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The Three Gunas in Hindu Culture

In Hindu culture, a “guna” means a trait that can be found in any person or subject present on Earth. Nevertheless, the key difference is in how much each of the gunas affects one’s life and creates opportunities for personal development. Gunas work on a conscious level, meaning that any relative amount of a guna could be altered with the help of inner efforts. Another important idea that has to be considered is that gunas are inherent in all humans and subjects. No one can separate from them or completely remove them from their existence. The only possible way of addressing gunas is remaining conscious and either decreasing or increasing their influence on everyday life.

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The first guna is tamas – it is synonymous with inactivity and darkness. Swami describes it as a “product of darkness, stupefies the senses in all embodied beings, binding them by chains of folly, indolence, and lethargy” (39). Knowing that issues related to tamas stem from ignorance, it may be safe to say that there is always a spiritual truth that has to be attained by the person in order not to be misled by the negativity inside and around them. Some of the additional traits falling under the guna of tamas are depression, confusion, laziness, and dependency. People with a strong inclination toward investing in their tamas are often experiencing guilt and sadness as well.

Another guna is called rajas, and it stands for movement, energy, and transformation. According to Swami, investing in rajas means to “perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment” (6). Therefore, the guna of rajas is responsible for the feeling of attraction in humans and their willingness to perform in order to cherish the result later. When achieving more, people become attached to their actions and tend to discover inner peace and additional capabilities they did not think of initially. Some of the most common rajas qualities are determination, courage, and restlessness. This guna may also contain several negative traits such as anger, irritation, and chaos.

Sattva is the last guna, and it stands for joy, harmony, and life balance. Swami describes sattva as a scenario where an individual “having attained Peace, [he] becomes free from misery; for when the mind gains peace, right discrimination follows” (7). The initial importance of sattva is the opportunity for a person to overcome the negative impact of tamas and rajas and head toward liberation. Every positive achievement strengthens a person’s sattva guna, helping them find inner peace. The most common sattva traits are love, self-control, and freedom. When having a developed sattva, individuals are friendlier and more compassionate. The levels of empathy and gratitude could also be altered with the help of contributing to sattva.

When discussing all gunas at once, it may be crucial to remember that every trait possessed by an individual is directly linked to their ego. The ability to rise above gunas would designate enlightenment for the person in question while freeing the latter from death-related thoughts, old age, and ailments. Even though the ultimate objective behind Hindu practices is to develop sattva qualities, the primary goal should be to transcend and detach themselves from the good and the bad. The person should go beyond both positive and negative qualities in order to identify themselves with guns and enlighten themselves.


Swami, Shri Purohit. Bhagavad Gita. Jaico Publishing House, 2003.

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