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For the Tamil movie, see Guna (film). For other uses, see Guna (disambiguation).
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Guṇa (Sanskrit: गुण) means 'string' or 'a single thread or strand of a cord or twine'. In more abstract uses, it may mean 'a subdivision, species, kind, quality', or an operational principle or tendency.[1]

In Samkhya philosophy, there are three major guṇas that serve as the fundamental operating principles or 'tendencies' of prakṛti (universal nature) which are called: sattva guṇa, rajas guṇa, and tamas guṇa. The three primary gunas are generally accepted to be associated with creation (sattva), preservation (rajas), and destruction/transformation (tamas) (see also Aum and Trimurti).[2] The entire creation and its process of evolution is carried out by these three major gunas.[1][3][4]

Classical elements[edit]

The term guṇa in Classical Sanskrit literature in general (e.g. Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, etc.) is the term for the five elements (mahabhutas), as well as the five senses, and five associated body parts:

  • Akasha (space), associated with the guṇa śábda ("sound") and with the ear.
  • Vayu (air), associated with the guṇa sparśa ("feeling") and with the skin.
  • Tejas or Agni (fire), associated with the guṇa rūpa ("appearance", and thus color and tangibility) and with the eye.
  • Apas or Jalam (water), associated with the guṇa rasa ("taste", and thus also flavor and tangibility, as well as shape) and with the tongue.
  • Prithivi (earth), associated with all the preceding guṇas as well as the guṇa gandha ("smell") and with the nose.

Bhagavad Gita[edit]

Book 17 of Bhagvad Gita discusses Guna.[5] Verse 17.2 refers to the three Guna - sattvic, rajasic and tamasic - as innate nature (psychology or personality of an individual).[6][7] Sattvic guna is one driven by the pure, truth, compassionate, without craving, doing the right because it is right, positive and good declares Bhagvad Gita. Tamasic guna is one driven by impure, dark, destructive, aimed to hurt another, contemptuous, negative and evil. Rajasic guna is one that is ego-driven, out of personal passion, active, ostentatious, seeking approval of others, and showy states Bhagvad Gita.[5][7]

In Samkhya philosophy[edit]

In Samkhya philosophy, a guṇa is one of three "tendencies": tamas, sattva, and rajas. These categories have become a common means of categorizing behavior and natural phenomena in Hindu philosophy, and also in Ayurvedic medicine, as a system to assess conditions and diets. For this reason Triguna and tridosha are considered to be related in the traditions of Ayurveda. Guṇa is the tendency, not action itself. For instance, sattva guṇa is the tendency towards purity but is not purity itself. Similarly rajas guṇa is that force which tends to create action but is not action itself. Each of the three gunas is ever present simultaneously in every particle of creation but the variations in equilibrium manifest all the variety in creation including matter, mind, body and spirit.[1][4]

All creation is made up by a balance composed of all three forces. For creation to progress, each new stage "needs a force to maintain it and another force to develop it into a new stage. The force that develops the process in a new stage is rajo guna, while tamo guna is that which checks or retards the process in order to maintain the state already produced, so that it may form the basis for the next stage".

  • Sattva (originally "being, existence, entity") has been translated to mean balance, order, or purity. Indologist Georg Feuerstein translates sattva as "lucidity".[8]
  • Rajas (originally "atmosphere, air, firmament") is also translated to mean change, movement or dynamism.[2][9] (Rajas is etymologically unrelated to the word raja.)
  • Tamas (originally "darkness", "obscurity") has been translated to mean "too inactive" or "inertia", negative, lethargic, dull, or slow.[9] Usually it is associated with darkness, delusion, or ignorance.[10] In some contexts, a tamas quality can also refer to a tendency towards breaking down or entropy. In his Translation and Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains "The nature of tamo guna is to check or retard, though it should not be thought that if the movement is upward tamo guna is absent".[3]

In Nyaya philosophy[edit]

In Nyaya philosophy, 24 guṇas are enumerated as properties or characteristics of all created things.

In grammar[edit]

In the Sanskrit grammatical tradition (Vyakarana), guṇa is a technical term corresponding to what is now termed the full grade in Indo-European ablaut. That is, it refers to a set of normal-length vowels that are less reduced than the basic set (in modern terms, the zero grade), but more reduced than the vṛddhi vowels (in modern terms, the lengthened grade). As an example, ṛ, i, u are basic (zero-grade) vowels, with corresponding guṇa (full-grade) vowels ar, e, o and vṛddhi (lengthened-grade) vowels ār, ai, au. (This is more understandable once it is realized that, at an earlier stage of development, Sanskrit e and o were ai and au, and Sanskrit ai and au were āi and āu.) This classification was developed by Pāṇini in his Ashtadhyayi.[11]

In medicine[edit]

In the terminology of Ayurveda (traditional medicine), guṇa can refer to one of twenty fundamental properties which any substance can exhibit, arranged in ten pairs of antonyms, viz. heavy/light, cold/hot, unctuous/dry, dull/sharp, stable/mobile, soft/hard, non-slimy/slimy, smooth/coarse, minute/gross, viscous/liquid.[12]

Guna is also a district of Madhya Pradesh, India

In Physics[edit]

The Hindu translator and scholar I. K. Taimni in The Science of Yoga [13] describes the gunas as dynamical states. In his discussion of aphorism 2.18 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Taimni states:

"Although the theory of Gunas is one of the fundamental doctrines of Hindu philosophy it is surprising how little it is understood.

There is a vague idea that they have something to do with properties because the word Guna in Samskrta generally means a property or attribute.

The advances which have taken place in the field of physical sciences and the light which this has thrown on the structure of matter and the nature of physical phenomena has now placed us in a position to be able to gain a faint glimpse into the essential nature of the Gunas.

If we analyse the flux of physical phenomena around us in the light of modern scientific knowledge we shall find three principles of a fundamental character underlying these phenomena. These three principles which ultimately determine the nature of every phenomenon are all connected with motion and may be called different aspects of motion. It is very difficult to express these principles by means of single words, for no words with a sufficiently comprehensive meaning are known, but for want of better words we may call them: (1) vibration which involves rhythmic motion of particles (sattva guana), (2) mobility which involves non-rhythmic motion of particles with transference of energy (rajas guna), (3) inertia which involves relative position of particles (tamas guna)."

In modern terms, Taimni defines the three gunas as dynamical attractor states as follows:

  1. Tamas is the fixed point[disambiguation needed] attractor.
  2. Sattva is the limit cycle attractor.
  3. Rajas is the chaotic or strange attractor.

Taimni imparts a modern definition to the gunas that illustrates clearly how the gunas can act as the fundamental substrate for manifested existence. From this view prakṛti becomes synonymous with dynamics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c,M1 Hindu Philosophy, Theos Bernard, Motilal Banarsidass Publ: 1999, ISBN 978-81-208-1373-1, pp. 74–76.
  2. ^ a b Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Self Realization Fellowship, 1973, p.22
  3. ^ a b Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita, a New Translation and Commentary, Chapter 1-6. Penguin Books, 1969, p 128 (v 45)
  4. ^ a b Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita, a New Translation and Commentary, Chapter 1-6. Penguin Books, 1969, p 269 v.13
  5. ^ a b Christopher Key Chapple, The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1438428420, pages 634-661
  6. ^ Christopher Key Chapple, The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1438428420, pages 635
  7. ^ a b Gideon Arulmani et al (2014), Handbook of Career Development: International Perspectives, Springer, ISBN 978-1461494591, pages 139-143
  8. ^ Alter, Joseph S., Yoga in modern India, 2004 Princeton University Press, p 55
  9. ^ a b Feuerstein, Georg The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga, Shambhala Publications, 1997
  10. ^ Whicher, Ian The Integrity of the Yoga Darśana, 1998 SUNY Press, 110
  11. ^ Macdonald, Arthur Anthony (1927[1886]), A Sanskrit Grammar for Students p. 11. Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815466-6
  12. ^ * Chopra, Ananda S. (2003). "Āyurveda". In Selin, Helaine. Medicine Across Cultures: History and Practice of Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 75–83. ISBN 1-4020-1166-0.  p. 76, citing Sushrutasamhita 25.36.
  13. ^ I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali in Sanskrit , ISBN 978-81-7059-211-2

External links[edit]