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Three Qualities of Nature

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

“The Gunas inherent in Prakriti- Sattva, Rajas, Tamas- imprison in the body the imperishable dweller” - Bhagavad Gita

The whole Universe can be divided into two main categories: Prakriti (Maya or Illusion) and Purusha (Reality). Prakriti - is unmanifested cosmic energy or potential matter that in Sankhya philosophy is formed of the three gunas and that in contact with purusha produces a disequilibrium among the gunas which in turn results in the production of the manifested world. Everything which is changeable, which is not infinite, is part of Maya. Purusha - is the soul that with prakriti constitutes the primary cause of phenomenal existence, it is the only reality, it is the universe’s only unchangeable element: the Self, the Soul. Everything within the illusionary world, consists of three Gunas, the qualities of nature. These three qualities are present in all objects in various degrees, one quality is always more present or dominant than the others. The three Gunas are Sattva (knowledge, purity ), Rajas (passion, energy), and Tamas ( ignorance, inertia). Gunas are present in everything - humans, food, and all objects.

Rajas and Tamas exist in this dual universe as both a positive and a negative state. The Rajas of action and the Tamas of rest are essential for the world to function.

Sattva exists only as itself, it is neither positive nor negative, like the Divine qualities of Truth, Love, and God. There is no good or bad Sattva, however Rajas and Tamas, as described, have both positive and negative aspects and their misuse leads to suffering.

The three Gunas are ever in dynamic interaction with each other, one gaining dominance and then receding, collapsing into each other, always maintaining the overall balance.

Sattva component is the most subtle or intangible of the three subtle basic components. It is the component nearest to divinity. Sattva is pure intelligence with no polarity, it is symbolized by the color white. Hence its predominance in a person is characterized by happiness, contentment, virtues like patience, perseverance, ability to forgive, spiritual yearning etc. This is the highest guna, representing balance and harmony. This is the ideal state.

Rajas component provides fuel to the other two, i.e. brings about the action. Rajas is fiery transmutation, passion, and attachment, for this it is considered Red. So depending on whether a person is predominantly sāttvik or tāmasik the subtle basic Raja component will bring about actions pertaining to Sattva or Tama. This guna represents activity and movement. Too much rajas leads to stress, overstimulation, and overexcitement.

Tamas component is the basest of the three. Tamas is for darkness, rest, sleep, inertia, and ignorance (literally being in the dark, not knowing) is the color, Black. Its predominance in a person is reflected by laziness, greed, attachment to worldly matters etc. This is the base guna. It's associated with pessimism, weakness.

Ayurvedic Diet

The Ayurveda diet is divided into Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic. Sattvic food is lightly cooked food without the heavy-handed use of spices, onions, garlic, and other vegetables that grow underground in the Earth and have Kapha or dense earthy properties.

Sattvic is the essence of food which as we know is Vata or Space and Air element predominant. Examples of Sattvic meals are milk and yogurt-based lightly spiced soups and curries, steamed sautéed vegetables, a predominance of fruit, smaller portions of grains as porridge, gruel, and simple mung bean khichdi, water-based plants like lotus stems and chestnuts.

Rajasic food is the hearty food required for athletes, warriors, administrators, and leaders of the world who are to be in action, who are required to take decisive action, who work hard with their bodies and minds and live as enjoyers of sensual attachments.

Such food is heavy with sharp and pungent vegetables, meats, all manners of meaty seafood, and a robust selection of vegetables and lentils. This food is Pitta raising food and helps increase the bodies’ temperature and detox the liver to counter the effect of excess in drinking and eating.

Tamasic food is eaten by those who labor in the fields and construction sites, those who till our land and fish for a living. Such food is usually copious portions of grain with fermented broths and beverages, jerky of meats and fish, excess of spices, and rich stews of organ meats. Most peasant fare would come under this category. Tamasic food is Kapha producing and bulk producing since hard labor requires the body to regain lost vitality through nutritious, energy-dense food. Tamasic is also attributed to food that is old and has had a long shelf life, as it is devoid of prana and harder to digest.

Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic foods are not superior or inferior to each other and have developed over the ages to best fit our needs.

As we learn from Ayurveda a wise perspective on our lifestyle so we can make empowering choices that would work for our unique nature.

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