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The Mind Types (Gunas)

Guna is simply defined as character or quality, but has a broader meaning. A guna is also an influence or impulse. The cosmic matter is made up of three gunas. Everything on Earth also has a predominant guna, as well as the more specific qualities obtained from their elemental makeup. Just as our bodies contain all of the elements, our minds have each of the gunas.

The three basic gunas/qualities have no directly equivalent terms in English. They are:

  • Sattva (knowledge, purity)

  • Rajas (action, passion), and

  • Tamas (inertia, ignorance).

Foods, plants, animals and people can all be grouped according to their dominant quality/guna. To refer to a guna is a reference to the qualities displayed by that entity or object, whether sattvic, rajasic or tamasic.

In the human context, guna usually refers to the quality of the mind and character of a person. That is, whether they are calm, gentle, patient and tolerant (sattvic), passionate, spontaneous, greedy, materialistic, exploitative and focused on sense gratification (rajasic), or ignorant, lazy, insensitive and deceitful (tamasic).

All three types of guna are present in everyone, and each may be displayed in different contexts. People can alternate between gunas depending on the environmental context and their diet, as well as phase of life and other factors. This is because the guna of food consumed, and the surrounding social or physical environment directly influence the mind guna.

Just as the five elements are present and may alternate in predominance depending on the environment, the various gunas may dominate in particular circumstances. As human beings, our objective is to increase our sattvic guna by choosing to eat and do those things that are also sattvic in nature. The quality of the food we eat, and our environment, are therefore crucial to maintaining mental health.

As mentioned earlier, the mind is inherently connected to the body. Increasing our contact with, or consumption of, rajasic or tamasic things ultimately creates an imbalance in the mind and distress in the body. This is followed by disease and sickness in a variety of forms. If your dosha is unbalanced it can similarly disturb the mind guna. This link between the mind and body can often make diagnosis of the origin of some diseases difficult. Did it originate in the mind and then disturb the body, or vice versa?

Ayurvedic medical theory and science, although ancient, has enduring relevance and wisdom for human beings in any age. It has been used to treat millions of people over centuries, and will continue to offer insight to people well into the future.

The Mind Types

People of a sattvic nature are naturally intelligent with a good memory. They are instinctively clean and ordered, take good care of themselves and are health-conscious. They are content, calm, gentle and considerate of others - polite and helpful to all, with good manners. They seek to improve themselves, even though already knowledgeable. They are focused on work, self-improvement and intellectual or spiritual pursuits.

Usually, they are highly positive in nature, demonstrating generosity, kindness, openness, fairness (equality) and forgiveness. They readily share what they have and enjoy doing so, but expect no reward in return. Sattvic people see life as a productive learning experience and do not begrudge their position, nor hold grudges. They do not seek to accumulate wealth or status. Their mind is clear and peaceful, and they are honest, humble and quiet. They are spiritually inclined and have a strong faith and belief in God, often engaging in selfless service or charitable activities.

Those with a sattvic guna express happiness, enthusiasm and joy. They are flexible, moderate, regular and balanced in habits and activities. Sleep is minimal, yet deep and refreshing. Food that is fresh and not extreme in terms of preparation or taste is preferred (not over-cooked or under-cooked, heavily spiced or very sweet).

Those that are rajasic in temperament are dynamic and seek to control and dominate others. They are medium in intelligence and have a variable memory. Those with rajasic guna value prestige and authority and so seek power, status, fame, wealth and recognition. Rajasic people are never satisfied with their position or possessions – they always seek to accumulate more and enjoy flaunting what they have. In addition, they seek continual gratification of desires (sex, food), stimulation of the senses (music, color, fragrance) and entertainment (parties, functions, festivals). However, they are often distracted or quickly bored.

Generally, they are very ambitious as well as highly active and industrious. They can be brave and courageous, but often display jealousy, maliciousness, cruelty, excessive emotions and egotistical behavior. Those with this temperament can be extremely determined, manipulative, selfish and proud. They can often be rude, arrogant and angry and usually respond with irritation to external stimulus. In terms of spirituality, they are doubtful and questioning. When rajasic guna is predominant, a negative, sometimes cynical attitude is prevalent.

Sleep is disturbed or troubled by intense dreams, so is not refreshing. Food that is strong and excessive in flavor (spicy, hot, salty) is preferred. Stimulants such as coffee, tea,

alcohol and tobacco are consumed regularly. Those of a rajasic nature rarely give unconditionally. It is always done with some reluctance and to demonstrate generosity (or with some expectation) rather than genuine altruism. Relationships are therefore based mainly on their own needs and desires rather than on reciprocal interest and regard.

Those demonstrating a tamasic guna are ignorant, lazy and fearful with poor memories. They are usually apathetic and insensitive in nature. They show little consideration or regard for others, and are coarse, brash, immoral or violent. They may be stubborn or obstinate, and inattentive to those around them. Tamasic people show little or no desire to improve physically or mentally, or lack the will power and discipline to do so.

Tamasic individuals do not engage in anything that is physically or mentally taxing, and will avoid any work at all if that is possible. They seem almost to be entirely engaged in (or thinking about) eating, drinking, sleeping, sex or idleness. They are dishonest, unclean in habits and have no regard for their health. Often, they show no initiative and minimal interest in, or understanding of, spirituality. They have little or no faith in God. People with a tamasic nature are frequently sorrowful or depressed.

People with a predominantly tamasic guna demonstrate no love except that based on the own sensory gratification, so relationships are totally exploitative. They rarely give, instead preferring to take or even obtain through deception. They overeat, and consume food that is overcooked, sweet and heavy in taste and consistency or stale, cold, preserved and processed. “Fast food” or “junk food” constitutes a large part of their diet. Often, they complain about their job or position in life although show no motivation or take no action to change it. Tamasic people sleep heavily and are not easily roused from sleep, and are usually sedentary.


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