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The hierarchy generally mentioned across texts includes five indriyas, manas, buddhi, and kshetranga. Buddhi is influenced by the trigunas (sattwa, rajas, and tamas), but the trigunas may not be components of buddhi as they are just states of buddhi. According to my understanding, the apt place for trigunas to reside is only kshetragna, as the remaining seven are under its control. However, the apparent contradiction is that kshetagna is merely a sakshi and does not involve itself in any activity. So, where exactly do the trigunas reside? If they reside in kshetragna, as mentioned that brahman united with trigunas, then kshetragna is said to be influencing the buddhi and hence the remaining components, which may violate the property of being sakshi. The following excerpt contains all the relevant details.

Having created these, the Supreme Deity, O Bharata, united with them Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, Time, Consciousness of functions, and Mind forming the sixth. That which is called the Understanding dwells in the interior of what thou seest above the soles of the feet and below the crown of the head. In man the senses (of knowledge) are five. The sixth (sense) is the Mind. The seventh is called the Understanding. The Kshetrajna or Soul is the eighth. The senses and that which is the Actor should be ascertained by apprehension of their respective functions. The conditions or states called Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas, depend upon the senses for their refuge or formation. The senses exist for simply seizing the impressions of their respective objects. The Mind has doubt for its function. The Understanding is for ascertainment. The Kshetrajna is said to be only an inactive witness (of the functions of the others). Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, Time, and Acts, O Bharata, these attributes direct the Understanding. The Understanding is the senses and the five fore-mentioned attributes. When the Understanding is wanting, the senses with the mind, and the five other attributes (viz., Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, Time, and Acts) cease to be. That by which the Understanding sees is called the eye. When the Understanding hears, it is called the ear. When she smells, she becomes the sense of scent; and when she tastes the various objects of taste, she comes to be called by the name of tongue. When again she feels the touch of the various objects of touch, she becomes the sense of touch. It is the Understanding that becomes modified diversely and frequently. When the Understanding desires anything, she becomes Mind. The five senses with the Mind, which separately constitute the foundations (of the Understanding), are the creations of the Understanding. They are called Indriyas. When they become stained, the Understanding also becomes stained. 3 The Understanding, dwelling in Jiva, exists in three states. Sometimes she obtains joy; sometimes she indulges in grief; and sometimes she exists in a state that is neither pleasure nor pain. Having for her essence these conditions or states (viz., Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas), the Understanding resolves through these three states.

[Section 286, Mokshadharma Parva, Santi Parva, The Mahabharata]

The question is: where exactly the trigunas reside or arise?

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Originally, Trigunas were concepts of Samkhya philosophy, which were adopted by other schools later on.

Trigunas are the constituents of the primordial nature or Prakriti. They remain in a balanced state there. From Prakriti, Mahat tattva and other stuff originate in succession. All these are composed of Trigunas. However, in these things, Trigunas remain in an imbalanced state. Some things are there where Sattva is more prevalent than the other two, whereas in other things Tamas is more prevalent than the other two, like that. Except for Purusha or Kshetragya, everything is made up of Trigunas.

Purusha is not made up of Trigunas because it is distinct from Prakriti. That is the central concept of Samkhya. Samkhya is dualistic as it accepts the presence of two eternal things - Purusha and Prakriti. Apart from Purush, everything else in this world is the product of Prakriti, i.e., made up of Trigunas. Purusha or Kshetragya is pure consciousness.

Samkhya Sutra 1.61

सत्वरजस्तमसां साम्यावस्था प्रकृतिः
प्रकृतेर्महान्, महातो ऽहङ्कारः
अहङ्कारात् पञ्चतन्मात्राणि
उभयमिन्द्रियं तन्मात्रेभ्यः
स्थूलभूतानि पुरुषः इति पञ्चविंशतिर्गणः

satvarajastamasāṃ sāmyāvasthā prakṛtiḥ
prakṛtermahān, mahāto 'haṅkāraḥ
ahaṅkārāt pañcatanmātrāṇi
ubhayamindriyaṃ tanmātrebhyaḥ
sthūlabhūtāni puruṣaḥ iti pañcaviṃśatirgaṇaḥ

Nature (prakṛiti) is the state of equipoise of Goodness (sattwa) Passion (rajas), and Darkness (tamas): from Nature [proceeds] Mind (mahat); from Mind, Self-consciousness (ahankára); from Self-consciousness, the five Subtile Elements (tan-mátra), and both sets [external and internal,] of Organs (indriya); and, from the Subtile Elements, the Gross Elements (sthúla-bhúta). [Then there is] Soul (purusha). Such is the class of twenty-five.

Reference -

  1. The Sánkhya Aphorisms of Kapila translated by James R. Ballantyne

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