The Three Gunas- the Never Ending Play of the Universe
Everything in the universe has three primary phases of activity called the three Gunas.
Sattva – creative phase – brings life into manifestation.
Rajas – organizing, activating phase – builds and maintains what has just been created.
Tamas – destructive phase – brings to an end whatever was created through sattva and produced through rajas.
The influence of these three gunas is universal. They govern all existence and regulate our minds as well. Sattva gives us the desire to know and the capacity to create, to think, and to imagine. Rajas generate action, initiative and motivation. Tamas supplies us with the ability to bring things to completion. We need the proper balance of the gunas to have a state of mind that maintains the harmony between the human life and the universal intelligence. Even though the soul is the director of life, quietly guiding it towards its destiny, the mind is the controller of the senses and body and makes choices to use them for life’s upliftment or degradation. How we respond to events and circumstances depends on specific balance of sattva, rajas and tamas in our mind.
The basic nature of the mind is creative or sattvic, with just enough rajas and tamas to bring desires to fruition. It is vital for health and happiness to keep this primarily creative balance for our life to move in a progressive direction. Sattvic mind lends itself toward calm, clear, creative thinking that allows one to easily find effective solutions to life’s problems. Then we need the lesser qualities of rajas to implement these solutions and tamas to bring these activities to an end when the problem has actually been solved.
Too much rajas or tamas distort the natural balance of gunas and have a negative impact on our lives. Any stimulus can have a sattvic, rajastic or tamasic influence on the mind. Rajastic stimuli include anything that keeps the mind in its active phase. The over-stimulated state of mind can be produced by watching too much TV, action oriented movies, listening to loud, stimulating music, eating hurriedly or working and exercising too hard, eating hot, spicy or fried foods, eating too many sweets, and drinking liquids with caffeine or other stimulants. Excessive traveling, thinking or feeling can also influence our minds in a rajastic way. The mind then becomes unable to maintain its quiet connection with its source- atma- the universal intelligence.
Too much stimuli of tamasic nature will produce heaviness, dullness or inertia in the mind. These qualities obscure the light of atma and its clear, creative, inspired nature. This lethargic state can be produced by eating foods that are aged, like cheese, or stale, like leftovers, eating too much red meat, drinking alcohol, taking drugs or becoming fatigued. Alcohol is a clear example of tamasic influence. A normally bright, clear, respectful individual will become confused, angry and disrespectful of others.
The sattvic mind always chooses those things that promote growth and fulfillment, because the connection with its pure, creative source is always maintained. It is inherently aware of the things that are beneficial for it. When rajas dominates, however, the mind becomes unsteady, and even though it has the knowledge of what is best, it will often stray from doing those things. When tamas dominates, the mind forgets what is good for it, and becomes lost in thoughts and actions which have negative or destructive effects.
If the mind loses the influence of sattva, it loses conscious contact with the limitless power of atma- the universal intelligence of nature; and the life no longer proceeds spontaneously in an evolutionary direction. As a result of this, individuals become frustrated in their ability to fulfill their desires. They become less efficient than they could be and find themselves working harder but accomplishing less. Clarity, inspiration and motivation decrease, fatigue increase, and dependency on rajastic and tamasic stimuli grow. This imbalance then leads the mind to make further harmful choices, creating a destructive spiral away from health and happiness.
Ayurveda’s gift is the removal of tamas or ignorance which clouds the mind. This is accomplished by:
1. Eliminating the toxic impurities from the body through a number of cleansing procedures (See Simple home purification; Panchakarma; Rasayana – A-dic rejuvenation).
2. Eating a sattvic diet (See Ayurvedic diet, Six tastes; We are what we eat; Do man made supplements really get absorbed? Fast food and A-da; A-dic food combination).
3. Leading a sattvic life style (See Yoga postures in A-da; Daily routine for your dosha; Early to bed; Sun Salutation; The four stages of life; Seasons and the dosha).
These are simple but powerful things that allow us to get control of our minds and emotions and return to the state where we inherently know what is good for us.