Gunas

By Andre Haralyi M.A, C-IAYT

The gunas are commonly translated as “qualities” or “constituents” referring to the triad of primary qualities (sattva, rajas and tamas) thought to be the principal building blocks of the cosmos or material world (prakrti) according to Yoga and Sāṃkhya traditions. The three gunas have been widely adopted by many Eastern philosophies for categorizing psychological behaviors as well as natural phenomena.

1. Sattva is the quality of harmony, plenitude, clarity, light, easiness, purity, positiveness, peacefulness, and virtue. This quality is directly related with the idea of “balance” and consequently to the modern concept of “homeostasis.”​*​

2. Rajas is the quality of passion, activity, restlessness, aggression, self-centeredness, drive, movement and dynamism. This quality is directly related to the idea of “excess.” 

3. Tamas is the quality of apathy, inertia, lethargy, vicious, ignorance, disorder, chaos, impurity, denseness, heaviness, resistance, darkness and delusion. This quality is directly related to the idea of “deficiency.” 

According to the Yoga tradition, the cosmos is considered to be inherently in motion and this dynamic is due to the complex interplay of these three types of primary constituents. All three qualities are considered to exist simultaneously in every physical, biological, or psycho-mental phenomenon in unequal proportions. The balance of the gunas is constantly changing as they combine and recombine themselves in increasingly complex patterns to produce everything that exists in the universe.


  1. ​*​
    Homeostasis is the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant in response to internal and external changes.