Verse 13: Why are there three Gunas?

sattvaṃ laghu prakāśakam-iṣṭam-upaṣṭaṃbhakaṃ calaṃ ca rajaḥ |
guru varaṇakam-eva tamaḥ pradīpavat-ca-arthataḥ vṛttiḥ ||

sattvaṃ – clarity / purity
laghu – buoyant
prakāśakam – bright

rajaḥ – agitation / exciting / unsteady
iṣṭam – desire
upaṣṭaṃbhakaṃ – stimulating
calaṃ – agitating / unsteady

tamaḥ – obscuring / darkness
guru – teacher / heavy
varaṇakam – enveloping (darkness)

arthataḥ – with purpose
vṛttiḥ – fluctuate

Together, the three encompass my entire lived experience.

  1. What are the gunas?
    1. That which has the nature of pleasure I call Sattva. Sattva is buoyant and illuminating. But it is inactive and therefore unable to produce anything. It is activated by Rajas.
    2. That which has the nature of pain I call Rajas. Rajas is exciting and mobile and is the origin of all activity. It rouses Sattva and Tamas. It is restrained by Tamas.
    3. That which has the nature of delusion I call Tamas. Tamas is a restraining force.
  2. They always operate together like the oil, wick and flame in a lamp that together produce light.
  3. Their purpose is to illuminate in service of the Knower.
  4. Why are there only three Gunas?
    1. I notice them in my direct experience of pleasure, pain and delusion. In my experience they are mutually contradictory (when I experience one, I do not experience the others).
    2. Because they are distinct as effects I assign them distinct causes (that correlate to pleasure, pain and delusion).
      1. That which causes pleasure I identify as Sattva. Pleasure, enlightenment and buoyancy are similar and are therefore associated with the same cause – Sattva.
      2. That which causes pain I identify as Rajas. Pain, mobility and activity are also similar and therefore associated with the same cause – Rajas.
      3. That which causes delusion I identify as Tamas. Delusion, slugishness and obscurity are also similar and therefore associated with the same cause – Tamas.
    3. These three “causes of experiences” represent my entire range of experience. Any experience I have can be associated with one of these three. Therefore there are only three.

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