A human being is always comprised of three basic gunas-Sattva,Rajas & Tamas and it is these qualities which tend to pull the individual in different directions throughout his life.The gunas are sometimes referred to energies,sometimes qualities but it is difficult to find a single English word that can define their whole nature & function.
These gunas pass through phases of equilibrium & phases of imbalance.Nature of their relationship to one another is such that they are subject to change.
As these gunas go through changes,we pass through many moods during a single course of a day.When sattva dominates,it causes our moments of inspiration,quiet joy & meditative calm.Rajas brings on outbursts of rage & fierce desire.It makes us restless,discontented,but is also responsible for our better phases of constructive activity,energy,enthusiasm & physical courage.Tamas is the mental bog into which we sink when other two gunas cease to prevail.In state of tamas,we exhibit our wors qualitites-sloth,stupidity,obstinacy,helplessness,delusion.
For illustration,let us take an example of a sculptor who decides to make a figure of horse.The idea of this horse-the form he sees in his imagination is inspired by sattva.Then he gets a lump of clay.This clay represents a part of tamas-whose formlessness has to be overcome.Another part of tamas lies in sculptor’s mind itself.He may say “Why should I put the effort? I’m so tired.This is going to be a lot of trouble.Its too difficult.”Then the force of Rajas comes to his aid.Here,rajas represents the sculptors will to conquer his lethargy & difficulties of his medium.It also represents sculptor’s muscular exertion which he puts to carry out his work.If sufficient amount of Rajas is generated,tamas will be overcome & the ideal form of sattva will be embodied in a tangible clay object.Hence,all three gunas are necessary for an act of creation.
Sattva guna encourages one to move towards harmony,serenity & enlightenment.The person with this quality is keen to transcend the ego boundary,experience the truth & enlightenment.Rajas guna pushes the person to strengthen his ego boundary by fulfilling desires of achievement,possession & control.This creates intense activity & instability.
Tamas guna takes people into a state of sluggishness where they are not motivated to do anything.
It is according to combination of these qualities that we make any choice in our life.Once a quality becomes active,it tries to pull the person from the other two & structure his life around it.However,once the person starts to structure his life around one quality,the pull from the other two starts becoming powerful sooner or later.
When we witness these qualities operating in our personalities,we are able to transcend the duality.It must be noted that the Atman or the self is beyond these qualities.