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I've read Shiva referred to as "tamasic", and Brahma seems to be a suitable embodiment of sattva. However, rajas doesn't fit very well here. I'm not sure how to match the energy/activity aspects of rajas with Vishnu as "the preserver", but rajas does seem to fit both Shiva as "the transformer" and Brahma as "the creator". Also, Vishnu as "the preserver" seems to support the tamasic concepts of inertia and resistance to change.

Are these two trios of concepts related at all?


EDIT: Thanks for the answers so far. For some reason I automatically connected sattva with Brahma and rajas with Vishnu, maybe because they are normally listed "Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva" and "sattva, rajas, tamas" so I followed that order. And it didn't really fit. Switching the first two makes much more sense!

  • By definition of nature (prakriti), creation - rajas, destruction - tamas, preservation - sattva. sattva, rajas & tamas are listed in that order, because from Vishnu (Sattva) 's navel, originates Brahma (Rajas) who creates all worlds. From Brahma's forehead originates Rudra (Tamas) who destroys all worlds at the end. Also humans need to progress from Tamas->Rajas->Sattva in that sequence, we cannot jump from Tamas to Sattva directly. It means Brahma controls rajoguna (he channels it for creation), while Shiva controls Tamoguna (he channels it for destruction). – ram Mar 24 '16 at 4:35
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There are different perspectives. This is an advaita perspective (the belief that all Gods are One.)

What are the three gunas

The three gunas are:

Tamas - this is the quality of laziness, darkness (ignorance) and inertia.

Sri Swami Sivananda on tamas process

Tamas is inertia or inaction or darkness.

Tamas binds man to heedlessness (Pramada), laziness (Alasya) and sleep (Nidra).

Sometimes Tamas prevails and the man becomes slothful. He feels lazy, indolent and lethargic. He is dull and feels sleepy. When Tamas prevails, Sattva and Rajas are overpowered for the time being.

Tamasic action is ignorance. Those who are established in Sattva rise upwards. The Rajasic people occupy a middle place and the Tamasic people go downwards, shrouded in the vilest of qualities.

Rajas - this is the quality of activity, energy, agitation and excitation.

Sri Swami Sivananda on raja guna

The Rajasic mind always wants new sensations and variety. It likes certain persons, objects and places now and, after some time, it becomes disgusted with them and wants new persons for company, new vegetables to eat, new books to read and new places to see (finds pleasure in sightseeing).

Sattva - this is the quality of goodness, balance, purity and peacefulness.

Sri Swami Sivananda on sattva guna

A Sattvic mind is always steady. It finds delight internally. It may stick to one place indefinitely. It keeps friendship with persons for a long, long time. It can read the Gita or the Yogavasishtha any number of days. It can live on Dal-roti for years together without any grumbling.

Who is Trimurthi

According to Advaita, the Trimurthi are not three different Gods with distinct identities, but rather they are One and the same God.

Lord Shiva by Sri Swami Sivananda

Brahma represents the creative aspect, Vishnu the preservative aspect, and Siva the destructive aspect of Paramatma. This is just like your wearing different garbs on different occasions. When you do the function of a judge, you put on one kind of dress. At home, you wear another kind of dress. When you do worship in the temple, you wear another kind of dress.

Thus Brahma is the creation aspect, Narayana is the protection aspect and Paremeshwara is the destruction aspect.

How do they map onto the three gunas?

This is the common and popular way to map the three Hindu trimurthis onto one of the gunas.

Brahma - Rajas - because creation implies activity and energy. Narayana - Sattva - because protection or sustenance is a state of continuity or balance Tamas - Destruction - because destruction implies death. and death is a product of tamas.

Lord Shiva by Sri Swami Sivananda

You exhibit different kinds of temperament on different occasions. Even so, the Lord does the function of creation when He is associated with Rajas and He is called Brahma. He preserves the world when He is associated with Sattva Guna, and He is called Vishnu. He destroys the world when He is associated with Tamo Guna, and He is called Siva or Rudra.

Brahma, Vishnu and Siva have been correlated to the three Avasthas or states of consciousness. During the waking state, Sattva predominates; during the dream state, Rajas predominates; and, during the deep-sleep state, Tamas predominates. Hence Vishnu, Brahma and Siva are the Murtis of Jagrat, Svapna and Sushupti states of consciousness respectively. The Turiya or the fourth state is Para Brahman. The Turiya state is immediately next to the deep sleep state. Worship of Siva will lead quickly to the attainment of the fourth state.

However I have also seen the following interpretations (I am still looking for some online/scriptural references to these. If anyone has come across this, then please comment and I will be happy to edit it)

Example 1, creation as tamas

Creation is a result of ignorance. In reality (advaitic terms), there is no creation. The perception of creation is only ignorance.

Example 2, destruction as sattva

Shiva - Sattva - here Lord Shiva is seen as the destroyer of ignorance or ego. Thus liberation or the final goal of life leads to equanimity, steadfastness, peace, bliss and unity with God. Thus in this sense Lord Shiva is seen as Sattva.

So basically it depends on how you view things. If you view creation as a positive thing, you would say that creation is sattva. If you view destruction as a positive thing you would say destruction is sattva. If you view protection as a positive thing you would say protection is sattva.

The reality (in terms of advaita) - God is beyond all Gunas

God or Brahman is above and beyond all gunas. He is nirguna and nirakara. These gunas are simply ways in which we have interpreted the Lord. But the Lord Himself is unattached and beyond the gunas.

Bhagavad Gita 7.13

tribhir guṇa-mayair bhāvair

ebhiḥ sarvam idaḿ jagat

mohitaḿ nābhijānāti

mām ebhyaḥ param avyayam

Deluded by the three modes [goodness, passion and ignorance], the whole world does not know Me, who am above the modes and inexhaustible.

All the best.

  • Good answer. You can (safely) remove contents between "How do they map onto the three gunas?" & "The reality (in terms of advaita) - God is beyond all Gunas". Isn't it naive? IMO, it's recommended to add self written clarification while explaining the 3 gunas to avoid misguidance. e.g. "Tamas" doesn't always mean "physical laziness". It can be inertia of anything. A sportsperson waking up daily at 5 am and exercising throughout the day with healthy food can be still a Tamasic; because his mind remains indifferent to any new productive change in society, science, spirituality, traditions etc. – iammilind Oct 20 '15 at 10:37
  • @iammilind Thanks! "You can remove contents between how do ...". In my opinion, if you read the question it is specifically about how they map onto the three gunas, so to me, that is the main part of the answer. "Tamas doesn't always mean physical laziness". Tamas means inertia. It can be physical, mental or spiritual. You are right. "A sportsperson waking up daily at 5am.... can still be a tamasic...". The fact is this, everyone has a mix of all gunas, some are more dominant than others. For the sportsperson, I would say that he has a mix of tamas and rajas. All the best! – Sai Oct 20 '15 at 14:39
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To an extent they are related. Swami Nikhilananda says in his book The Upanishads (V1, p 59):

With reference to His [Saguna Brahman] three activities of creation, preservation, and destruction, Saguna Brahman is known as, respectively, as Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra, or Siva. These form the Trimurti, the trinity of Hinduism. The influence of rajas is seen in creation, of sattva in preservation, and of tamas in destruction. Kalidasa, the great Hindu dramatist writes: "That which, before creation, is the non-dual Brahman becomes subject to maya and assumes, in association with the three upadhis [gunas], the forms of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva."

4

Vishnu and Rudra are Satvic and Tamasic respectively only in view of activities and in nature they are inverse to this. Brahma is always Rajasic. This is explained in Chapter Sixteen: Description of creation in Rudra Samhita Section One of Shiva Purana. (Pg: 253)

  • Vishnu, Rudra and I (Brahma) represent the Gunas. Siva is free from Gunas. He is the Supreme Brahman, the undecaying.
  • Vishnu is of Sattva attribute, I (Brahma) am of Rajas attribute and Rudra is of Tamas attribute. This is only in the view of activities in this world. But in fact in name it is otherwise.
  • Vishnu is Taamasik nature within but externally Saattvika; Rudra is of Saattvika nature within but externally Taamasik nature outside, I am of Rajasic nature throughout.
  • Goddess of speech is Rajasic nature; Sati is of Saattvika nature and Lakshmi is of Taamasika nature; the great Goddess Sivaa is of three natures.
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"Do the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) cleanly map onto the 3 gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas)?"

NO. Not related in anyway.

God is above 3 modes/gunas. Their physical incarnations can contain all 3 modes (like us), but Gods don't get bound by them.

BG 7.13 — These whole universe being bewildered by the nature of these 3 modes/gunas, doesn't know me who is above (them), the transcendental Indivisible (Atman).

Note: Lot of ambiguity in relation of "Trimurti" as well. It's quite possible that such term has been popularized by various devotees over a period. There are few reasons for it.

  • The 3rd name often changes. People use Shiva, Shankara, Rudra, Mahesha etc.. "Shiva" is worshiped in form of Linga, because it's formless (Nirguna Brahman). This part doesn't even have any of these 3 modes.
  • "Shankara/Mahesha" is 1 of many "Rudra"s (BG 10.23), believed to be residing on Himalayas or at least earth.
  • "Brahma" is believed to be originating from navel of Vishnu & not the individual on his own.

Even though lot of dissimilarity among Trimurti, let's for argument sake, believe that Trimurti exists. But how can they relate by any means to these 3 modes? Let's assume Sattva even with its own limitations, is somehow assigned to "Vishnu".

In Bhagavad Gita chapter 14 & 17, these 3 modes are described in detail.
Rajas is responsible for pain & misery. This mode doesn't know what is right & wrong. This mode belongs to demons or pitrus (ancestors with unfulfilled desires).
Tamas is responsible for ignorance, lazyness & dumbness. This mode genuinely thinks wrong as right. It belongs to ghosts & lower planes of living/non-living.

BG 18.31 — The one who doesn't know Dharma & Adharma, duty & non-duty as it is, has RAjasi Buddhi.
BG 18.32 — Covered by darkness(blindness), the one who believes Adharma as Dharma and believes other (thing)s also wrongly, has TAmasi Buddhi.
BG 17.4 — SAtvika worships divine-beings; RAjasika (worships) to Yakshas & RakshAs (devils or demons); TAmasika people worship Spirits & other elementary divisions.

After knowing all these, for me it's hard to imagine if Rajas or Tamas can in anyway be related to anyone of the divine Trimurti.

Last of all, many verses of Gita suggest that 3 modes are generated from Prakruti, but the supreme nature (of God) is beyond these Prakruti or its modes. These 3 modes binds jeevas, but not the supreme One.

BG 14.5 — O might armed, the modes of Sattva, Rajas & Tamas generated from Prakruti, binds the embodied Indivisible (Atman) into (subtle) body.
BG 7.12 — Certainly all natures: SAtvika and RAjasa and TAmasa are from Me. Thus know that certainly I am not within them, but they are within me.

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