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In this scenario, the need of the hour is to develop a theory of personality that transcends this problem of cultural and racial bias to propound one that is valid across the world. For this, the basic requirement is that it should be universally acceptable, be of an elemental nature, and be valid to people across all genres. To understand this, the first source of knowledge that comes to mind to tackle the problem at hand is that of the Indian philosophical systems that have withstood the test of time to be applicable across millennia without losing their relevance and applicability to people from ages to the present day. In the present paper a Triguna perspective of personality has been explored and an attempt has also been made to understand the dynamics of Gunas that is Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The Gunas inherited by an individual are liable to change due to physical, psychological and social influences and the behavior of an individual, both overt and covert is determined by the prakriti (Personality) operating at that time. As prakriti governs the perception, cognition, motivation and values of an individual, it also influences well being. The authors feel that empirical research in this area could go a long way in developing a complete theory of personality, which could help in understanding the relation between personality and behaviour in the Indian context.
With the increasing realization that many of the western psychological concepts and methods lack relevance to different cultural systems, the need for developing indigenous psychologies was recognized all over the world. The term “Trigunas” is composed of two words Tri + Guna. Tri means three, and Gunas means, a state of mind, qualities, and attitudes. Attitudes are basically qualities, tones, or vibration and are found in everything; especially in the Human, thus, trigunas determines the three qualities (Bhagavad-Gita Ch. 14.5; Raja, 1963) which determine people’s nature, belief and perception. Ayurveda has used Prakriti to denote personality (Dwivedi, 2002). Prakriti comes from two Sanskrit roots, “Pra” means the beginning, commencement and source of origin and “Kruthi” means to perform or to form. Therefore, it means ‘the initial creation’ or alternatively this interesting word can also mean, “to come forth into creation.” It represents how one initially comes into life form and further deviations take place (Singh, 2001). The Prakriti remains unchanged during the course of one’s lifetime and is genetically determined.
“The theoretical expositions on Triguna and their manifestations in human nature have attracted the attention of Indian psychologists. The concept has been examined theoretically (Boss, 1966; Mishra, 2001; Parameswaran, 1969; Rao, 1962, 1979) and empirically (Kapur et al., 1997; Marutham, Balodhi and Misra, 1998; Mathew, 2004; Mohan and Sandhu, 1986, 1988; Pathak, Bhatt and Sharma, 1992; Rao and Harigopal, 1979; Sebastian and Mathew, 2002; Sharma, 1999; Singh, 1972; Sitamma, Sridevi and P.V.K. Rao, 1995; Uma, Lakshmi and Parameshwaran, 1971; Wolf, 2000)”(Murthy, Kumar, 2007). So far, what has not been explored is the study of “Tridoshas”, empirically from the domain of psychology.
Swethaswathara Upanishad refers for the first time to the three fundamental qualities of matter. An elaboration of this theory is found in Bhagavad Gita. In Bhagaad Gita the triguna concept is explained as follows: “The three modes “gunas” goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and dullness (tamas) born of nature (prakriti) bind down in the body O Mighty armed (Arjuna), the imperishable dweller in the body” (Bhagavad Gita Ch. 14.5). Sattva maintains the stability of the universe, rajas accounts for its origin and the creative movement and tamas accounts for its dissolution, the tendency of the things to decay and die (RadhaKrishnan, 1976). The later scholars have used it either, in its original form or with suitable modifications of the classical Guna theory, namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Ancient Indian thought, particularly Sankhya Yoga, describes Gunas in all nature in terms of Tamas, (Inertia), Rajas (Activation) and Sattva (Stability). Constitutional traits or inborn tendencies or qualities are classified in Ayurveda into three categories called Trigunas. The constitutional factors leading to emotions are due to Rajoguna. The constitutional factors leading to inertia are due to Tamoguna. The constitutional factors leading to equilibrium or harmony are due to Sattvaguna. Mathew (2004) justified a holistic level single factor of personality namely Stability. However, an overall general factor of personality in terms of Instability-Stability does not preclude the possibility of more detailed measurement at lower levels. For example, at the second level, Instability can be measured in terms of inertia (I) and activation (A).
In India, the Samkhya philosophy dates back to 3000 BC (Das Gupta, 1937). It is regarded as one of the six main schools (darsana) of orthodox Hindu thought. A central theoretical proposition of the Samkhya system of Indian philosophy is the structure of personality, which is based on the three Gunas. In Ayurvedic system of medicine, it is considered that a living system is made of Panch-mahabuta, in the form of – Pitta- Vatta- Kapha at the physical level and Sattva-Rajas-Tamas at the mental level. This covers the psychosomatic constitutions and is commonly known as the Tridoshas theory (Tripathi, 2000). The three gunas -sattva, rajas, and tamas-are found in nature and in the mind, paralleling the three doshas of body. In fact, if one goes through the list of qualities of various prakritis, one finds a mixture of both physical and mental qualities. There is no watertight classification at a purely mental or a purely physical level. However, besides the mental aspects of vatta-pitta-kapha prakrities, there is also classification of personalities based purely on mental qualities, into three types as- sattvic, rajasic and tamasic prakrities.
Sattva Guna: – The word Sattva is derived from ‘sat’ or that which is real or existent. ‘Sat’ also means perfection and therefore, sattva element is that which produces goodness and pleasure (Radhakrishnan, 1941). Sattva is the angelic human, the aspect of the subtlest primordial matter (Prakriti) which was nature of existence, light, illumination, sentience, harmony, truthful, self controlled, virtuous, kind, forgiving, righteous, mentally and physically pure, intelligent, theist, studious, genuine, unperturbed by sorrows and joy, free from desire, passion and angers, dignified, handsome and energetic, or stable. Sattvic individuals are usually noble and spiritual in character.
Ayurveda recognizes 16 types of personality based on the Guna theory. Charak and Sushuta Samhitas give a description of these types: seven types are based on Sattva (Brahma, Arsa, Aindra, Yamya, Varuna, Kabera, Gandharva) six on Rajas (Asura, Raksasa, Paisala, Sarpa, Parity, Sakuna) and three on Tamas, (Pasava, Matya, Banaspatya). Each of these sixteen personality types is independent and they should not be confused with the factors explicated by Cattell (1966) or others. Seven types are based on sattva guna and these subtypes are given below with their characteristics.
Free from passion, anger, greed, ignorance or jealousy, possessing knowledge and the power of discrimination.
Excellent memory, purity, love and self -control, excellent intellectual frame of mind, free from pride, ego, ignorance, greed or anger. Possessing the power of understanding and retention.
Devotion to sacred books, study rituals and oblations. Devotion to virtuous acts, far- sightedness and courage. Authoritative behavior and speech. Able to perform sacred rituals.
Free from mean and conflicting desires and acts. Having initiative, excellent memory and leadership. Free from emotional binds, hatred, ignorance and envy. The capacity for timely action.
Free from mean acts. Exhibition of emotion in proper place. Observance of religious rights.
Courage, patience, and hatred of impure thoughts. Liking for virtuous acts and purity. Pleasure in recreation.
Possession of wealth, attendants and luxuries. Expertise in poetry, stories and epics. Fondness for dancing singing and music. Takes pleasure in perfumes, garlands and flowers. Full of passion.
It is the spiritual stage of evolution of man which is reached by rising from the dull inertia and subjection to ignorance (tamas), through the struggle for material enjoyments (rajas), by pursuing knowledge and wisdom (sattva). It beckons to man to evolve from his basic nature to the spiritual or sattvic, so as to ultimately, transcend into the realm of light and bliss of “widest self-existence, spontaneous self-knowledge, intimate universal identity, deepest self-interchange” (Aurobindo, 1980).
Rajas Guna: – Rajsic is earthen human, the aspect of Prakriti, which has the nature of activity, motion, energy, valiant, cruel, authoritarian, terrifying, brave when angry but timid when calm, unkind, indulged in self adulation, envious impulsive, cowardly, gluttonous, movement, or changing and have excessive desires (Rangacharya, 1989). Rajas is the principle of motion. Samkhya accounts for the causation of the universe on the basis of this guna of motion. Sattva and tamas gunas in themselves are immobile. They are rendered active because of the energizing influence of rajas. “All work comes from rajas, the principle of energy, which overcomes the resistance of matter and supplies even intelligence with the energy which is required for its own work of conscious regulation and adaptation” (Seal, 1915). Rajas may be taken as the motivating force seeking, propelled by desire and impulsion. Following Six subtypes are based on rajas guna.
Indulgence in self-praise, bravery, cruelty, envy and ruthlessness. Terrifying appearance.
Excessive sleep and indolence. Envious disposition. Constant anger, intolerance, and cruel behaviour. Gluttonous habits.
Unclean habits. Cowardly, with a terrifying disposition. Gluttonous habits. Fondness for the opposite sex. Abnormal diet and regimen.
Sharp reactions. Excessive indolance. Frequent fearful dispositions. Brave or cowardly attitude depending on situations.
Excessive desire for food. Envious character. Excessive greediness and actions without discrimination.
Full of passion. Unsteadiness, ruthlessness, and excessive attitude for food.
It follows from above that rajas is a synonym for mobility. Its very nature is action and motion. Rajas produce inordinate desires, affections, lust, general attachment either to persons or things and a quickening of activity to accomplish personal ambition. Preponderance of rajas, is indicated by a rise of greed, selfish activity, undertaking of ambitious plans and sensuous pleasures. “The rajasic turn of natural leads away from the universal potentiality and precipitates towards an exaggeration of our bondage to the ego” (Aurobindo, 1980).
Tamas Guna: – Tamas, which literally means darkness, is the principle of inertia. It resists activity and produces indifference ignorance, confusion; passivity and negativity are its results. It is heavy and enveloping and as such is opposed to sattva. It is also opposed to rajas, for it arrests activity. Tamas answers to the negative non-being refers to the actual, static setting of a thing which it strives to overcome by the principle of energy, rajas, to achieve its ideal state, the sattvic (RadhaKrishnan, 1941). Tamasic is the animal, aspect of Prakriti, which has the nature of darkness, dullness, heaviness, insentience, nonintellectual, unwise, somnolent, timid, disgusting behavior and dietary habits, forbidding disposition, obstructing and veiling. According to Eashwaran (1997), Tamasic neither gets angry nor gets greedy nor does he love. It is not because he is forgiving or is detached but because of his feeble desires and he has a ‘who cares for’ attitude. Tamasic individuals are the most down to earth; concerned about fundamental questions of practical existence, especially when confronted by more spiritual and less physical issues. Tamas is the basis of all lack of feeling, dullness, ruthlessness insensible and inertia. It causes mental gloom ignorance, error and illusion. On the human level, tamas is made manifest in the dull stupidity of the more self-centered and self-satisfied- those who acquiesce in whatever happens as long as their personal slumber, safety or interest are not disturbed, (Zimmer, 1953). Three types based on tamas guna are:
Lack of intelligence, forbidding dispositions, envious nature. Excessive sexual indulgence and sleep.
Unsteadiness, constant passion, and cowardice. Excessive desire for water intake.
Indolence. Excessive indulgence in food. Deficiency of intellectual faculties.
It follows from the above account of the qualities of the tamas guna that, this guna refers to the abysmal darkness of ignorance which renders man a slave to the onslaughts of the demon. It veils the luminosity of sattva thereby directing rajas, the principle of motion, to appease the baser instincts, thereby imprisoning one to the lowest rungs of evolution.
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas: The Total Personality
While all individuals have mixed amounts of the three, the predominant guna determines an individual’s mansa prakriti. In equilibrium, the three gunas preserve the mind (and indirectly the body), maintaining it in a healthy state. Any disturbance in this equilibrium may results in various types of mental disorders (Rastogi, 2005). At the microcosmic level, the three gunas manifest themselves at different levels of consciousness. The evolutionary scale is representative of different organizations of three gunas, with one guna being predominant, overshadowing the remaining two. It is this predominance which characterizes an object- a thing being good, bad or indifferent; a thing being pure, impure or neutral (Sastri, 1994).
“Prakriti is specific for each individual. It is said to be determined at the time of conception (in modern terms, by the recombination of zygotic DNA from sperm and ovum) and remains unaltered over the individual’s lifetime. Prakriti specific treatment, including prescription of medications, diet, and lifestyle, is a distinctive feature of Ayurveda. It has hypothesize that Prakriti has a genetic connotation that could provide a tool for classifying the human population based on broad phenotype clusters” (Patwardhan, Joshi and Chopra, 2005).
The three Gunas-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas-also promote different kinds of temperament based on the dominance of one or the other Gunas. The temperament of a person can be discerned based on the “mode of worship, the type of food consumed and other activities of everyday life” ( Krishnan, 2002).
“The three Gunas comprise the magnetic field for the soul. One Guna usually predominates and polarizes our mind and life according to its qualities. Souls become Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic in nature. However, in the ordinary, unrefined field of human nature, one Guna seldom prevails. After a time the other Gunas must assert themselves. Only a rare human being can become so totally dominated by one Guna that the other Gunas lose their power. Such extreme types are the hardened criminal or complete Tamasic type, the super achiever or complete Rajasic type, and the selfless saint or complete Sattvic type, but even these types can have their admixtures of the other Gunas. Both Ayurveda and yoga seek to reduce the lower Gunas of Rajas and Tamas. They are factors of mental and physical disease which Ayurveda addresses and the spiritual ignorance that yoga seeks to dispel” ( Frawley, 2004).
No personality is exclusively Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamsic (Singh, 1972). The predominance of one Guna and the degree of predominant are the determinants of the individual’s behavior (Rastogi, 2005). When Sattva is dominant over the other two, purity, wisdom, love of knowledge, spiritual excellence and presence of other such qualities occurs. Dominance of Rajas indicates activity and indicates the rise of passions, emotions and desires (Rastogi, 2005). When Tamas predominates over the other two, it leads to ignorance, idleness, errors in cognition and delusions.
In words of Aurobindo (1980), “all men have in them in whatever degree the rajasic impulse of desire and activity and the sattvic boon of light and happiness, some balance, some adjustment of mind to itself and its surroundings and objects, and all have their share of tamasic incapacity and ignorance”. Individuals are born with certain personality patterns that gradually change as a result of interaction with the environment. Environmental factors can be broadly divided into physical, social and psychological.
Physical Factors: In places, which are too cold, people develop the habit of hard work to generate body heat. Therefore, people at such places develop activation. In places with a moderate climate, people tend to develop a Stable temperament (Mathew, 2004).
Too little exercise produces inertia and too much exertion leads to activation while moderate exercise is required for stability. Food is an important factor that determines the alertness and sloth, the worry and calm, the brightness and dullness. The scriptures classify food as Sattvic, Rajsic and Tamsic and relate these three types to the three mental modes (Gunas) of the same names. Moderate food is the best medicine to avoid bodily ailments and ones should not rush to the hospital for every little upset.
Social Factors: It is hypothesized that too small a population density tends to induce inertia, overcrowding produces activation and an optimum size promotes stability. Poverty certainly induces inertia, and affluence induces activation, while the middle class is associated with stability. Totalitarian Socialistic patterns of society have been observed to create inertia, capitalism to induce activation. The use money for altruistic purposes seems to be the most conducive for stability.
Psychological Factors: According the principle of imitation, mind absorbs the qualities of those with whom one associates because mental qualities are contagious. Thus people should mix with others with a great deal of stability (Sattva). The personality of children gets molded in line with the personality of parents. The psychic field, which develops when people interact, is determined largely by the personality of the people involved and only to a lesser extent by the quality of their interaction.
Parents who reject children and parents who are oppressive induce Tamas in children. Parents who are punitive and encourage competition promote activation (Rajas) and democratic acceptance induces self-respect and stability (Sattva) in children. A person’s personality gets shaped according to the nature of interrelations with other people at home and outside.
Triguna Prakriti (Personality) and Behavior: – An individual’s behavior, both at the overt as well covert (mental processes) level is determined by the personality operating (manifestation of the three Gunas) at that point of time. Behavior of Tamsic people is mainly influenced by traditions while, highly Rajsic are aggressive, adventurous and risk taking, as a result of which they take initiative and interact with all kinds of persons for a various purposes. On the other hand Sattvic have awareness of the effect of interactions with different persons in different situations and their social control is affected by tradition and current group norms. Highly Tamsic are highly dependent on the group. They crave attention and approval by others. Sattvic tend to be democratic stable and cooperative and behave naturally. Some of the applications are as have been discussed below in brief.
Motivation and Emotion: The highly Sattvic person shows no great fear. His main emotion is selfless love, self-sufficient and shows meta-motivation. Daftuar and Sharma (1997) conducted a study and the results reveal that Sattva works at “self actualization” level, Rajas as esteem where as Tamas at only the “basic needs” level. Following hierarchical order, Sattva and Rajas show negative correlation with lower order needs. Absence of lower needs along with their prime goal i.e. “self actualization” for Sattvic and esteem needs “for Rajas. Tamas works only at fulfilling basic needs. He is not motivated to any higher levels of motivation as indicated by significant negative correlations with higher order needs.
Cognition: The concept of Gunas is equally applicable to cognitive characteristics (Das, 1955). A person with a Sattvic outlook on life will have an abstract memory, realistic and appropriate perception and productive and abstract thinking. A person in whom the Rajas Guna predominates will have a concrete memory, ego involve perceptions, scattered thinking and imagination. In contrast a Tamsic person would have loss-distorted perception and confused thinking.
It is generally held that Sattva at the level of the cognition is perfect knowledge, Rajas is clouded intellect and Tamas is ignorance (Das, 1955). A Sattvic person has a fully developed awareness leading to very clear perception based on direct factual knowledge. On the other hand the person high on Tamas is temperamentally unstable, his cognitive functions are disturbed and he misperceives frequently (Singh, 1971).
Learning: Irrespective of Guna, all individuals learn by contiguity. However, high Rajsic mainly learned by instrumental learning. High Sattvic people have the highest degree of awareness and control and the P (postponement) factor of intelligence associated with vicarious trail and error. They are most capable of cognitive learning single trial learning, or learning by insight. On the other hand Tamsic learn by only contiguity.
Intelligence: High Tamsic have least intelligence and creativity. Rajsic have very good practical intelligence and moderate creativity; quickly solve social and practical problems. They are good in science and technology. Highly Sattvic people have high flexibility, highly creative and are intuitive. They have artistic and philosophical creativity. In term of competitiveness, Tamas have low level of competitiveness and desire, Rajasic have moderate level of capacity and the person has enough confidence to compete and Sattvic have highest-level capacity and show self-sufficiency.
Morality and Religion: Sattvic have strong, Rajsic have variable and Tamsic have weak will power. The main Tamas value is conformity to group norms and sensuous pleasures. Power and money are valued in Rajas societies. Conformity is considered normal in Sattvic societies, competitiveness is normal in Rajsic societies and selfless creativity is normal in Sattvic societies.
Health and Well-being: -When an individual faces stress, which cannot be handled through normal means, one tends to break down. Surplus energies of unfinished or interrupted sequences and cumulative tension resulting from immediate pressures seek outlets in line with the personality pattern of the person. Imbalances and incongruities in development or growth (for example, some aspects promoting Sattva while others promoting Tamas or Rajas) also create distress. These may also be regarded as arrest of the general sequence of personal growth. People with a high degree of Tamas have recourse to hysterical mechanisms. They can easily forget unpleasant incidents, and act like different persons in different situations to escape feeling guilty. Such types of defenses are not available to people with Rajas and certainly not for highly Sattvic as they have more awareness and integration. Manic type defenses are characteristic of Rajas type persons while such defenses are not available to people with highly Sattvic who have more moral sense and self-awareness. Sattvic often converts stressful situations into growth-promoting experiences because of their stress tolerance and capacities for adjustment (Mathew, 2004).
Research conducted by Kaur and Sinha (1992), Daftuar and Anjali (1997), Sharma (1999) have also empirically demonstrated the usefulness of Triguna in the area of work life. In a study, Zaidi and Singh (2001) have explored direct and stress moderating effects of positive life events and Triguna on psychological well being. The findings of the study obtained significant effect of Sattva and Rajas gunas on depression, the former showing low depression and latter leading to high depression. Further the moderating role of all three gunas was found in the relationship between negative life events and depression. High Sattva, low Rajas and high Tamas groups reported higher psychological well being. In another study conducted by Rastogi (2004) an attempt was made to seek gender and age differences in Triguna and to relate it to seven constructs of psychological well being. These seven constructs included self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life satisfaction with life and personal growth. The results show gender and age wise significant differences in only Rajas where the interactive effect of the two variables has also emerged to be significant. A study conducted by Jain in 2008, and the results of the study reveals that sattva component of triguna prakriti is positive and significantly correlated with mental and spiritual health. Rajas component of triguna prakriti is not significantly correlated with satisfaction with life. It implies that Rajsics overall subjective well being is not very good. Rajas guna and spiritual health are significantly and negatively correlated with each other. Tamas component is significantly and negatively correlated with both mental and spiritual health. Spiritual Health is significantly and positively correlated with sattva but negatively with rajas and tamas. It implies that rajsic have poor subjective well-being and lack spiritual health and tamsic are not found satisfied with their life and do not have satisfactory spiritual health. Females are significantly more healthy then males. Males are maintaining better balance in their expectations and achievement then females and having better spiritual health. Pure Sattvic people are having average weight, good Mental and Spiritual Health. This means that if Sattvic tendency increases in one, automatically reduce Rajsic and Tamsic tendencies and vice-versa.
Thus, it is evident that psychopathology or well being is the culmination of the influence of Gunas as they interact with the environmental pressures experienced by the individual. The Triguna perspective provides a very comprehensive and holistic perspective, which would go a long way in developing a concrete indigenous psychological theory for understanding human behavior. “It is the Sattva Guna that is responsible for preparing the mind to produce positive thought waves. Sattva Guna tries to bring a balance between the Rajo and Tamo manasika Dosha (Rao, 2003).
Though there is some amount of work that is done in the field of Ayurveda by scientists to establish the scientific validity of the Tridoshas, there is a possibility and a need to empirically test and validate it from the domain of psychology. This would also lead to a better categorizing of people based on the Trigunas, where people know their inherent psychological constitution, modes of behavior and conduct, which would help them to understand themselves better, leading to better adjustment in both personal and professional lives. The ripple effect of this would be to choose the best people suited for a particular field of enquiry/work, wherein people are satisfied in their chosen professions, giving rise to a more harmonious society.
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