Bhagavad Gita on Trigunas – Sattwa Rajas and Tamas


Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest scriptures of Hinduism gives elaborate explanation on the role of Trigunas in human psyche. To understand what Trigunas are, please read this article first.

Every individual is bound to this world and indulges in thoughts, speech and action as per the machinations of the Trigunas inside the psyche.

Sri Krishna, in Bhagavad Gita says “The three Gunas – Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas bind the essentially immortal Atman (self) to the (mortal) body”. (14.5). It means, as long as the soul is bound to trigunas, the cycle of Karma will continue birth after birth.

Hinduism strongly advocates that the very purpose or goal of human life is Yoga – attaining oneness with God or realizing one’s true nature of Atman (self). And this yoga (union) can be attained only by transcending Trigunas.

One who has transcended Trigunas is the liberated/ realized soul, a true Gnyani; He is freed from the cycles of births and deaths.

In his Bhagavad Gita (spiritual discourse to Arjuna), lord Krishna elaborates Triguna.

Trigunas and Bondage

Bhagavad Gita explains how each of these three Gunas binds one.

Tamas, the meanest of the three, “is born of ignorance, causes delusion and it strongly binds one with mis-comprehension, laziness and sleep.”(14.8)

Rajas, the mid one, “is in the form of passion, gives rise to thirst and attachment. It binds one by creating attachment to action”(14.7).

Even though the qualities of Sattwa are the loftiest and are considered Godly, a person, even if soaked fully in Sattwa, is not considered a liberated person, since attachment to Godly qualities too is a bondage. Bhagavad Gita says “Sattwa is stainless, luminous and free from evils and it binds one through attachment to happiness and attachment to Gyana (knowledge)” (14.6).

Even though Sattwa is a quality above Rajas and Rajas is a quality above Tamas, the reality is that each one is powerful enough to subdue and dominate over the other qualities at varying times and conditions. Thus Bhagavad Gita says, “Sattwa arises predominating over Rajas and Tamas; Likewise Rajas dominates over Sattwa and Tamas, and Tamas dominates over Sattwa and Rajas.”(14.10).

Observing Predominant Guna in a Person

It is not difficult to observe a person and determine which quality is predominant in him at any given point of time. “When the light of knowledge shines through every sense organ in a person, then it should be known that Sattwa is predominant in him” (14.11) says Gita.

Likewise, if a person is under the dominance of Rajas, “greed, physical activity, avid engagement in actions, restlessness and attachment are visible (14.12).   

If Tamas is predominant, dullness, lack of effort, miscomprehension and delusion are seen” (14.13).

Trigunas at Death

Whichever quality out of trigunas is predominant at the time of death of a person, that quality greatly determines the type of next birth he is going to take.

“If one meets death when Sattwa is predominant, he attains to the spotless higher worlds of the the great Gnyanis. If one dies when Rajas is predominant, he takes birth amidst people who are attached to action. The one dying when Tamas is predominant, takes birth off the wombs of the irrational.” (14.14-15).

The Characteristics of a Gunateeta

Bhagavad Gita also describes the characteristics of a saintly person who is has transcended the trigunas as follows:

“The embodied person, who knows that the body is caused by the trigunas, transcends the gunas and gets freed from birth, death, aging and suffering and attains immortality” (14.20)

“Whether it is the inner light coming out of Sattwa, or the activity originating in Rajas or the delusion caused by Tamas, the one who does not hate it nor longs for it when absent;

one who remains unaffected in pleasure and pain, one who is established in Self, one who treats a clod of earth, a stone or a piece of gold alike, one who treats likes and dislikes alike, one who is steadfast, one who faces honor and disgrace alike,

one who treats respect and disrespect equally, one who is relates equally to a friend and foe, one who has relinquished all actions arising out of desire – such a person is called Gunatheeta – one who has transcended the Gunas.” (14.22-25).

Bhagavad Gita proceeds further to explain the play of trigunas in one’s shradda(earnestness), worship and food habits. We shall look into them in the subsequent articles.

What is the composition of Triguna in you? Take this quiz.


Know Your Personality Through Triguna

Triguna, meaning “three qualities” is one of the ancient psychological concepts available in Hindu scripture. According to this concept (available from Samkhyaschool of Indian philosophy) human mind is made of Sattwa (purity, holiness),Rajas (activeness) and Tamas (laziness, inertia). These three qualities exist in various proportions in men and their combined effect determines one’s personality.

For a more detailed understanding of Trigunas, you may please readundestanding Triguna” first, before starting to answer the quiz here to know your personality though Trigunas.

This quiz has 3 sections each with 10 statements. Each of these 3 sections pertains to Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas respectively.

Based on your personal assessment about yourself, please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following 3×10 statements. Each ‘Yes’ carries 1 point and each ‘No’ carries 0 point. If you are not sure of yes or no, think again: the emphasis to all questions is about your “strong” beliefs and feelings. If you do not feel “strongly” to answer ‘yes’, it amounts to answering ‘no’ only.

Group: A (Sattwa – Purity, holiness)

A-1)”I believe man’s duty is to lead an unselfish life by helping others in all ways possible. Many times I am deeply pained seeing hunger, poverty, suffering, terrorism and anarchy; I think deeply on what I can personally contribute to reduce suffering in this world.”

A-2)”I strongly believe that God exists and everything happening in this world is at His command.”

A-3)”I strongly believe any form of killing of creatures – for food, for religious sacrifice or for scientific/ medical experiments – is outright wrong.”

A-4)”I feel human life has plenty of contradictions and unanswered questions; I wonder many times whether the life of running behind money, power, sensual enjoyments and so on has any lasting purpose or worth. Sometimes the whole life appears just like a long dream to me.”

A-5)”I don’t get angry or upset easily. When in joy, I don’t become too jubilant.”

A-6)”I am very humble and don’t like to boast about my achievements. People don’t consider me a very egoistic person. People generally show respect to me for my conduct and character.”

A-7) “I strongly believe sensual enjoyments do not give lasting happiness; I believe the more we keep away from them or moderate them, the more peace and tranquility we get. I believe celibacy is a great virtue (though it is difficult to practice for most).”

A-8) “I have lots of reverence for holy saints and seers who have relinquished the world in quest of God. I believe realizing one’s true nature or realizing God can be the loftiest goal of human life.”

A-9) “I have few enemies. I don’t get too upset when criticized. I may dislike a person’s words or actions but that does not make me end up in hating that person. I can easily forgive and forget.”

A-10) “I am more interested in reading Bible, Bhagavat Gita and such holy scriptures with a thirst to grasp their true wisdom, than reading them superficially or out of compulsion. I also feel holy scriptures are not really meant for intellectual analysis and interpretation or for giving eloquent discourses, but to use them as a guide to tread the higher paths they show.”

Add up your sattwa score:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points : You are highly sattwic. You have potential divine qualities in you.

4-6 points: You are moderately sattwic. You have good seeds of spirituality sprouting inside you.

0-3 points: You have low sattwic qualities. You don’t have much of spiritual inclination.

Depending on your scores that you have to take in the next two parts of the quiz on Rajas (action and drive) scale and Tamas (laziness and inertia) scale, your overall personality can be assessed at the end.

Group:B (Rajas- Activity, drive)

B-1) “I don’t think the idea behind “eat, drink and be merry” is wrong. I believe life must be enjoyed to its full. There is nothing wrong in earning a lot so as to spend it on enjoyment.”

B-2) “I believe idleness is a crime. Working hard to earn well must be the way of life. Hard work has its own joy. I cannot tolerate a lazy person, be it a saint or a beggar.”

B-3) “I believe in goal setting and achieving it in life. It gives meaning to our life. “Never give up hope; do not get troubled by failures; do not believe in fate; march along; reaching the goal is more important than the path you tread” – such words always impress and inspire me.”

B-4) “I don’t think selfishness is evil. I you look around, practically everyone is working for his/her selfish ends. I believe, at times, in your quest for success, you can’t help but tread over a couple of others and there is nothing too wrong about it. I believe survival of the fittest is the law in this competitive world too.”

B-5) “Money, possessions, power, status, leadership, position, fame (or notoriety), manipulative capacity, a high degree of visibility of my face in the society or in the media – all these are like heady brews for me. I believe that enjoying some or all of them give meaning to my existence in this world.”

B-6) “I really enjoy viewing competitive sports, action movies and thrillers. I love to do regular exercise, spend time in gym, take part in active sports; Many times unfortunately I can’t always allocate time for these activities because of my tight engagements.”

B-7) “I admire very popular sports stars, very famous models, pop singers, Movie Heroes/ heroines and very successful politicians and consider some of them as my role models.”

B-8) “I believe in religion as long as it serves for the welfare of society. I would any day respect a person who toils for the welfare of the downtrodden than one who sits inside the church to pray and read bible. I believe saints who seclude themselves from society and search for Godliness in loneliness are not worthy of reverence.”

B-9) “I am extremely attached to my family, profession/ business, wealth and comforts. I feel I am duty bound to provide my children the best of everything within my capacity – comforts, education, status and security for the future.”

B-10) “I enjoy traveling, seeing different people, different cultures, societies and lifestyles. I don’t believe in retirement. People should lead an active life till the end of life. I believe one should never think or feel about one’s age impose restrictions on oneself, citing aging as a reason.”

Add Up Your Rajas Score:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points: You are highly rajasic. You have a very high degree of worldly desires and drive in you.

4-6 points: You are moderately rajasic. You are a reasonably active and energetic person.

0-3 points: You have low rajasic qualities. You are not a person with ambitions, drive and motivation for worldly success.

Depending on the scores that you got in the previous quiz on Sattwa and in the next part of the quiz on Tamas scale, your overall personality can be assessed.

Group:C (Tamas – laziness, inertia)

C-1) “I believe those who have very wealthy parents are really lucky. They can always enjoy good life without stressing and straining themselves.”

C-2) “Whenever I eat, I would eat to my stomach-full. I particularly enjoy anything non-vegetarian. If I am hungry, I get restless. I tend to gobble up anything unmindful of taste and quality.”

C-3) “I believe being a couch-potato has its own bliss which many so called active people do not know of. I hate physical exercises. Though I may envy physically fit and shapely figures, I can’t think of physically straining myself to get an attractive figure.”

C-4) “For me, accumulating a huge bank balance is a lot more pleasurable than spending money on essentials and non-essentials. Let people call me a miser. I just don’t care.”

C-5) “I always tend to over-sleep and, to be frank, I enjoy it. Sleeping in day time has its own pleasure that many busy people are never aware of.”

C-6) “I hate traveling. I feel traveling and running around unnecessarily strain me physically and disturb my eating and sleeping patterns.”

C-7) “I am addicted to alcoholic drinks / smoking / drugs. Even if I cannot be classified as an addict, my love for these indulgences is quite deep-rooted and I feel life is not worth living if these are taken away from me.”

C-8) “I am strictly against any religious or moral censures against polygamy, premarital sex, orgy, extra marital relationship, homo-sexuality or lesbianism.”

C-9) “Frankly, I have no respect for so-called saints, religious masters and Gurus. Most of them are fake; they talk eloquently about God and morality but I believe most of them enjoy sex and wealth secretively.”

C-10) “I may not be rich today but I am confident lady luck will smile at me one day. According to my astrologer, my life will take a huge leap forward in the next few years. Frankly I envy those who are filthy rich and enjoy life. The only difference between them and myself is just one thing – damn luck. “

Add up your tamas scores:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points: You are highly tamasic. You have a very high degree of laziness; Animal tendencies are strongly lurking inside you.

4-6 points: You are moderately tamasic. You seem to enjoy inactivity and day dreaming.

0-3 points: You have low tamsic qualities. You are not a person who enjoys idling or fooling around.

Depending on the scores that you got in the previous quiz on Sattwa and Rajas scales, your overall personality can now be finally assessed.

Since thousand permutations and combinations are possible with these scorings, so much of variations in personalities are possible based on this simple 30 point sample questionnaire. Even if we take ‘High’,’medium’ and ‘low’ sub-groups in the 3 gunas, we will still get 36 general varieties in personalities.

Now now your overall personality based on all the three qualities

However, we shall now discuss a few typical personality traits based on some sample major group combinations from Trigunas, with sample scores obtained in the 3 quizzes.

Sample Case 1: Sattwa: very high (10), Rajas: Medium (5), Tamas: Very low (0):

This is a saintly person actively serving the society. His spirituality is very well evolved; he is not a saint who loves seclusion and he may not be of the philosopher type. He is more of a Karma Yogi (man of action). Through unselfish and tireless service, he would dedicate his life for the welfare of the people.

Sample Case 2: Sattwa: High (9), Rajas: very low (0), Tamas: low (2)

This is a man of high spiritual yearnings, who has no attraction for the materialistic world. He is more of a Gnyana Yogi (man of wisdom) or a Bhakti Yogi (a devotee of God)than of a Karma Yogi (man of action). He is more inclined to talk of maya and the impermanence of the world than to physically strain himself with lofty ideals to serve humanity.

Sample Case 3: Sattwa:Medium (4), Rajas: High (9), Tamas: low (3)

This is a man, deeply rooted in enjoying the world, but at the same time, having constant questions nagging at his mind about his way of life and an inclination to look into spirituality to get answers. His mind constantly fluctuates between enjoying life by compromising his morality at one end and desiring self-restraint at another end, because it appears to be good for the long term peace. When tempted, he would rather choose worldliness over Godliness.

Sample Case 4: Sattwa: Low (2), Rajas: High (9), Tamas: low (2)

This is the type of man who has very strong leadership tendencies, a highly motivated achiever, one who is deeply entangled in worldly activities with very little concern for the society or about religion, spirituality or morality.

Sample Case 5: Sattwa: Medium (6), Rajas: Medium(4), Tamas: low (3)

For this man, worldly life has its own strong attractions but concern about the society and inclination towards spirituality are there too. Life is not too hectic for him.

Sample Case 6: Sattwa: Low (3), Rajas: low (3), Tamas: high (7).

Here is a person, stooped in laziness and sloth and leading a life of day dreaming and disillusionment. He is likely to be an alcoholic or drug addict. He will blame every one except himself for all the ills of his life.

We have so far discussed some of the most peculiar combinations of the Trigunas. There will be subtle variations in the characters of people based on the finer variations in the points scored in each group.

Trigunas and Spirituality:

Unlike other systems of psychology, the concept of Trigunas has its strong moorings in Hindu spiritual philosophy. Hinduism strongly advocates that the very purpose or goal of human life is Yoga — attaining oneness with God or realizing one’s true nature of Atman (self). And this yoga – union can be attained only by transcending Trigunas. It is the one who has transcended Trigunas is the liberated/ realized soul, a true Gnyani, freed from births and deaths.

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