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.