Tamas (philosophy)

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In the Samkhya school of philosophy, tamas (Sanskrit: तमस् tamas "darkness") is one of the three gunas (or qualities), the other two being rajas (passion and activity) and sattva (purity, goodness). Tamas is the template for inertia or resistance to action. It has also been translated from Sanskrit as "indifference".

The nature of Tamas[edit]

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the three attributes of all that is manifest of which form the list of evolutes and evolvents (The 23 principles of Samkhya, 24th being Prakriti[the source of all gunas] 25th being the Purusha devoid of any attributes) of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, where tamas is one of the three(There is no particular order or ranking as such imposed upon by the Varna system but only the effects of the attributes predominance). In any given evolvent or an evolute when Tamas is predominant, Rajas and Sattava lies dormant or of lesser influence, so It doesn't necessarily mean Tamas is whole in itself. It is all purely an attribute identified with darkness, dissolution, death, destruction, Sub-conscious, Dormant, and resistance/inertia as it easily doesn't come into the conscious states of awareness. Tamas is equivalent to the powerful sub-conscious undercurrent Guna. There isn't polarities of Good or Evil as may be suggested by some interpretations but purely the play of balancing attributes and it's perception of being demonic or destructive only undermines the true nature of Tamas itself. Tamas is as important and as powerful a force of the states of awareness of the conscious self.

Tamas in its pure form is synonymous with Death and destruction. while Gunas themselves do not have an exclusive realm of their own in the creation where other two doesn't come into play. for there is always interaction of all the three gunas at any given state of the manifest, and there is a constant battle for predominance. while it may be maintained that Tamas in itself is the source of perceived evil or demonic tendencies but the case actually is of states of awareness. Tamasic predisposition of the mind and the intellect may verily result in lower states of awareness but that is a false notion for the realms of awareness is not so fragmented, but a wholeness of being.

The gunas are defined and detailed in Samkhya, one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Each of the three gunas has its own distinctive characteristics and it is believed that everything is made up of these three. Tamas is Darkness(Sub-conscious), Inertia(because awareness is painful), and Dull (Since it appears dormant in the realms of the conscious ).

Occurrence of Tamas[edit]

The Bhagavad Gita says,

Once a man, having sattva as his main habitual behaviour, feels that it is not easy to live in this world by the means of sattva, he will start being Rajasic. As per rajas, the man starts habitual working thinking only of what he wants. It becomes hard for him to think about his Karmic actions as good (satkarmi) or bad (akarmi). Then, he feels good in giving harm or any of bad feeling to other people. He then thinks, how can I provide harm to others and attain my goal. This behaviour is under control of a power in this nature called mohamaya and brings about asakti (Sanskrit: Āsakti – selfishness).


  • "You should know, O Arjuna, tamas as the cause of delusion enslaving all embodied beings born of nescience; by negligence, listlessness and somnolescence." (BG 14:8)
  • "O Arjuna, nescience, inertness, neglectfulness and also illusion; when these arise tamas predominates." (BG 14:13)
  • "Succumbing to death in rajas one takes birth among those beings attached to fruitive activities; similarly, dying in tamas, one takes birth from the womb of an animal" (BG 14:15)
  • "The Fourteenth Day: One who enters into the fourth state, overcomes time, and the three qualities of raajas, taamas, and satva"(SGGS [1])
  • "Those who embody the energies of sattva-white light, raajas-red passion, and taamas-black darkness, abide in the Fear of God, along with the many created forms." (SGGS [2])
  • "Your Power is diffused through the three gunas: raajas, taamas and satva" (SGGS [3])
  • "Raajas, the quality of energy and activity; Taamas, the quality of darkness and inertia; and Satvas, the quality of purity and light, are all called the creations of Maya, Your illusion. That man who realizes the fourth state - he alone obtains the supreme state" (SGGS [4])
  • "Raajas, the quality of energetic activity shall pass away. Taamas, the quality of lethargic darkness shall pass away. Saatvas, the quality of peaceful light shall pass away as well. All that is seen shall pass away.

See also[edit]