Three Gunas and Three Bodies (with Visual Map)


How do the 3 gunas connect with the 3 bodies (causal, subtle, and physical)?

I think this answer is that the three gunas are present in each of the three bodies.

For example in the physical body we can see tamas as matter, sattva as the order/intelligence, and rajas as the motion/power in the physical world.

Similarly in the mind we have each of the gunas present in terms of our mental disposition (peaceful/contemplative to dull/irresponsible).

And in the causal body we have sattva as the dharma field and all the laws that govern everything, rajas as the projecting power of maya, and tamas as the veiling power?

Do I have this straight?


Your understanding is sound.

The following is a more detailed explanation of Vedantic cosmology that might further flesh out your understanding.

Also here's a handwritten chart-form of below explanation:

Chart of the big picture in context of 3 Gunas. Click to view PDF


In the beginning, there exists an eternal conscious existence (Brahman).

In Brahman there exists the principle of maya, or what we can call causal matter (also referred to as mula-ajnanam, mula-avidya, mula-prakriti).

Causal matter is not a material substance as we ordinarily conceive of matter — but a subtle agent by which Brahman is seemingly conditioned and the manifest universe is brought into being in its causal, subtle, and gross aspects.

Moreover, Brahman is the conscious principle that makes knowing possible — rather than the relative action of knowing which takes place within one's antahkarana (i.e., “inner instrument” consisting of the manas; mind, buddhi; intellect, chitta;  memory, and ahamkara; ego).

Similarly, maya (as inert matter) is the principle of ignorance (from standpoint of the individual) because it prevents the antahkarana from understanding its true identity as Brahman.

In short, there exists what seem to be two beginningless principles, namely Brahman (limitless awareness) and maya (causal or original matter). They are different but the same. This important contradiction explained in class.

The fabric of maya is composed of the three gunassattva, rajas, and tamas.

Though commonly conceived of as energies, for each does have an energetic aspect.

Gunas are actually the subtlest and most fundamental constituents of which every aspect of the manifest universe is made.

  1. Sattva is of the nature of light, clarity, purity, insight, knowledge, intelligence, inspiration, peace, contentment, harmony, order, and beauty. Its essential power is that of revelation.
  2. Rajas is of the nature of passion, desire, activity, motion, creativity, force, and will. Its essential power is projection.
  3. Tamas is of the nature of density, heaviness, groundedness, solidity, practicality, dullness, apathy, laziness, and ignorance. Its essential power is concealment.

As these descriptions suggest, none of the gunas is good or bad.

The character of each can have a positive or negative influence within the context of a given circumstance or endeavor.

For example…


Ignorance, apathy, and laziness is associated with tamas. It's something we would want to avoid.

However tamas is also responsible for the material substance out of which the physical universe is formed.

Further, it provides psychological stability (which let's us actually act on the thought).

Moreoever, tama guna establishes physiological regularity that affords us ability to rejuvenate via sleep.


In it's extreme, it causes unbridled, mindless and sometimes unethical pursuit of gratuitous desires. Something we definitely want to avoid.

However it also provides us with necessary determination to get things done and accomplish our goals… including goal of moksha.


Even sattva has a drawback.

Though a sattvic mind is the springboard from self-inquiry to the assimilation of self-knowledge… too much sattva can cause one to be too flighty and impractical to take care of one’s “worldly” responsibilities.

Even worse, excess sattva guna can instill one with a sense of spiritual-conceit that affords one the idea that one is a “highly advanced seeker” or even a “realized being” — thereby let's the ego to co-opt one’s “enlightenment” and claim it as a personal accomplishment.

Maya is both the causal matter (i.e., pradhana or prakriti) and the conditioning effect of that matter on Brahman.

The initial effect that maya exerts on Brahman is to cause it to black out, so to speak.

Consequently, avyakta (unmanifest) state is brought into being. This state is what we commonly refer to as the macrocosmic causal body.

Unlike the causal body associated with the jiva (apparent individual person) — maya is NOT a storehouse of personally accumulated karma that requires and thereby “creates” a body, through which it can exeprience itself.

For this reason, traditional Vedanta refers to the original unmanifest state (from which all manifestation springs) as avyakta.

Avyakta is comprised of three fundamental constituent gunas.

Each guna, moreover, has two basic powers: avarana shakti (power of concealment), and vikshepa shakti (power of projection).

By means of these two powers, each guna produces a different upadhi that accounts for one of the three essential aspects of manifestation.

An upadhi is a limiting adjunct or conditioning agent that seemingly lends its qualities to the object upon which it is having a conditioning influence.

For instance, if a red rose were placed directly behind a clear crystal, it would appear to someone perceiving the crystal from the side opposite the rose that the crystal was red.

Though the clarity of the crystal itself is not actually affected, the crystal seems to assume a red hue due to its proximity to the rose.

Similarly, though Brahman (pure, limitless awareness) is not actually affected by the conditioning influence of māyā, it seems to take on various characteristics due to the upadhis that maya projects upon it.

In terms of the macrocosmic manifestation, there are three fundamental upadhis produced by the conditioning influence of maya.

From these three come the innumerable upadhis (i.e., the vast array of gross bodies and subtle minds) that comprise the manifest universe.


Sattva-pradhana-prakriti (i.e., the sattvic aspect of maya or original matter) produces maya-upadhi.

Here, maya-upadhi refers more specifically to Isvara or God-the-Creator.

Most traditional Vedanta teachers maintain that Isvara is untainted by avarana-sakti and that vikshepa-shakti (projecting power) alone accounts for Isvara’s omniscience and omnipotence.

Some teachers in the tradition, however, maintain that though Isvara is unquestionably unaffected by ignorance — it could be said that avarana shakti does seemingly delimit Brahman to the extent of empowering “it” with omniscience.

The former account correlates with the account given in Vedanta-sara, a highly regarded prakarana grantha written by the sage Sadananda.

Either explanation, however, offers a reasonable explanation for Isvara’s role as shrishti-sthiti-laya-karta (creator, sustainer, dissolver of the universe).


Rajo-pradhana-prakriti (rajasic aspect of maya or original matter) produces avidya-upadhi and thereby brings the jiva into being.

Here, jiva does not refer to any particular individual person, but rather the archetype of the apparent person.

In regard to the jiva, the avarana shakti renders the individual ignorant of its true limitless nature.

Under the spell of avidya or ajnana (ignorance), the jiva suffers from adhyasa (superimposition) whereby one takes oneself to be a limited individual.

Vikshepa shakti then causes the jiva to superimpose the notion of individuality onto itself, as well as that of a dualistic universe, on the “screen” of Brahman’s being.

This superimposition is referred to as adhyaropa.


Tamo-pradhana-prakriti (tamasic aspect of maya) produces the mahabhutani (five great elements).

At this stage, the elements are not the physical elements as we know them to be, but are the subtle archetypes of the five elements, which undergo a process of “grossification” called panchikarana — by means of which they become the physical constituents of the manifest universe.

Avarana shakti accounts for the potential density of the elements themselves.

Vikshepa shakti accounts for their availability as the fundamental substance for manifestation.


In terms of the three bodies, maya-upadhi constitutes the macrocosmic causal body, and avidya-upadhi constitutes the microcosmic causal body.


The subtle and gross bodies are both brought about by a further sub-divisional effect of the gunas on the five subtle elements that are the product of tama-pradhana-prakriti.

  • The sattvic and rajasic aspects of tama-pradhana-prakriti together produce the subtle body in both their macrocosmic and microcosmic aspects.
  • The sattvic aspect of tama-pradhana-prakriti produces the five jnanendriyas (perceptive organs), manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), citta (memory), and ahamkara (ego).
  • The rajasic aspect of tama-pradhana-prakriti produces the five karmendriyas (active organs) and the five pranas (physiological systems).
  • The tamasic aspect of tama-pradhana-prakriti produces the gross elements and, thus, accounts for both the body of the apparent individual and the entire array of physical forms obtaining within the manifest universe.



The total sukshma-sharira (subtle body) is referred to as hiranyagarbha (which in some scriptural texts is equated with Isvara or God-the-Creator when maya-upadhi is strictly conceived of as avyakta and, thus, devoid of all attributes).


The individual sukshma-sharira is referred to as taijasa or “the shining one,” for it illumines all the thought-waves arising in the mind.



The total sthula-sharira or gross body is referred to as virat.


The individual sthula-sharira is referred to as vaishvanara or simply vishva, “the one who assumes many forms.”


The three-bodied division of the total and individual can also be considered as five sheaths.

In this regard, maya-upadhi and avidya-upadhi equate with the macrocosmic and microcosmic aspects of anandamaya-kosha, respectively.

The sattvic aspect of tamo-pradhana-prakriti consisting of the perceptive organs, the intellect, and the ego equates with vijnanamaya-kosha.

The sattvic aspect of tama-pradhana-prakriti consisting of the perceptive organs, the mind, and the memory equates with manomaya-kosha (yes the perceptive organs are part of both the vijnanamaya-kosha and manomaya-kosha, because remember that mind is actually a singular unit divided into parts for sake of analysis).

The rajasic aspect of tamo-pradhana-prakriti consisting of the active organs and the physiological systems equates with pranamaya-kosha.

And the tamasic aspect of tamo-pradhana-prakriti consisting of the five gross elements equates with anamaya-kosha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *