Gunas or Qualities : An Ayurvedic perspective (आयुर्वेदे गुणाः)
The word guna (Samskrit: गुणाः) literally translates to values, virtues, qualities etc. In Ayurveda, guna is one among the 6 padarthas (dravya, guna, karma, samanya vishesha and samavaya) accepted by Ayurveda which are essential to bring dhatu samyata (good health) in the body. Guna is a quality/property of a dravya (substance). The dravyas (substance) can only perform different karma (actions) because of the presence of specific guna (quality) in them.
The word guna is derived from
which translates as 'to attract or invite'. The Guna (quality) is that property of a substance to which one gets attracted towards that substance. In short, guna is the criteria for selection of any dravya (substance) for use to get desired action and result.
The term guna has been defined at many places in Ayurveda treatises. Although the concept of guna as one of the padartha is similar to Darshana shastras there are some minute differences owing to the nature of Ayurveda where their practical application is highly important in the treatment and diagnosis parts.
...समवायी तु निश्चेष्टः कारणं गुणः ॥ (Char. Samh. 1. 51)
That which is in perpetual co inherence with the dravya(substance) and which is motionless, or which is devoid of action is termed as guna.
समवायोऽपृथग्भावो भूम्यादीनां गुणैर्मतः| स नित्यो यत्र हि द्रव्यं न तत्रानियतो गुणः॥ (Char. Samh. 1. 51)
There is perpetual and inseparable relationship of a dravya with its guna. There is no existence of dravya without its guna, thus this relationship is eternal and hence a dravya(substance) cannot exist or act without its guna(properties)
Acharya chakrapani has categorized gunas in three ways,
…. अनेन त्रिविधा अपि वैशेषिकाः सामान्या आत्मगुणाश्चोद्दिष्टाः ॥ (Char. Samh. 1. 49)
- Vaisheshik guna
- Samanya guna. Which is further classified into,
- Guruvaadi guna
- Paradi guna
For better understanding of gunas, Acharya charka in sutrasthana has described two basic categories of guna. The total number of gunas is believed to be 41.
सार्था गुर्वादयो बुद्धिः प्रयत्नान्ताः परादयः| गुणाः प्रोक्ताः ...॥ (Char. Samh. 1. 49)
Meaning: Sartha, Gurvadi, Buddhi-prayatnanata and Paradi (sets of gunas) are (total 41 types of qualities) called as gunas.
Meaning: Sound etc. qualities that can be perceived by (5) sense organs are known as arthas (subjects or the sense organs).
|Sr No||Sartha / Vaisheshika||Gurvadi||Paradi||Prayatnanta / Adhyatmika / atmagunas|
Brief Explanation about gunas
All the gunas included in 3 categories are useful for assessing the imbalances in the body, diagnosing and planning management.
Gurvadi gunas refer to the 20 gunas starting from 'Guru' which is the first in order. Among these 20 gunas, there are 10 pairs of gunas having exactly opposite property to each other. guru-laghu, manda-tikshna, hima-ushna, snigdha-ruksha, shlakshna-khara, sandra-drava, mrudu-kathin, sthira-chala are these 10 pairs comprising of total 20 gunas. Each of the gurvadi gunas and its unique panchamahabhuta composition is described in the table below. (A.H SU.1.18.HEM), (sush. sutr.46.524),
|Guna||Karma (Required for this activity)||Panchamahabhuta dominance|
|Guru(heavy)||Nourishing, strengthening, increasing mass||prthvi and jala|
|Laghu(light)||Bringing lightness||Akasha, vayu, agni|
|Sheeta(cold)||Generate cooling, stop the flow or movement of body component||Jala, vayu|
|Ushna(hot)||Generate heat and sweating||agni|
|Snigdha(unctuous)||Develop moisture, unctuousness, lubrication||Jala|
|Ruksha(dry)||Generate dryness, absorption||Vayu, agni|
|Manda(mild)||Pacifying aggravated doshas||Prthvi, jala|
|Teekshna(sharp)||Extracting out the unwanted accumulated wastes||Agni|
|Sthira(stable)||Hold something, sustain, maintain the balance, stabilize||Prthvi|
|Sara(unstable)||Stimulate something (secretion or action), mobilize||Jala, vayu|
|Mrudu(soft)||Develop softness, elasticity||jala|
|Kathina(hard)||Develop firmness, hardness, toughnes||Prthvi|
|Vishada(non-slimy)||Cleansing activity, separating||Vayu|
|Picchila(slimy)||Protecting, covering, smearing, coating||Jala,vayu|
|Sukshma(tiny)||Navigating through the minute channels of the body due to its fine and delicate nature||agni, vayu and akasha|
|Sthula(coarse)||Increasing the mass leading to blockage||Prthvi|
|Drava(liquid)||Drip through, dossolving, liquifying||Jala|
The samskrit term Paradi can be spit into 2 parts viz. Para-one of the gunas & Adi-etc. Thus Paradi gunas refer to the set of gunas starting from the guna called as 'Para'. These are 10 gunas in number.
Acharya charaka has described these gunas as belows,
परापरत्वे युक्तिश्च सङ्ख्या संयोग एव च| विभागश्च पृथक्त्वं च परिमाणमथापि च॥ संस्कारोऽभ्यास इत्येते गुणा ज्ञेयाः परादयः॥ (Char. Samh. 26.29)
Meaning: Paratva, Aparatva, Yukti, Samkhya, Samyoga, Vibhaga, Prthaktva, Parinama, Samskara and Abhyasa are known as Paradi gunas.
Paratva ॥ Superiority
तच्च परत्वं प्रधानत्वम्
Paratva means superiority. This guna is essential while selecting a particular species of dravya in treatment as of which is superior.
Aparavtva ॥ Inferiority
The opposite of paratva is aparatva, which means inferior. Again, a dravya which is inferior in specie is apara, thus this helps while selecting a dravya.
Yukti ॥ Rationality
युक्तिश्च योजना या तु युज्यते॥ (Char. Samh. 26.31) युक्तिश्चेत्यादौ योजना दोषाद्यपेक्षया भेषजस्य समीचीनकल्पना ॥ (Char. Samh. 26.31, chakra)
Considering dosha etc aspects the rational application of a dravya for treatment is yukti.
Sankhya ॥ Number
सङ्ख्या स्याद्गणितं ॥ (Char. Samh. 26.32)
Enumeration of any dravya, disease, etc is sankhya.
Samyoga ॥ Combination
योगः सह संयोग उच्यते
The conjunction between two dravya is known as sanyoga. It is further of 3 types,
द्रव्याणां द्वन्द्वसर्वैककर्मजोऽनित्य एव च॥
Meaning: Samyoga is of 3 types as below,
Vibhaga ॥ Disjunction
Disjunction is known as vibhaga.
द्रव्याणां द्वन्द्वसर्वैककर्मजोऽनित्य एव च|
Like Samyoga, Vibhaga is also of 3 types
- Bhagasho graha
Prthakatva ॥ Separation
पृथक्त्वं तु ‘इदं द्रव्यं पटलक्षणं, घटात् पृथग्’ इत्यादिका बुद्धिर्यतो भवति
The property which separates one dravya from another is pruthakatva.
पृथक्त्वं स्यादसंयोगो वैलक्षण्यमनेकता|
Prthktva is of further 3 types
Parimana ॥ Measurement
The weight or length etc of dravya must be measured, which is with the help of parimaan guna.
Samskar ॥ Processing
The guna because of which there is conversion in the form of dravya due to application of a certain process is sanskar.
Vaisheshika darshana states 3 types of sanskar,
संस्कारस्त्रिविधो वेगो भावना स्थितिस्थापकश्च| (prashastapada)
Samskara is of 3 types.
Abhayasa ॥ Practice
भावाभ्यसनमभ्यासः शीलनं सततक्रिया|
Usage or practice of a same dravya or padartha again and again is abhayasa
Acharya Charaka has called a set of gunas by the name of first and last guna in it. The first is Buddhi and the last in sequence in Prayatna. These are total 6 in number. In Tarka samgraha based on Nyaya and Vaisheshika darshanas these gunas are called as Adhyatmika gunas since those are related to the Atman i.e. life energy and capable of independently bringing about some karma (action or activity). Those are described in brief hereafter.
सर्वव्यवहारहेतुर्गुणो बुद्धिर्ज्ञानम्। सा द्विविधा स्मृतिरनुभवश्च। संस्कारमात्रजन्यं ज्ञानं स्मृतिः। तद्भिन्नं ज्ञानमनुभवः।
Buddhi is intelligence required for any doing any type of activity.
सर्वेषामनुकूलतया वेदनीयं सुखम्॥
The pleasant effect or feeling is sukha.
सर्वेषां प्रतिकूलतया वेदनीयं दुःखम्॥
That which causes unpleasant feeling is dukkha.
Any kind of desire, wish or intentions is known as iccha.
Any kind of anger leads to dvesha or enimity.
A deed to be done or action leading an outcome is praytna.
Importance of Gunas in Ayurveda
Gunas are qualities of dravyas (susbstances) present in the universe. 9 dravyas including 5 mahabhutas, atman, disha, kala and manas possess gunas. Vaisheshika and Gurvadi gunas are related to 5 mahabhutas. Adhyatmika gunas are related to Atman while paradi gunas come into the consideration when there comes a necessity to select one from the choice of many dravyas and also to determine the possible action of the combination of 2 or more dravyas. May it be any category of gunas, it is ultimately related to and responsible for the final specific action of a substance/person.
In Ayurveda, gurvadi gunas are widely applied to understand the pathology, imbalances in body components and to find the ways to treat these imbalances. The medicines, herbs or formulations to treat any illness are selected on the basis of their gunas. In Ayurveda any dosha, dhatu, mala, herb, metal, mineral, food article is described on the basis of its rasa, guna, veerya, vipaka, karma and prabhava if any. Gunas describe the ability of any substance to perform specific action. It is basis for selection of the right substance for any desired activity or karma.
There is presence of guruvaadi guna in shareera dhatus, and in the same way in aushadh dravya and ahara(food). (char. shar.6.10)
When there is guru guna ahaara or aushadhi dravya consumption there is increase in that guna(property) of that particular dhatu.and in the same way if there is laghu guna ahara or aushadhi consumption there is decrease in guru guna of the dhatu, and increases the laghu guna(lightness), thus the guna also act against each other. (char. shar.6.10)
In the similar way gunas can be utilized for planning treatment based on the above principle, for example usage of mamsa rasa (meat soup) in mamsa dhatu kshaya. (char. shar.6.10)
Guna being an inseparable aspect of dravya can only be inferred through the depiction of their actions i.e through its karma.(su.su.46.514)
In obesity, aushadhi dravya of laghu, ruksha etc guna can be used according to various ayurvedic parameters () to reduce weight. Also, the ahara(food) or pathya or diet planning can be done based on above said guna.
Similarly, Various karma(action) or therapeutic procedures can be planned considering the dhatu guna and the aushadhi and ahara dravya guna.
Vishishta guna like shabda, sparsha etc are are indriya specific (sensory organ related) and are also used as parameters of patient examination as well.
Adhyatmik guna like sukha,dukkha etc , also have an impact on overall health of patient. For example, when there is happiness(sukha)experienced by patient the the aushadh or ahara dravya gets digested properly and overall health is in good state.
While opting for an herb for chikitsa purpose, one must consider the guna of a dravya, alongside rasa, veerya vipaka etc for the desired otcome.
Guna(properties) are not situated within themselves, thus a physician must consider the gunas of rasas as the gunas of dravyas. (ch.su.26.36)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutra 49-51)
- Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 1)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutra 29)