The Three Gunas

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The mind has three gunas or qualities born of nature: sattwa or light, bliss and goodness; rajas or passion and motion; and tamas or inertia and darkness. There are three vrittis or modifications of the mind corresponding to the three gunas. Shanta vritti or peace, equilibrium and balance come from sattwa guna. Ghora vritti or anger manifests from rajo guna; and moodha vritti or carelessness, laziness and drowsiness comes from tamo guna.

Characteristics of sattwa guna

Sattwa guna is purity. It is prakasha, illumination and light. Sattwa guna is a force favourable for the attainment of liberation. Divine qualities such as fearlessness and purity of heart confer liberation on one. The effect of sattwa guna is that it brings about an enquiry or search for Truth, and discrimination between sat and asat, what is real and what is unreal.

A sattwic mind is always steady. It finds delight internally. A contented person sticks to one place indefinitely. He keeps friendship with people for a long, long time. He understands the inner meaning of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasishtha. He lives without any kind of dissatisfaction on simple food and drink all his life.

During sattwic moments, when pure sattwa is predominant in the mind, you are in touch with the divine source owing to the purity of the mind-mirror. You have inspiration and compose beautiful poetry. You should record these inspired writings in a notebook and preserve them.

Sattwapatti is a state wherein the mind is full of purity. There is purity of thought and heart. It is the fourth step in the attainment of knowledge, jnana.

Characteristics of rajo guna

Rajo guna is a hostile force and pulls one down into samsara or worldly life through repeated births and deaths. Vices like hypocrisy, arrogance and anger drag you down into hell. A mind endowed with sattwa guna will make a person serene and calm, while a mind characterized by rajo guna makes you restless. It does not allow you to sit idle; it forces you to work.

The rajasic mind always wants variety and new sensations. For a while it likes certain persons, objects and places, but after some time it becomes disgusted with them and wishes to have new company, different foods, new books to read and new places to see. It finds pleasure in sightseeing.

The mind of the rajasic person always wants company and conversation. These are the two defects which distract the mind. Avoid bad company. Live alone and observe silence. You will have peace of mind. Be careful in the selection of your companions. Most of the misery comes from bad company. You will rarely find a good, sincere friend. Never take a friend into your close confidence without testing him for a long time. There is no company or talk in Brahman, the ultimate consciousness, which is detached and soundless.

The rajasic mind has a tendency to look into the defects of others. It also remembers the errors and bad deeds of others and easily forgets their good actions. These two tendencies intensify hatred and cause frequent disturbance in the mind.

A mind which is devoid of sattwa guna will not consider the happiness of others as its own and will therefore be ever agitated. As it has no complacency to rejoice at the virtues of others, there will be no internal contentment. As it does not consider the suffering of others as its own, there will arise no compassion for them.

It is the rajasic mind that splits, separates, divides and deceptively shows plurality. The sun is one, the moon is one and ether is one. The idea behind all languages is one. The feeling of sincerity is one. There is no inside or outside here. Husband and wife become one at heart. Intimate friends are one at heart. Matter is one, energy is one, the sattwic mind is one. A sattwic mind unifies. Cosmic mahat is one. Karma, the law of cause and effect, is one. Dharma or righteous is one. Religion is one. Truth is one. Brahman is one. It is one without a second.

Importance of sattwa guna

Real peace of mind does not come from outside. It arises in the mind when the mind is controlled and when the thoughts are checked. You must put forth great effort to check passion and other desires. Only then will your aptitude for restless activity be subdued, will you be at rest and will your thoughts be stilled. Therefore, develop sattwa guna by means of japa or repetition of the name of the Lord, through vichara or self-enquiry, satsang or being in the company of devotees of God, dhyana or meditation, mitahara or light sattwic food, tapas or austerity and swadhyaya or study of the scriptures.

An ordinary worldly-minded person can hardly hear the inner voice of the atma. He cannot have pure thoughts or enquire into the nature of the Self. Every pure thought emanates from a sattwic buddhi or pure intellect. In the case of a worldly person, all thoughts proceed from the mind only. One who does nishkama karma yoga, selfless service, and has purity of mind begins to entertain holy thoughts of God and meditation.

Generally, the mind raises various sorts of curious, fantastic thoughts. It deludes all. It may pretend to engage in self-enquiry, but when it comes to actual practice, it will do nothing. If there is a strong determination in you to concentrate, and if you do steady practice for months, and if the longing for the vision of God or Self-realization becomes keen and acute, only then can you be sure that these thoughts proceed from a pure intellect.

All sadhana or spiritual practices aim at the development of sattwa guna and the attainment of a pure, strong, irresistible will, which brings about the removal of ignorance and, eventually, entry into the state of Satchidananda, truth, consciousness and bliss. Increase of sattwa guna and a pure and determined will pave a long way in the attainment of success in God-realization.

Characteristics of the pure mind

A spiritual aspirant tries to develop the mind as a whole in order to acquire all the sattwic virtues. A pure mind likes solitude, silence, simple living, high thinking, philosophical discussions, studying spiritual books, meditation and satsang. A stainless mind can be judged by one’s speech, face and eyes. Through one’s expression an opinion may be formed as to whether a person has a stainless mind or not. Higher desires, noble aspirations, lofty ideals, true spiritual feelings, mercy, sympathy, pure unselfish love, devotion, self-inquiry, inspiration, genius – all these come from the higher, pure mind. The pure mind is Brahman itself, which is an embodiment of absolute purity.