Psychological Aspects of the Three Gunas

The three Gunas are not restricted to major cosmic principles of Matter, Energy and Consciousness, but are also part and parcel of our own psychology and reactive nature. Sri Aurobindo describes the psychological nature of each of the Gunas as follows:

“Sattwa…is by the purity of its quality a cause of light and illumination and by virtue of that purity it produces no disease or morbidity or suffering in the nature. … For knowledge and a harmonious ease and pleasure and happiness are the characteristic result of Sattwa. The pleasure that is sattwic is not only that contentment which an inner clarity of satisfied will and intelligence brings with it, but all delight and content produced by the soul’s possession of itself in light or by an accord or an adequate and truthful adjustment between the regarding soul and the surrounding Nature and her offered objects of desire and perception.”

“Rajas … has for its essence attraction of liking and longing. Rajas is a child of the attachment of the soul to the desire of objects; it is born from the nature’s thirst for an unpossessed satisfaction. it is therefore full of unrest and fever and lust and greed and excitement, a thing of seeking impulsions, and all this mounts in us when the middle Guna increases….Its fruit is the lust of action, but also grief, pain, all kinds of suffering; for it has no possession–and even its pleasure of acquired possession is troubled and unstable because it has not clear knowledge and does not know how to possess nor can it find the secret of accord and right enjoyment. All the ignorant and passionate seeking of life belongs to the rajasic mode of Nature.”

“Tamas … is born of inertia and ignorance and its fruit too is inertia and ignorance. It is the darkness of Tamas which obscures knowledge and causes all confusion and delusion. Therefore it is the opposite of Sattwa, for the essence of Sattwa is enlightenment,…and the essence of Tamas is absence of light, nescience…. But Tamas brings incapacity and negligence of action as well as the incapacity and negligence of error, inattention and misunderstanding or non-understanding; indolence, languor and sleep belong to this Guna. Therefore it is the opposite too of Rajas; for the essence of Rajas is movement and impulsion and kinesis…, but the essence of Tamas is inertia…. Tamas is inertia of nescience and inertia of inaction, a double negative.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 414-416