Sattva, Rajas and Tamas: The Mental Doshas

The Three Gunas, known as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, govern the entire field of change—our visible universe. With respect to human physiology, they are sometimes called the Mental Doshas because their influence is most prominent at that level. They are inter-dependent. Sattva is the force of evolution, progress and purity. Tamas (the word literally means "darkness") is the force which opposes Sattva, retards action and results in destruction and decay. Rajas is the impulse to action which maintains the coordination of Sattva and Tamas. Rajas is movement without a direction. Technically, Sattva is really not a "Dosha" because it is pure and the Doshas represent impurity in the sense of separation from the Self (Atma).

Nature is fundamentally evolutionary and progresses through cycles of rest and activity. All three Gunas are ever-present in the material world. Rajas invokes Tamas to destroy the current state to permit Sattva to create the new.

Our choices in behavior, daily routine and diet determine which of the Three Gunas will dominate our life. Sattvic food is organically grown, freshly prepared with love, tasty, unctuous and deeply satisfying. It promotes health, vitality and longevity. Tamasic and Rajasic foods create misery and disease. They tend to block the channels of the body with Ama, the toxic products of improperly digested food.


Sattva is the pure, creative influence which upholds virtue, devotion, courage, skill, intellect, memory and wisdom in human life. Cultivate Sattva for health, happiness, strength, immunity, longevity and spiritual progress. The following factors increase Sattva in the mind and Ojas in the physiology:

  • Transcendence as experienced in meditation
  • Practice of Behavioral Rasayanas (see below)
  • Pure food, water and air
  • A clean, orderly environment
  • Balanced lifestyle and daily routine
  • Association with good company
  • Uplifting sensory and emotional experiences
  • Lacto-vegetarian diet
  • Sattvic foods such as milk, rice, mung beans, blanched almonds, ghee, honey, dates, sweet ripe fruits, carrots


Rajas represents the impulse to action, but it is action without a direction, like going in circles. Thus, Rajas is associated with anxiety, anger, loss of self-control, and violence, along with all associated negative consequences. The following factors increase Rajas:

  • Excessive sensory stimulation
  • Sensory stimulation that promotes agitation, speed, anger, violence, etc.
  • Pressured lifestyle
  • Irregular daily routine
  • Too much activity
  • Lack of rest
  • Anger, frustration, irritation
  • Red meat
  • Overly salty, spicy, sour, dry, rough, hot or sharp food
  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco


When Tamas dominates the mind, there will follow a tendency to inertia, dullness, corruption and other forms of negativity. Tamas is associated with depression. The following factors increase Tamas:

  • Lack of sensory or intellectual stimulation
  • Lack of personal hygeine
  • Unwholesome or depressing sensory stimulation
  • Focus on negativity, sadness, death or destruction
  • Dark-colored clothing
  • Lack of inspiration in life
  • Irregular daily routine or unwholesome lifestyle
  • Alcohol
  • "Recreational" drugs
  • Leftovers and other forms of stale, putrid, decaying or impure food
  • Processed foods devoid of life energy
  • Red meat
  • Garlic and onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Peanuts
  • Potato
  • Other root vegetables, except carrots and beets, are mildly Tamasic due to growth in the dark

Behavioral Rasayanas

Rasayanas (literally, "that which enters the essence") negate old age and disease by entering into and strengthening bodily tissues at the most subtle level. Rasayanas serve to preserve health and promote longevity in healthy people. They enhance Ojas, the most refined product of digestion, which is the subtle source of the body's strength and immunity. There is no equivalent in western medicine. While Rasayana herbs have an important role in Ayurveda, Sattvic behaviors are equally important.

In short, those who wish to live a long, healthy life and accelerate progress toward enlightenment should favor Sattva in all things. Rajas and Tamas pave the path of suffering.

Healthy Behavioral Choices
Favor Avoid
Love Anger
Compassion Violence
Uplifting speech Harsh or hurtful speech
Cleanliness Conceit
Charity Back-biting
Reverence Egotism
Respect for others,
especially parents, teachers and elders
Being positive Covetousness
Self control Dishonesty
Simplicity and moderation Bad company

Choice of Social Companions

The course of our life is deeply influenced by the quality of the company we keep.

Qualities of Potential Companions
Suitable Unsuitable
Mature Lacking virtue
Well-behaved Back-biter
Peaceful Quarrelsome
Calm Impulsive
Righteous Fickle
Respected Without compassion
Wise Sarcastic
Charitable Greedy