The Three Puppet Strings

By Rudra Shivananda

In yogic philosophy, all matter in the universe arises from the fundamental substrate called prakriti. From prakriti arises the three primary gunas or qualities that create the essential aspects of all nature—energy, matter and consciousness. These three gunas are
tamas (darkness), rajas (activity), and sattva (lightness). All three gunas are always present in all beings and objects but vary in their relative amounts leading to various levels of material attachment and delusion. Lord Krishna has said (BG 14:05 – 14:08):

The eternal embodied soul to the material body bound
The three-fold principle binding mind is found
Pure and good, illuminating sattva snare
Attachment to happiness and knowledge beware
Restless and passionate, intense selfish rajas craving
Attachment to desire borne on fruits of work saving
Ignorant and lazy, tamas delusion inducing wrap
Attachment to negligence and non-action soul trap

Understanding the gunas is critical to knowledge of human psychology. The mind is highly unstable and fluctuates under the changing dominance of the different gunas. The temporarily dominate guna acts like a lens that effects our perceptions and perspective of the world. When the mind is dominated by rajas it will experience world events as chaotic activity and it will react in a passionate and restless manner.

Yoga teaches that we have the ability to consciously alter the levels of the gunas in our bodies and minds. The gunas cannot be separated or removed in oneself, but can be consciously acted upon to encourage their increase or decrease. A guna can be increased or decreased through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts.


An important way to regulate these gunas in body and mind is through ayurvedic cooking which seeks to increase the sattvic, decrease rajasic and avoid the tamasic foods. Sattvic foods are fresh, juicy, light, nourishing, sweet and tasty and give the necessary energy to the body without taxing it. It is the foundation of higher states of consciousness. Examples are juicy fruits, fresh vegetables that are easily digestible, fresh milk and butter, whole soaked or sprouted beans, grains and nuts, many herbs and spices in the right combinations with other foods.

Rajasic foods are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, hot and dry. They increase the speed and excitation of the nervous system and chaotic thoughts in the mind. It is the foundation of motion, activity and pain. Examples are sattvic foods that have been overcooked or oil-fried, foods and spices that are strongly exciting such as garlic and onions.

Tamasic foods are dry, old and decaying. They consume large amounts of energy while being digested. They are the foundation of ignorance, doubt, pessimism. Examples are foods that have been strongly processed, canned or frozen and/or are old, stale or incompatible with each other – meat, fish, eggs and liquor are especially tamasic.

Saints and seers can survive easily on sattvic foods alone but householders living in the world and have to keep pace with its changes also need rajasic energy. It is necessary to keep a balance as much as possible.

Since all gunas create attachment and thus bind one’s self to the ego, it is necessary to transcend them. While the seeker should initially cultivate sattva, his/her ultimate goal is to transcend their misidentification of the self with the gunas and to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of all life. When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body; one is freed from birth, old age, disease, and death; and attains enlightenment. (BG 14:20).

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