Rajas, tamas and sattva
The three gunas are properties that are present in everything manifest. Food has these qualities as do our bodies. We can see it in our emotions and our regular habits. As we refine our habits, we become more sattvic. Knowing about the gunas isn’t meant to be a way to judge ourselves – it is another tool to help in our observation and awareness practices. All matter has all three gunas and we need all three gunas in proper balance. We’re not trying to get rid of anything, merely to observe the ever-changing flow and balance in our lives.
Rajas is active energy. It gets things moving. When unbalanced, it can also have an anxious, frantic, aggressive or agitated quality. Heavy driving rock music or someone screaming at another driver are examples of this. Hot spicy food is rajasic.
Tamas is stability which can also manifest as sluggishness and inertia. We need a balance so that stability doesn’t become stagnant. Food becomes tamasic when left in the fridge for a few days. Meat is heavy and tamasic. Emotionally it includes depression, sloth, boredom, hopelessness and ‘don’t care at all’.
Sattva is light and pure energy. Milk and fruits are naturally sattvic. Love, kindness and compassion are light and pure. Moments of calm awareness in the mind are sattvic.
From Bhagavad Gita, by Pandit Hari Shankar Dabral
Human personality is made with three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas. Our personality and mind are governed by these gunas.
Sattva is light. When sattva is dominant, we know what is right and wrong and we live up to our commitments. We must always be aware so as to not let rajasor tamas take over. Balance is needed. The inclination to dharma, spirituality, and obligations with a right attitude is sattvic. There are ways to create sattva. Swadhyaya (study of the Self), exercise (hatha yoga), pranayama, mantra and meditation all remove tamas.
Rajas gives movement to sattva and tamas. They are alive because of rajas. Sometimes rajas or tamas is dominant in us. Sattva doesn’t tend to stay long. Whensattva is dominant, we make good decisions and lots of commitments. Then tamas takes over and we don’t follow through on our good intentions. With too much rajas we are too active and have too much hyper energy. Rajas has to be brought under control so we are not all over the place with a scattered mind. When dominated by tamas, we are dull with no inclination, no self-respect, no divinity, no confidence and are full of inertia, tiredness and sloth. The gunas have colors too. Black is tamas, red is rajas, and white is sattva. When the mind is black and we don’t know what to do, that is tamas.
Food is also sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Yoga science talks a great deal about food. We have prana because we eat. What kind of food should we eat if we are on the path of spirituality, of Self realization? Meat is heavy, full of tamas and a person gets the tendencies of the animal they eat. Tamas is hard to digest and too heavy. Rajasic foods like garlic and onion make a person hyper and too active. When someone is doing a special practice they often stay away from garlic and onions because they want to be stable and grounded. Sattvic foods such as greens, milk and ghee are very light. Food that can be digested easily is alwayssattvic. The quality of food is the quality of mind, which is then quality of the body.
Food is affected by the vibration of the person and the environment in which it was made. If a person is angry and thinking vengeful thoughts while cooking, they are giving that subtle energy to the food. Whoever eats it will of course be affected. Thinking sattvic thoughts while cooking will impart that energy to the food. When we eat with awareness, we keep the sattvic guna dominant. We can make the same dish for a week and it will taste different each time because of our mood. We don’t have to quit eating certain foods, like for instance garlic and onion. With a correct state of mind, we can eat and still balance them.
Silence is critical. We need to pay attention when we eat. The state of mind in which we eat makes a difference. Chew each bite 32 times. Don’t talk. The awareness with which we chew our food makes the difference. We need the right atmosphere and environment in which we cook and eat our food. If a person eats pizza while changing the channels on TV, the body has eaten pizza without any awareness and has eaten too much. All things have to be noticed, brought into our awareness.
Prayer helps to create the sattvic guna. We offer our food to the Lord and then take prasad. With awareness, we can take away the negative energy to a great degree.
Yoga science and Ayurveda tell us to make sure the right nostril is open before eating because it activates the digestive system. Sit straight to eat and open the right nostril. The solar energy in the right nostril and right side of the body will help you digest your food easily. Opening the right nostril is also good when working on a project. Your mind is kept one pointed and centered when the right nostril is open.
These are simple observances that one could do to create a conducive environment to one’s sadhana, the path of spirituality.
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