Three Attributes (Gunas) of the Human Mind
- From: Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita
By Swami Rama
THREE ATTRIBUTES (GUNAS) OF THE HUMAN MIND
The human mind is composed of three gunas (qualities): sattva, rajas,
and tamas. The Vedas explain that these three qualities are present
in all that exists in the phenomenal world and so are also found in
all human beings, though in different grades and degrees.
When the sadhaka [practitioner] understands that the animal tendency
is destructive, unhelpful, and of a tamasic nature, he increases his
awareness of his human potentials.
In the next stage of awareness, he realizes the great marvel of
marvels: that the essential nature of his being is divine. He then
follows the path of upward travel toward divinity. Without realizing
his divinity, a human being can be successful in the external world
but can never have a tranquil mind, and he is thus unable to catch a
glimpse of the Eternal. He longs to be happy, but that dream is not
The divine nature in the human being is the sattvic quality of
equilibrium, which gives one freedom from the influences of the pairs
of opposites. Equilibrium is a state of mind attained by human
effort. The aspirant who understands the three qualities of the human
mind always remains vigilant and increases his awareness of sattva.
One of the qualities of sattva is expansion; thus the mind, speech,
and action of the sattvic aspirant follows the law of expansion and
not of contraction. Contraction leads one to feel separate and small,
whereas expansion leads one to realize that the Self of all is his
Animals are totally dependent on the laws of nature, but human beings
can cross the boundaries of natural law by attaining altered states
of consciousness. The human being is independent in many ways: he has
the ability to fathom the laws of nature by which animals live and to
use those laws for his own ends. The human being alone has enormous
capacity to study the various levels of life that have evolved in the
universe. He is divine, human, and animal all at the same time, and
his behavior depends on which part of him is most developed.
Through direct experience, sages acquire the essential knowledge of
the Vedas; they go to the source from which the Vedic knowledge
springs. With inward sadhana [practice] they reach the highest summit
from which they can have profound knowledge of all levels of life and
the universe. They find ever-flowing knowledge within and without.
One who is thirsty drinks water, but one who has quenched his thirst
has no need to stoop down to fetch water from streams and wells. Thus
the sage who has become one with Truth has no need for the incomplete
and limited knowledge expressed through words and concepts.