The Three Gunas

The yogis say there are three ways of being, or states of existence, known as the three Gunas. Most of us fluctuate from one state to another. The idea is that we need to progress from the lowest state to the highest.

The lowest state is called Tamas. It is a state of boredom, laziness and ignorance. It may also be described as delusion, obscurity, inertia* and darkness. It is a low energy state of being. It is recognised that the kinds of foods we eat can affect the state we are in. ‘We are what we eat’. Tamasic foods are stale, rotten or over processed and full of chemicals. These foods should be avoided. They are not satisfying and leave you feeling sickened or still hungry. When people are in the tamasic state they are not happy.

The next state is called Rajas. It is a state of restless activity. When in this state a person is often agitated or stressed. He may be over excited or angry, full of lust, hatred or greed. He may be deceitful, fickle and easily distracted, as well as ambitious and acquisitive*. His speech is sour and his stomach is greedy. The kinds of food that aggravate this state are sour, bitter, salty, pungent and burning. Alcohol is considered rajasic. Meat eating is also known to encourage fiery passions.

The third state is Sattwa. In this state a person is fearless and pure. He is generous and self controlled, a gentle person, truthful and free from anger.

When in the sattwic state we are calm, happy and contented. We are able to concentrate well and achieve much. In our hearts and minds we feel serene and peaceful. The foods that help us to achieve this state are fresh, light, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Fruit, vegetables and dairy products are recommended. However, no amount of sattwic food will lift a person from either tamas or rajas if their attitudes need to be changed first!

Sattwa has been translated as illuminating, good and pure.

It perhaps needs to be noted that in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian system of diagnosis and treatment, it may be recommended that people of certain types will benefit from eating a certain amount of sour, bitter, or spicy food. These foods can have beneficial effects on some people and are not necessarily ‘bad’. They are foods which are to be taken in small quantities as it is recognised that the body responds badly to excessive amounts of such foods (e.g.vinegar, hot spices, and so on.)