What, Exactly, Is A Guna?

In the study of any yoga, including Kundalini Yoga, we sometimes come across terms that do not have any English equivalents. Our practice may give us a very direct experience. Our bodies feel more energized and balanced. Our minds become clearer. Our emotions relax. But the complex yogic lexicon that explains WHY yoga works the way it does can take time to understand, in a practical way.

In Yogi Bhajan’s book, The Mind – Its Projection and Multiple Facets, the term guna is incredibly important. There is no way to master one’s mind without understanding the gunas. And as the saying goes – if you master your mind, you master the world. So these gunas have a critical role to play.

But what, exactly, is a guna?

One way to understand the gunas is to think about the Big Bang. Our 21st century scientists trace the formation of matter back to a singular explosion that gave birth to all matter. From the yogi’s perspective, that explosion did not ONLY create form. It also created consciousness. Just as hydrogen and helium atoms in the first seconds of the Big Bang became the basis of other elements, there are three distinct “flavors” of consciousness that formed at the beginning of creation. Those “flavors” combine in different ways to give the soul an experience of time and space.

Those flavors are:

Heavy, attached, slow, persistent, dull, angry and confused: called the Tamasic guna.

Royal, demanding, positive and active: called the Rajasic guna.

Angelic, peaceful, tranquil, content, graceful, honorable and disciplined: called the Sattvic guna.

Angels in the ethers are entirely Sattvic. Their perception of time and space, and the play of God’s creation, always has the flavor of peace, contentment and grace.

Worms crawling in the ground have a heavy-flavored Tamasic quality. Their awareness is very very limited. Granted, the Divine Light has taken birth as an insect. But the mental capacity of a worm to know Itself as God is just not there. The awareness has not developed for that self-recognition.

In other words, although every creature comes from One Divine Soul, what it experiences in time and space is different. Gunas are qualities of awareness that act as a lense through which the soul perceives its own form, and the forms around it.

For an angel, the only flavor or quality of consciousness it can experience is Sattvic. It can never be anything but a Sattvic consciousness.

For a worm, the only flavor or quality of consciousness it can experience is Tamasic. It can never see the world through anything except the Tamasic quality.

However, the human mind has a very unique property. It can not only experience life through any of these flavors. It can combine flavors. And, through the power of its own meditative force, it can switch flavors.

In fact, this ability to recognize and switch the gunas is one of the tests and gifts of human consciousness.

Why is this so? Our actions come from how we see things. And how we see things come from the predominant guna coloring our perception in that moment. If we are angry, the Tamasic guna is strong, and we may act violently. If we are trying to accomplish something, the Rajasic guna is strong, and we may order people around. If we are want to help another person, the Sattvic guna is strong, and we may sacrifice something in order to elevate the other. Our actions sow the seeds of future consequences that we have to reap. And since our actions come from the predominant guna, it is important to be aware of and in command of those gunas.

All three gunas exist for a reason and have a purpose. Knowing how to balance them and work with them; and understanding what guna is predominate in your own psyche, is very important to master the mind.

We will explore each guna in depth in future articles. In the meantime, a wonderful meditation for balancing all three gunas is Tershula Kriya.

Musical support for Tershula Kriya:

Sat Kartar has a great version of Har Har Waheguru for Tershula Kriya

Instructions for Tershula Kriya:

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