The Gunas (ropes) are the three fundamental shaktis or energies of creation that combine in systematic ways to form the five subtle and gross elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Either (Space). Subtly, the three gunas form the mind, intellect, ego and memory and as they grossify, lead to all aspects of the material universe, including the human body.
The three gunas are sattva (intelligences clarity and purity), rajas (creativity and activation), and tamas (the material of consciousness). Sattva reveals, rajas projects and tamas conceals.
To understand the way the gunas work, consider a clay pot, with the intelligent design of the pot being sattva, the clay or material being tamas and rajas, the creative power that takes the design and material and makes the pot. Everything within the manifest universe is a mixture of the three gunas.
Guna also means rope. The three gunas bind us to creation via three ropes or chains, golden (sattva), silver (rajas) and bronze (tamas). Some in the spiritual world chase the peace and bliss of sattva, but even sattva is a state which will come and go. The Vedantic sadhanas or practices (three yogas) help us cultivate predominate sattva, which is necessary for liberation from the bondage of the gunas.
Our actions in the present moment affect the proportion of gunas in the future.
Sattvika Karmas: Actions that cultivate maximum punya karma. These actions are compulsory for those desiring moksha (liberation). They include honoring and serving:
- The creator Isvara
- Our parents and family
- The teacher and scripture
- Our fellow jivas
- The natural world
Rajasic Karmas: Actions that support our dharma/duty in work and family. For example, working a job that helps pay the bills and put food on the table. These karmas are not compulsory but necessary for a householder.
Tamasic Karmas: Actions that create papa or negative karma are those karmas that magnetize our fears and desires.