The Three Gunas

The Bhagavad-Gita helps achieve excellence in the world. It also takes us beyond, to the state of Enlightenment. The Gita makes a thorough analysis of the human being, identifies the areas of weakness and removes them.


Every human being is made of matter and Spirit. The Bhagavad-Gita helps us sieve out matter. What remains is Spirit. Matter is of three distinct hues. These are called gunas or qualities. The gunas are sattva (purity), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). The gunas determine the quality of thoughts, emotions and actions in a person. Together they bind us to the world. Like the three primary colors – red, yellow and blue - that mix to create all colors, the combinations of the gunas create the infinite variety in the world.


Tamas is a state of inertia and indifference. In this state the best qualities get shrouded and our inherent talent is prevented from manifesting. Rajas are a state of stress and agitation brought about by greed, craving and lust. The incessant desire-driven activity and its resultant agitation of the mind result in mediocrity. Sattva is tranquility of mind when one functions at one’s best. This is the state that all executives, sportspersons and professionals in every field of activity strive for – being in the ‘zone’, performing at peak levels. However, nobody knows how to achieve this, much less remain in this superlative state of being. The Bhagavad-Gita spells it out clearly and simply so that everyone can operate out of one’s sattva while marginalizing and eventually eliminating the rajas and tamas within.


The chapter deals with the three gunas. It details the traits of sattva, rajas and tamas and how they bind the human being. Every human being has all three gunas. We come up with peak performance when sattva predominates. When rajas prevails greed, disquiet and hankering weigh us down. And when tamas reigns supreme, we get overcome with delusion, heedlessness and inertia.


The relative strengths of the gunas also determine the environment one goes to after death. A sattvika person progresses, the rajasika one moves within a narrow band while a tamasika person goes downhill.


The mission of life is to go beyond the three gunas and get liberated from the traumatic cycle of birth, death, decay and sorrow. We are born in the world to attain Immortality. In the last portion, Lord Krishna mentions the traits of a person who has transcended the gunas and tells us how to become Brahman. When we see how the gunas function, remain undisturbed by their effects and understand that which is beyond them, we reach the exalted state of Enlightenment.