According to Ayurveda, we all embody three mental qualities – or rather qualities of Nature, which influence all things in our life and regulate our mind and emotions. These three mental qualities, or the Gunas, are Sattva (illumination), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (inertia).
Sattva, a Sanskrit word that literally means “being-ness” (from sat “being” and tva “-ness”), is a combination of the qualities of light, purity, lucidity, harmony, clarity, and transparency. Sattva generates creation through the desire to know truth and the drive to take right action. Sattva is directed inward and upwards. It brings about awakening of the soul and creates peace. The sattvic mind is kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving, truthful, intelligent, and strong.
Rajas is the dynamic principle and is associated with movement, action, and turbulence. It generates action and initiative. Rajas is directed outward. In its lower form, it causes or motivates egoistic actions (achievement of power, control and dominance) and is therefore the cause of exhaustion and suffering (tamas). The Rajasic mind (out of balance) is egoistic, greedy, angry, lustful, violent, and anxious. It is important to note that there is a “higher rajasic force”, or rajasic sattva. According to Yoga and Ayurveda scholar David Frawley, “It is perhaps the key force both in spirituality and healing because it is rajas leading to sattva, like the dawn creating the day… It is the real shakti or transforming energy. Through it one becomes a spiritual warrior and can do spiritual practices with great energy and vigor.”
Tamas is associated with darkness, dullness, heaviness, ignorance, lethargy, and inertia. It reflects the ability of Nature to bring to completion whatever was created by Sattva and carried out by Rajas. It retards and is the force of gravity. It causes decay, death, and disintegration. The tamasic mind (out of balance) is fearful, depressed, dull, miserable, and delusional. Like with Rajas, there is a higher tamasic force, tamasic sattva, which is as Frawley explains: “the resistance power of sattva guna… In spiritual life it helps us resist any efforts to draw us away from the path. In healing it sustains the healing functions of both body and mind.”
Cultivating Sattva in the Mind
All three qualities are thus essential for eternalizing Nature’s cycles. However, with respect to health and higher awareness, Sattva reflects the “inner light” or higher Self, more faithfully than the other two qualities of Nature. It is thus the aspiration of both Yoga and Ayurveda. Both traditions avow that, wisdom – or Awakening – arises whenever the quality of Sattva grows stronger in our mind-body. The Sattvic mind-body according to both maintains balance, health, happiness, peace and ease.
It is with all of this in mind that this blog discusses the concept of sattvic food, or Food for Awakening. The interplay of these three qualities of nature’ – sattva, rajas and tamas – and our food and eating patterns is discussed more fully in this post.