (1963), Vol. VI, p.126.)