Brahmavidya and The Three Gunas

This is lesson five of Advanced Hatha. OM SAHA NAAVAVATU, SAHA NAU BHUNAKTU





OM. May That protect us both, teacher and pupil.  May That cause both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures.  May our learning be brilliant.  May we never quarrel with each other.  Om, peace, peace, peace.

Brahmavidya: [Braah-ma-vid-y] Learning pertaining to Brahman or the Absolute Reality.

Brahman: [Braah-man] Absolute Reality; the Truth proclaimed in the Upanishads; the Supreme Reality that is one and indivisible, infinite and eternal; all-pervading, changeless Existence; Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute; Absolute Consciousness.

Guna: [Goo-na] Quality or attribute.  One of the three qualities of nature (Prakriti): sattva, rajas and tamas.

Prakriti: [Prak-ri-tee] Mother Nature, Primal Nature; causal matter; Shakti


Blessed Selves,

We continue our exploration of Vedanta philosophy diving deeper into the concept of the Absolute as well as introducing the yogic theory of Prakriti and her innate qualities, the three gunas.  The concepts of the Absolute and Prakriti can be challenging to grasp.  But remember from Lesson 1, much of what we learn in yoga is merely a planting of seeds.  With time, when the mind is ready, more understanding will come to fruition.  For now, do not trouble yourself if you are having a hard time grasping these concepts.  Take more focus into the latter half of this lesson for practical application towards cultivating a lifestyle that empowers you.  A review of lesson 4 (Yoga: A Universal Path) may also be helpful to refresh your memory about Vedanta philosophy. 

The Yogic Cosmology:

Yoga states that before there was creation, the entire universe was in an unmanifest state (pralaya).   There was originally only the Self or Brahman – undifferentiated, infinite and changeless energy. Like a pulsating embryo, activity is taking place inside the egg although there is nothing visible on the outside.  There are no disturbances until a vibration takes place, the shell breaks and the chick emerges (creation).

The vibration that caused the evolution of Prakriti, or the material world that we perceive, is a result of karmic tendencies lying in a causal state.  From the original vibration (Nada Brahman or OM) the universe was created.  As was mentioned in Lesson 4, Prakriti leads us to perceive duality or the self separate from other.  Mythologically, this is known as Shiva and Shakti.  Shakti (power, energy, Goddess, female power) moves out from Shiva creating the world of illusion or Maya.

This same process of evolution and involution occurs in the individual.  Kundalini Shakti (the Serpent Power, or the primordial cosmic energy located in the individual) descends from the highest chakra, sahasrara, or the thousand petaled lotus, to the lowest chakra, muladhara, or root chakra and rests there.  When kundalini rests in the lower chakras, the individual enjoys sensual pleasures.  As Shakti begins to make her way back to her source, Shiva residing at the crown center, the individual begins to experience great joy as layer after layer of the mind in pealed away.  When she finally returns to her source, the individual experiences the eternal bliss of supreme consciousness.

The purpose of yoga is to find out who we really are.  When Shakti moves away from Shiva the individual experiences Maya, the illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world.  Maya manifests herself in the individual as avidya or ignorance.  Maya is responsible for our forgetting of who we are.  Our ignorance leads us to believe that we are limited beings rather than the immortal Self.

When Absolute consciousness or Brahman manifests itself, what is manifested becomes an embodiment of Absolute consciousness.  For instance, our bodies are a manifestation of Absolute consciousness; we embody Absolute consciousness.  Absolute consciousness both embodies creation as well as governs creation.

Maya is the power in Absolute consciousness that is behind the manifestation of the material world.  Maya is the energy that projects all reality while simultaneously veiling it.  It is the veiling power of Maya that creates a problem for us.

Maya consists of the three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas.  The three gunas are the main qualities of Maya that all the forms of creation manifest through.  The material world expresses itself in a vast multiplicity of names, forms and substances.   Dr. David Frawley explains, ‘She (Prakriti/Maya) is like the tail of a peacock, which when withdrawn disappears into uniformity but when unfolded reveals all the colors of the rainbow.’

The Three Gunas

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the qualities born of Nature bind the immortal soul in the body.

~Bhagavad Gita XIV.5

Rajas is the positive or stimulating force that initiates change by disrupting the old equilibrium.  Tamas is the negative force that maintains the previous activity.  Sattva is the neutral force that oversees, observes and harmonizes the positive and negative forces.

In the pralaya or the unmanifest universe, the three gunas are in a state of equilibrium.  Tamas and rajas are absorbed into sattva.  When Prakriti manifests herself, these three qualities begin to differentiate.  The mind is created through sattva, the life-force is produced by rajas and form and substance through which the body comes into being is a result of tamas.

The three qualities are always found together and they are always in a state of dynamic interaction.  This is “the law of alteration.”  We rarely observe pure sattva, pure rajas or pure tamas. However, when one the qualities become dominant, it will hold its nature for a period of time.  This is knows as “the law of continuity.”

We can see these laws illustrated in the course of a day.  The daytime belongs to sattva, the transitional times of sunrise and sunset belongs to rajas and the nighttime belongs to tamas.  The phases of time are always alternating.  However, once a particular phase in the day has been established, it will continue for a period of time.

All three qualities are necessary for normal activity but they have spiritual consequences as well.

Sattva is the higher spiritual force that supports us to evolve in consciousness.  Sattva has the qualities of light, life and love.  The virtues of this quality are honesty, faith, self-control, modesty, truthfulness, purity and contentment.

Rajas is the vital force that lacks consistency or stability.  It has the quality of passion and agitation.  Rajas results in emotional fluctuations of love and hate, attraction and repulsion, fear and desire.

Tamas is the material or lower force that drags us down into states of ignorance and attachment.  It has the qualities of darkness, non-feeling and death.  It gives rise to dullness, inertia, emotional clinging and stagnation.

Yoga teaches us to develop sattva in our lives since it is the quality that allows for spiritual growth.  However, what may have begun as sattvic on one level can become rajasic or tamasic once we evolve to the next level and, therefore, must then be discarded.

Developing sattva begins as a process of purifying the body and mind through lifestyle choices such as proper diet, physical purification (asana, pranayama, kriyas), devotion, mantra, control of the senses, control of the mind, clean environment and choosing like-minded people that support our spiritual evolution.

One of the first steps on the spiritual path is to become aware of whether the choices that you are making in your life are supporting your growth or dismantling it.  I will continue with practical ways to develop sattva in the next lesson as well as offering a chart that will help you to become more clear and honest with yourself about your mental constitution.  OM!


What is Maya?

Why do we forget ‘who we are?’  Explain.

What are the three gunas and what spiritual implications do they have?

Describe the qualities of the three gunas.

What are some ways that we can develop sattva?

Suggested Reading:

CIBY: Chapters 10 and 11

Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization

~Dr. David Frawley






Lead me from the unreal to the Real

From darkness to light

From mortality to Immortality

OM, peace, peace, peace