Verse 12: What are the three Gunas?

prīti-aprīti-viṣāda-ātmakāḥ prakāśa-pravṛtti-niyamārthāḥ |
anyonya-abhibhava-āśraya-janana-mithuna-vṛttayaḥ ca guṇāḥ ||

prīti – pleasure
aprīti – pain
viṣāda – despair/delusion/lethargy
ātmakāḥ – essential

prakāśa – illumination
pravṛtti – movement/action
niyama – restraint
artha – purpose

anyonya – reciprocal/mutual
abhibhava – oppose
āśraya – support
mithuna – union
vrtti – fluctuation
guna – essential quality/attribute

They are the essential underlying qualities of the Manifest.

  1. The Manifest (Vyakta) has three essential qualities.
  2. Their nature is pleasure, pain and delusion.
  3. They are existing substances and positive entities (eg: pleasure is not the absence of pain).
  4. They have never been observed coming together or separating from each other.
  5. Prakrti (Primordial Nature) in its initial state is a delicate equilibrium of these three qualities.
  6. Each of the qualities serves a purpose:
    1. The purpose of pleasure is illumination.
    2. The purpose of pain is action.
    3. The purpose of delusion is restraint.
  7. They are inter-dependent – they exist for the sake of each other.
  8. They are mutually dominating. When one is active it dominates the others.
    1. When pleasure is active it dominates over pain and delusion.
    2. When pain is active it dominates pleasure and delusion.
    3. When delusion is active it dominates pleasure and pain.
  9. They are mutually supportive. When one is active it is supported by the others.
    1. When illumination is active it rests upon and is supported by action and restraint.
    2. When action is active it rests upon illumination and restraint.
    3. When restraint is active it rests upon illumination and action.
  10. They produce. Each quality, when it becomes active produces effects that are dependent on the other two qualities. This does not imply causality. Effects are merely an outcome of a change in the combination of the qualities.
  11. They depend on each other. They never exist separate from each other. “The attributes exist in the attributes” (BG 3.28). They cause each other:
    1. As a beautiful woman brings pleasure to her husband, misery to the other wives and delusion to other men, so does illumination bring about action and restraint.
    2. As a righteous king protects his subjects and punishes his enemies, so does action bring about illumination and restraint.
    3. As clouds cause a farmer pleasure and a lonely lover pain, so does restraint bring about illumination and action.

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