Gunas and Prana


I came across an interesting article on Sulekha recently that tried to draw parallels between the three Gunas of Indic philosophy with Western Psycho-analytic concepts of Id/Ego/Super-Ego and the general familial denomination of Parent/Adult/Child. I found the attempt interesting but the outcome amusing (

2007/08/sattvik-rajasic-tamasic-id-ego-superego-and-parent.htm )

The reason behind this is because that author evidentally did not have any experiential understanding of the concept of Gunas or of the way they manifest and interact. Not that I am an expert in these matters, but through my practice of the Energy practices (Taiji and Yoga), I have a slightly more direct experience with this topic.

Explaining Gunas

So without further ado, let us look at this phenomenon, that is my understanding/explanation of it.

The three gunas are called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and are energetic states that Prana exists in.

Tamas is the energetic state of stagnation and Prana in this state tends to be heavy and slow moving, if at all (kinetic that is). Rajas is the energetic state of activity and prana is fluid and light. Sattva is the energetic state of absorption and flexiblity, and Prana in this state is flexible and adaptive. Prana in the state of Sattva is receptive and will tend to adjust itself to maintain energetic balance.

 To draw parallels with those who are aware of the Chinese concept of Chi, Sattva corresponds to Yin, Rajas corresponds to Yang and Tamas corresponds to stagnation or stoppage of the Yin and Yang movement (or in other words, Taiji).

The origin of Prana and the manifestation of Gunas

According to the Yoga tradition (the darshanic discipline of Samkhya), the primary constituent of this universe is Purusha (or the eternal Consciousness) and the manifestation of the material universe happens with the manifestation of Prakriti or Shakti (energy). Prakriti and Shakti is also known as Prana (in our case, when speaking of the differentiated state of Shakti within living beings). The play of the material universe (or Lila/Maya) starts with the differentiation of Prana/Shakti into Rajas and Sattva and their interaction. The remainder of this equation (with Sattva and Rajas constantly flowing from one to another) is Tamas or the damping factor (or friction) that will try to slow down Rajas and undermine Sattva. In fact, without Tamas, the differentiation (and the interplaying of Rajas and Sattva) would not be possible and then we would have an universe that is entirely Rajas or entirely Sattva (so either purely expanding energy or purely absorptive energy).

NOTE: I have drawn some lessons learnt for the Taiji principle where Tao is the eternal consciousness and One Chi is it's energetic manifestation. This One Chi splits into Yin and Yang that constantly chase each other and result in the manifestation of the material universe.

How these Gunas affect things around us

Gunas affect our environment and indeed the whole universe with consistency. Sattva lends an adaptible, absorptive softness to whatever it affects, Rajas lends an expansive, expanding and kinetic hardness to whatever it affects and Tamas lends a lethargic, slow stagnation to whatever it affects.

In our biology, these Gunas affect our Doshas/constitution (as expounded in the Indian Classical Medical school of Ayurveda) and give rise to Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These doshas will define the physical and psychological make-up of the person/animal/thing.

When we hear references to the three Gunas, they are usually in context of their Ayurvedic applicability and how they affect a person's physical and mental constitution. That, as you can see, dear reader is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.


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