Trigunas (त्रिगुणाः)

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The term Trigunas is made up of 2 parts. The first part is 'Tri' which means 3 in number and the second part is 'Gunas' which means qualities or properties of substance. Thus the term points towards 3 qualities or properties of substance. In Bharatiya shastras, Bhagvad Gita and Ayurveda, the term Triguna implies the set of 3 human characteristics namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. In Ayurveda these are the 3 types of energy of mind while in the frame of reference of other shastras these 3 are the modes of material energy. The human temperament, behavior, emotions and actions are influenced by the dominance of one of these trigunas at that point of the time. Also, on the basis of their levels from the time of birth in any human being, the humans are characterized as Sattvik, Rajas or Tamas in mind-type. The personality, behavior, interests, health and ultimately the quality of one's life largely depends on the presence, absence or predominance of any of these trigunas in one's mind. Thus, Ayurveda has laid large emphasis on understanding of these 3 modes with special reference to the mind and characteristics of the individual.

Trigunas according to Bhagvad gita

Bhagavad Gita (भगवद्गीता) is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, narrated in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. In the 14th discourse of Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna narrates the role of Trigunas in one's life. At this place, the origin and association of Trigunas with one's life has been explained by lord Krishna as follows,

सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणा: प्रकृतिसम्भवा: । निबध्नन्ति महाबाहो देहे देहिनमव्ययम् ॥ (Bhagvad Gita 14.5)

sattvaṁ rajastama iti guṇā: prakr̥tisambhavā: । nibadhnanti mahābāho dehe dehinamavyayam ॥ (Bhagvad Gita 14.5)

Meaning: Prakrti or the material energy consists of three guṇas (modes)—sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). These modes bind the eternal soul to the perishable body.

Prakrti is believed to be that part of source of creation which is responsible for material existence of the universe. Since the trigunas are said to be the modes of this prakrti, all the matter or the material existence possess trigunas.

Bhagwad Gita explains how the same individual’s temperament oscillates amongst the trigunas. These 3 gunas are Sattvam, Rajas and Tamas. These three guṇas are present in the material energy, and our mind is made from the same energy. These are also considered as the modes of energy. Hence, all the three guṇas are present in our mind as well. They can be compared to three wrestlers competing with each other. Each keeps throwing the others down, and so, sometimes the first is on top, sometimes the second, and sometimes the third. In the same manner, the three guṇas keep gaining dominance over the individual’s temperament, which oscillates amongst the three modes.

Based upon one’s internal thoughts, the external circumstances, past sanskārs, and other factors, one or the other of these modes becomes dominant for that person. And the mode that predominates creates its corresponding shade upon that person’s personality. Hence, the soul is swayed by the influence of these dominating modes.

Triguna interaction

रजस्तमश्चाभिभूय सत्त्वं भवति भारत |

रज: सत्त्वं तमश्चैव तम: सत्त्वं रजस्तथा || 10|| B.G14.10

Meaning: Sometimes goodness (sattva) prevails over passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), O scion of Bharat. Sometimes passion (rajas) dominates goodness (sattva) and ignorance (tamas), and at other times ignorance (tamas) overcomes goodness (sattva) and passion (rajas).

Actions and effects of Trigunas

सत्त्वं सुखे सञ्जयति रज: कर्मणि भारत |

ज्ञानमावृत्य तु तम: प्रमादे सञ्जयत्युत || 9|| B.G 14.9

Meaning: Sattva binds one to material happiness; rajas conditions the soul toward actions; and tamas clouds wisdom and binds one to delusion.

Effect of Trigunas on the strength of mind

सत्त्वे उत्तमं मनोबलं, रजसि मध्यमं मनोबलं, तमसि मनोदौर्बल्यमेवेति| su su 35/38

Rajas and Tamas as doshas or disease causing factors

अतस्त्रिविधा व्याधयः प्रादुर्भवन्ति- आग्नेयाः, सौम्याः, वायव्याश्च; द्विविधाश्चापरे- राजसाः, तामसाश्च||४|| Cha ni 1/4

Role of Trigunas in Moksha