That sounds like the title of a cheesy gameshow, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. It’s a serious question. However, because it’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog, and what we're going to talk about in this blog follows directly from it, let's do a quick re-cap and remind ourselves what the maha gunas are.
We have three maha gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas. The maha gunas are universal energies that affect every area of our life, including the natural world we’re all a part of. But, unlike our three doshas - which are fixed at the moment of our creation - our maha gunas are in a constant state of movement. That means, if we can understand them well enough to recognise how they are working together and affecting us, we can balance and control our maha gunas through better lifestyle choices and decision making.
The maha gunas are:
Sattva, which is the guna of harmony, balance, intelligence, compassion, and insight. It is the quality that gives us clarity and wisdom and love, happiness, peace, and freedom. The colour white symbolises sattva.
Rajas, which is the guna of activity, kinetic energy, longing, and change. It is the quality that drives us to take action and makes us feel emotional extremes like courage and euphoria, anxiety and anger. The colour red symbolises rajas.
Tamas, which is the guna of inertia, negativity, ignorance, and darkness. It is the quality that makes us feel lazy or sad and prevents us from moving forwards. It is also the quality of rest and sleep. The colour black symbolises Tamas.
Sattva, rajas, and tamas are always crossing in-and-out of each other. Sometimes rajas will be dominant. Sometimes, sattva or tamas will be dominant. ‘Maha’ means ‘supreme’ and ‘guna’ means a quality that is neither positive nor negative, good nor bad. The maha gunas are the constant flow of everything, from intelligence to motion to rest and then back again. Just like a wave that forms out of the sea, sweeps onto the beach and either soaks into the sand or rejoins the ocean to become another wave, the sattva, rajas, and tamas are the ongoing process of creation, movement and dissolution that affects everything in the universe, both living and non-living.
The maha gunas in Ayurveda
In Hindu philosophy, the maha gunas are the seeds from which everything else grew. The sattva and rajas gunas combined to create our sensory organs (i.e. smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing) and our organs of action (i.e. hands, feet, speech, excretion and reproduction), and the rajas and tamas gunas combined to eventually create the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Space. In turn, those five great elements created the vata, pitta and kapha doshas that must be kept in balance if we’re going to stay healthy and avoid sickness and dis-ease.
So, just as the vata, pitta and kapha are biological forces, the sattva, rajas, and tamas are psychological forces. Together, they form the sixteen different personality types under which (according to the classical Ayurvedic texts) every living person can be grouped. Studying how the doshas and maha gunas interact with each other gives an Ayurvedic doctor a complete picture of the patient’s mind-body-energy state.
What are the sixteen personality types?
There are seven types of sattva personality:
Brahma Sattva (knowledgeable people who are respectful and loving)
Mahendra Sattva (leaders who are respected and loved by their followers)
Varuna Sattva (spiritual people who are gifted speakers and never lose their composure)
Kubera Sattva (extrovert and dignified, passionately desires wealth and comfort)
Gandharva Sattva (sensual people who are elegant, alluring, and gifted performers and storytellers)
Yama Sattva (law-abiding, ethical, pursues their goals with single-minded determination)
Rishi Sattva (deeply religious, celibate people who are focused entirely on serving God)
There are six types of rajas personality:
Asura Sattva (strong, assertive, often self-obsessed, fights courageously for a cause they believe in)
Rakshasa Sattva (people who are cruel, greedy, and quick to anger)
Pasaica Sattva (addictive personality-types who are cowardly, unhygienic and prey on others)
Sarpa Sattva (a person of opposites – sometimes incredibly brave, sometimes extremely fearful)
Praita Sattva (undisciplined, lazy, unpleasant towards other people)
Sakuna Sattva (a hedonistic, fickle person who is opportunistic and morally bankrupt)
And, finally, there are three types of tamas personality:
Pasava Sattva (a lazy, sometimes deviant person who can also be idiotic and absent-minded)
Matsya Sattva (a person who is changeable and can’t be depended upon; eats and sleeps too much)
Vanaspatya Sattva (lazy, foolish, enjoys the simple life and prefers the company of others)
I should add that when ancient physicians first put these different personality types together, they also wanted to emphasise the human psyche's dual nature. For that reason, sattva is always a part of each description because it is the balancing force to rajas, which is the forward force, and tamas, which is the opposing force.
What’s your predominant guna?
Even though the maha gunas are constantly interacting with each other, we all have a predominant – sometimes called ‘primary’ – guna which is more dominant inside us than the other two.
Please take a look at these descriptions, and see which one sounds most like you…
Serene. Understanding. Accepting and Virtuous.
Sattva people are calm and sensitive and able to see the world with clarity and concentration.
However, an imbalance of sattva can make a sattva person feel demotivated, unstable, and reckless.
Busy. Energetic. Passionate and Creative.
Rajas people are always seeking change, movement and excitement. They are driven to succeed and constantly wanting more.
However, an imbalance of rajas can make a rajas person agitated, jealous, and emotionally volatile.
Grounded. Introspective. Tired and Inactive.
Tamas people are drawn to material comforts, but they tend to lack ambition or ‘get up and go.’
An imbalance of tamas can lead to ignorance, mental dullness, and feelings of isolation.
Do any of those very brief descriptions sound familiar or remind you of people you know?
How can you balance your gunas and make your predominant guna stronger?
I’m glad you asked that question because we'll be talking about that next time!
Until then, to your enduring health and happiness in Ayurveda.