Three Gunas


Bhagwat Gita

Three Gunas to Monitor One’s Spiritual Progress

In Chapter 14 of Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna defines and describes the three gunas: Sattvic, Rajas and Tamas. In subsequent chapters, Lord Krishna classifies many of our daily actions and sadhanas into these three types.

Swami Paramarthananda has translated Bhagwat Gita for use by his students. Many students use these translations, published by chapter in book form, to chant the verses when attending Swamiji’s Bhagwat Gita classes. In the introduction to Chapter 14, Swamiji has presented and analyzed the three gunas in a chart form. In subsequent topics, he presented the classifications of some karma and sadhana in chart forms.

Based on Swamiji’s teachings of Bhagwat Gita, I somewhat expanded these charts to include teachings from Chapters 16, 17 and 18. The first chart defines the three gunas and the subsequent charts classify actions and sadhanas into these three gunas. I believe these charts give guidance on how to understand the three gunas, classify actions into the three gunas and try to improve the quality of actions. According to the scriptures we can improve the quality of actions by eliminating tamasic actions, reducing rajasic actions and increasing sattvic actions.

Please note that my knowledge of Sanskrit is very limited, and these charts may reflect that limitation.

With Regards

Ravi Chandran

Bhagwat Gita
Three Gunas
Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Teachings
Topic Sattva Rajas Tamas
लक्षण (Definition) Chapter 14, Verse 6 Chapter 14, Verse 7 Chapter 14, Verse 8
Prakasatmakam Ragatmakam Mohanatmakam
Pre-disposed to acquire more knowledge; addicted to introspection Tend to act more; clings on to possessions and desires for things not yet possessed Eternal conflict, delusion and procrastination; not sure about the needs
बन्धनप्राकार (Mode of bondage) Chapter 14, Verses 6 & 9 Chapter 14, Verses 7 & 9 Chapter 14, Verses 8 & 9
Causes attachment to knowledge; addicted to knowledge Causes attachment to activity; addicted to karma (activities) Causes attachment to indifference; bound to negligence
लिङ्ग (Sign of predominance) Chapter 14, Verse 11 Chapter 14, Verse 12 Chapter 14, Verse 13
Increase of knowledge Increase of activity, greed, restlessness and craving Dullness, inaction, negligence and delusion
गति (travel after death) Chapter 14, Verses 14 & 18 Chapter 14, Verses 15 & 18 Chapter 14, Verses 15 & 18
To higher lokas To middle lokas To lower lokas
फलम् (consequence in this life Chapter 14, Verses 16 & 17 Chapter 14, Verses 16 & 17 Chapter 14, Verses 16 & 17
Punya & Knowledge Sorrow & greed Ignorance & delusion
Bhagwat Gita
Classification of Actions
Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Teachings
Topic Sattva Rajas Tamas
श्रद्धा (Faith) Chapter 17, Verse 4 Chapter 17, Verse 4 Chapter 17, Verse 4
Worship of satvic deities Worship of rajasic deities Worship of tamasic deities
Mental worship Verbal and physical worship Violent worship
Spiritual motive Materialistic motive Destructive motive
आहार (Food) Chapter 17, Verse 8 Chapter 17, Verse 9 Chapter 17, Verse 10
That which is delicious, which gives longevity, health, strength and happiness That which is excessively bitter, sour, salty, hot, pungent and which causes pain That which is improperly cooked, without nutrition, putrid, stale, left over and impure
यज्ञ (Sacrifice) Chapter 17, Verse 11 Chapter 17, Verse 12 Chapter 17, Verse 13
All activities done sincerely according to the scriptures; without expecting any results; karma yoga is satvic yoga; focus is on what one gives to the society All activities done for fame, show and money; focus is on what one gets back from the society All activities done involuntarily; without rules, faith, mantra or dakshina
दान (Charity) Chapter 17, Verse 20 Chapter 17, Verse 21 Chapter 17, Verse 22
Given with sincerity to a deserving person at the proper time and place without expecting any return; Charity is the end in itself Given reluctantly for the sake of return and result Given without respect to an undeserving person at an improper time and place
तपस् (Austerity) Chapter 17, Verse 17 Chapter 17, Verse 18 Chapter 17, Verse 19
Practiced with faith and without expecting any results; any wordily results should only be by-products Practiced for the sake of show, name and fame; Results will be temporary and uncertain Practiced with false notions and bodily torture for harming others
Bhagwat Gita
Classification of Actions
Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Teachings
Topic Sattva Rajas Tamas
सन्यास (Renunciation) Chapter 18, Verse 9 Chapter 18, Verse 8 Chapter 18, Verse 7
Renunciation of the results of Nitya karmas Renunciation of Nitya karmas due to fear of bodily strain Renunciation of Nitya karmas due to the ignorance of their value
Continues to do karma yoga, but renounces the results Renunciation of dhyānam and tapas
ज्ञान Knowledge Chapter 18, Verse 20 Chapter 18, Verse 21 Chapter 18 Verse 22
Sees the undivided Self in and through all the beings Takes the Self to be distinct from every other being Takes the body as the self
I am the conscious principle which enlivens the body mind complex (I am the consciousness) I am the tenant/owner of the body and am immortal; there are many immortal jivas just as me (I am the mind) Believes in only what can be sensed by sense organs (I am the body)
कर्म (Karma) Chapter 18, Verse 23 Chapter 18, Verse 24 Chapter 18, Verse 25
Duty performed without attachment and expectations Action done with egoism for the sake of results Indiscriminate action done without considering the consequences
Action done to improve my self knowledge Action done to improve my surroundings Actions done without any planning
कर्ता (Doer) Chapter 18, Verse 26 Chapter 18, Verse 27 Chapter 18, Verse 28
Detached, perseverant, enthusiastic, unassuming and calm in success and failure Attached, greedy, harmful and subject to elation and depression Undisciplined, uncultured, arrogant, harmful, dull and procrastinating
Does not get attached to any success or failure and uses all experiences for inner growth Gets attached to success and failure and does not use the results for inner growth. Does not have an integrated personality
Bhagwat Gita
Classification of Actions
Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Teachings
Topic Sattva Rajas Tamas
बुद्धि (Intellect) Chapter 18, Verse 30 Chapter 18, Verse 31 Chapter 18, Verse 32
Clearly knows dharma and adharma, right and wrong as well as bondage and liberation Has doubts regarding dharma and adharma, right and wrong Considers adharma as dharma (e.g. Arjuna thought the war was adharma at the beginning of Bhagwat Geeta)
धृति (Will) Chapter 18, Verse 33 Chapter 18, Verse 34 Chapter 18, Verse 35
Sustains the functions of all organs in the spiritual path; controls sense organs by unswerving practice of yoga Pursues dharma, artha and kama craving for their benefits Does not give up sleep, fear, grief and indulgence
Leads to spiritual success Leads to material success Leads to sensory pleasures and attachment
सुखम् (happiness) Chapter 18, Verse 37 Chapter 18, Verse 38 Chapter 18, Verse 39
Like poison in the beginning and like nectar in the end; Happiness is born of self-knowledge Like nectar in the beginning and like poison at the end; happiness is born of contact between sense organs and objects Deludes the mind in the beginning and in the end; happiness is born of indolence and negligence.
Not subject to loss; sadhana shadhushta sambanthi Subject to loss and will go away creating a vacuum Based on fatalism and does not use free will
सधन सुतुष्ट सम्बन्धि