In pre-classical yogic philosophy, as written in the Upanishads, all that existed was the metaphysical concept of the Universal Consciousness, or Brahman. Everything existed within this consciousness, and there was nothing outside of it. Also known as the Transcental Self, this took the form of Purusha – energy that was male, unchanging, infinite and formless. This was the unmanifested universe – ie the one that existed before the shaping of the world as we know it took place. That happened at the ‘big bang’ which caused the evolution of the manifest universe – the one which we know – in the form of Prakriti – seen as matter, or nature, and female. Prakriti is in contant motion, preo-active and creative. In fact, she is all creation and she manifests herself in three ways, known as the gunas and present in everyting in the cosmos. In the unmanifested universe, the gunas were in equilibrium. Once energy started to take shape, Prakriti moved out and the physical world came into existence, the gunas became unbalanced - one quality of the three predominating, although they are all always present. The three gunas are:
Sattva – the guna of the mind and the five senses.
Rajas – the guna of gross motor responses and physical experiences.
Tamas – the guna of darkness and inertia.
In early pre classical yoga these are manifestations of Prakriti’s nature but later the Bhagavad Gita and later still Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, interpreted the each of the gunas as being a personality ‘type’. Patanjali describes sattva nature as balanced and illuminated, a rajas nature as active and restless and a tamas nature as dull and inactive. Patanjali believed that is was the unbalanced nature of the gunas, each one fighting to be dominanat, that was the nature of all suffering:
“ When there is nonthirst for even the gunas, due to realisation of the Purusha, that is supreme non-attachment.”
Yoga Sutra 1:16
He taught that only by following his Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga could you tame the gunas and achieve liberation. Personally, I don’t believe that if you do yoga – however intensely – can end all human suffering.. However, I do think that balance is the key to happiness. Most people have too much of one guna and not enough of another one. For example if you have a rajas nature you would be passionate, but too much and you may well have a quick temper. To me, this is the modern meaning of taming the gunas – to find balance in our lives though yoga, diet, meditation and anything elsde that makes you feel more balanced.