What Binds Us

As a lover of Yoga and/or Ayurveda, you probably have heard of gunas. The principles of gunas are one of the primary themes of Yoga Science and Ayurvedic Medicine. Through the understanding of these principles, these sciences teach us how to keep our body and mind healthy to fulfill the four goals of life: dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation).  

The gunas are sometimes described as energies, sometimes as qualities or forces. These qualities are the main powers of Cosmic Intelligence that determine out spiritual growth. They are the subtlest components of creation and underlie our behavior, thinking, health, and diet. Gunas is a Sanskrit word that means “what binds”. Therefore, when we do not understand these forces of Nature we are kept in bondage with the external world.

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The three gunas are called rajas, tamas and sattva. They represent a triangle of simultaneously opposing and complementary forces that govern both the physical universe and our personality and thought patterns in everyday life. All objects in the universe consist of different combinations of the three. The quality of our actions depends on the gunas, giving rise to our achievements or failures, joy or unhappiness, health or illness.

Rajas is the principle of activity, the force of passion that causes conflict. It has the quality of change and turbulence. It is motivated in its action, ever seeking a goal or an end that gives it power, causing us to seek happiness outside ourselves. It creates distortions and we lose track of our inner peace.

Tamas is the principle of materiality and has the quality of dullness, darkness, and inertia. It is heavy, veiling or obstructing, weakening our power of perception. It promotes insensitivity, sleep, and loss of awareness. It brings about ignorance and delusion in the mind, keeping us identified with the physical body and feeling isolated.

Sattva is the balance of rajas and tamas. It is the principle of clarity and peace, that allows us to see the truth. It is responsible for true health and healing. It provides happiness and contentment of a lasting nature. Sattvic living – living in harmony with Nature and our inner Self – creates harmony, balance, and stability. It is important to not be attached to sattva since even this can bind the mind. Rajas and tamas have their place in the cosmic harmony and pure sattva does not condemn them.

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For me, understanding these forces makes my life easier. All is reduced down to three qualities. Knowing them, I will recognize if I am growing in consciousness (sattva), expanding in ego (rajas), or simply stagnating in ignorance (tamas).

In my life-- the way I organize food in the fridge, my attention to a friend talking, the making of the bed, the folding of clothes, awareness to the breath…all of these actions are performed in ways to support sattva.  

What about you? How do the ways that you live your life sustain sattva, rajas or tamas?