The Three Gunas


*10.12 The Atman has no beginnings nor any of the discriminating characteristics of the three gunas. Though it apparently dwells in the body, Arjuna, IT is not the doer, nor does it give birth, nor is IT affected by any actions. 

The Unborn Lord sustains the human-construct but also allows it either full liberty, or to identify itself in the temporal fields of the composed. The motionless-Lord is unaffected by creature-motives and thus is transcendent from all limiting attributes.

10.13 Just as the all-pervading ether (akasha) permeates the cosmos yet remains unsullied, just so the Atman can never be tainted although IT is free to frequent the composed.

10.14 Arjuna, the forces of the gunas that are inherent in prakriti—sattva, rajas, tamas—can still bind the spirit to the composed.

The gunas are the very nature of prakriti. They constitute a continuous shifting shape from one into the other within the unstable state of samsaric-existence.

10.15 Although the sattvic-guna is luminously pure it can still bind the host-body to states of temporary fixation on fleeting happiness.

The bliss of wisdom belongs to the soul, but through delusion this guna can entrap it into an amnesia that blocks True Blissfulness in the One Spirit of the Absolute.

10.16 The passionate-seed of the rajas (restless activity), Arjuna, gives rise to an insatiable thirst and the eventual bondage of self-attachment.

This guna incurs self-transfixiation that harbors on rabidity of spirit in a fanatical fashion. THE seed of undue anxiety and nervous exhaustion.

10.17 The seed of tamas binds the mind in a state of ignorance that is indicative of carelessness, laziness, and an overtly stupid and dull-spirit. 

The state of being irresponsible and lax, like being held-captive to an evil spirit of fatigue.

10.18 Excessive-sattva binds you to a form of pseudo-bliss, rajas binds you to compulsive-behavior, and tamas can condemn you to a confused state of senility.

Knowledge of the gunas is very useful, because you can see that a person is not always sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. The mind is tossed by all three gunas. We should know that we are just sitting in the midst of it. Unfortunately, we tend to identify with the movements of the gunas. The correct understanding is: “My mind (not I) is in a beautiful, sattvic state. And other times it’s revolutionary. It creates all kinds of problems. It’s rajasic.” Whenever you are disturbed or worried, or whatever the condition, immediately sit back and analyze. Is my mind tamasic or rajasic? By knowing this, you separate yourself from the colored mind and see what’s really happening. It will help you not to blame yourself totally or blame someone else. Just know it is all part of the dance of nature.

So, by observing our moods, we can understand which guna is predominant in us at the time.

Satchidananda, Sri Swami (2013-09-16). The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita: a Commentary for Modern Readers (p. 207-208). Integral Yoga Publications. Kindle Edition.

10.19 Those dying in a predominately sattvic state of mind will attain the pure-realms of the Shining Ones.

10.20 Those dying in a predominately rajasic state of mind will be reborn among those who are attached to nervous and compulsive actions.

10.21 Those dying in a predominately tamasic state of mind will be reborn among those who are ignorant [of the truth] and who are entombed in self-delusion. 

These three verses are excellent in making one aware of what can transpire when one is attached in a predominant fashion to any one of the three gunas at the time of death. As we shall see, the best course is to work-at becoming transcendently beyond any of them.

10.22 Arjuna enquired from the Blessed One: Lord, what are the signs of those who have passed beyond these three gunas? How does one rise beyond their influence?

10.23 The Blessed Unborn Lord replied: Although these qualities are present when one’s spirit is embodied in the state of the composed, one should not become attached to, nor should one take compulsive notice of and attempt to disperse any of them.

10.24 Because one becomes acutely aware of their symbiotic infrastructure, one remains centered in the Unborn and thus not ruled by any of them.   

10.25 Those who maintain a spirit of equanimity in the midst of honorable or dishonorable circumstances, who maintain a steadfast repose whether in the presence of friend or foes, and who have relinquished any thought of self-gain, rises above these winds of change and remains thus immovable in the Unborn.

10.26 By remaining steadfastly True in My Unborn Spirit, one transcends the influence of the gunas.  

10.27 For I AM the Unborn, the Unchanging and Deathless One, the Everlasting Dharma-Lord, the Eternal Source of Unending Bliss.

10.28 Arjuna then proclaimed, “By your Grace, O Lord, have my delusions and doubts been dispelled. OM shanti, shanti, shanti!”

*This section on the three gunas was taken out of sequence. Originally they constitute the Fourteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. For our purposes in composing this Unborn Gita, this completes the series. We concluded with the section on the gunas because it reveals their incessant foreplay on one’s spirit. As they were first portrayed in our series on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali in clinical-fashion, within the Gita they are portrayed as how they experientially affect and interact with the subject. At any time one can become acutely aware of which one is predominating at the moment. Thus this chapter is a vital resource on how to counteract their effects in Light of the Unborn.


Words could never convey the full import that resides and is being conveyed in these passages, but try we must. The epical and universal message of the sublime essence of the Gita is that through Right Action and nonattachment to the allures of samsara, the well-disciplined yogin develops Right Union in mystical-equipoise with the Unborn. What is perhaps the most intimate portrait in this entire noble enterprise is how the Absolute Unborn Lord Self-recognizes and actually pays tribute to an adept’s sincere devotion, even referring to him as friend. Yea, as was stated early on in the series, “is there any better, or for that matter, more intimate friend than the Unborn Itself?”

As a recap, our chapter-heads in this series are as follows: Prelude: The Call to Arms; The Yoga of Discernment; The Yoga of Action; The Yoga of Gnosis;  The Yoga of Renunciation; Dhyana Yoga; Gnosis of the Absolute; Dharmakaya Yoga; Mysterium Regium; Unborn and Beginningless. For the Unborn Mind Zen adept, the Eighth Chapter entitled Dharmakaya Yoga is of particular import as it conveys Mind’s preparation for the final encounter—death and dying—with a Liberative Dharmakayic Technique that compliments the Bardo-process that was articulated in our series, The Lankavatarian Book of the Dead.

Embryonis Spíritus Dómini sit semper vobíscum.



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8 Responses to The Three Gunas

  1. Mahasidhra says:

    Thank you for completing this wonderful series. Good work!
    Very useful analysis of the gunas.

    (I’ll post more under this title tomorrow – your post reminded me of an interesting passage on the gunas from another Indian scripture. – )

    • Vajragoni says:

      Many thanks!

      Looking forward to your subsequent post. 🙂

      • Mahasidhra says:

        (I posted something ,but I am still looking for another one which explains the inner relationship between the guNas maybe I’ll find it another day. Please enjoy what I typed from the Svami Laksmanjoo Raina talks on the Gita Samgraha.)

        • Vajragoni says:

          A most scholarly endeavor! I am sure I’m not alone here in expressing sincerest thanks for this contribution.

  2. Mahasidhra says:

    As promised, here is a little something from Swami Lakshmanjoo commentary on the Gitartha Samgraha which is the Kashmiri recension of the Bhagavad Gita:

    page 322 — I’ll type it out using Harvard-Kyoto transliteration as it is simpler (if I make any mistakes I apologize as I am a total beginner in Sanskrit):

    it is the Sanskrit of the Kashmiri recension with Svami’s commentary interspersed – it is a bit repetitive because it was originally a speech but it makes it even better for contemplating upon

    “ye caiva sAttvikA bhAva, the states of sattvaguNa, rAjasa states of rAjaguNa, tAmasa (states of tAmaguNa) all these threefold states, matta eva iti tAnviddhi, they are produced by Me. natu aham teSu, I am not existing in them, they are produced by Me. They are produced from Me. sattvic bhAva, rAjas bhAva, and tAmas bhAva, the waves, these three kinds of threefold waves, tides, are spread, are produced by Me, but I am not in them. It means I, [lord kRSNA], have not come into the grip of these three guNas. Three guNas are produced by Me, but I am not caught in the three. I am not in them, te mayi, they are existing in Me. I am not in them. I am not in the three guNas. natvahaM teSu, I am not existing in them. On the contrary, te mayi, they are existing in Me.

    By these threefold guNas, by which this whole universe is plluted, is being crushed … sattvaguNa also crushes people, rajaguNa also crushes people, and tamaguNa also crushes people. sattvaguNa crushes people and keeps them away from rajaguNa and tamaguNa. rajaguNa crushes people and keeps them away from sattvaguNa and tamaguNa.

    … in the same way [people] are crushed. They don’t become whole, [their] wholeness is lost, t[their] completion and fullness [are lost]. If you have got sattvaguNa, then rajaguNa and tamaguNa are lacking in you. If you can’t be that you will be [experiencing] sattvaguNa, rajaguNa, and tamaguNa all together. You can’t be, because the behavior of these three guNas are separate.

    In Me, these three behaviors [i.e. guNas] are existing. So this fullness shines in Me. I am sattvaguNa, rajaguNa, and tamaguNa, but I am … not in them.

    In this way, you should feel that the whole universe is filled with the state of Bhairava and the state of Bhairava is shining in each and every being. “

    • Mahasidhra says:

      “Why is it that those who are existing in sattvaguNa, those who are existing in rajaguNa, and those who are existing in tamaguNa, why don’t they achieve the reality of bhagavAn, lord Bhairava ?

      It is because of mAyA. And it is duratyayA, nobody has conquered this. Nobody has won over this mAyA.

      … Now there is a trick. I will tell you the trick how you can subside mAyA.

      Others commentators have commented upon this verse in the following way: ”’those who take refuge in Me, they succeed in conquering mAyA!”’ –

      [But I will proceed to show you another interpretation, that of the greatest teacher of Kashmir Shaivism, Trika philosophy, Abhinavagupta.]

      Abhinavagupta has explained, mAmeva ye prapadyante, those persons, those elevated souls who think, “mAmeva ye pradyante, mAyA is me (mAmeva), mAyA is the reality of Brahman” – those who attribute mAyA in their own nature [and feel], “I am mAyA; mAyA is Parabhairava” – then they are free from mAyA. You should know that mAyA is not other than Parabhairava [ = YOUR TRUE NATURE!], then you will succeed.

      Otherwise there is no hope of getting rid of mAyA, because this is guNamayI daivI.***

      Those, on the contrary, who are situated in the supreme state of Parabhairava, tad anitiriktaM vizvam pazyanto, they realize that this whole universe, which is created by the mAyA of Lord Śiva, is not separate from the Parabhairava state. For them, there is no mAyA. They have conquered mAyA!


      *** ( ” daiVi is divine. Divine means devaH krIDAkaraH, devaH means who is always playful, Lord Śiva is always playful. mAyA and not mAyA, illusion and not illusion, consciousness and unconsciousness – this is all His play.” )

  3. Tozen says:

    Favorable and unfavorable gods are illusions that need to be overcome. – Bardo Thodol

    “There are other dangers too: gods and other beings come to tempt the yogi. They do not want anyone to be perfectly free. They are jealous, just as we are, and even worse than us sometimes. They are very much afraid of losing their positions.” – Swami Vivekananda Raja Yoga.

    One who desires perfect freedom from any and all forms of ignorance must inevitably take complete refuge in the perfect jewel known to him as Mind Only.

    In it, there is no place for any gods or mortals, nor demons or other sentients of the samsaric mindset. In it, there is only the nirvana of spiritual singularity – or the absolute reality of perfect, undivided, awareness power – Bodhi.

    • Mahasidhra says:

      Thank you for reminding us of that temptation.

      Indeed, if we beginner yogis will be lucky enough (or rather: will exert enough self-effort) to come to the stage to be tempted by gods, we should better keep in mind that some of the divine beings that appear before such a yogi are hard to resist.

      Who can resist at such temptations?

      Only one who is fixed upon the ultimate goal and is not interested in the intermediate, the super-powers, or divine beings (even they are powerless against Time the destroyer of all).

      It is a boon to be reminded of this by advanced yogis who walked this path already before.

      I’ll do my part to remind the readers that there is some confusion when people refer to “god”. Sometimes people will think of “god” as “one of the gods” – or a “creator god” such as Brahma … or “Lord Shiva” who is one of the trinity (Trimurti) etc.

      But when the Tantrika of Kashmir say “Shiva” they do not mean the Vedic Shiva or the Puranic Shiva, they just use the same word. There is a confusion however because the same word is used for two different things; in the case of Non-Dual Shaiva Tantra, “Shiva” refers to Brahman, the absolute, pure consciousness (chaitanya):

      “” Do you know who ‘god’ is? God is not Vishnu or Shiva or Brahma; not the wind, the sun nor the moon; nor the brahmana or the king; not I or you; not Lakshmi or the mind. God is without form and undivided (not in the objects); that splendor which is not made and which has neither beginning nor end is known as god, or Lord Shiva, which is pure consciousness. That alone is fit to be worshipped; that alone is all. “” Sage Vasishtha in the Maha-Ramayana

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